Interview by the Daily Record with Owner Richard Muir, Manager Murray Muir and Head Chef at Cafe Fish.
Interview by the Daily Record with Owner Richard Muir, Manager Murray Muir and Head Chef at Cafe Fish.
We won the award for the Scottish Seafood restaurant of the year 2012 at an awards ceremony in Glasgow last week. we are absolutely delighted as all the hard work of Stuart and his team in the Kitchen and Murray and his guys out front has been recognised! Thanks again to all of you out there who voted for us but more importantly support us as customers!
We have been shortlisted to the final three, awards dinner on the 27th February - thanks for all your support, we appreciate it!!
Reviewed July 2011
YOU can’t buck the law of supply and demand. There has been an explosion of new restaurants down in Leith, with the opening of Mithas, on Dock Place, the latest arrival in an increasingly crowded culinary ghetto where heavyweight restaurants are now scrapping hard for trade.
From the trio of Michelin-starred superstars to some of the best gastro-pubs in Scotland, just about every manner of restaurant is down by the docks, with the result that the area is heaving at weekends, with virtually every table taken.
But as every Edinburgh restaurateur knows, a happy life isn’t when every cover is taken on a sunny Saturday evening in the middle of the Festival, but when you can break even on a wet Wednesday lunchtime in February. It is this that has informed the decision of Cafe Fish to up sticks and move across the city from Leith to Stockbridge. Situated up by the banana flats at the outer limits of Leith restaurantland, Cafe Fish was more than a ten-minute walk from the lunch-trade honey pot that is the Scottish Government building at Victoria Quay, and while the weekends looked after themselves the downtimes were too down for comfort.
There was much that worked about Cafe Fish in Leith. The bright, airy building created a good atmosphere, but there were also plenty of attributes that were transportable: over the two years since it opened up in Leith, the place had built up a substantial caucus of committed customers, and there have been gradual but unmistakeable improvements in the kitchen and on the wine list. Most of all, the passion of Richard Muir’s family-run restaurant remained a portable asset. Still, the decision to move to Stockbridge is an interesting one. There are no fish restaurants in what is a very wealthy area, but there are at least a dozen restaurants within a ten-minute walk. The North West Circus Place site is right on the main drag, with plenty of scope for passing trade – yet it is also where Edinburgh’s first Italian family, the Continis, tried and failed to establish Zanzero.
The space that Cafe Fish has moved into was once a bank, and it retains that bygone opulence, with fine cornicing and intricate marbling on the floor. Muir has given the place a six-figure overhaul, getting rid of the mezzanine floor and bringing in a matt chrome bar to anchor the whole space. It works too: it was always a bright, relaxing room, but the changes have added a contemporary edge that clearly differentiates from its previous incarnations.
All of which is very interesting, but what about the food? When I first visited, two years ago, the restaurant was clearly still a work in progress, but a lot of maturing has gone on in the interim. The result is a large menu and food that is produced with enormous self-confidence and no little elan. Throw in prices that are resolutely reasonable, and you have a potent mix that should ensure those quiet Tuesday lunchtimes in Leith are a thing of the past.
We started off with a couple of pretty simple offerings, with Tim opting for pickled Orkney herring with dill grain mustard and creme fraiche on sourdough toast, while I chose plaice goujons with soy dipping sauce. Both were virtually flawless. My half-dozen strips of breaded plaice were perfectly cooked and lent a welcome kick by a nicely tart soy sauce, but it was Tim’s starter that really stole the show. Pickled herring can bring to mind white, flaccid lab specimens in a jar, but this was a fantastically subtle and beautifully presented melange served atop two thin slices of sourdough toast that tasted like it had come from the nearby branch of Herbie’s deli (this is a good thing). While a student in Edinburgh for the best part of a decade, Tim worked as a waiter in half the restaurants in town. He has tried countless fishy starters, but reckoned that this competes with any of them – but would have been even better had the bread not been toasted.
Our main courses were equally impressive, with Tim’s battered fish and chips with crushed (ie: mushy) peas and tartar sauce as near to spot-on as makes no difference. I chose the Goan monkfish and king prawn curry, which the waiter described as “about a five or a six on the hotness scale”. This butter chicken boy would say it was more like an eight. Yet once my palate had adjusted to the heat, I quickly began to appreciate that this was a fine dish in which the large helping of monkfish was unusually tender and delicate, while the thick sauce had a lovely creamy texture.
