Victoria Street

Oink

05/04/19

Victoria Street, Edinburgh

We’ve been looking forward to Edinburgh’s inaugural Open Streets day, keen to see the Old Town transformed into a traffic-free zone, with activities a-plenty to entice us onto the Royal Mile. It’s a great idea: a once-a-month trial in a limited area, to see what the impact of such emission-reducing policies might be. The benefits can be trumpeted, to convince the sceptical; any negatives can be addressed. Hopefully, in time, it can be extended, to ensure better air quality for us all, making the city centre a healthier, more active place.

So far, we’ve had fun. It’s all pretty low key, but there’s a pleasant, chilled-out atmosphere. There are regular-sized people playing giant chess next to St Giles, and tiny kids navigating bikes on the Grassmarket. We play badminton – badly – in the middle of the street, and take photographs of a bubble show.

Which is all well and good, but now it’s lunch time, and we’re hungry.

We’ve walked past Victoria Street’s Oink on many occasions, commenting on the ever-present queues, and the clever simplicity of the idea. But we’ve never eaten here. We only have meat once a week, so we’re extra choosy when it comes to it. Today, a hog-roast roll seems most appealing, so we join the line and wait our turn.

There’s no other option, and that’s the beauty of the place. Owners Adam Marshall and Sandy Pate are farmers, and the meat comes straight from Marshall’s farm. There’s a pig, whole, and there’re rolls; that’s why we’re here. There are some limited choices: white or brown bread; apple sauce or mustard mayonnaise; sage and onion or haggis stuffing; crackling or… no crackling. Served quickly, without fuss, wrapped in a sheet of foil, and off we go.

We don’t go far. We’re barely out of the door before we’re tucking in. We’ve both chosen white bread (because, let’s face it, this was never about health), and the rolls are soft and light, a perfect home for the rich pulled pork. I’ve gone for sage and onion stuffing, apple sauce and – of course – some crackling. The latter is hot and sticky and very naughty; the sweet apple sauce complements the succulent meat. Philip’s opted for the stronger flavours of haggis and mustard, which he says are wonderful. He doesn’t say much else; like me, he’s concentrating on devouring this gromfy treat. We’re in no doubt now as to why this place is always busy. It deserves its success.

Usually, we don’t allow ourselves to have takeaways, because of the single-use plastic and the mounds of waste. And yeah, the foil wrapping here is single-use too, but at least it’s properly recyclable, and there’s only a small piece of it. Even so, next time we’ll try to be more prepared and bring our own beeswax wraps to the party. Because there will be a next time; there’s no doubt about that.

Maybe at the next Open Streets day, in June.

4.8 stars

Susan Singfield

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Bertie’s Proper Fish & Chips

19/12/18

Victoria Street, Edinburgh

Fish and chips.

Those three short words come laden with so many expectations, don’t they? We all have treasured memories of childhood seaside trips, where those scalding fried potatoes, drenched in salt and vinegar were exactly what we wanted after a day of splashing about in the surf. But of course, in these troubled times, whenever the mood for a traditional fish supper looms into view (as it inevitably will from time to time), it’s an ambition that often comes fraught with disappointment.

Let’s face it, we’ve all been there. Greasy chips, soggy batter, and a lump of fish so stale you don’t know whether to eat it or sing happy birthday to it.

As you might infer from the name, Bertie’s is dedicated to this most British of institutions. Opened just a week ago and occupying a spacious couple of floors in a converted building on one of Edinburgh’s most picturesque streets, Bertie’s is all decked out in handsome, seaside-themed livery, weathered wood, glossy tiles and cheeky postcards. There’s plenty of room in here, a lively ambience and the staff are friendly and helpful. So far, so good.

There are some enticing starters on offer but we’re here for the main event, so I order the most traditional thing I can find on the menu, a portion of battered haddock served with twice-fried chips and tartare sauce – and, since I’m in that kind of mood, I opt to go large because hey, that’s just the way I roll. Susan, who’s never been that keen on batter, chooses a regular portion of baked cod with lemon and herb butter and the same accompaniments. For side dishes, we ask for a bowl of the old Manchester caviar (mushy peas) and some white bread and butter, because -let’s face it – if you can’t work a chip butty into the proceedings, it’s a pretty poor show, right?

As we wait, I peruse the condiments tray and notice a bottle of something called ‘chippy sauce,’ which is a new one on me, but a quick enquiry on social media has my Scottish pals assuring me that this is a famous Edinburgh delicacy, a kind of cross between brown sauce and vinegar – and how can I have lived here for over two years and never experienced it before? Good question. I feel thoroughly rebuked.

The main courses arrive and it’s clear from the first mouthful that the people behind that stainless steel counter know exactly what they’re doing. The fish portion has the approximate dimensions of a small dolphin, the batter is crunchy even when sprinkled with malt vinegar, and the tender white flesh yields beautifully beneath a knife. The chips are perfectly cooked with crispy exteriors and soft buttery inners. The tartare sauce is also a hit, even with Susan, who was convinced she didn’t like the stuff. Her baked cod is also impeccably done, melt-in-the-mouth tender. I try some of the aforementioned chippy sauce and have to agree, it goes down rather well.

Bertie’s have clearly succeeded in their chief aim: to remind diners how good fish and chips can taste when they’re ‘proper.’

We’re pretty full but can’t quite resist sampling the sharing dessert platter, a pudding that’s unabashedly aiming for nostalgia on a plate. It’s essentially a trip back to childhood (right down to the plastic bucket and spade) and comprises two miniature 99 ice cream cones with raspberry sauce, chunks of chalky Edinburgh rock, two miniature candy flosses, some warm donuts with a saucer of dipping chocolate and, most wicked of all, a fried and battered fun-sized chocolate bar (yes, I can picture the health freaks out there, shaking their heads in despair but, luckily, this isn’t something we intend to eat too often!). It’s a light-hearted frivolity, and in that sense works well, but it must be said that this pudding is a bit unbalanced: it needs more ice-cream and less rock, and fewer of those slightly heavy donuts. Still, we polish it all off with smiles on our faces.

It’s interesting to note that Bertie’s menu also takes in more sophisticated seafood dishes – there are fresh mussels, chowder, even a Malaysian fish curry, but our simple fish’n’chips are an impressive introduction to what they do and, certainly, the next time a desire for a chippy tea hits home, we’ll know exactly where to come.

Perhaps we’ll see you there?

4.5 stars

Philip Caveney