I’d had a bloody awful evening in the restaurant beneath Ryan’s Bar, a while back. This included Innis & Gunn beer that tasted of vanilla tea, completely the wrong bill being delivered, and the food being pretty shit. This was a shame because the space, with its secret little vaults in the similar style to Whigham’s, was one that should have been home to a better place.
Now trading under the name Usquabae and reimagined as a whisky cellar bar with a local larder menu, I visited with an optimistic lilt in my stride.
The interior remains largely the same save for the inclusion of some heavy drapery which I suppose is there to make it feel more tweedy Scottish. It lacked subtlety but as I’ve said above, this is a very smart setting so it’s still being used to good effect.
The menu hits all the expected local notes with the inclusion of a pair of disproportionately priced – to the rest of the menu, not necessarily to the quality of the ingredients – surf and turf dishes. It was the first time I’d seen mussels paired with venison. It didn’t tempt me at £24.
I kept it restrained and classic, starting with Cullen skink then following with a game casserole that brought together rabbit, hare, pigeon and pheasant. I matched things with their house wines.
The soup soon arrived looking very bright yellow and much more like a stew than a soup. The accompanying bread was embarrassing, but the stew/soup was really pretty good. Chunks of smoked haddock were plentiful and the seasoning was nicely restrained. I liked it.
The main course casserole was essentially a brown version of the starter with some more of the missing wetness. As with the skink it was pointlessly topped with watercress.
Regrettably it came with the same execrable bread; you know those rolls you get with the canteen soup…
It proved another pretty good dish packing profuse chunks of meat, all very tender and slow cooked, and had some decent seasoning from juniper berries and woody herbs. I used the cubes of butter that came with the shit bread to give the sauce a lovely sheen.
I rounded things out with a decent cheeseboard with memorably rustic oatcakes. It would have been remiss not to try a dram, so I renewed acquaintances with Glengoyne 12 year old.
So overall, it was a slightly mixed bag from Usquabae and in case you didn’t pick it up, they need to sort their bread as it’s a disgracefully poor representation of the local Scottish larder. That aside, it’s a reasonably priced option to get a fair introduction to some hearty Scottish cooking so I wouldn’t rule out pointing people in its direction.
Blythe scores Usquabae
3.5/5 for food
3/5 for presentation
3.5/5 for service
4/5 for setting
giving an overall 14/20
I ate: Cullen skink, game casserole
I drank: white and red wines
I wore: blue and gold and brown
Total bill: £34.80
Address: 4 Hope Street, West End, Edinburgh EH2 4DB