From its lofty city centre location, Dale Mailley's Edinburgh restaurant showcases the cream of local suppliers, elevated to a fine dining tasting menu. Katherine Price takes in the view
"We use local, seasonal food and we like to buy happy animals and food from suppliers we trust." It's a simple philosophy that Dale Mailley says runs through all his businesses.
Mailley is chef-director across three restaurants in Edinburgh: Gardener's Cottage in the city centre, Quay Commons in Leith, and the Lookout, perched on Calton Hill. The latter opened in November 2018 in partnership with the Collective gallery, following the two-year development of the former City Observatory.
The site was a real coup for Mailley, with its views over Edinburgh, Leith and the Firth of Forth, and while the modern, floor-to-ceiling glass building may appear a departure from the restored Gardener's Cottage that he and fellow chef Edward Murray (no longer involved in the business) saved from dilapidation in 2012, the ethos is the same but with a few tweaks.
Gardener's Cottage is nestled in the city's Royal Terrace Gardens, "so you'll find a lot of the dishes will be very herbal and vegetable-heavy," says Mailley. Meanwhile, with Calton Hill being physically ‘elevated', they've gone for a more ‘elevated' and sophisticated menu to fit.
"It's allowed us to continue to evolve the food that we have been evolving for eight years, just because when people come for the Gardener's Cottage they expect the Gardener's Cottage [experience] so you have to keep it true to itself. The Lookout gives us a chance to offer Edinburgh something new," he says.
It has also allowed him and his team to experiment; he says they are "a bit looser" when it comes to ingredient-sourcing proximity and they will use vanilla, pineapple and spices, for example, which they wouldn't at Gardener's Cottage as it is more locally focused. This is partly a nod to the shipping history of Calton Hill; there is a time ball on the top of the hill's Nelson's Monument, which was raised and lowered as a time signal to the ships in Leith harbour in the 19th century, which would have brought ‘exotic' ingredients into the city.
Drawing from previous experience (he has worked in Edinburgh as a chef de partie in Tom Kitchin's Michelin-starred the Kitchin and the Atrium as a sous chef under Neil Forbes, as well as stints in Sri Lanka and New Zealand), there are two lunch menus (set and à la carte) and four regularly changing dinner menus (three-course, five-course, a nine-course tasting menu and a vegan tasting menu), as well as a £14 continental breakfast.
The menus feature longstanding ‘core' ingredients, depending on seasonality – for example, Isle of Gigha halibut – with a regularly changing garnish (chanterelles, mussels and seaweed at the time of visiting). One of the chef's favourite ingredients is Hugh Grierson organic mutton from Perthshire, which he looks forward to in the same way he says most chefs look forward to the Glorious Twelfth.
He says, "We've been using that supplier for 10 years. Mutton is such an underused product and it's got such a bad name that you expect it to be in a curry in an Indian restaurant, but we're elevating it to an £80 tasting menu. It's an amazing product."
Mailley bakes the mutton in hay and serves it with seasonal vegetables. The chef also uses Edinburgh artisan producers such as East Coast Cured charcuterie and IJ Mellis cheese, as well as Glasgow fish-market-based John Vallance.
"We rely really, really heavily on our suppliers. In some ways, they write the menu and we just bring it together," says Mailley.
One year in, the 42-cover restaurant is proving popular – even on quieter days mid-week it averages 80-90 covers, and across breakfast, lunch and dinner on busy Saturdays it can hit 180. Being on an exposed hilltop, the climb is naturally more appealing in the sunnier months, so the brigade can vary from eight up to 15 chefs depending on demand, although Mailley says chefs tend to be "site-specific" rather than working across the businesses as the restaurants are so different.
As for future expansion, Mailley says they're always looking to open more restaurants and they're exploring their options in Edinburgh – although they'd "never say no to anything".
"We don't feel like we're finished," he says. "We like to look for unique sites… if the right thing came along, then we'd be interested."
From the menu
- Baked Vacherin, crisp bread
- ‘Nduja, toasted sourdough
- Oyster tempura, XO and natural
- Deer tartare, black garlic, celeriac
- Beetroot, smoked curds, hazelnut
- Loch Etive trout, hen of the woods
- Native breed beef, fermented cabbage, onion
- Baron Bigod, truffle, crumpet
- Bitter chocolate, coffee, Marsala wine
Nine-course tasting menu, £80. Set dinner menu: three courses, £38; five courses, £50
The Lookout, Calton Hill, Edinburgh EH7 5AA www.thelookoutedinburgh.co
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