Shoal lotta love
A new seafood restaurant in Leith has Donald Reid fishing for compliments
For a nation surrounded by sea, we can get ourselves into a right fankle over fish. There are the sustainability problems (explicitly set out in the recent film The End of the Line), the langoustines that are flown off to a more appreciative Spanish market, the love fish/hate bones and love fish/hate cooking it conundrums, not to mention our collective health-guilt about fish suppers.
Dining dilemmas extend beyond questions of salt or sauce. An obvious and intriguing gap among seafood restaurants is that between fish and chip bars and smart seafood bistros.
Fish in restaurants has a reputation for being slightly pricey – justified to some extent by the fact that good fish and good fish cooks aren’t always cheap. Is there a way, nevertheless, to make fish fast but also funky, contemporary but a bit cheaper? There has to be more to inexpensive seafood than serving it with chips.
Forays in this direction have been made by places such as the Mussel Inns and Loch Fyne Restaurants, though the most exciting local arrival recently has been the diminutive Crabshakk in Glasgow, where fresh and simple West Coast seafood is served in upbeat, informal, modern surroundings.
Lagging just a couple of months in its wake (though clearly in the planning for some time), Edinburgh now has its own version of the slick fish café. The most disappointing thing about it is the rather bland name, Café Fish. Get past that, and the smart revolving door, and you’ll find a place that’s got a bit more verve and urban chic than you’d normally expect to find at the foot of a Leith tenement.
Located right between the Plumed Horse and the Vintners Rooms, the old Vintage Bar was completely overhauled by Café Fish owner Richard Muir. The contemporary decor mixes brushed aluminium tables with wooden floors, funky frosted glass with original cornicing, a long, sleek modern bar with the intensity of an open kitchen. Muir says he wants to ‘explode the myth that you have to spend £50 per head for a plate of fish and a glass or two of wine’ with three courses available for £23 and half-a-dozen good wines available by the glass.
With two female chefs in the kitchen, Virgine Dumon and India Innes, daily changing one-page menus feature uncomplicated but tasty starters/snacks such as crispy squid with lemon mayo or devilled sardine on garlic bread, with main courses eschewing anything overwrought, with dishes such as spiced cod with cardamom rice or baked halibut on puy lentils.
They do serve posh fish and chips, as well as traditional items such as Cullen skink and fishcakes. But well sourced, confidently cooked and free from too much fuss, it’s a very modern model of a fish café.
60 Henderson Street, Leith, Edinburgh
0131 538 6131, cafefish.net.
Open Tue–Sat noon–3pm, 6–11.30pm;
Sun 10am–5pm. Closed Mon.
Average price two-course lunch £15;
dinner £19 for two courses, £23 for three.