187 Great Junction Street, Leith, Edinburgh EH6 5LQ
www.aurora.co.uk 0131 554 5537
2 courses £24.00| 3 courses £29.00 | Cheese supplement £7.00
5 course tasting menu £45.00
Cooking 8.5/10 | Service 4.5/5 | Flavour 5/5 | Value 5/5
Having booked online, I was determined to be annoyed when I arrived at Aurora, but I failed for various reasons. Firstly, I was, to paraphrase Blackadder, feeling smugger than Thomas Smug when appointed to his personal Chair of Smugness at Edinburgh University. When you walk about six miles down the Water of Leith you don't half feel you've earned your lunch. But there's more. Having arrived half an hour early I had had time for a beer. A real life draught pint, sitting outside The King's Wark reading the menu featuring shellfish platters and the like. Yes, that King's Wark, sometime home to footpads, whores and comic singers, now very chi chi.
And then a wee stroll up to Great Junction Street, into the tiny frontage from which you would expect to source a bacon roll and a cup of instant. And the third reason I could no longer be annoyed: everyone was lovely. It takes skill to be welcoming from behind a face mask, but they cracked it. Oh, you were wondering why I was irritated. Well, I'd been reading up on the place. One possible dining combo is a five course tasting menu, but the booking computer tells you they need the table back in an hour and a half. You cannot be serious. That, however, is the only criticism of note about the operation of this gem of a place. As it happens KL and I took a good two hours over lunch, with no attempt to hurry us along.
I could have commented on the vertiginously steep staircase down to the loo. You abseil down and they give you crampons and an iceaxe to get back up, but that's not their fault, so I won't mention it. Anyway, to the food. Bread was advertised as Parmigiano pao de queijo with raw milk cultured butter. The former came in the form of wonderful little rolls. Not for the first time that day, they under promised and over delivered. There were also a couple of chunks of wonderful seeded bread, and a bowl of the most exquisite wild garlic pesto. Having spent a couple of months doing practical research for The Wee Fat Lawyer's Diet Book, I haven't had much butter of any type on my plate of late, let alone stuff of this quality. How can a plate of bread make you feel you've died and gone to heaven? Fortunately, we lived to sample more and tell the tale - OK, write the review.
A starter of Asparagus escabeche was oddly named. Escabeche is a means of preserving food, usually game or fish. This generous bundle of sparrow grass was fresh as you like, cooked ever so gently and seasoned ever so softly. It was sparked by some white miso, and the confit egg yolk for dipping was sheer indulgence. The almonds provided a little crunch. Chef is very aware of textures. In the same way, chicken cacciatore ravioli were topped with tiny pieces of crispy kale and had a few hazelnuts strewn in the bowl. This was then finished off with a chicken and porcini broth. Prepared by the wrong hands, chicken ravioli could be dull. These were spiced to perfection, little hints of lemon adding zing.
I was very tempted by the hake and its intriguing caviar and plankton sauce. That missed out in favour of the other two. (I should have said there is a choice of three starters, three mains and two desserts, plus cheese, plus petits fours.) I'm not generally a polenta fan, but if it was all like this I could change my mind. A slice of the stuff was truffled and served on some crisp apple and candied walnuts with a couple of little puddles. One was based on gorgonzola dolce, the other a subtle orange and thyme. The good thing about lunching with a non meat eater is that you don't have to share, though not even I could deny K a chunk of a slow roasted, maple syrup coated carrot, which sat aside slow roasted lamb. There were other good things on the plate which I would have struggled to identify - subtlety is this kitchen's middle name - but the menu tells me there were confit lemon (in sauce form, I think) and spinach vichyssoise.
While the dishes didn't seem large, we were well and truly stuffed. Further progress down the carte was impossible, though I would have been fascinated to sample a pudding described as Potato/caramel/coffee. I got the chance to chat to the amiable owner and chef, Kamil. He tells me that when they opened four years ago he was serving breakfasts as well. Indeed on Trip Advisor you can find a photo of a fry up. That's a bit like Titian rattling off cartoons of tourists from an easel next to the Rialto bridge. Sense has now prevailed. You can have a flexible approach at lunch: dinner is a five course tasting affair. As you will see, prices are fantastically reasonable. Sadly there are only about 16 covers. I hesitate to advise any business owner to increase his overheads, but when the Great Plague is behind us, it might be worth considering an upsize. If you build it, they will come.
Simply put this is the most exciting food I've had in Edinburgh since I stumbled into Merienda by chance a couple of years ago, or made my first visit to the The Little Chartroom. Know someone by the company he keeps.