This is something new for me on the blog, so be sure to let me know what you think in the comments.
In an age where anyone with a keyboard fancies themselves a critic, I was unsure about reviewing restaurants on my blog. As a chef and former restaurant owner, the ability of any diner to head online and give their anonymous opinion was both a blessing and a curse. I don’t believe anyone can really assess a place from one visit, so I stop short of calling my opinion a review, and stick to giving my ‘impression’ of the establishment in question. I’m not here to bash anyone either, so you will probably only see me on here talking about a place that made a good first impression (unless someplace really goes out of their way to make me angry!).
That being said, our recent trip to Edinburgh was punctuated by a duo of entertaining and enlightening stops at two restaurants that could not be more different from each other. I’ll begin with ‘Treacle’, a fun and lively bar/restaurant that wasn’t afraid to break from the mold of stuffy pubs and euro clubs. In the next few days I’ll give my impressions of Edinburgh’s number one Mexican restaurant, Miro’s Cantina Mexicana (which is much better than you’d think).
39-41 Broughton St., Edinburgh; Website (beware of catchy song)
Thankfully, the over-the-top music was left on the website, and when we walked in on a busy Wednesday night, the music bordered on trendy without being obnoxious or all that noticeable. It was a good crowd of mostly twenty-somethings, which may or may not have made my dad feel like an old man. The walls were painted with bright scenes of anime versions of its patrons hanging out and enjoying the vibe. The TV in the corner was showing the Paralympic broadcast, but was later switched to a DVD of Voltron, which I couldn’t stop watching for sheer nostalgia’s sake.
When we walked in, the place seemed busy, but while many people crowded the bar, there was no wait for a table for 3. I’ll be honest, the drink menu was a little overwhelming and filled with way too many sweet drinks that belonged on vacation in the Caribbean, but they did have a page of classic cocktails and I was glad to see some obscure classics featured, such as Corn n’ Oil and the Aviation. I started with an Aviation, which was a little too heavy on the lemon for my taste, while my wife had a few Negronis (which were very good). After the Aviation I asked if the bartenders could make an Old Fashioned (which wasn’t featured on the menu), the server helpfully suggested trying their drink, “Conference”, which was similar to an old-fashioned, but packed a bit more of a punch (Maker’s Mark, Chivas Regal, Don Julio Añejo and Ron Zacapa, stirred with barrel-aged bitters). The bar back (or bartender?) who dropped it off let me know I had made a good choice, and boy was he right, it was really outstanding. I had 2 more, which may have contributed to my later enjoyment of our food.
The menu was really eclectic, and featured everything from a full Scottish breakfast to Pad Thai and Philly Cheese Steak. Normally, I would be incredibly turned off by a menu that was this random, but it actually fit with the style of the place and from what I saw coming out of the kitchen, everything seemed well-made, if not completely ‘authentic’. I wish I had the chance to try more of the food at Treacle, but before I knew it, my dad ordered two items from the “To Share” section of their menu. These turned out to be two nice sized platters, featuring a number of items including Duck Spring Rolls, Coconut Chicken, Sweet Chili Prawns and chips (fries) on one platter, and Tempura Vegetables, Veggie Spring Rolls, Raw Salad and Sweet Potato Wedges on the other. At £11.95 per platter, it was plenty of food for the three of us, and sharing snack food seemed like a good fit for the vibe of the place. In fact, I think they would do well to expand their share menu with a few more platter options and share-able dishes.
There was really nothing special about any of these items, but that wasn’t the point or a problem because I wasn’t looking for innovation or culinary inspiration from Treacle. The food, despite being fairly standard fare that is often done poorly in countless other restaurants, was very well done. The spring rolls were crispy with fresh ingredients, the sweet potatoes were double-fried to perfection and the prawns were not over-cooked in a sweet (and spicy!) chili sauce that didn’t taste like it came straight from a bottle. I’ve had all these items before, but I have to say, Treacle did them right instead of just treating them as an afterthought to their expansive drink list. The one thing I wish I had room to try was some of the desserts, which looked enticingly delicious.
As with many places in the UK, the crowds died down relatively early (although, it was only Wednesday), but we really enjoyed ourselves and the staff was really helpful, hospitable and friendly. It was one of my favorite meals out since I’ve been across the pond (not that there have been many), not because they were reaching for the Michelin stars, but because they knew what they were and embraced it. They didn’t follow the same playbook as anyone else and weren’t afraid to be vastly different from the vast crop of copycat restaurants and pubs in the country. I love to see places try something different and make a concerted effort to perform to the best of their ability. Treacle may not win any culinary awards, but they unashamedly wave their freak-flag high and ‘do what they do’ very well.