Edinburgh restaurant review: Hemmingway's in Leith offers 'surprising' tastes and 'bolshie' flavours

"Dishes are divided into categories like Sea, Land or Garden, a bit like Stockbridge’s Merienda or Tom Kitchin’s gaffs."

Saturday, 16th November 2019, 4:00 pm

If you’re looking for a book about diet and nutrition, 613.2 is your Dewey Decimal System number. I used to work in a library. Shelving and cataloguing were two of my least favourite jobs.

Date stamping was better, along with fining people. Perhaps that’s why a former colleague told me I wasn’t cut out for librarianship.

Anyway, they are quiet places – unlike, I imagine, this library-themed bar and restaurant, with typewriter lampstands and book spine-printed wallpaper. It’s named after author and carouser Ernest Hemingway (813.52 Literature>American and Canadian>20th Century etc) and, on a Sunday lunchtime, it feels like this place is hung over and still in its pyjamas. One upbeat member of staff, in tartan trousers and tattoos, is dealing with yesterday’s piles of empty bottles. They’ve just fixed a blown fuse, and there are no other diners.

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Hemingway's 1 Commercial Street, Edinburgh

Last night, I’m sure there will have been some shenanigans on the swing, which hangs in the corridor en route to the most bling toilets in town, and the long cocktail list probably lubricated all the fun. With retrospective FOMO, we order a few things off the small plates menu.

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Dishes are divided into categories like Sea, Land or Garden, a bit like Stockbridge’s Merienda or Tom Kitchin’s gaffs. The first to arrive are the crispy prawn Thai style (£8.50). There are five undocked pieces of chunky seafood, topped by a knobbly pile of peanuts and strewn with a “som tum” salad, which isn’t particularly authentic, but gives the plateful a hot sweet hit.

Also from the Sea section, we try the seared scallops (£11). This consisted of three pale stubs, each with an ellipse of gold, like a coaster’s teacup stain, on its top, a heap of peas (probably more in the mushy camp than anything near puréed) and tiny beads of chorizo and its oil.

Next on our Tolkien-esque adventure are offerings from the Land. Another two pleasant dishes arrive. Our confit duck leg (£10) is crusty and burnish-skinned and comes with a soft cannellini bean cassoulet that’s studded with Toulouse sausage tokens and tiny burr-like breadcrumbs, which are as fuzzy looking as a Hobbit’s feet.

Our less memorable buttermilk marinaded chicken thigh (£6.50) consists of two hunks of meat covered in a feathery crust, and there’s a puddle of sticky and spicy bang bang sauce below bits of spring onion, a wedge of lime and wheels of red chilli.

Sadly, the Garden section didn’t feature a medium rare slab of Monty Don and a stock made from Nigel’s tail, so we had to go for the sweet potato (£6) instead – four char-edged planks of the vegetable, propped up like spades against a shed, with a pile of smooth lemony raita in the middle, sprinkled with a cashew nut-heavy dukkah. We also accidentally ordered a pizza, of sorts, as a side dish. There’s a choice of eight of these flatbreads, and we fancied the prosciutto (£9), which was big enough to do a single person for lunch, and featured a crunchy toasted base that was daubed with gorgonzola, sprigs of broccoli, rocket and shreds of ham.

There are no special sections for pudding, just three sugary options (or IJ Mellis cheese), all of which sounded pretty appealing. The Key lime cheesecake (£7), sprinkled with dusty crumbs of meringue, was a smooth brick of velvety goodness on a gingery biscuit base. There was also a ball of minty mojito sorbet on the side and a smidge of coconutty cream. While, our moussey light disc of milk chocolate delice (£7) was topped by a saucer of chocolate-covered puffed rice, and came with a scoop of smooth malted milk ice-cream and a dollop of coffee-infused dulce de leche. Lovely.

The food here surprised me. It might be a little less fancy than the menu suggests, but the flavours are bolshie and, I imagine, suitable for hangovers. If only a few of last night’s drinkers had returned for lunch.

File under 0001.94 (Mysteries). n

The Verdict

How much? Lunch for two, excluding drinks, £65

Food: 7.5/10

Ambience: 7.5/10

Total: 15/20


1 Commercial Street, Edinburgh

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