The gestation of Salt Horse – although it was undoubtedly anything but – seems to have been incredibly swift.
Blackfriars, just off the Royal Mile, seems to have been functioning – albeit with ominous signs something wasn’t right – until quite recently, and then a month ago a social media buzz started about the new occupants.
That diverse but impressive pedigree is immediately evident when you cross the threshold of this well-appointed venue. It’s tough to pigeonhole – taking a number of elements from each and deftly combining them to create something that feels simultaneously familiar and new.
So there’s the bar, with the same layout as Blackfriars, but freshened up with muted, tasteful décor and the bar itself transformed with an impressive chrome arc tap contraption.
The familiarity extends to the people. There are many familiar faces behind – and, indeed, in front of – the bar on the opening evening, giving it a jolly and informal atmosphere like a reunion of friends.
The draught selection – all keg – is strong but not as explosive an opening salvo as I anticipated. All class, but seemingly aimed at gently luring us in rather than scaring the horses, with offerings from Arbor, Burning Sky, Buxton, Kernel, Marble and Wild. Terrific, all the same. I kick off with the Lukas from Thornbridge (£3.20 for a two-thirds of a pint schooner), a brilliant Helles lager, and then follow with a beautifully dry fruity cherry sour from Black Market (£5.40 a schooner).
With the disappointing, and aptly-named, London Confusion from Lagunitas (£4.50 a schooner) – an astringent, thin IPA with heavy carbonation – in hand, I wandered next door to check out the other half of the Salt Horse operation.
How to describe it? An appealing hybrid of café, bottle shop and urban farm shop, it’s a lovely, informal space. The music is good and a few folk are hanging out reading books in comfy chairs or tapping on laptops at the big communal table.
The selection of bottle beer is, frankly, ridiculous. There’s heavy and understandable bias towards the best of Belgium – with some obscure beers I’ve not seen in Scotland before – with a strong British accent, too. I didn’t spot one duff – or, indeed, Duff – beer in the whole place.
The prices all seemed reasonable – although slightly less reasonable the more expensive the beers got, which I suspect may be to offset the flat £2 corkage charge to drink any on the premises. There is also the option to drink the draught beer from next door in this space, so you can mix and match with friends.
The food all looked tasty – unfussy, hearty and perfect to accompany beer.
So, yes, Salt Horse is, perhaps predictably, great. Every element is executed well. It already feels like a destination beer venue while offering something refreshingly different to what the city already has.
Oh, and my rather hasty suggestion that the opening draught beer looked slightly tame was comprehensively blown out the water within a couple of days with a Scottish – and perhaps UK? – first of a tap takeover from Swiss brewery BFM.
Address: 57-61 Blackfriars Street, Edinburgh EH1 1NB