From Aurora’s blink-and-you’ve-missed-it frontage on Leith’s Great Junction Street we’re looking out over the traffic to towering edifices that were built to an entirely different scale. They emphasise Aurora’s shoebox intimacy.

Its interior, according to its website, is “made entirely of reclaimed materials, giving Aurora its characteristic Nordic, raw, and modern atmosphere”. For my taste this space is hard and noisy, like a shrunken DIY warehouse. And our reception I’m finding less than welcoming, if only because I appreciate a few pleasantries, a few pleases and thank-yous. The front of house manager-waiter has a curt, borderline intimidating manner. His questions are staccato.

“Ready?” “Desserts?” Does a trace of attitude underly his brevity? Maybe this is more of a language issue, but if your English vocabulary isn’t that of a native, body language goes a long way to ease communication, as I found to my benefit in Japan, where I spoke the same five phrases for two weeks, badly. There’s so much you can express with your face, hands, and general demeanour to show that your lack of language isn’t rudeness.

Lunch here is astonishingly good value: £12 and £15 for two or three courses respectively, even if a bit of table cleaning between courses wouldn’t go amiss. On the plate though Aurora is an altogether more dainty operation. It presents its dishes prettily, with eye-pleasing colour. Two lemon courgette arancini flank a heart-shaped emulsion of avocado and crème fraiche that’s picked out with cucumber strips, topped by a Valentine’s red, Pico de Gallo salsa that’s much too heavy with the onion, cherry tomatoes, a frond of fresh coriander, and a scattering of crunchy white balls, resembling sugar snow, that I can’t identify. It’s hard too to track down the precise source of the smoky, piquant, sourness on the plate- arancini or salsa?- but my tastebuds resent the intrusion.

Heritage potatoes- purple, floury, distinctive- earn their billing. They’re partnered by plump spears of juicy, fresh asparagus; definitely a superior quality of asparagus and spud. I’m not complaining about the handful of whole almonds thrown onto the plate for good measure, just wishing they had been more roasted first and wondering whether they were the cause of the smoky paprika flavour that isn’t improving this otherwise fine dish. Mind you, Marmite figures in its menu description. Perhaps it accounts for the renegade bitterness I’m picking up.


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“Braised pork cheeks/langoustine bisque/potato glass/burnt apple/scampi” anyone? Descriptions here, though clipped, do run on a bit. The meat and scampi elements in this surf and turf set-up are up to par. Potato glass, shimmering and more diaphanous than a poppadum, is a persuasive bit of fun, like an ultra-thin, supersized crisp. Isoceles triangles of “burnt apple”, on the other hand, are as weird as a Halloween party snack. The bisque tastes more like stock cube than seafood.

We dip into the gnocchetti, which are fine in themselves, and we enjoy their partnering with gently bitter cooked radicchio and salty-creamy Gorgonzola, but this dish is marred by its crumbly topping of walnuts- they manage to be both stale and pickled- with a further capping of what we take to be hard pear or boring apple, minutely diced on top. This dish is an example of ideas that might work conceptually, but which have not yet been realised on the plate.

With a menu this cheap, I’m happy to pay £3 supplement for an abundant Iain Mellis selection of raw milk cheese, stacked with Errington’s Dunsyre Blue, Reblochon-like Maida Vale, and a handmade cheddar. These delights come with half a packet of oatcakes, half an apple, chestnut honey that doesn’t have the fragrance of chestnut trees, gooseberry chutney, and more of those rancid walnuts.

Mixed berry trifle is deconstructed, dry pistachio sponge soaking up a slick of blackberry-like coulis, white chocolate cream, slices of firm strawberry-tasting jelly, with a generous handful of fresh strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries. As I’ve said, you can’t complain about value-for-money here, which makes you more inclined to turn a blind eye to Aurora’s off notes and focus on what it gets right.

Aurora, 187 Great Junction Street, Leith 0131 554 5537

Food: 7 and a half/10

Atmosphere: 7/10

Service: 6/10

Value for money: 8/10

Joanna Blythman

Guild of Food Writers Food Writer of the Year 2018