There’s something endearing about that name, isn’t there? The Gardener’s Cottage. Something that conjures up thoughts of cabbage patches, cosy fireplaces and Enid Blyton books (or maybe that’s just me!). Well that’s something akin to what we found here. I was following my colleagues along a particularly green Edinburgh street, face buried in my scarf and shoulders hunched against the piercing wind, chastising myself for wearing ballet pumps without socks around Scotland in December, when there it was. Set back from the main road in a little pocket of greenery, an inviting cottage-shaped beacon of warmth with a mini allotment out front of vegetable patches and seasonal fairy lights. A sight for sore eyes (and damp feet).
The 19th century listed stone cottage is divided into two dining areas; they’d sensibly given our team the whole of the smaller area to ourselves to make as much noise as we wanted. We were ushered up the gravel path and in from the cold with a smile, and after extensive de-layering onto the coat pegs on the wall, arranged ourselves around two communal tables set for a ten and an eight. The interior is simple yet charming, white-walled with furniture of reclaimed wood, and sensitive to the history of the place. An old-school gramophone plays background jazz from the corner, and the chairs filled me with the nostalgia of schooldays – wooden with a pocket built into the back to hold books. We also had a good view through to the prep going on in the open plan kitchen, which added to the homely, communal feel.
Anticipation had been running high over the food as the menu remained a mystery; they’d simply said it would depend on whatever produce they had in on the day. The chefs and co-owners, Dale Mailley and Edward Murray, are keen to put a focus on seasonal cooking here and build relationships with local producers. For such a large group we’re surprisingly unfussy eaters so were happy (and quite excited) to go for the surprise option. Let’s face it, a lot of places tout the seasonal/local label these days, so I was curious to see what these guys could do.
First up though, a choice from the compact but nicely varied drinks menu. Rather than list say 5 different ales then 5 different lagers, they instead opt for breadth with brevity. The drinks list starts with a couple of Scottish craft beers, followed by a carefully chosen cocktail or two, a couple of wines by the glass (there’s a separate, much longer wine list), a beautifully descriptive gin and tonic, a glass of fizz, a cider, non-alco mixed juices and a whisky or two. Something for whatever you were thirsting for then! I decided to go along with the group wine choice, left in the very capable hands of the oenophile on the team, and indeed he picked a beautiful white Viognier with our early courses and I switched to his Pinot Noir choice later on.
On to the food, and the printed menus we were handed raised as many questions as they answered (‘Cep is a mushroom right?’ ‘Does seabuckthorn come from the sea?!’), some of which were answered by the more experienced foodies of the team and others by the very confident and informative front-of-house as she came round to top up wine. The still-warm sourdough bread which arrived first was fresh and light, and boded well for what was to come. It was soon followed by the Pumpkin Soup which was just the right amount of creamy, and a great choice for a warming wintry starter. The real treat however was sitting next to the soup bowl in the form of the accompanying Crab and Caerphilly Tart. The flavour combination of the crab meat with the cheese was quite special, and I could well have eaten another couple of the tarts.
Impressed as I was with the artful presentation of the starters, the main course took the standard up a notch further. It’s a complex set of ingredients that we could glimpse being carefully plated up in the kitchen, and almost a shame to spoil by eating. I wasn’t sure what to expect from mutton but the meat wasn’t dry in the slightest, cooked to a perfect juicy pink in the centre. It’s a dish that reminded me how much I like warmed beetroot too, which was simply but effectively cooked here. Again you got the sense that each of the component flavours had been very carefully foraged and selected, from the cep crumb to the kale to the beetroot. The only listed flavour I didn’t get coming through was the bacon so I’m not sure how that fitted in.
We then had some important team business to take care of (by which I mean our Secret Santa gift exchange) which got a little raucous in places, but such was the beauty of having the dining room to ourselves! The staff were quite happy to let us get on with it and delay the final course until we were ready. After some questionable presents, more wine and plenty of amusement, we were. Sea buckthorn as it turns out is a plant producing seaberries, which can be bitter when raw but usually made into syrup when baking. The sponge it created was delicious, tasting quite close to lemon cake for me which I love anyway. The hay ice cream I didn’t think was particularly distinctive in flavour but made a nice accompaniment to the warm pudding. Again, the dish was beautifully presented without veering off into unnecessary faff territory.
The staff were attentive throughout when refilling wine and water; there were only a couple of servers which maintained quite a relaxed, unfussy atmosphere. They were happy for some of us to wait around for half an hour to avoid the monsoon that had struck outside at the end of the meal, despite being officially closed. They seemed pleasingly on the ball with their knowledge of the dishes and ingredients too, which I imagine is tricky in a place where it changes daily. You can spy on the day’s set dinner menu in advance on a regular evening by following them on twitter – or leave it a secret and just be surprised on the night. They’ll happily cater for any allergies or dietary requirements you let them know about too. To top it all off, the five-course dinner menu will set you back £25, which is close to exceptional value for money for this cooking – and will probably tempt you to splurge on a good wine to go with it!
Overall, a unique setting for an enchanting meal which lives up to its fairy-tale exterior and seasonal, locally-sourced promises. The long communal table seating isn’t the place for particularly intimate conversations but the place does have a certain romance to it, and the perfect setting for a private event such as ours.
Food: ★★★★☆ Service: ★★★★★ Atmosphere: ★★★★☆ Value: ★★★★★ Overall: ★★★★☆
The Gardener’s Cottage
1 Royal Terrace Gardens, London Road, Edinburgh, EH7 5DX