"You do realise that place is quite, errr, well, umm, you know, errr.....". The words tailed off, while I continued to resist a withering gaze which showed no sign of fading in the same manner. Unabashed, and seemingly determined to complete her review of the restaurant, she continued, "well..... it's quite trendy". The emphasis was on the final word, which was left hanging in the air like an insult. The implication was pretty clear; my friend rated Timberyard quite highly, but clearly considered it inappropriate as a dining venue for someone of my age and square character. In my world, however, such a statement can only be taken as a challenge. To Timberyard!
Timberyard used to be, what else of course, a timberyard. Now it is an open and airy space for dining (yes, it's basically an old warehouse), the decor distressed and slightly industrial, by which I mean they've rubbed the paint down on the beams and there are some metal bits and pieces here and there. Like an iron staircase. It's not, I should say, without appeal. Indeed, I immediately warmed to the place; the tables are huge and yet well spaced out, a very different prospect to the cramped conditions experienced a few weeks ago, at The Honours, where at one point I found myself contemplating joining a conversation on the adjacent table. And, at another moment, the table beyond that. But not here at Timberyard, where everybody gets to dine in a joyous state of relative privacy.
Heading up the team here are Andrew and Lisa Radford, the husband-and-wife team behind other well-known Edinburgh restaurants, The Atrium and Blue. I visited the Atrium five years ago and found the whole experience rather variable, a wine list dripping with trophy wines but precious little for real drinkers, and food that hit some highs and some lows. Both restaurants have now gone though, and in their place (metaphorically speaking - this is a new venue) we have Timberyard. Andrew and Lisa have teamed up with children Ben who runs the kitchen, Jo who looks after the bar, and Abi who is in charge of marketing. Waiting on the tables there is a large team of hipsters, kitted out in the Timberyard uniform of American Apparel, A.P.C., lumberjack shirts probably from George at Asda and tattoos. The service is friendly and helpful, but feels awkward and uncomfortable at times, and perhaps seems all the more charming for that.
The Radfords have decided to follow the unusual policy of getting the worst bit of the evening out of the way first, and so with a basket of delightful sourdough bread I began my meal by enduring a choice of either butter whipped with crowdie cheese, which looked like an anaemic dollop of whipped fat and tasted of nothing, an insult to all dairy cows everywhere, or a spread of smoked bone marrow. This latter option sounds immediately appealing, but it tasted of heavily smoking candle wax, perhaps a candle made from pig fat, mixed with a little lanolin. I ate some - well you have to, don't you - but I realised with each bite that I was enlivening/masking [delete as appropriate] the flavours with increasingly large pinches of the black pepper or the angelica salt served alongside. I found myself hankering for butter. Lovely, creamy butter, with granules of fleur de sel throughout. What a difference that would have made.
I must have been in blow-out mode as I opted for four courses, working my way through the bite, small, large and sweet sections of the menu. Obviously I chose a wine first, but we will come to that later. Kicking off, for bite I went with mackerel, horseradish, buttermilk, apple (I'm not being curt - this is a menu of ingredients, rather than dishes) which was a sliver of chilled mackerel, pale pink and translucent, delicately presented with whisps of herbs and leaves, little pieces of apple jelly and what I swear was a horseradish ice. It was very good, innovative, and more complex than I had been expecting. The flavours sauntered rather than leapt from the dish, but it still made for a joyful forkful or two. And yet this was merely the beginning. On the other side of the table, I was blown away by pea, curd, spelt, lovage shoots, a dish with which Elizabethan Blackadder would have had no trouble describing ("Percy, you have a plate of green"). But the flavours were fantastic, nothing short of mesmerising, the intensity of what I can only describe as a pea ice which softened quickly on the plate worthy in itself of a repeat visit.
And the joy continued. For a small, duck, elderberry, celeriac, shallot, chard was delightful, even though I have until now been convinced that chard is what we will all be made to eat in hell. I preferred trout, fennel, lovage, potato though, the trout deep pink, almost translucent to look at, but firm, forking away cleanly, giving a lovely bite in the mouth, and clearly skilfully cooked. For large, artichoke, cep, hazelnut, salsify, truffle, onion, mustard leaf all worked well, the overall effect a gorgeous melange of autumnal colours and flavours. I was very content with turbot, mussels, lobster, pea, broad bean, leek, broccoli too, which was perhaps less superbly executed than the trout, the fish here a little overdone perhaps, a little too firm, but the combination of flavours seemed harmonious, and the lobster was delightfully done. Pushing the boat out, I eschewed the usual option of cheese and, being suitably impressed by what was coming out of the kitchen, opted for strawberry, elderflower, buttermilk, woodruff, biscuit, and I am glad to say I chose wisely. This was a dream.
Indeed, the whole meal was a dream. Aside from the fact next time I call in here I will be eating dry bread, this was a delightful dinner. I want to experience that pea ice again. I want to feel that autumnal crunch of hazelnut and cep together in my mouth again. I want another bite of that succulent trout and all that fragrant lovage and aniseedy fennel. I want that strawberry ice, with its crisps of wafer-thin meringue and elderflower jelly. There is no surer sign of a great meal than one in which every course leaves you hankering for more. And a great meal deserves a great wine of course, which leads me to the only real fly in the ointment. The Radfords have gone from trophy wines at The Atrium, to 'natural' wines at Timberyard. Looking to the Loire Valley section (where else do you think I will look?), it is brimming with über-natural domaines. There is no halfway house here, no alternative options. If you don't like the wines of Alexandre Bain (certainly 'natural' and oxidative at times), Julien Courtois (very 'natural'), Sébastien Riffault (über-'natural', very oxidative, Sancerre with botrytis), Jean-Pierre Robinot (king of all things 'natural') and so on then you will be on shaky ground with this wine list. I struggled to find my way around it. With no sense of hope I then turned to Bordeaux - finding just one château there, Château Le Puy (largely oxidative reds - I'm not really a fan) of course - and I quickly turned back to the Loire. Thank heavens for Mark Angeli, who has at least learnt (the hard way I think) the benefits of sulphur dioxide, for which he has a non-industrial, organic source compatible with his 'natural' philosophies. The 2012 La Lune was, happily, delicious, although even this showed some of the variability inherent in minimal intervention as this bottle was certainly a little richer and more apple-tinged than I recall others (and I have had a few) being.
In essence, if a wine geek like me struggles with a wine list such as this, how do normal people fair with it I wonder? Food for thought for the Radfords, perhaps? I will have a think about this when I return, which I am certain to do.
Prices: Mackerel and pea bites £6 each, duck and trout smalls £15 each, large artichoke and turbot £22 and £28 respectively, sweet strawberry £10. One coffee, which funnily enough yielded two cups, was £4.50. Mineral water, both still and sparkling, come in carafes at the table and are free of charge, a very nice touch. The 2012 La Lune from La Ferme de la Sansonnière was £60, and this was far from being the most expensive bottle on the list, although there were many more affordable options. The bill for two was £166.50. (10/10/15)