Baba launched with much flourish towards the end of 2017. I popped along and availed myself of their hospitality during their soft-launch period, but chose to take a bit of time to reach a considered verdict, not least because it was clear that the place was going to take a little time to settle.
The premises have been home to a number of restaurants down the years, most recently the George Street Bar & Grill. These have been solid operations that have failed the bridge the gap between hotel restaurant and go-to spot for locals. The same can be said for many of our city’s hotel restaurants. I most recently burbled on about this topic in my review of the excellent Bistro Deluxe.
The folks behind Ox & Finch are at the helm, working both with the team at Principal Hotels who operate the hotel – previously the Roxburghe – and leading restaurant consultants the Gorgeous Group.
The menu style is similar to Ox & Finch but more focussed on the cooking of the Levant rather than drawing inspiration from anywhere and everywhere. This is a fairly broad food tradition to draw upon so there’s plenty of diversity of dishes on offer.
The interior has been heavily altered from the staid decor of before. It gives the sense that they’ve paid an awful lot of money to have it looked as old and distressed as it does. It’s well thought-out, but I’m not sure it will appeal to all. It does have some very charming detailing, though, and ingenius practical features like sliding dividers on the booth seats to accommodate variable party sizes.
Having previously visited with regular guest questers Rachel and Freya, amongst others, I was today joined by another regular, Kim.
Having got a fair handle on the ordering process from previous trips, I walked Kim through what I thought was a good route to success.
This started with the haggis kibbeh, followed by two dips – we chose the baba ganoush and the beetroot hummus – then two bigger dishes – we opted for the squid with Merguez and the beef kofta – then a final side, which was the roasted cauliflower. This turned out to be just about right for a hearty feed.
Much has been said in praise of the bulgur wheat encrusted haggis and harissa balls. They hit the spot very well, but felt a bit incongruous to me.
The dips got things back in more recognisable territory with stylishly presented versions of these classic Mediterranean dips. They were served with freshly warm pitta.
The main dishes packed further bold flavours in well-executed plates. The squid dish had good tentacle work while the kofta were profoundly meaty. The accompanying butternut puree was an Ox & Finch classic.
The baked cauliflower with tahini and ras el hanout was a very good side, packed with verve and no little elegance. It rounded things out on a very strong note.
So overall, I enjoyed my lunchtime visit to Baba. It feels like it still has some settling in to do, as there’s a slight sense of everyone still trying really hard rather than the place exuding a relaxed charm. But you’ll likely be impressed with what you find when you visit. I’ll be back again, soon, and look forward to seeing how this intriguing new place develops over time.
Blythe scores Baba
4/5 for food
4/5 for presentation
4/5 for service
4/5 for setting
giving an overall 16/20
Today’s questers were: Kim, Blythe
We ate: haggis kibbeh, baba ganoush, beetroot hummus, squid and Merguez, beef kofta, cauliflower
We drank: water
We wore: Levantine robes
Total bill: £38
Address: 130 George Street, Edinburgh EH2 4JZ