Market Street, Edinburgh

This is our third visit to Brewhemia, and this time we’ve persuaded friends to join us. The promise of live music, themed performances and – not least – Schöfferhofer grapefruit beer on tap makes this an offer they can’t refuse. We’re ready to have fun.

Brewhemia is a vast enterprise, appealing to a wide demographic. We’re here on a Saturday evening, and there’s a nightclub vibe, but it’s oddly inclusive: there are people of all ages, some dressed to the nines, others much more casual. It doesn’t seem to matter; the place is big enough to accommodate all sorts. This is reflected in the building too: we’ve chosen to sit in the huge beer hall, because we want to see the band and the performers, but there are plenty of more intimate spaces tucked away up on the mezzanine, and a quieter dining area at the front of the venue.

Tonight’s theme is ‘Vegas’ and there are already actors mingling with the crowd: a couple of showgirls, a croupier, a ‘just married’ husband hugging a stuffed tiger. It sounds tacky – and it is – but it’s all done with such vivacity and good humour, such unabashed pleasure, that it really works, putting smiles on our faces – or maybe that’s just the beer. (On our previous visits, we’ve been treated to ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and ‘Women from History’ – the themes are nothing if not eclectic!) The house band perform a selection of speakeasy classics, crowd-pleasing covers that we’re happy to hear.

But we’re not just here for the entertainment: we want to eat as well. Unsurprisingly, the food is of the robust, ‘soak-up-all-the-beer’ variety, and we’re delighted to oblige. Philip starts with the smoked haddock bon bons & Stornoway black pudding, which is served with slow cooked leek, pea puree, and a hollandaise sauce. It’s bold and tasty – if a little filling for a starter – and he enjoys it a lot. I have the beet hummus with coriander, feta, pomegranate, and flatbread. The hummus and all the little bits are lovely, but I’m unimpressed with the bread, which is cold, dry and unappetising.

Still, I’m not too bothered: I don’t want to load up on carbs right now, not with the main that’s coming up. Because I’ve ordered the sausage fest, which is a platter of Crombies’ speciality sausages, served with wholegrain mustard, creamy mash and gravy. There are three sausages, and they’re not only enormous, they clearly have a high meat content. I’ve eaten vegan food for the last three days, so this seems particularly extreme. They’re delicious though, and I eat them all: the pork and fennel is the best, I decide, although the beef is good too, and the pork and herb. Our friends tell us Crombies’ butchers is a bit of an Edinburgh institution, and we resolve to check it out.

Philip has the winter schnitzel, which is chicken, served with truffle and parmesan mash, a fried duck egg, crispy onions, and beer-candied bacon. He declares it a triumph and polishes it off.

I’m not minded to eat a pudding – I’m absolutely stuffed – and remain resolute until everyone else orders dessert. I hear the words “bread and butter pudding” coming out of my mouth, and – ten minutes later – I’m facing a bowl of the stuff, served with whisky marmalade, dark chocolate, vanilla custard,  and marmalade ice cream. Somehow, I find the space for it, and very good it is too, especially the marmalade ice cream. Philip has no such qualms, and orders the sticky toffee and ginger pudding. It’s his go-to pud, and he’s pleased with the generous serving of butterscotch sauce, and not at all bothered that the kitchen has run out of vanilla ice cream; he prefers chocolate anyway.

It’s been a lively, boozy evening, and we’ve had a great time. And it’s not over yet: as the last plates are cleared, and we order a final drink ‘for the road,’ we’re treated to a glitzy lip-synching drag performance, ‘Jennifer Lopez’ and backing singers dancing on the tables and upping the vibe.

Brewhemia really is a special place: an oddity, but a welcome one. We’re still grinning as we step out onto the drizzly midnight streets. Cheers!

4.3 stars

Susan Singfield

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