The simplicity of Australian cooking along with Scotland's natural bounty have shaped former Martin Wishart sous chef Andrew Macdonald'smenu at this newly popular spot. Andy Lynes reports
Blackfriars, tucked away down a side street just off the Royal Mile, has been embraced by Edinburgh since it opened in March 2013.
More positive reviews in The Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday were topped off by a four-and-ahalf stars out of five rave from Joanna Blythman in The Sunday Herald, who declared that the restaurant was "off to a flyer".
The goodwill has even extended to Macdonald's old boss giving the fledging business a helping hand. "When we opened, Martin Wishart gave us a Rational oven he'd inherited when he opened the Honours, which was a bit of a boon," says Macdonald, who worked at Wishart's Leith restaurant for four years. "He came in to eat and was very complimentary." But it was a stint in Melbourne, working for executive chef Andrew McConnell at Circa in the Prince of Wales hotel, that had the greatest influence on his menu.
"McConnell has gone on to open a lot of places, such as Cutler and Co, and has become a prominent Aussie chef by serving very well-executed, simply done, honest food - and that's what we've tried to do at Blackfriars," says Macdonald. "We're just trying to make use of good Scottish produce and present it simply." Blackfriars' 50 covers are split equally between the bar and "We're just trying to make use of good Scottish produce and present it simply" Andrew Macdonald All Menuwatches go forward to the judging of the Menu of the Year Catey sp onsored by restaurant, along with two trestle tables with bench seating in a small, attractive, courtyard garden.
Macdonald and Binder had just one outside investor and launched the venture on a shoestring, so the interior design relies heavily on making the most of the tenement building's natural assets. Plenty of exposed brick provides the backdrop to bentwood bistro chairs and natural detailing, such as lighting fixtures made from tree branches.
The bar's chalkboard menu is available all day from 10am (Blackfriars opens for lunch and dinner from Wednesday to Sunday) and includes everything from a snack of spiced almonds (£2.50) to a signature dish of cured sea trout (£6.50). This dish also appears on the restaurant's Á la carte menu, which offers four choices at each course as well as a three-course set lunch menu for £18. "It's just me, one other chef and a KP, so we don't have lots of hands in the kitchen," says Macdonald.
The chef drew his inspiration for the trout dish from a pancettacured hiramasa kingfish with lemon oil he ate at Bar Lourinha in Melbourne: "We cure the trout in salt, sugar, toasted fennel seeds and lemon zest for eight hours.
We then slice it and serve with a salad of leaves from Phantassie Farm in East Lothian as well as apple, horseradish, lemon and fennel, and a simple vinaigrette." Despite serving 150-200 covers a week in the restaurant alone, Macdonald still finds time to make his own bread, ice-cream and even black pudding, which he serves spread on toast and topped with a fried egg and a parsley, caper and shallot salad (£6).
"It's more of a blood custard with eggs, onions, spice, back fat and a bit of cream," he says. "Making it without a pulse or grain gives a more spreadable texture." Apart from the whole organic lambs he buys from Hugh Grierson in Newmiln near Perth and butchers himself, Macdonald is most excited about a weekly seafood delivery from Skye: "It changes with what's available, which makes a nice challenge.
I might serve a whole boiled and cracked brown crab in the bar with soda bread and aioli (£8), or the picked meat dressed with mayo served with asparagus, courgettes and blood orange (£6.50) in the restaurant as a starter." Although Macdonald's food is all about the ingredients, the skill and care taken over their preparation shines through. Scotland on Sunday was surely correct to predict that Blackfriars will be "a stalwart of Edinburgh's eating-out scene for years to come".
â" Blackfriars bar and restaurant 57-61 Blackfriars Street Edinburgh EH1 1NB www.blackfriarsedinburgh.co.uk
Sample dishes from the menu
Potato and leek soup, wild garlic £5
Venison tartare, pickled vegetables, toast £6.50
Grilled courgettes, yogurt, pine nuts, mint £5.50
Roasted wood pigeon, barley, kale, hazelnuts £17
Plaice, brown shrimps, capers, potatoes, asparagus £15.50
Sprouting broccoli, freekeh, wild garlic, broccoli, goat's curd £15
Rhubarb and custard tart, rhubarb sorbet £6.50
Frangelico affogato £6.50
Chocolate délice, malt ice-cream £6.50