Its seasonal menu will have you forgetting anything you thought you knew about British cuisine.
The vegetable patches on either side of the gravel walkway leading up to the Gardener's Cottage are still producing, even in the brisk mid-November chill of Scotland.
It's difficult to guess what is growing in the organized chaos of the small garden paving the way to the Edinburgh restaurant, but given the butternut squash soup with toasted pine nuts on the chalkboard menu hanging outside the door, root vegetables, gourds, and other hearty plants are likely contenders.
Housed in the 1836 cottage of the then-gardener, the residence at the foot of Calton Hill in Royal Terrace Gardens has been transformed into a buzzy hub of seasonal cooking in Scotland's capital.
The seven-course dinner tasting menu changes near daily, offering up a mixture of produce from the garden and other local delights from nearby farms.
Stepping through the heavy velvet curtains at the front door, the warmth of the Gardener's Cottage greets visitors at once. With two communal wooden tables that overlook the kitchen in the main dining room, diners are immediately immersed in a convivial atmosphere.
Vinyl records on a small turntable in the center of the room are swapped from time to time, spinning a mix of Paul Simon and Van Morrison throughout the course of the evening.
The meal began with a warm slice of sourdough accompanied by a whipped creme fraiche spread, alongside cured salmon on tapioca crisps.
Butternut squash soup with toasted pine nuts served as the perfect warmer on a damp night, followed by a lighter cod, with a variety of artichokes and kale.
While seven courses might sound like a decadent and even gluttonous affair — and there certainly is an element of luxury in spending over two hours on a meal — the small size and vegetable-based freshness of the menu does not leave one feeling ready to burst. Even the main course — a roast duck breast served with confit of duck's leg — grounded the meal without weighing it down.
The U.K. generally, and Scotland in particular, is not exactly known for its cuisine. Scotland’s national dish is haggis, or sheep’s liver, heart, and lungs served inside the animal’s stomach, a dish that many visitors have been loath to try. Visitors to Great Britain often note the abundance of chip shops, fried fish, and other hearty fare that abound, but small restaurants like the Gardener’s Cottage which showcase the range of local food are often more difficult for travelers to find.
The rocky soil of Scotland might present difficult growing conditions, but it is far from preventative, as the variety of the menu at the Gardener’s Cottage well proves.
A cheese course from local mongers, included one aged in whisky barrels to give it a smoky flavor, rounded out the meal alongside homemade chutney. The final course, a trio of apples poached to perfection and served with apple ice cream and a pine-scented whipped cream , added an especially autumnal touch.
As winter approaches, the restaurant is not short on innovation: The proprietors have plans to begin distilling their own gin with herbs from the garden as they continue to serve their inventive, seasonal fare.
The Gardener's Cottage is open for lunch 12-2:30 p.m. and for dinner 5–9:30 p.m. with weekend brunch 10 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Editor's note: the restaurant provided dinner to T+L for review.