Paul Gunning's Purslane celebrates the small things in life
Starters and desserts a success, although mains need some work
With high-profile national brands parachuting new restaurants into Scotland every month, you can fear for an independent tentatively opening its door without fanfare or PR-hoopla. Yet as Donald Reid argues, a vibrant dining scene needs the small guys
Below street level on narrow, quirky St Stephen Street in Stockbridge in Edinburgh is a tiny restaurant. Until recently it had been home to Redwood, in which Californian chef Annette Sprague charmed diners for a couple of years but near-enough exhausted herself. She has passed the space onto Paul Gunning, a 31-year-old local chef who has enjoyed a typically varied, though hardly star-studded, cooking career in Edinburgh, France, London and Australia. In opening Purslane, he has taken the same bold, brave but relatively lonely step made by many yet-to-be-famous chefs. Your own place, your own cooking, and no guarantee there’s anyone prepared to pay money to eat it.
Redwood proved to be worth the steps down into the subterranean unknown, and Purslane offers its own promise. The place has never looked smarter with bronze-coloured wallpaper and hand-painted botanical decorations, but with room for a meagre 20 diners intimacy, informality and a certain raw honesty are unavoidable. With just one member of staff out front, Gunning steps out of the kitchen when he can to meet, greet and glean feedback.
Purslane’s menu is unelaborate and, naturally, evolving. It has moments of cheffy ambition, with a neatly crafted rillette of smoked mackerel accompanied by a deep purple wedge of beetroot jelly, while ‘Cock a Leekie’ is an enjoyable deconstruction involving a postage-stamp of chicken, leek and prune terrine over which you pour a jug of warm chicken consomme and sprinkle balls of chicken confit croutons.
Mains carry less punch: a confit of pork belly and celeriac fondant as colourless as the late autumn weather and a salmon fillet with dhal and coconut foam that’s asking for an injection of exotic heat. Desserts reaffirm the assurance the small kitchen has with smaller dishes, with a light, cleverly textured chocolate marquise and pannacotta perked up with some sweet pumpkin purée.
There’s not yet sufficient evidence to place Purslane among the city’s future stars, but it’s still worth a punt. Why? £20 for two courses is a modest sum for engaging contemporary cooking. You’re also investing in hope. A city where small, brave restaurants are given a chance is surely a better place to live.
+ A restaurant offering a sense of discovery
– In uncharted waters the odd sandbank lurks
Wed–Sat noon–2pm, 6–10pm; Sun noon–2pm. Closed Mon/Tue [open Mon–Sun in Dec]
Ave. price two-course meal: £12 (lunch) / £19.95 (set dinner)