At Norn in Edinburgh, chef-patron Scott Smith is earning accolades for his modern Scottish menu, says Karen Peattie
It's 5.30pm and already dark when I knock on the door of Norn, the Edinburgh restaurant that everyone is talking about. Service starts in less than two hours and Henderson Street, near the popular Shore district in Leith, seems unusually quiet. The fact that Norn's external signage is so subtle suggests people might not even realise it's here, but then that could be deemed one of its charms.
Inside, the hustle and bustle of tables being set and chefs prepping in the open kitchen evokes a warm welcome on a chilly autumn night. Chef Scott Smith, just 28, is sitting in the corner with his sous chef Darren.
Norn - the name refers to a form of Norse formerly spoken in Orkney and Shetland - emerged on Edinburgh's culinary scene at the end of May, the brainchild of Smith and his wife Laura. Within weeks it earned glowing praise from influential reviewers Joanna Blythman in The Sunday Herald and The Guardian's Marina O'Loughlin, piquing interest among foodies.
At one time occupied by Tony Borthwick's Plumed Horse, Norn became "very busy very quickly". "We are where we thought we would be after 18 months," says Smith. "We were confident we would do well, but soon after opening we had to take on more staff - the reviews have been fantastic but they also bring added pressure that we hadn't planned for."
Smith seems at ease with that pressure and satisfied that the concept behind the 36-cover Norn sets it apart from near-neighbours Restaurant Martin Wishart on the Shore and the Kitchin in Commercial Street. Both have Michelin stars, but Smith isn't thinking that far ahead. "There's still work to do here," he points out. "It's important to keep pushing the boundaries with our menus."
While fine-tuning Norn is Smith's immediate priority, he is also in the early stages of creating a kitchen garden, having found a plot of land just outside Edinburgh. He's also planning a second outlet in the city, which will take a casual wine bar format and allow him to build up a comprehensive selection of wines.
Sommelier Sandro Colavolpe is in charge of wines at Norn, sourcing from small winemakers. Smith's calm demeanour belies his years and he attributes much of that to Geoffrey Smeddle, the much-respected owner of the Peat Inn, the Michelin-starred restaurant near St Andrews in Fife. "I spent two years with Geoff and I didn't just learn about food; I learned how to treat staff and how to run a tight operation," he explains. "Geoff taught me about self-discipline and being calm. I've brought that to Norn."
Smith finds it difficult to describe the style of the menu as the seasons and ingredients dictate the composition of the dishes. However, when pushed, he reckons that "modern Scottish" comes closest.
ers choose from a set menu of four (£40) or seven courses (£65) in the evenings. Matching drinks are available at £35 for the four-course option and £60 for seven. Lunch, featuring three courses, costs £20. Anyone hoping to check out the options online needn't bother - the menus aren't published on the website or displayed in the window.
"There's no point because we change the menu so regularly - today's is number 44 and it will be changing again next week because some ingredients will no longer be available," he says.
The menu provides only basic information, listing just three or four ingredients, the matching wine and the price. It certainly sets the scene for an intriguing dining experience.
Smith singles out the bread made with Orcadian beremeal, an ancient variety of barley, and the accompanying butter made in the kitchen from cultured buttermilk, as points ofdifference. Each course is brought to the table by one of the chefs who talks diners through the ingredients and method of cooking - the sommelier does the same with the wine.
Key suppliers in the Edinburgh and Lothians areas include the ever-reliable Stevie Fish of Fishbrothers, Phantassie Farm (fruit and veg, herbs, eggs and nuts), the Secret Herb Garden (flowers, herbs, fruit and veg), Mr Eion (coffee) and Henri of Stockbridge (wines). Meat is sourced from Shaws Fine Meats in the Scottish Borders.
Indeed, in the months leading up to the opening of Norn, Smith visited his suppliers to learn more about them and their produce.
"You've got to build up a relationship with them," he says. "By creating our menus around what's available and what we forage ourselves, we are supporting producers as well as providing guests with food that is not only fresh, but sustainable and interesting."
From the menu
•Crab, artichoke, sorrel
•Halibut, leek, swede, dulse
•Beetroot, squash, crowdie
•Rabbit, radicchio, carrot, mustard
•Lamb, cabbage, potato, cress
•Apple, pear, honey, walnut
•Pine, sea buckthorn, chocolate
Seven-course tasting menu: £65 Matching wines: £35
Norn, 50-54 Henderson Street, Leith,
Edinburgh EH6 6DE
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