Edward Murray and Dale Mailley may not be boisterous about their credentials, but this home-grown restaurant takes its seasonality very seriously, says Lee Williams
Still waters run deep, they say. And that may well be just as true of restaurants as it is for people. There are those places that like to shout in your face about their seasonal and local credentials, the names of their suppliers, their sustainability ethos, the CVs of their chefs… you name it. Then there are those that just get on quietly with the business of producing good food.
The Gardener's Cottage in Edinburgh is definitely a restaurant of the latter variety. The six-course set dinner menu (£40 a head) immediately alerts you (or rather, doesn't alert you) to this fact.
Where some menus read like a Russian novel, listing the names, addresses and star signs of all their suppliers, at the Gardener's Cottage you get the kind of terse description a Fleet Street headline writer would be proud of: ‘Ricotta, mint and rye agnolotti', ‘Hake, smoked tomato, lobster', ‘Cockles, bacon, leeks and cider' or ‘Blackcurrant mousse, hazelnut cake, berries and meadowsweet ice-cream'.
You wouldn't know from such understated descriptions that, for example, the ricotta, pasta and ice-cream were all made in-house, or that the meadowsweet comes from the restaurant's own garden, along with the other herbs, berries and much of the vegetables; that the tomatoes were smoked out the back over cherry wood; or that the bacon is cured in-house from a pig bought in whole from an organic farm in Perthshire. Still waters…
Duck, cherry, cep, burnt yogurt
Co-chef and co-owner Edward Murray personifies the understated modesty of the place. "We don't like to preach at our customers and we like to keep things reasonably brief," he says, looking pumped and dishevelled off the back of a 30-cover lunch service, "and we don't like slogans or long descriptions."
Murray, along with partner Dale Mailley, opened the restaurant in 2012 after working together at Edinburgh's renowned the Atrium. Similarly to that restaurant, the Gardener's Cottage is seriously committed to seasonality and local Scottish produce, although you wouldn't know it unless you asked. "We don't use garlic for half the year," says Murray. "We don't use onions for half the year. The fresh produce is 100% British."
The only thing that isn't understated in this former home of the Royal Terrace gardener is the garden itself. It leaps up around the walls of the building in a riot of colour and fragrance. Planted and tended by a professional gardener after the chefs' own attempts to "grow a few potatoes" proved hapless, the small plot is home to upwards of 90 different kinds of plants, from lovage to woodruff, yuccas to plantains, currants to courgettes and Angelica to sweet cicely.
Edward Murray and Dale Mailley
Aster, bistort, kale and chard have found their way from the garden onto the set menu's hake, smoked tomatoes and lobster dish. Garden herbs can be found on the à la carte lunch menu in the potted duck (£4), the tomatoes and ricotta (£4) and the hake brandade (£3.50). And the garden salad (£4) comprises 15 to 20 different ingredients from the plot, including herbs, leaves, broad beans and Starburst courgettes, as the seasons change. "It's reasonably prominent, what we get from the garden," says Murray, "and very important to how we write the menus."
The garden is also home to a smoker and a homemade barbecue, which has recently been in action cooking vegetables, charring leeks and crisping lamb for the lamb, burnt leek yogurt, ramiro pepper, courgette and kale (£17).
Mackerel, gooseberry, fennel
Where possible, the restaurant buys its animals in whole, and some of the cuts find their way straight onto the menu and others go to another location for curing. Buying in whole animals fits the practicalities of dealing with small local suppliers as well as being sustainable, according to Murray. And practical considerations also led to a menu that changes daily in detail and fortnightly in its entirety.
"When we started, we got one delivery a week from our suppliers," says Murray. "To use the stuff we needed to use quickly at the beginning of the week and the other stuff later, we had to change the menus a lot."
The food has to speak for itself at the Gardener's Cottage because, refreshingly, this is one restaurant where no one is else is doing the talking.
Hake, lobster, smoked tomatoes
From the menu
- Mackerel, cherry sauce
- Duck broth
- Broad bean and ricotta agnolotti, chanterelles
- Hake, smoked tomatoes, lobster, potatoes
- Raspberry sorbet, meringue
- Blackcurrant mousse, meadowsweet ice-cream
Menu from 21 August; £40 a head
The Gardener's Cottage
1 Royal Terrace Gardens
Edinburgh EH7 5DX