AH, VICTORIA STREET. The most picture perfect street in Edinburgh? Now, food is a nostalgic thing and that is certainly the case here because on rare Saturdays off, I would always visit the Grain Store for lunch. It had been a while, but the prospect of returning to the capital’s ‘Old Lady’ was exciting.
The restaurant is on the upper level of 30 Victoria Street, just up from the Grassmarket area of the city. Its candlelit stone walls, alcoves and wonderful views of the street below make this an ideal date spot. Opened by chef Carlo Coxon in 1991, this restaurant is a true hidden gem. Having built up a loyal clientele over the years, the restaurant doesn’t advertise or seek the limelight like other places.
We arrive for lunch where we are greeted by the familiar face of Paul MacPhail who instantly jokes about how long it has been since our last visit. I clock that some of Paul’s photo-sculpture artwork is adorning the old stone walls. The contemporary think-pieces work in perfect harmony with the old building, but art critic I am not. To the food…
We would both have the three-course lunch menu for £16 (two-courses for £14) and would open with a pair of Grain Store classics. Mine being house-cured salmon with pickled cucumber and fennel. You can get a lot of nasty smoked salmons in the shops these days but this one was top drawer. The meaty, delicate flesh was gently kissed by the aniseed notes and enhanced by the crunch from the fennel. The lightly pickled cucumber just seasons with sharpness and the slithers of radish adding peppery warmth. What made the dish was the homemade tartare sauce; packed with flavours, it wrapped this light starter up perfectly.
Stornoway black pudding with apple and watercress from the Grain Store is a favourite restaurant starter in our household and it never seems to impress with its simplicity. The exquisite superfood was cooked with a crispy exterior just how I like it and just goes so well with the sharpness of the apple and spice from the cress. The Grain Store always impresses in the sauce department and the rich, sticky jus binds this dish together.
The menus here are renowned for game so I opted for the pigeon fillet with pearl barley and celeriac puree. A perfect lunch dish for me. The pigeon was beautifully rare and rich; I’ve had mixed experiences with pearl barley but this was tender and nutty – an ideal foil for the bird. The celeriac puree was smooth as silk, but my one criticism is that I felt more was needed on the plate.
Sarah ordered Mediterranean chicken with seasonal veg. A tasty thigh and drumstick were matched with a ratatouille-style element and a couple of roast spuds. The dish was brimming with thyme flavours with the veg neatly handled to provide bite and tenderness at the same time. This dish was also well seasoned.
Dunsyre Blue has always been the cheese course on this lunch menu for as long as I can remember, but due to the unjust handling by the FSS towards the Errington family, the beautiful cheese is currently unavailable (Lanark Blue and a couple of newbies are, thankfully). Hebridean Blue, which is made by the same people who produce Isle of Mull Cheddar, was its replacement and, in all honesty, I’ve never been a huge fan of it. But my opinion was altered here. This piece was stunning and I loved the homemade seeded crispbreads and accompanying chutney, too.
You can’t beat a good pannacotta and Sarah’s pud was certainly up there. Paired with seasonal Scottish strawberries and sable crumb, the set cream certainly had the desired wobble and was spot on for a light lunch-time dessert.
A triumphant return to the Grain Store that pleased me no end. Immaculate service and romantic surroundings are always matched with superb food. No wonder this place has successfully traded for over 25 years. Until next time, old friend.
Phone: (0131) 225 7635
Address: 30 Victoria Street, Edinburgh, EH1 2JW