After two years living in Edinburgh, I finally had the privilege of making my way into The Walnut on Leith Walk. Though I’d previously lived across the road, I somehow never managed a visit - I often thought of it as a perfect date spot but due to my failings in the dating arena, sadly it was never called upon.
My (lack of) romantic skills though are a chat for another day.
During every Exploredi interview, the question of where these hospitality personalities take themselves on a day/night off is always asked. Typically it doesn’t make the final cut for the published interview and is more intrigue on my part but one restaurant kept being mentioned - The Walnut. Sometimes slightly mediocre comments were made in regards to service or atmosphere but one main message kept arising - at the end of the day the food did the talking.
On my visit, service and atmosphere were of no issue whatsoever. The lady on the floor, outstanding - friendly and chatty without staying too long. Attentive, polite and very much aware of every moving part within the restaurant. The space itself is quite simple but in no way is this a negative, again it just lets the food do the talking. Placed along the walls were humorous pictures depicting the different cuts on each cut of meat but the centrepiece of the room is the large chalkboard for the specials menu. More on this later.
The meal itself - two courses for £10. What an absolute steal, in the centre of town you’ll pay more for an average burger.
After researching menus online prior to the visit, the pea and ham hock soup with truffle oil appeared to be a regular dish. A good ol’ British staple - it did exactly as described though the truffle could have been a little more pronounced. With the complimentary home made bread, it was a great way to start the meal on a typical rainy Edinburgh day.
I was incredibly interested in the scallop and porcini mushroom special but after perusing the menus, it was apparent that no other dish actually contained scallops. I’ll never forget Anthony Bourdain’s rant in Kitchen Confidential on seafood, stating he will never eat fish on a Monday or molluscs from a chef he doesn’t know - that a Monday lunch special could be from Friday’s produce delivery. I visited on Monday for lunch - next time! It looked seriously good.
Now I didn’t walk into their kitchen, talk to the chef or peruse their invoices so I am in no way suggesting this is a fact but it’s always a good practise to live by.
For the main, I only need to say four words. Parmesan crusted duck leg. It sat upon a white bean, herb and tomato cassoulet but come on, parmesan crusted duck leg. The burnt parmesan had the crunch, the duck was tender and the sauce rich - simple but damn tasty. Again with the homemade bread, it was perfect to capture every last bit of the cassoulet.
The interviewee’s were not wrong - the food here is outstanding.
While they do promote themselves as BYOB, The Walnut do have quite a substantial wine list by the glass and bottle - all for a relatively cheap standard price. House wine for £3.75 a glass or a more substantial list for £4.75.
The house white was exactly what a house wine should be, easy drinking and unobtrusive. A light acidity, moderate body and a hint of green apples - quite malleable and practical for most light starters. Worked surprisingly well with the soup too.
The French Grenache off the extended menu was a bit of a let down, it just lacked any body or substance. A Grenache should have been a great accompaniment to the cassoulet - instead it was left until after I’d finished my meal to not spoil the feed.
Recommendation - stick to house wine or bring your own.
Bad isn’t the best word for this, confusing may suit better.
There were three menus. A lunch option (two courses for £10), what I assume was their dinner options (two courses for £20) and then the big specials chalk board on the wall that was half empty. But I was there for lunch?
I’ve seen some restaurants offering A la Carte alongside their set two course lunches but this was a first.
There were two elderly couples sat across from me, as they perused the options openly exclaimed, “so which one do we order off?”
I was informed it is possible to replace any course with something off the specials board should we prefer that. But should I be on the £20 menu and my friend is on the £10 and we both got the same special would they both be the exact same serving? Or would his pea and ham soup contain white truffle shavings instead of the standard truffle oil?
These are just not things you should be thinking about while dining. I know it’s being a bit critical but I imagine I’m not the only one who’s thought this.
One menu - simplify, simplify, simplify. There is this big, incredible centrepiece chalkboard on the wall, why not use that as the menu? It’s quirky and fits the feel of the entire venue. Much better than laminated paper anyway.