David Bann


THERE is something about an all-day restaurant. That sends salad leaves out looking weary, that makes aubergine, chickpea and cashew kofta appear dull, that delivers delicate butter crust tartlets that are, well, absolutely nothing of the sort.

I drift in here after a guilt-laden festive season of painfully expensive, yet worth it, Ayrshire Kelly Bronze turkey, award-winning pork sausages, beef olives – of all things – and a Belfast ham.

All from Ian Faulds of Kilmarnock, a Belfast ham himself of an entertainingly old school butcher.

Now through in Edinburgh seeking January redemption in what is surely Scotland’s oldest and most venerable vegetarian restaurant, I find myself pushing my plate back on a frankly disappointing apple and cinnamon tart, thinking…ugh that’s exactly the same base that was served as a starter.

Yes, it was filled then with Kintyre apple smoked cheese and cherry tomato. And, yes, I quite liked that first take – probably because its light and bubbling cheesiness masked the fact that the tart itself, breathlessly described in the menu, is nothing special.

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And now the meal ends and the tart base is filled with mooshy apple, looks burnt at the edges, seems lazily assembled, and tastes mainly of flour.

Let's rewind. I enjoyed that kofta when I had it earlier, though it didn’t look too appetising and arrived at the table in such a remarkably quick time I wondered how they had heated it. Its mildly spiced interior, anyway, was comforting, the different textures pleasant enough.

But when paying £19 for two courses, or £24 for three, on the lunch menu, who wants to see the same formulaic mixed salad leaves propping up both starters? Even though one of those salads came with plum dressing and banana chutney and the other with red pesto and balsamic.

That’s the problem with all-day restaurants. Finding a way to paper over the formulaic techniques that need to be employed to keep the ship safely sailing throughout a very long day. They seem to be struggling to do that here.

And yet…just when I’ve given up hope and am idly watching the restaurant tumble into early afternoon torpor: staff switching shifts, kitchen voices drifting through the hatch enumerating tonight’s dishes, the only other customers poring over what sounds like a thesis on philosophy…a baked parsnip pudding with rice arancino arrives.

Honestly? I only ordered this because it sounded so, erm, weird. Expectations are low. Especially after my first taste of a roasted celeriac, potato and chickpea curry in a lentil wrap with toasted flaked almonds.

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My thoughts? A) It seems a bit like tomatoey, acidy studenty grub and B) Those almonds are not in the least bit toasted.

Switching back to the parsnip pudding? Whoosh. Hot-damn. The combination of Strathdon blue and bramley apple, and then parsnip, sends those Heston Blumenthalesque umami flavours racing round the tastebuds.

It’s delicately flavoured, yet as soon as I start eating I want more. Then more. There’s a breadcrumbed arancino alongside that surprises too when it splits to reveal creamy, moist rice, steam rising appetisingly.

Even the roast swede taste on this dish is like the best boulangiered potatoes. Then there’s a lush sweet pea sauce and punchy peppery cabbage. Yay. This is what I was looking for. Something that makes no apologies and is much better than most meat dishes.

As for the wrap? Well, they can certainly make a sweet potato fritter in here. When I pick one from the plate, its filigree coating melts into soft savoury sensations, though they need to watch the colour of the fried items.

I like, too, the lentil wrap itself which is tasty and textured. The curry? Meh. The side-of-plate tomato chutney simply pleasant and the mint raita (this is a vegan dish) just plain old watery to me.

Hmm, out there the wall that stopped vegan and vegetarian food going mainstream has clearly tumbled but in here? Still living in the past.

David Bann

56-58 St Mary Street



Menu: A heady mix of tartlets, kofta, strudels and and arancini from Scotland’s venerable vegetarian (and vegan) restaurant. The rest of the world, though, may have caught up. 4/5

Atmosphere: Refined, airy and comfortable wood-panelled interior places it at the classier end of the eating-out market. 4/5

Service: Relaxed, pleasant, polite and efficient waiting staff. No complaints from me here. 5/5

Price: Lunch at £19 for two courses and £24 for three was saltily priced especially with some of the fairly formulaic dishes. 2/5

Food: Worth going just to try the baked parsnip pudding with arancino, otherwise not nearly enough evidence of care and attention. A bit tired and underwhelming. 6/10