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Issue 27 - Against the grain

Scotland Magazine Issue 27
June 2006


This article is 12 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Against the grain

Tucked away in Edinburgh's Old Town lies a restaurant that is well worth discovering. Sally Toms picks up her knife and fork

Hidden amongst the colourful shop fronts of Edinburgh’s Victoria Street, just below the Royal Mile, lies an unassuming restaurant called The Grain Store.

Outside, there’s a plain looking board printed with the menu and comments from happy diners; including reviews from a few local papers and a stand-out comment from one of the world’s greatest chefs: “One the tastiest pieces of venison I've ever eaten,” quotes Anton Mosimann from behind the peeling plastic.

But that’s just typical of The Grain Store – the most modest, self-assured and unpretentious place to eat in the city.

From the street, there is a short metal staircase leading up into what was the storerooms for the shops below.

Inside the restaurant, it has a kind of rustic French charm; there is exposed stonework, polished wooden floors and an oversized clock and dried flower garlands decorating the walls. There are low vaulted ceilings, archways, pillars and little alcoves, and the overall effect is plain but intimate.

Its chunky wooden tables are decorated simply: a thistle in a glass, a candle, shining cutlery and a plain white napkin.

The menu changes regularly. Chef Carlos Coxon’s summer menus includes Perthshire saddle of venison with quinoa and a ginger infused jus (Mosimann didn’t do it enough justice, it is the best piece of venison you will ever eat); West Coast king scallops with almond and chive velouté; warm pear dartois with apricot brandy ice cream; vanilla pannacotta with honey roast figs. And the cheeseboard is a delight not to be missed; the cheeses come from Ian Mellis next door and are served with home made oatcakes and chutney.

Astarter from the ALa Carte menu will set you back about £8, and a main £17-£24. But you can choose two courses from the dinner menu for £18, or two courses from the lunchtime menu for a very reasonable £10, or £13.50 for three. Perfect for lunch after a heavy morning’s shopping.

The wine list is as formidable as you’d expect from a restaurant of this class, and has a fantastic selection from Europe and the New World. But if you’re overwhelmed, a friendly and knowledgeable member of staff is on hand to help you make a choice – and it’s always the right one.

The Grain Store has been a quiet but steady success since it opened its doors in 1991, and chef/owner Carlos Coxon and manager Paul McPhail are the men responsible for this dining delight.

With all this in mind, it is a surprise that Michelin, the universally recognised symbol of cracking good restaurants, has thus far overlooked The Grain Store.

“They don’t like the way we do things,” says Paul as he casually leans on a table. And it is true that stars are sometimes associated with a degree of starchiness and fussy haute cuisine, but that’s definitely not the style of this restaurant.

“Of course, Michelin is the benchmark,” he admits, “but it’s a gamble to alter your style of service if you’re successful as you are.” True. So you won’t find any starched waiters bearing silver trays at The Grain Store, bowing and flapping all around you.

Instead there is a relaxed, very stylish atmosphere, friendly staff and phenomenal food – Michelin star or no Michelin star.

During our visit, a large group of people were turned away when any other restaurant would have leapt into action shoving chairs and tables together to make room.

Paul seems unphased.

“We don’t have the staff tonight. There’s no point doing tables unless you can achieve the same level of service for everyone.” A refreshing attitude for a city restaurant that has countless others to compete with.

But it is because Paul and Carlo place the comfort of their diners so highly that The Grain Store has accumulated such a loyal following. And once you’ve found this place, you’ll keep coming back.

It is the antithesis of those restaurants with 10 different glasses in each place setting, and a napkin folded into the shape of Forth Rail Bridge, and where sommeliers intimidate you with their starched aprons and condescending looks. It’s just about enjoying good food and a great atmosphere.

So if you’re in Edinburgh, looking for somewhere to eat without worrying that your shoes are scuffed or you’re wearing the wrong colour tie, go to The Grain Store.

And have the venison.

The Grain Store, 30 Victoria St (1st Floor) Edinburgh, Scotland Tel: +44 (0)131 225 7635