Author: Suse Coon

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Thursday, June 30th, 2011 at 8:45 pm
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Restaurants

Keith and Neil’s Call to Arms

It’s a new look big time for the Salisbury Arms on Dalkeith Road. Formerly known as The Crags, this one-time student local has chucked out the big screen telly and the black painted walls and reinvented itself as a friendly but sophisticated pub restaurant.

Managed by landlord Keith Taylor, the restaurant is headed up by former  Scottish Chef of the Year Neil Mackenzie, Edinburgh born and bred but busy gaining experience down south. Keith had been watching him on Professional Masterchef and by coincidence bumped into him at a social function. For both, it was serendipity and Neil was delighted to have the chance to come home to head up this new launch.

The new look has been some time in the making but all good things come to those who show a little patience and the end result offers a cosy sofa type area where real ales and good food can be enjoyed in the comfortable bar. On the evening we visited, a pleasant sunny evening, the staff were discovering they could seat another 150 outside in the garden, but whilst busy, it was never cramped or noisy.  If it’s a proper sit down restaurant you want, a few steps will take you up to the dining room, popular in the early evening with families and later with couples and groups.

The decor has been quietly toned down (cream, if you like) allowing a number of interesting features to have their say – the firepit, the individual chairs and tables, glass etchings and whisky barrels.

But while it’s nice to have something to stimulate conversation as you wait for your order, it is after all, the food that’s what it’s all about. Neil has developed a substantial  menu with tapas type starters, sausage style children’s favourites and some very tasty main courses, including seafood, steaks and everything in between, not to mention a couple of vegetarian options.

We shared the Grilled portabella mushrooms topped with crisp bacon, garlic and chilli oil for starters. Mushrooms were nicely done, not soggy, and the sauce certainly had a tang but not enough to ruin the palate for the main course. While John opted for steak, done to death as he likes it, I was tempted by the Black olive & onion tart with cumin-roasted vegetables, topped with Chef ’s onion rings and a smoked tomato dressing. Sometimes I fear that chefs get carried away with adding ingredients that sound clever but really don’t add much to the meal. I mean, why cumin roasted vegetables? Why smoke your tomato dressing?

Well that’s what chefs are for and the answer was forthcoming. Both the roasted vegetables and the tomato sauce can be too sweet for a main course, so the cumin provides balance without adding salt and smoking the tomato sauce is another healthy way of adding flavour without adding salt. See below for Neil’s secret recipe!

All this is complimented by a good wine list and a selecti0n of real ales – which can be tasted in third of a pint glasses until you find your favourite – what a terrific idea! Sadly we were dashing off to the theatre and couldn’t find room for more but it would have been a pleasure to have had time to succumb to the tempting dessert menu. The only slight (extremely slight) flaw was a lukewarm latte.

Clearly the location opposite the Commonwealth pool and Holyrood Halls of Residence does present problems for the landlord as patrons are asked to pay £5 to park, deductable from the bill, but this seems a perfectly reasonable way of ensuring that genuine punters can secure a parking spot. All in all, a pub restaurant to satisfy you on any occasion, whether it’s a casual drink, a snack or the whole deal that you’re after.

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