My experience is that fish restaurants often produce particularly good puddings, and this was no exception. Tim’s white chocolate and espresso cheesecake with hazelnut anglaise was a huge calorific slab streaked through with toffee and with a commendably dry base. On top, rather than the gravelly texture you often get with mascarpone, it was silky, almost like creme brÃuee. It certainly disappeared quickly, as did my very satisfactory summer fruit crumble with vanilla ice-cream.
With a particularly more-ish bottle of viognier that came in at under £20, we ate off the Ã la carte menu and left with a bill for £60, which included a decent thank-you for some slick service. On the next-door table was Michelin-starred chef Tony Borthwick, who was clearly enjoying his lunch. And, best of all, on a Monday lunchtime before the Festival, the place was full. Muir had better get used to that.
Cafe Fish, 15 North West Circus Place, Edinburgh (0131-225 4431,www.cafefish.net)
Bill please: Starters £5-£11, Main courses £11-£19, Puddings £5-£8, Cheese £9 Two-course set menu £22
Hopefully you’ll see that we are even more passionate about our love of food and wine.
We have also added an online booking facility for you so it’s even easier to book for lunch or dinner.
Housed in a classic Georgian building in Stockbridge, this family-run fish restaurant has left its former site in Leith behind to make a welcome addition to New Town dining. Stripped back to the old bank’s stunning art deco interiors, the restaurant is airy and light with wooden parquet floors and panelling, aluminium tables and a feature New York-style oyster bar which welcomes the locals who come in “for their tea”.
Owner Richard Muir is passionate about sustainability, and talks affectionately about his suppliers. I ordered Inverawe smoked trout, which sat on a bed of capers and gherkins, dressed with quails’ eggs and cress. This colourful and beautifully-presented dish was delicious – the tartness of the relish a perfect balance to the smokiness of the trout. My companion ordered scallops with smoked apple, celeriac and black truffle purée and declared the scallops to be perfectly cooked and the sauce a welcome accompaniment. We shared a smoked salmon pate, rich with chunks of juicy salmon and chives.
My main course of sea bream with basmati rice and aubergines had a delightful kick of chilli to it, while my partner’s fish and chips with mushy peas was a meaty hake in a very light batter. We loved the vinegar pourer – a stylish white enamel open-mouthed fish – a collectors item, apparently! Fellow diners raved about the mussels, served in brightly-coloured mussel pots – apparently a favourite dish for sharing at the bar.
For dessert, the ginger sponge with ginger butterscotch sauce and ginger ice cream was a masterpiece – light melt-in-the-mouth sponge with a wonderful hot sauce contrasting with the chill of the ice cream – every mouthful was to die for and the ice cream, full of ginger, chunks we agreed was the best we’d ever tasted.
The kitchen is brought into the restaurant with chef Stuart Lynch cooking in full view of diners. Staff, proudly attired in Café Fish T-shirts with striking fish bone logos, are friendly and efficient, offering a good knowledge of the menu and wine list. Owners Richard and Mary and son Murray are very much in evidence, and you feel that on your next visit you’ll be greeted by name and made to feel even more welcome.
Hmmm. There’s grey and there’s grey. And the new Cafe Fish is definitely grey. Stylish, minimalist grey? No. Battleship grey? Maybe. It’s like walking into the canteen on HMS Ark Royal. Vast expanses of plain wall are painted in the colour, limp lighting emphasises it and pools of grey light gather together in corners for gloomy little get-togethers.
I’m actually wondering if the staff, gathered quietly round that open kitchen near the door, need counselling after long shifts. Or just pop in the back for one of those daylight lamp sessions to cure Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s a stark contrast to the restaurant’s lovely setting in sensational Stockbridge which tonight glitters like a 1960s movie set with its picture windows, twinkly lighting and quaint little shops with tasteful but colourful signs.
Thank goodness the waitress is of the bouncy type, radiating Edinburgh optimism and actually genuinely letting out an involuntary mwah with accompanying 1980s lip-smacking dahling gesture when describing something on the menu.
That’s the sort of thing that would get you a sore coupon in Glasgow, but to me it’s a little pin-prick of light as I sit like a coiled spring waiting for my food so I can bolt it and bolt down the M8.
But hang on. The place is filling up. Various couples in expensive clothes filter through the doors of this former bank, a whole table of what looks like elderly extras from La Dolce Vita squeeze in behind me with cardigans draped over shoulders and weird things – is that actually a cravat – tied round their necks. Then the food arrives. At first? Hmmm. Technically good, visually stunning, but although the confit of octopus with glistening little puy lentil jewellery scattered around it looks lovely and tastes very good, its coldness only highlights the lack of warmth in the room.
