Ripe Time - L’Artichaut

Ripe Time - L’Artichaut

The arrival of a classy, Franco-Scottish vegetarian restaurant in Edinburgh’s New Town certainly doesn’t fall into the category of usual suspects. Claire Ritchie paid a visit.

France isn’t a country known for its abundant vege sympathy, with non-meat-eaters often having to make do with a half-hearted omelette, a green salad or frîtes for every meal. But in a way the concept of a vege French restaurant shouldn’t seem so outlandish – certainly not in these days of local sourcing and organic produce, at which the French excel.

Out to prove that point is Jean-Michel Gauffre, the man behind La Garrigue, one of Edinburgh’s most respected French restaurants, who has decided to try his hand at exciting Edinburgh’s vegetarian diners.

Situated just out of the heart of town, in the former home of Duck’s at Le Marche Noir, L’Artichaut is as welcoming as a house-proud grandmère’s living room, with fresh green and aubergine paint on the walls, chunky and sineous wooden furniture (commissioned from the Tim Stead Woodschool in the Scottish Borders) and a wonderfully cosy atmosphere.

Anybody used to the slender pickings denoted by the (v) symbol when eating out will know that opening the menu in a vegetarian restaurant is to be overwhelmed by choice. Not here the ubiquitous goat’s cheese tart or lazy vegetarian lasagne. Instead, a menu brimming with seasonal delights, including a ‘Ripe Time’ section, which takes a single seasonal item – currently the wild chanterelle mushroom – and crafts a selection of four or five separate choices around it.

On the main à la carte menu, a starter of roasted sweetcorn soup with chive crème fraîche is both warming and delicate in flavour. A main course of char-grilled celeriac is a bold move, served on creamy polenta festooned with pistachios, dark juicy olives and a touch of samphire for a taste of the sea. Saffron pilaff comes with a medley of verdant summer veg in a filo pastry basket – tasty, but not easy to transport to the table and also a little on the diminutive side.

Among the desserts, some meringues offer an insight into head chef Belinda Woollett’s true capabilities: a perfect consistency (crisp on the outside, gooey in the middle) offering up the expected sugariness, then sharp lime, followed by the spicy savouriness of pink peppercorns. A sensational burst of modern, innovative flavours.

While any modern and upmarket vegetarian restaurant would hesitate to be too closely associated with the lentil and chickpea brigade, there is the sense that the menu could up its protein quotient slightly. Such uncool nuts and pulses are key to the vegetarian lifestyle for a reason, and it would be good to see some of their nutritious presence here.

L’Artichaut is a more than welcome – and overdue – addition to Edinburgh’s vegetarian scene, although there is plenty here to woo meat-eaters who appreciate a menu that has the freshest seasonal produce at its heart, not to mention a place that welcomes customers into its cosy environs with big smiles and not a hint of pretension.

14 Eyre Place, Edinburgh
0131 558 1608,
Open Tue–Sat noon–2.30pm, 6pm–9pm

Take three: A smarter vegetarian

Martin Wishart at Loch Lomond
De Vere Cameron House Hotel, by Balloch, 01389 722504,
At both Cameron House and on the Shore in Leith, Martin Wishart’s restaurants offer a vegetarian tasting menu at £60 that’s the epitome of classy cuisine sans meat. You can also choose any dish from the menu and have it served as an à la carte option. Vegetarians certainly don’t travel second-class here.

89 Candleriggs, 0141 553 2585,
Most Indian restaurants have a respectable choice for vegetarians, though its noticeable that in the last few years the places tending back towards a home-cooking style have a stronger meat-free repetoire, partly because home-cooking in India is predominantly vegetarian. Look out for coconut and tamarind featuring strongly in Dahkin’s South Indian choices.

First Coast
97-101 Dalry Road, 0131 313 4404,
One mid-priced bistro that takes the vegetarian option seriously, with as many choices among the ‘veggie, pasta and salad mains’ as in the meat section, and paying the courtesy of listing them first. Go for an okra masala with chargrilled flatbread or ricotta and spinach rotolo (like a pasta Swiss roll).