Quay Com­mons 9/10

Sunday Herald Life - - REVIEW - Joanna Blyth­man

ED­IN­BURGH’S suc­cess­ful Gar­dener’s Cot­tage has run out of space, so the pro­pri­etors have opened a new en­ter­prise in Leith. Quay Com­mons is billed as “an in­dus­tri­ous space to bake our fa­mous sour­dough bread en masse; a place to butcher and cure meat; a place to ex­per­i­ment and test new dishes and ingredients; a place to cul­ti­vate qual­ity and in­tegrity”. It’s on Commercial Street in part of a mod­ernised bonded ware­house. The his­toric in­dus­trial vibe chimes with its fo­cus on time-hon­oured meth­ods of pre­serv­ing and trans­form­ing raw ingredients, of drilling down to the ba­sics of food pro­duc­tion and cook­ing and get­ting in­volved with them, an in­ter­est that char­ac­terises many of the most ex­cit­ing new restau­rants around.

At heart though, Quay Com­mons isn’t a res­tau­rant. Thus far, the bak­ery that un­der­pins the ven­ture is turn­ing out home-baked breads, pas­tries and cakes that mark it out from the wave of cafés which are pop­ping up with alacrity. Good bak­eries nur­ture their cus­tomers; it’s the cater­ing equiv­a­lent of the home hearth. The smell of bread hang­ing in the air along with the dusty pres­ence of baked flour – who doesn’t love that? But I have one is­sue with them: they’re carb-cen­tric; you end up eat­ing too much stodge, how­ever tooth­some. Cer­tainly, the breads at Quay Com­mons are an enor­mous pull. With its springy crumb and chewy black crust, the sour­dough, sine qua non of any se­ri­ous, con­tem­po­rary bak­ing op­er­a­tion, is ace, and of course its well-tended nat­u­ral leaven and slow fer­men­ta­tion do won­ders for the di­gestibil­ity of the wheat. Its yeasted breads are ac­com­plished too – craggy baguettes, airy rolls that hy­bridise the ap­peal of a brioche and a bap.

It’s all sound stuff, but what I love about Quay Com­mons is how th­ese plea­sures in their own right are a plat­form for a sim­ple, fresh, savoury of­fer that’s pred­i­cated on en­tic­ingly pre­pared sea­sonal veg­eta­bles, with the cir­cum­spect ad­junct of well-se­lected fish and meats. For in­stance, the mut­ton pie, a paragon of melt­ing flaky pas­try and im­pec­ca­bly sea­soned meat, oc­cu­pies a third of the plate; straight­for­ward, sea­son­ally ap­pro­pri­ate sal­ads grace the other two-thirds. Juicy toma­toes of the less standard va­ri­ety (ev­ery tomato we eat here is spe­cial, red/green/yel­low, with ir­reg­u­lar di­men­sions, juicy, re­fresh­ingly acidic), new pota­toes, thinly sliced radish, al­lot­ment-style leaves that in­clude lit­tle chards, pep­pery bronze cress, all tan­gled in ten­der herb pick­ings, fen­nel, co­rian­der, mint, pars­ley. The fill­ing of the dainty roasted tomato and cour­gette tart man­ages to be nicely oozy with­out soft­en­ing the bril­liantly short pas­try that en­cases it. With it come fur­ther veg­etable de­lights: roasted beet­root, a luke­warm potato gratin, oily cour­gettes that have been roasted un­der a crum­ble of herbs.

The term “filled roll” takes on a new mean­ing at Quay Com­mons. One of ours is filled with a flaked Ar­broath smokie, ul­tra-fine pink radishes, green onion and mild chilli, lightly bound in a creamy dress­ing, prob­a­bly yo­ghurt-based; a lit­tle pick­led ap­ple adds kick. The pre­vail­ing palate here lets ingredients speak for them­selves. If you, like me, revel in more con­sciously con­structed, high-tone flavours, then it might seem a bit on the plain side. The wit­ti­est and clever­est dish is the mashed broad beans on sour­dough toast, a lo­cally – and sea­son­ally-aware – ri­poste to the slav­ishly fash­ion­able av­o­cado vari­ant. It’s a big slice and so top-loaded with the veg­eta­bles gar­nishes that it would make a meal for one, but it only costs £4.

Cakes, as op­posed to breads, keep up the standard, but un­evenly. I’d like more tan­gi­ble goose­berry and more of a hit of el­der­flower cor­dial in the tit­u­lar sponge cake, and the choco­late bram­ble cake is too clum­sily solid for me, but the more ex­per­i­men­tal cakes are in­spired. Fault­lessly baked choux buns, topped with a beet­root pow­der and De­mer­ara crack­ling, are novel, yet they work so well. An­other im­pec­ca­ble short­crust tart­let presents slices of sharp white-green straw­berry driz­zled with a red straw­berry sauce on a lovely cus­tard; there’s a haunt­ingly herbal taste to this one, pos­si­bly lo­vage.

We draw the line be­fore the in­trigu­ing rasp­berry marsh­mal­low. Let’s keep that one for next time. New on the block, Quay Com­mons is still evolv­ing, and I do like its di­rec­tion of travel.

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