The West End Brasserie, Edinburgh
A la carte
Snacks £4.00 - £5.00 | Starters £6.00 - £12.00
Mains £14.00 - £26.00 | Desserts £6.00 - £7.00
Cooking 6/10 | Service 4/5
Flavour 4/5 | Value 5/5
With the exception of the castle itself, it's hard to think of a more striking location in Edinburgh. Drive in from the north (yes I do remember the day when a sane person might have considered driving in the town centre). Marvel at the engineering prowess of Thomas Telford's Dean Bridge, enjoy your first glimpse of original New Town architecture, then sweep round Queensferry Street into the wonder that is Charlotte Square, surely the zenith of Robert Adam's genius. As you do so you'll pass the prominent frontage of today's hero.
If you come in from the west, you'll spy the castle and the Johnnie Walker Experience. Set your watch by the latter's clock, the bagpipers synched to appear at 24 minutes to the hour and 6 minutes past. And turn left to spy today's lunch location, the imaginatively named The West End Brasserie*.
For many years this was Ryan's Bar. It did decent bar food, but was a pub at heart. Physically not a great deal has changed, but it now describes itself as a new European-style restaurant with a Scottish flavour. Lunches with Scotland's Finest Former Journalist (East), the man who knows more about Edinburgh than almost anyone else, are always a pleasure. The trouble is that, once a reviewer, always a reviewer. An accurate description of the menu would see the description reversed. It's mostly Scottish and British crowd pleasers with a nod across the Channel in the shape of a croque madame and boeuf bourgignon. They open from 9 for breakfast. The sandwich options are available only between 12 and 3.
It's a menu from which I would happily have ordered everything. While some might accuse it of lacking in ambition, you could say the same about many a brasserie in France. Cullen skink for SFFJ(E). In olden days I would have said there was a pint of the stuff: with the European dimension here, I guess I have to say he received about 568ml. A giant portion. It's interesting how differently tempura squid starters can be served. This had pieces of squid in quite regularly shaped, rectangular pockets of batter. Unusual but properly fried, tasty and of a decent texture. They came with a proper, home made chilli dipping sauce, not one of those sweet jobs straight from a bottle.
When you see steak frites on a lunch menu with flat iron steak as the cut, you're used to thinking the lower end of the market, so my eyebrows raised slightly at the price tag of £26. I couldn't swear to the cut of meat which was served but it was twice the thickness of what I was expecting. Chunky, flavoursome and perfectly cooked, and the chips were good too. I couldn't finish it, so the neatly boxed doggy bag produced the wherewithal for a very good beef sandwich for supper.
I used to believe that large snakes could dislocate their jaws to swallow prey twice their size. (It's an urban myth - snakes have no jaws as we know them.) Be that as it may, SFFJ(E) would have had to do something unnatural with his mouth to get it round his burger. A whopper, as it were, with two patties of excellent beef, quite possibly home made.
There's a smallish selection of desserts, a choice of four, plus ice cream plus cheese. Not a snowball's chance of us sampling them, but if they're of the standard of the rest of the food, those with a sweet tooth/larger appetite will be well pleased. All served to us by a thoroughly pleasant international brigade - Scotland meets Poland meets the West Indies. In town for lunch? You could do much worse than eating here.
*Disclaimer if I've got the name wrong. Above the door the title is The West End Brasserie. On the website it's simply West End Brasserie. It's hard, this reviewing malarkey.
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