Timberyard - Edinburgh’s most atmospheric restaurant?
One of the main problems restaurants have is consistency. Keeping up the standards not only of the food but decor and service. So could Edinburgh’s Timberyard make an equally good impression as it did when I first went 16 months ago?
Then I’d loved practically everything about it - the big high-ceilinged room (it is a converted timber yard), the neutral colours enlivened by the odd splash of colour from the folded woollen rugs over the back of the Scandi-style chairs. The genuinely warm friendly service. The spectacular small plates of food - occasionally a bit over-ambitious - the young chef Ben, the son of the owners, had spent time at Noma I seem to remember - but all bang in season and impeccably sourced. This was emphatically a restaurant with its heart in the right place.
We decided to revisit for my birthday this year - easier said than done in the middle of the Edinburgh festival. We managed to snag a table online for 2pm - not quite what I had in mind so I dropped them an email to say we’d prefer to come in the evening if possible. A real person replied saying she’d managed to squeeze us in at 7. Special treatment? I don’t think so. I didn’t make a big deal about the fact I was a food writer or planning to review (so no freebies asked for or given either)
The room was unchanged - beautiful, dusky, candlelit, atmospheric. Hopeless for photography as you can see. I hoped the large party on the next door table - actors we were betting - weren’t going to spoil our evening but the room was large enough to absorb their noisy chatter. The menu seemed to have been pared down a bit with fewer options unless you went for the 8 course tasting menu. We decided to choose instead from the main menu which offers ‘bites’, small and large plates.
Wholemeal bread arrived, warm and crumbly served with whipped butter, tiny heaps of seasoning and a small pot of smoked (I think) goats curd. I was slightly concerned how minute my first plateful (pea, cucumber, truffle, fennel, hazelnut, spelt) was when it turned up but it was an explosion of flavours, textures and temperatures (the cucumber was a sorbet) - summer in a mouthful. My husband had something fashionably rubbly that turned out to be an umami-rich combination of quails egg, ham hock, st georges mushroom and dried cep.
My second plate - duck, celeriac chanterelles, tarragon, bramble apple - was more like a miniaturised main, a dress rehearsal for autumn. Duck can be flabby and tasteless but this, despite being rare was perfectly tender and great value for £11. The husband had a similar palate of flavours to my first course - a sublimely pretty plate of globe artichoke, courgette, pea, goats curd, carrot turnip and unbilled edible flowers (above) that I half-wished I’d ordered too.
He went for another small plate for his main - this time what was described as smoked sea trout, crab, courgette, beetroot, broad beans and fennel but which seemed more like a plate of warm smoky rich salmon - there was a lot going on in these dishes. I went for the comparatively conventional option of beef, shallot, cauliflower, leek, potato, onion and (a mercifully small amount of ) kale - the beef perfectly cooked, rare and braised, cleverly offset by the different styles of alliums. A technically perfect dish to flatter a good red.
Well into our stride by now we went for the pairings with the desserts, Gosnells delicately honeyed mead with a summery plate of strawberry, elderflower, woodruff, biscuit, frozen yoghurt and Sipsmith damson vodka with the inevitable chocolate option of chocolate, burnt milk, spiced bread crumb and marshmallow - both spot on. Our waitress who looked like a diligent A level student but for the big fierce tattoo on her arm sweetly brought extra glasses so we could share the drinks too.
She also took away our wine - a 2011 Gut Oggau Blaufrandisch without a murmur when we asked for it chilled suggesting we taste it first to see how cold we wanted it (other restaurants take note). Our only criticism is that at £62 (well, it was a birthday) it was slightly overpriced for the quality - probably by the producer rather than the restaurant - bringing our bill to a fairly extravagant £160 without service. We could have easily managed to pare that to £130. On the other hand you could spend £100 a head for the 8 course menu with paired drinks* and you might well be tempted to dip into the very appealing cocktails . . .
Timberyard might not be for everyone: it’s not grand, portions are still relatively small, especially for Scotland and service is on the casual side but it’s one of my favourite restaurants anywhere. If money were no object I'd fly to Edinburgh just to eat there. Next birthday I probably will.
PS I’ve since discovered there’s a shorter lunch menu and an outside bar on Fridays and Saturdays in the summer with interesting bar food - if it’s ever warm enough in Edinburgh to sit out
Timberyard is at 10 Lady Lawson Street, Edinburgh EH3 9DS. Tel 0131 221 1222 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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