It's an Edinburgh newcomer with more than a whiff of zeitgeisty Scandi-chic going on. Yet Norn suggests that the best way for a fad to stick around is to deliver great food
For all that Norn, the new restaurant set up by chef Scott Smith and his wife Laura in the Leith venue previously occupied by Plumed Horse, is a card-carrying representative of the freshly foraged, home-fermented, chef-served zeitgeist, it would be wholly unfair to dismiss it with a roll of the eyeballs as yet more Scandi-fad. Sure, as you sit on sharply designed bare-wood chairs considering a no-choice, seven-course menu and a complementary list of natural wines, the first things you eat are crusty homemade beremeal sourdough and hand-churned butter made using the kitchen's very own butter culture. So far, so hip.
But on the other hand, it's also the natural continuation of a journey that began when black pudding suddenly started coming from Stornoway and soup was no longer 'of the day' but 'handmade'. If the trend is indeed for the simpler, the closer and the more honest then let's welcome its hard-won triumph. Ingredients from local seas, shores, hedgerows and kitchen gardens dominate Norn's menu and define the efforts of the kitchen to capture and present flavour, whether in vinegars, infusions or fermentations, or adventurous (but rarely whacky) combinations of ingredients. While Scandi-influenced, the concept here is grounded in a Scotland that's embracing Northern European naturalness. Squares of cured mackerel have a summery freshness alongside equally common-or-garden sweet cicely and sharp, crisp radish, while organic tomatoes from the Isle of Wight are dressed to showcase their deep, rich flavour alongside a curl or two of virtuously white crowdie.
For a place that could be eyed warily as a fancy restaurant – and prices do come in at an average of nearly £10 per modestly sized dish across the multi-course experience – they display a determined simplicity in serving something as humble as half a baked potato with crab and buttermilk (those paying attention will recall the homemade butter earlier); if this one is a little bland, it's followed by a main dish that's essentially an intense, reduced-down, lick-the-plate-clean roast chicken dinner, a worthy example of the kitchen's flavour-driven focus. With woodruff ice-cream studded with caramelised popcorn following as a dessert, this is not a place that's willing to settle for predictable crowd-pleasers. Fresh, bold and committed, Norn offers plenty of evidence that contemporary Scottish dining is both on the ball and on the move.
+ A homegrown flavour adventure
- Room awaits a little more colour and character