The newly-opened Blackfriars does justice to the memory of Black Bo's
The new restaurant is established on the site of the hip, arty and vegetarian institution
Reinvention is as necessary in the culinary world as in any other form of culture. A makeover of an old favourite in Edinburgh’s Old Town is showing plenty of creative promise, as Hannah Ewan discovers
Don’t be misled by the blue Bo’s sign still hanging over the front door – you’re in the right place. The new Blackfriars, you see, has history. Co-owner and chef Andrew Macdonald, former sous chef at Restaurant Martin Wishart, was an art student before cooking took over, and Black Bo’s remains, after a 20 year lifetime as go-to bar and restaurant for hip arty types, an institution whose memory must be treated with respect.
The décor of the separate restaurant and bar at Blackfriars, much of it the work of Macdonald and co-owner/front-of-house manager Georgie Binder, will have chinks of familiarity for old Bo’s regulars through the respectful but necessary refurb. Plaster has been stripped back to reveal brick and stone, with steel beams exposed and made into brightly coloured features.
If these are the only flashes of bright colour at present, it won’t be that way for long. Launched as a visual work-in-progress, original artwork is being created by Macdonald’s college contemporaries that will slowly add unique finishing touches. This confident, don’t-rush-me attitude carries over to the kitchen, which links to both bar and restaurant.
Gone is the vegetarianism that Bo’s specialised in, and in its place is cooking that seems to galvanise welcome trends surfacing across Scottish bar and restaurant menus: sustainable sourcing that’s more than hollow hat-tipping (Phantassie organic and foraged greens, lesser spotted fish species), seasonality that you can taste, and bar food as appealing and important as the wine list and Williams Bros tap.
With just two pairs of hands in the tiny kitchen, there’s wise cross-over between the pricier restaurant and enlightened bar menus: one of the best possible pieces of hake comes with salt hake fritters that you can also order with wild garlic as a snack. A generous starter of cured trout comes with crisp fennel and dill whichever side of the divide you order it on, and will make you wonder what all the fuss over smoked salmon is about.
There’s joy of a different, kid-at-a-funfair kind when you move onto the churros, which the ever-thoughtful Binder supplies with a teaspoon ‘for the leftover chocolate’. If this is the future of Scottish food, it’s as bright as that iconic neon sign.