Monday, April 20, 2009

The Stockbridge Tap

The Stockbridge Tap,
2 Raeburn Place
T: 0131 332 6345

Eating out in Edinburgh is something of a blinfolded dance through a culinary minefield – gastro-pubs and ‘fun’ restaurants sit side-by-side with 1970s-era Chinky and curry joints, the Karachi Kitchen nestled snugly next to the Fuk Yew, both inviting you to a nice dose of last night’s rubbish and last week’s fatty sauce.

The city also has more than its fair share of dodgy looking Italian gaffs, nasty whitewashed jobs with red, white and green everywhere, whitewashed walls, terracotta tile floors, red gingham checked tablecloths and wax-dribbled Chianti bottles with candles jammed in their reluctant necks.

Edinburgh also has a smattering of posh, contemporary fine dining eateries, many located in the new, uber-funky Leith area, a docklands reclamation project that includes the oddly-sited Royal Yacht, Brittania – a must-see piece of tourism if you’re in Edinburgh. This is reached, for some mad reason, by walking through a shopping mall. Both the Wedgwood and The Kitchin beckoned, serially lauded high-end plate decorators par excellence but when the chips were down, we couldn’t be arsed with getting dressed up and taking the risk of encountering cookery ring arrangements decorated with flavourless sauce bottle coloursplashes. I'm not saying that's what's on offer, just that there's always that risk lurking in the background of every funky website's promise of the best produce treated with respect.

So we went out for a meal to The Stockbridge Tap, a modern, bare-wood bedecked pub in the New Town area of the City. Edinburgh New Town, prosaically, is something like 200 years old.
They keep a good selection of ales at the Tap and you can’t help noticing that many local customers are digging into steaming bowls of mussels – an obvious favourite. A couple of excellent pints from the good selection of ales later and we’re sitting down in the rather sparse dining area and ordering from the helpful, pleasant staff.

Cullen skink. Oh dear, oh dear. Traditionally a rich soup of cream, smoked mackerel, lardons and potato garnished with parsley, my skink arrived laced with olive oil, piping hot, thick with flakes of moist, perfect fish - a complete treat and a cardiologist's nightmare. Sod 'em - it's brilliant. Other starters included a ham tortilla which looked more like a frittata but which was pronounced excellent by the startees.

The mains were straightforward, good food, a pan-fried sirloin steak with chips, two orders of fish and chips and a cassoulet. The sirloin steak was decorated with nothing more or less than pepper, salt and parsley butter, was pronounced cooked to perfection and was enjoyed thoroughly. My fish and chips was excellent, a crispy batter and fresh, perfectly cooked fish complemented with the Tap’s heart-attack inducing chips, fried in beef dripping and perhaps a little less crispy than a search for chipular perfection would dictate, but good for all that. I couldn't resist dipping into my fellow-diner's cassoulet and it, too, was excellent stuff - rich, thick and generous.

I took the cheese board and was stunned to find three generous chunks of excellent cheese (a Cheddar, a Wensleydale and a grin-inducing Stilton), wodges of bread and biscuits, a chutney and two big slabs of butter. Accompanied by a sneaky scoop of Lindisfarne mead, it was all simply too much food and I actually left some. Other finishers included custard ice cream with shortbread biscuits, chocolate fudge cake and cheesecake ice cream. All of these provoked grins of delight. And then a round of coffees and a couple of whiskies – the perfect finish to a meal that would have Weight Watchers tutting and frowning, waggling their fingers and making altogether too much fuss about things.

The whole evening, drinks included, came to less than £100, Dhs 550, for four. I heartily and unreservedly commend this most excellent public house to anyone visiting Edinburgh.

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