It takes a bowlful of salty, coddy, crisp and delicious fish cakes with citrus mayo to start to heat things up. And heat up they do. The waitresses are now mwah-mwah-mwahing all over the place as the room fills up further. Platefuls of fish ’n’chips are firing from the chefs who look like they’ve suddenly been plugged in and, yes, I have possibly the best fish dish I’ve had all year before me.
Pan-seared sea bream – and for once it actually is properly seared, skin crackling crisp and salty – white flakes falling away into a superb sweet and curried aubergine masala, coriander chutney adding a tang to the whole thing. A bowl of pilau rice sits on the side, but it’s totally unnecessary as this thing stands on its own. It’s not a blip, or a one-off, either. The dish of roasted cod is also perfectly presented, Toulouse sausage immersed in a cassoulet of big fat beans that are winey and garlicky and good enough to eat without any accompaniment.
Umm. I’m seeing Cafe Fish in a whole new way. Those cliff-like walls with their relentless dreariness will probably never lighten up, and if I peer over the hubbub I can still see the lonely spots where the brightness curls up and dies, but there is definitely a feel of being somewhere with life now.
A competent and moist steamed ginger sponge with a dollop of gingery ice cream is good, the stem ginger butterscotch particularly good. I should pause here to say the desserts are good value at £5. The only shadow on the culinary horizon is the Bramley apple and bramble crumble which, and this may not surprise you as nobody in the 21st century restaurant world can do a proper crumble, is poor. The crumble topping is thin, hard and could be from one of those yoghurt corners that sell like hot-cakes in Tesco, the filling is like spooning up a bowlful of hot, runny jam. Did it spoil the whole food experience? No. Should they rethink the decor? Yes. Even if they don’t is Cafe Fish worth a visit? Definitely.
Can’t really say better than that.
The tiny cactus sitting next to the salt and pepper on each table was quirky and spoke volumes for the management of Cafe Fish. Simply, it summed up the attention to detail.
Everything has been thought out, from the decor to what appears on the plate. Cafe Fish can’t be faulted.
The restaurant was first established in Edinburgh’s now trendy old port at Leith in the spring of 2009. News of its quality spread fast and it quickly became a place to visit.
Richard Muir was so strong in his belief that the project would work near the centre of Scotland’s Capital that he took a leap of faith and moved to affluent Stockbridge.
His chosen location is in a former bank and the 1930’s interior features some stunning art deco work, including wonderful wood and marble floors.
An aluminium oyster bar is a prominent feature and it is complemented by aluminium tables. Some could consider this cold, but we felt it oozed class and cleanliness.
The move meant overheads increased, but so did the footfall exposure for this superb establishment. Cafe Fish now enjoys a prominent position near one of Edinburgh’s leading inner-city villages, Stockbridge.
The 65-cover restaurant (with an outside terrace for 18) is open all day, seven days, catering for a cross section, from mums with prams to discerning diners. It is busy, a testament to its quality.
Locally sourced fish and shellfish is key to this project. Even the bread is specially-selected, locally.
Speak to Mr Muir and he will tell you exactly who supplied your pan roasted sea bass or trout and the menu changes to suit what is available.
Cafe Fish is chic but not stuffy and part of that informality is having part of the kitchen on view to diners.
You can watch your meal being constructed before serving. Once again, attention to detail.
Head chef Stuart Lynch has been in charge since last August and his enthusiastic team are anxious to please.
What’s more, they have recruited a Japanese sushi trained and qualified chef, adding a welcome extra touch as well as providing another PR outlet.
Business is brisk. Weekends are heavily booked but weekday business is 70 per cent walk-up, underpinning the superb choice of location. Cafe Fish is also in demand for groups of between 12 and 18, but don’t worry. The group area is discreetly tucked away at the back of the restaurant.
So, what about the food. It’s a deliciously small menu but with something for everybody, including vegetarian.
Pam opened with Cafe Fish cakes with citrus mayo. The delicate flavours made this a joy.
My selection was grilled queenies (Queen scallops) with Pernod and garlic butter. The dish was beautifully presented and the taste was divine. What’s more, the dressing on the salad was light and just right for the delicate scallops.
Alternatives were cured salmon, beetroot, orange and radish or wild duck terrine, dried plum compote and sour dough toast, Inverawe smoked salmon pate with sour dough toast, or pear, rocket, Gorgonzola, truffle with hazelnut dressing.
On to the main. Shetland blueshell mussels, coconut, chilli, coriander and chips or pan-seared sea bream, aubergine masala, coriander chutney and pilau rice were appealing.
