As another local pub opens with a menu that dares not to serve deep-fried fish and chips, Donald Reid asks if the year of Homecoming might just herald an outbreak of homecooking
Guilty Lily is not, nor does it aspire to be, a gastropub. That label, for many good reasons (not least the ugliness of the name), hasn’t really made much headway north of the border. Guilty Lily is a local pub serving real ale, bowls of olives, decent coffee, homemade scones, sprigs of mint in its water jugs and a shortish menu of simple, decent food. Nothing too pretentious and nothing more than you might hope for from a local pub-café-bistro with a sense of individuality and self-respect. Sadly, however, in a sector dominated by routine, poor-grade food straight from the food-service lorries, a short menu of simple, decent food cooked by cooks on the premises is not normal.
The kind of thing we’re talking about here is a pork and cider hotpot containing a cheaper cut of better sourced meat that has sufficient fat and flavour to hold up alongside the bulk of winter root veg, or offering crispy potato chunks rather than peely-wally fingers of reconstituted potato, or a shepherd’s pie that most likely uses the same freshly ground mince that’s in the burgers. There are only half-a-dozen mains on offer, but these days the sight of a shorter menu should make you sit up and take notice.
If you can put two courses on the table for £12-£15, it’s in the zone deemed good value without straying so cheap that it could only have been created by a significant dose of industrialisation in the way the food is grown, produced, processed and cooked. A menu with all-day breakfasts, soups and a couple of stews and pies is easy and obvious pub food but, with someone in the kitchen sourcing butchers’ meat, seasonal fresh produce and decent basics like bread and cheese, alongside someone with the cooking skills to impart flavour and restraint, becomes easy and obvious pub food that’s worth engaging with.
Guilty Lily is located in a rather anonymous zone of small industrial units and new flats halfway between Canonmills and Leith in north Edinburgh. Tellingly, there’s nowhere decent to eat within at least half a mile in all directions. In a clear effort to reach out to the local community it makes itself child friendly, has free wi-fi, is putting together a programme of music gigs and has special events lined up not just for Burns Night but also – being Aussie-run – for Australia Day the next day.
The team behind it opened, with some success, The Espy in Portobello last year having started with, then moved on from, Roseleaf in Leith. The formula is one that suits a neighbourhood rather better than the downtown scene, though unlike Portobello, Bonnington doesn’t attract many day trippers. With dark wood floors and furniture, red and black fabrics and a couple of slumping sofas it’s neatly kitted out without being glamorous and isn’t huge, with just over 20 covers in the dining room and space for perhaps 50 drinking in the bar. You’d call it normal – if only that were the case.
284 Bonnington Road, Edinburgh
0131 554 5824. www.guiltylily.com
A pub for the local community; comfortable,
sensibly priced with a simple menu.