Looking for restaurants in Edinburgh? Read our review of contemporary restaurant The Lookout by Gardener’s Cottage, and check out more suggestions for eating in Edinburgh here.
In a nutshell
Location, location, location: Edinburgh had been holding its breath, waiting for the hoardings to come down on top of Calton Hill. The historic City Observatory and dome have been restored and the site redeveloped into a contemporary art complex and restaurant by Collective. It’s been worth the wait. The Lookout opened at the end of last year, a contemporary, cantilevered glass box suspended over the northwest slope, with jaw-dropping views and a menu to match.
Chef Dale Mailley tops and tails Calton Hill with The Gardener’s Cottage at the bottom and The Lookout teetering on the top. It’s his third Edinburgh eatery: in 2017 he launched Quay Commons, a bakery and café in Leith.
What’s the vibe?
It’s a world away from the rustic-chic, cosy communal dining of The Gardener’s Cottage. The Lookout is a smart, clear-cut vision of glass and minimalist lines. Floor-to-ceiling windows frame the city’s skyline in one direction, in the other your gaze is drawn down to Leith and the Firth of Forth. The vibe is relaxed: think chic, contemporary canteen seasoned with aromas from the open kitchen. At night it’s a magical floating box surrounded by twinkling lights in a blanket of black.
What’s the food like?
There’s still a focus on seasonal ingredients in Mailley’s ever-inventive dishes, but they have a more refined edge. There’s a choice of four-course set menus for lunch and evenings, or the à la carte. It’s not fussily long, with three to four starters, mains and desserts to choose from and intriguing sides such as salt-baked root vegetables and charred king oyster mushrooms.
While you wait you can nibble on silky-soft cured sea trout and scurvy grass or Carlingford oysters with whey and lovage. Mailley’s aim was to keep things simple so as not to compete with the spectacular panorama – but the dishes have their own wow factor.
How can you not be intrigued by malted rabbit and hare yakitori? Until you’re swayed by the salt-baked beetroot, goat’s curd, gingerbread and pear on the neighbouring table, the beetroot soft, warm and earthy, the feather-light goat’s cheese purée packing a pungent punch, the tangy pear and crunch of wafer-thin gingerbread contrasting textures. The Arbroath smokie, potato, celeriac and leek catapults the Scottish coastal town of Arbroath’s traditional speciality (smoked haddock) into the spotlight.
For mains, Gigha halibut, cockles, mussels, celeriac and kohlrabi is only outshone by the sheer genius of BBQ hispi cabbage, onion and coddled egg. It takes a masterful touch to turn cabbage, onion and egg into an eye-poppingly memorable dish. The cabbage is braised, the egg soft, the onions sweet and caramelised. For dessert, pineapple tarte tatin, douglas fir and vanilla ice cream is a warm hug of a pudding; pure comfort food.
And the drinks?
The drinks list is carefully curated and also pared down. Bespoke cocktails include The Haar (a cold sea mist) a whisky-based mix of 10-year-old Ardbeg, port, triple sec and lemon, and North Sea Power – Old Pulteney whisky, triple sec, champagne and bitters. You’ll also find some Scottish gins on the menu (Eden Mill from St Andrews and Pickering’s Gin from Edinburgh) and beers from the Black Isle Brewery near Inverness.
Go in a group of four if you want a table by the window. Or, swing by for breakfast. The restaurant offers an artisan breakfast buffet from 10.30am-11am. The generous spread includes pastries and sourdough bread from the Leith bakery, smoked fish, organic eggs, fruit, yogurt, granola and locally cured meats.
Calton Hill, Edinburgh, EH7 5AA
Words by Lucy Gillmore
Photographs by Susie Lowe