There is a place for good food in a pub setting - just don't call it a gastropub
Tom Kitchin among those involved in new Edinburgh pub openings The Scran & Scallie and The Vintage
Twenty years after the ugly and now mostly debased term ‘gastropub’ appeared, Donald Reid observes that a couple of new openings in Edinburgh are showing the way forward for eating well in pubs
We all love a good pub. Not only are they familiar social spaces but in Scotland we venerate them as stimulating, democratic venues of inexpensive conviviality. When you eat in a pub you eat grub. It’s seen to be elitist – undemocratic, even – to wish for better food and beer. Consuming dishwater lager and greasy fish and chips proves your common touch.
Yet we can eat very well in bistros, cafés and restaurants. We do it at home. Can pub grub have aspirations beyond the flying-crust steak pie without being dismissed as pretentious?
At the beginning of April two of Edinburgh’s top chefs, Tom Kitchin and Dominic Jack, opened a pub – or ‘public house with dining’ – in Stockbridge. Named The Scran & Scallie in an effort to capture an ethos of down-to-earth food and an attitude friendly to kids, or ‘scallies’ as Kitchin refers to his own, it suggests there’s interest in eating Michelin-moulded (if not, in this environment, Michelin-awarded) food in an informal setting. It’s also the case that, having made their name in top-end restaurants, Kitchin and Jack wanted to prove their own common touch.
In the stipped-back, bare-brick, Perthshire-croft meets Victoriana dining room (it’s hardly a conventional pub) the Scran & Scallie mixes down-the-line classics such as haddock and chips with old Scottish recipes including sheip’s heid broth and highlights from the offal revival along the lines of roasted bone marrow with parsley salad.
Despite the slightly forced sense of informality (the menu lists ‘Yer mains’ and ‘Yer salads’), it’s clear that high standards of sourcing, preparation and cooking are being brought to the pub – or, well, pub-ish – setting.
Meanwhile, just a month earlier, The Vintage opened its doors. A partnership between one of Scotland’s most progressive craft brewers, Williams Brothers of Alloa, and bar manager Darren Blackburn, the bar/diner of the former Café Fish has been revitalised into an attractive, unpretentious venue in back-street Leith.
Some of Scotland’s finest keg and cask ales are being served, but what’s most remarkable is the bold and enlightened menu that accompanies them. Crispy pig’s ear and baked pear with chicory is served, and there’s an extensive charcuterie grazing menu – sourced mainly from British producers – including salamis cured with spiced walnut, hot-smoked pig’s cheeks or rich, stew-like jugged rabbit.
The craft beer revolution may well be prompting a response on pub menus for better, more local and more interesting food. From the other direction, Michelin chefs are bringing their skills and values to the table. It looks like pub food is moving from grub to gastro and onto something we’re all a bit more inspired by.