So was the option of gnocci, wild mushroom, sage, onion with parmesan reggiano.
However, Pam picked the Cafe Fish and chips with crushed peas and tartare sauce. We were both curious to see what the chef could do with a well-loved, simple dish.
We’ll, it was worth waiting for. The fish was beautifully cooked, the batter superb, the crushed peas were exquisite and the chips were to die for. Yes, I stole one and the taste, with added sea salt, was superb.
My selection was roast North Atlantic cod, Toulouse sausage and cannellini beans cassoulet with garlic and parsley. The flavour flooded out, to coin a phrase, and the beans and sausage worked well with the cod.
There are other options. For example, Donegal oysters or 28-day aged Orkney rib-eye steak, with Cafe de Paris butter and chips, but they have a supplement.
The overall reaction. Super restaurant and undoubtedly worth a visit, particularly at £22 for two courses.
Oh, and Sunday lunch has just started (to December). Three courses £19.50 including a bottle of wine between two. I’ll be in the queue.
What’s more, and again attention to detail, if you are in a hurry then they are happy to fit you in, and Cafe Fish are delighted to cope with diners with allergies.
Open: Seven days from 10am (for coffees and pastries) From 12 noon witha lunch time and all-day menu From 6pm for dinner (last orders at 9.30pm)
Café Fish has swum upstream from the bottom of comparatively affordable Leith to Stockbridge.
Their two-year-old venue on Henderson Street is now shut, and they’ve re-opened in the swanky former premises of Zanzero on North West Circus Place. Then, this 76-cover former bank seemed offputtingly crowded.
I’m not sure how they’ve fixed the feng shui, but it now feels airy, with outside seating, an aluminium champers bar, dinky cacti on the tables and parquet floors.
Still, as far as the food goes, I didn’t have high hopes, since I wasn’t that impressed by the original restaurant.
Despite this, the menu’s smoked salmon, crab and mango tian (£8) was beckoning, as was the Serrano ham, roast peach and purple basil (£8), both of which we decided to share among our posse of three (me, Flipper and Jaws).
The former option was fresh and summery, consisting of a sandcastle-shaped mound of pleated smoked salmon underneath a layer of crabmeat. This was topped by a colourful, salsa-like concoction of nibs of sweetcorn, chopped coriander and a little red chilli. The whole shebang had been drizzled with a touch of a Tabasco-spiked and tomatoey “bloody Mary vinaigrette” – zingy.
However, there was no sign of the mango, as billed: not that this dish was particularly amiss. Still, if you had zeamaysophobia (an irrational fear of sweetcorn), you might not be clapping your fins together with joy.
Our other starter was a generous assemblage of goodies. You can’t really complain about caramelised quarters of sticky roasted peach alongside slices of a decent ham, herby leaves and big smooth blobs of milky bocconcini, with a scratching of salt’n’pepper, plus a drizzle of olive oil. We were happy.
For my main, I’d opted for the grilled Scrabster plaice (£19). This was a kite-shaped slab of feathery light, melty fish, drenched with garlic butter, and topped with blanched baby gem, which still had a little crunch, as well as a handful of mouse-coloured girolles and three baby tatties with toasty skin. Beautiful.
Jaws had also chosen well, when it came to his Goan monkfish and prawn curry (£18). Huge wads of meaty fish and ginormous prawns were smothered in a maroon tamarind and coconut sauce, with a sucker punch of chilli. My toothy dining partner wondered why, in that case, there was only a thimble-sized ramekin of basmati rice. He needed loads more carbs to dilute this curry’s kick.
When it came to the North Atlantic cod (£13), I think Flipper had the least successful dish. Compared to the other two options on the table, it was a little dullsville. A slightly underdone pillow of crispy-skinned cod was perched on a pile of rather bland ratatouille. The main flavour was provided by the salty tapenade along the edges of the plate.
For dessert, we all wanted Valrhona chocolate delice (£7), so asked for three spoons and ordered the white peach and strawberry trifle (£6) as well. Unfortunately, the latter failed to excite, with clouds of whipped cream and mascarpone that obscured everything else in the sundae glass. The chocolatey option was much lovelier, with a dense, cocoa-powdered cylinder teamed with a flourish of yellow “salted passion-fruit caramel” and a scattering of tart raspberries.
Very good, but their much-improved menu probably doesn’t have anything to do with their upmarket EH3 postcode. In much the same way as humans – such as Flipper, Jaws and yours truly – started out with gills, scales and boggly eyes, Café Fish seems to have evolved.
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