Norn – SADLY NOW CLOSED
10/10 from Blythman in the Herald. 9/10 from O’Laughlin in the Guardian. Monkfish endorsement. Packed lunchtime service. If you’re looking for a cast iron guarantee of a good lunch, surely newly arrived Norn is it?
Those reviews have all focussed on dinner service, though, each recommending that the lunchtime menu looks likely to represent good value at three courses for £20. I went to test this out.
Norn has taken over the premises where the once excellent Plumed Horse used to trade. I was unfortunate enough to visit in its final few months and it was sad to see its former glories reduced to such mediocrity.
Norn’s arrival has given the place a considerable spruce up and Good Lord isn’t there a profusion of staff, both front of house and in the kitchen. It feels all new and shiny, and it’s abundantly clear that they’re seeking that most glittering of prizes, a Michelin star.
The number of waiting staff actually proved detrimental to the experience. Firstly the arrival of one of the chefs to present the desserts, which might otherwise have been an impactful touch, was lost in the parade of faces that we’d already had delivering dishes.
More disappointingly, because a different person delivered the wine than had taken our order, I was asked to taste it when it was Clare, today’s guest quester who works in the wine trade, who had done the ordering. In most places I’d chalk this up to #everydaysexism but I don’t think that was the case here. There’s simply far too many people attempting to manage service in what is an open and easy to navigate dining space.
It was a pretty good bottle of white from their concise list of natural wine options, by the way.
Anyhoo, on to the food. The lunch menu offers two options each for starter, main and dessert, with basic ingredients listed rather than precisely what each dish will be. Everything sounded good so it seemed silly not to order it all for sharing so that’s what we did.
Starters promptly arrived. Firstly, we had mackerel with cucumber, radish and cicely. Served on a classic Nordic plate, presentation was let down by a watery green sauce that wandered everywhere, but it was an otherwise smart dish. It was pleasantly refreshing but lacked really punchy flavour.
The star of the whole meal was the heritage tomato salad. The centrepiece was a smoked Isle of Wight tomato stuffed with crowdie. The dish was very simple with the quality of the ingredients allowed to shine through. It was memorably impressive.
The main courses didn’t hit that standard. Clare was really pleased with the chicken dish which brought together a rolled chicken thigh, drumstick and chicken skin with caramelized onion, mushroom and roasted lettuce. It was fine but too safe and mannered for me.
The roasted hake with spinach, carrots and seabuckthorn sauce was another head-scratcher. The fish was plain and underseasoned and the accompaniments while fine were pretty nondescript.
The dessert was textures of strawberries in an almond milk cream. Again, pleasant was the word that came to mind.
The cheese selection, which I think was Bonnet and a ewe’s milk cheese, was pretty good with some eyecatchingly almost black damson jelly.
Oh, and I almost forgot the bread and butter with which the Herald and Guardian were so in love. Beremeal bread is dead on-trend at the moment. The butter was extremely bonnie and very tasty.
So overall, lunch at Norn didn’t quite hit the heights. There is clearly some thoughtful cooking going on here and a commendable approach to local sourcing, but it was rather too timid and understated for my tastes.
As I said at the start, the other reviews have been about the dinner menu. The conclusion from today is that this is firmly a place to visit in the evening where things delivered on a more expansive scale sound like they come together much more coherently. For now, the lunch service feels bloated in terms of staffing and just a little too pleasant and satisfactory rather than smashingly fantastic.
Today’s questers were: Clare, Blythe
We ate: mackerel, cucumber, cicely, radish; heritage tomato salad; roasted hake; chicken leg; strawberries and almond cream; cheese
We drank: white wine, water, coffee
We wore: green, blue
Total bill: £85
Address: 50-54 Henderson St, Edinburgh, EH6 6DE