Redwood - Hail to the chef


Private caterer Annette Sprague has gone public in a small way with Redwood, a tiny Stockbridge restaurant on the edge of the Pacific Rim. Jo Laidlaw sought it out

Democracy can be a beautiful thing, as recent events and a certain Mr Obama have shown. Edinburgh has its own little piece of democratisation to celebrate, as high-end private caterer Annette Sprague has backed away from cooking for boardrooms and private clients to open her own place in Stockbridge, meaning her inspiring take on Californian cuisine is now accessible to anyone with around 20 quid in their pocket.

Tucked into a St. Stephen’s Street basement, down a perilous set of steps, Redwood is teeny – seating 22 – and casual, with grey walls, red wood (geddit?) and the odd witticism on the chalkboards.

The menu is deliberately pared down, offering a mere three choices for each course. Perhaps due to her years spent cooking in people’s homes, here is a chef who understands the kind of food people actually want to eat, and isn’t afraid to cut through the nonsense and offer just that. There’s a distinct lack of foam, jus and fuss but an abundance of excellent ingredients cooked with simple flair. (No laminated cards here though – the menu changes weekly, ‘to keep it interesting’.)

Sprague cites the melting pot of her native San Francisco as her main influence, and there’s a genuine sense of excitement emanating from the kitchen as this meets head-on with Scotland’s tip-top ingredients. She’s canny enough to adapt: so whilst a quinoa and red rice salad may sound like the height of LA super-healthy faddiness, it’s topped with perfectly cooked sea bass, and is substantial and delicious. Gnocchi comes with a rocket pesto, which turns out to be a deconstructed dressing, a bright green slick of flavour. A goat’s cheese starter is boosted with a crêpe filled with silky sweet onions.

The puds are actually quite virtuous, but when a honey rum roasted pineapple cheesecake tastes this indulgent, no one is going to notice that the cream has been replaced with lighter crème fraiche. It’s the kind of food that makes you believe in long, hot summers, but is still satisfying enough to send you back out into an Edinburgh February feeling sustained and comforted.

There are nice touches – sweet roasted garlic heads served with the bread, posh products in the loos – and the service is welcoming and knowledgeable. It’s unlicensed so remember to bring your own (possibly Californian) wine. There are plans to introduce a small wine list, licensing permitting, but for the time being the BYOB (£4 corkage) is set to continue. Alongside prices that has two courses coming in at £20.95 / three for £25.95 it’s pretty neat on the financial front too.

There’s a real sense of freedom about Redwood, of a chef who’s refining her skills by cooking the things she loves the way she likes. A bit of an American dream, really.

33a St Stephens Street, Stockbridge, Edinburgh, 0131 225 8342.;
Open Tue—Sat 6—10pm. Closed Sun/Mon. Two-course dinner £20.95. BYOB (£4 corkage)

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