Review: Salt Horse, Edinburgh

TIS the night before Christmas, well, 15 nights before Christmas to be exact. About 6pm. The wind is seasonally bitter, the rain reassuringly relentless. December darkness has settled thickly all upon the land.

Especially on the glistening cobbles running off the Royal Mile down to Salt Horse, whose yellow glow and steamy windows are the only sign of warmth in a street scene straight from a Burke and Hare movie.

Huddled in its doorway, peering at the cosy happy people eating inside, waiting for someone to rock up from the staff, are an American couple and their babe in arms.

And waiting behind them? My fat self and my skinny chum Joe. Here’s what happens next: A true story. A bar-keep approaches.

Cheery American Daddy (from beneath hat, scarf and mask): "Hi there, could we have a table?"

Barkeep: "Uh, well. No. The licensing laws, the licensing laws, no children in the bar area. Not allowed at this time.”

A giant speech bubble hovers suddenly above everyone’s head. The word “aw” is in it. The bar-keep obviously sees this because he adds: “But you could sit out in the garden, ken.”

OK, he didn’t say ken. But bear this in mind: it’s very dark, it’s very wet and it’s Baltic cold. Who in their right mind would sit in the garden, any garden?

That’s what I’m silently signalling to Joe anyway with raised eyebrows and pursed lips. And American Daddy’s reply? “Sure, OK.”

Wow. Wait though… Edinburgh bar-keep’s not quite finished. Dum-dum-dum. “We, uh, don’t serve food in the garden at this time though,” he adds. This time is, er, still 6pm-ish.

“You still want to go there,” he asks. Indicating he will have to descend to the dungeons to get the keys first. Joe and I, now being fully sucked into this festive drama, turn saucer eyes towards American Daddy. Surely he now realises there’s no room at this particular inn?

But …“Yes sure,” comes the astonishing answer. And off they all troop.

Proving that a) Edinburgh is sometimes weird and b) Edinburgh seems to exert some fatal attraction on Americans in December and c) Scotland must have the stupidest licensing laws in the Western world.

Oh, and maybe d) Perhaps Salt Horse has some secret transatlantic burger reputation that we don’t yet know about. Answers on a Christmas card? Nope on a large serving platter, in a bowl and on a couple of plates.

For a start, the kitchen has gone completely crackers with the sauces that drench the Filthy Fries; buffalo sauce, burger sauce and blue cheese sauce, all mixed together, meaning that fingers are sticky and tastebuds stupefied.

Although we wade through the first three-quarters of the bowl, the dangerous-looking sauce soup at the end is so intense we leave it well alone.

Eleven quids worth of chicken wings then? Turns out to be an awful lot of wings, maybe 20; seasoned, heavily spiced, and crisped. Considering I eat most of them, they must be pretty good.

Now, Salt Horse is actually a beer shop and bar but looking around its homely wooden interior, busy tables, everyone seems to be eating. Burgers mainly.

They have chicken, falafel and veggie versions, but as I asked a waitress for a recommendation – as always a seriously stupid idea – she recommends the BBB burger so enthusiastically that I am embarrassed into ordering it.

Minutes later, I’m wrangling a slippery, saucy, 2 x steak patty, bacon, plus cheesy hash brown, crispy onion and BBQ sauce concoction towards my mouth.

What does it taste like? Mainly of the sauces, but not in an unpleasant way.

Joe has the quiet man version, cheese, burgers, more BBQ sauce. Verdict? Alright, mate.

Now, I’d like to say we sneaked out to that garden throughout our meal ferrying little tidbits to the frozen family but, er, we didn’t.

I did, however, check the night sky when we got out on the pavement. Not a single bright star to be seen. Phew.

Salt Horse

Beer Shop and Bar

57-61 Blackfriars Street


0131 558 8304

Menu: Haggis fries, filthy fries, cauliflower bombs, bacon cheese burgers, chicken, falafel burgers. Americana food in a bar setting. 3/5

Service: It’s not their fault the licensing laws are mad and the staff were brisk, pleasant and reasonably friendly. 4/5

Atmosphere: Hand-knitted, wood-panelled, auld Edinburgh-cum-cool-joint down a cobbled side street off the Royal Mile. 5/5

Price: Huge platter of wings for £11, fairly big double stacked burgers start at £8, those filthy fries for a fiver. 4/5

Food: They go absolutely mad with the sauces, otherwise pretty decent burgers and crisp, spicy wings. Not bad. 6/10