So, remember how I said that the downside of brunch was having to leave the house in order to eat breakfast foods? Few things say taking that to the extremes like taking that bus All That Way to Edinburgh (© the Major International Retailer in whose at-the-time only Scottish store I once worked)… in order to eat breakfast foods. Although the fact that my bezzer lives there now means the journey is one worth making.
Here’s the thing though: when Lola and Kaite moved to Edinburgh from London we were so smug about it, convinced that it meant we were going to get to spend more time together. Real life being what it is though – we already know I over-commit myself, and the bezzer is currently training for a career change – I feel as though we’ve actually seen less of each other than when I used to go and see her in London, when sleeping on her futon meant we couldn’t not spend quality time together. So it was fantastic to have an excuse to head through and catch up.
Rose Street has changed pretty dramatically from the alley lined with old man pubs of my student days in Edinburgh, and Element – a cosy bar-restaurant of the type I believe gets referred to as a “brasserie” – is a good fit for the bakeries and boutiques that line Princes Street’s cobbled, quieter parallel. Although don’t ask me what do of the world’s most famous Glaswegians – Billy Connolly and Irn Bru – are doing on the fantastic hand-drawn mural that adorns the entire back wall of the place.
Element describes its menu as home-cooked classics “with a twist”, and quite a few of the dishes on its extensive weekend brunch and cocktail menus feature ingredients you wouldn’t necessarily think to put together (we’ll get to one fantastic example later in this review). For example, rather than chuck in a couple of sosages and call it a veggie fry-up, Element instead offers an alternative based on red lentil dahl, which sounded so spectacular that Lola nearly ordered it. This was particularly noteworthy because a) my bezzer is the kind of sophisticated lady who hears the word “brunch” and immediately jumps to the Eggs Benedict; and b) when you’re an omnivore married to a vegetarian, restaurants are supposed to be where you get to order the meat dish without worrying about there being two sets of washing-up later.
Rather than decide straight away, we went for some cocktails first – although choosing turned out to be even more difficult than settling on some food. Element might not have the most extensive cocktail menu out of all the places I have visited, but it certainly has one of the most interesting – featuring spirits so fancy I hadn’t heard of half the brands, intriguing combinations and excellent names (Fantastic Colonel Fox, anyone?). I knew I’d chosen correctly when my Toffee Apple Cobbler (Brugal Anejo rum, Disarrono amaretto, apple juice, lime and caramel syrup) arrived though – topped with caramel apple slices, it’s a drink so spectacular in appearance that I audibly gasped, and the combination tastes as good as it looks. Lola’s Mango Meets Mexico (El Jimador Blanco tequila, Liqueur de Violette, mango and lychee green tea syrup, lime, mango) looked almost sedate in comparison – well, as sedate as one gets when one is drinking tequila in the middle of the afternoon – but she had no complaints.
For those about to suggest that our choices were hardly in keeping with the theme, I should point out that Element offers some more traditional brunch options as part of the main brunch menu, which is available between noon and 5pm on Saturdays and Sundays. While we would have been perfectly happy with espresso martinis apiece neither of us is much of a Bloody Mary fan – which we were a little sad about when we saw the Bloody Mary to share option on the menu, which comes with a selection of garnishes so you can make the drink to your own tastes at the table.
Onto the main event: the food! After much humming and hawing, Lola eventually settled on a full Scottish breakfast – which, at Element, comes with your choice of egg, which meant she got to have her beloved poached eggs along with Ramsays of Carluke bacon, black pudding – oh, and haggis! I, on the other hand, had had my heart set on the chimmichurri steak ciabatta pretty much since I first checked out the menu ahead of my visit. The slow roast bell peppers and the steak itself were deliciously tender, although the sandwich wasn’t as flavourful as I was expecting – which might be because it’s usually served with mayonnaise, which is as you know the spunk of the devil.
As we ate, we indulged in a little people-watching and got to observe first-hand what really makes Element great: its friendly and knowledgable staff. For example, there was a French family clearly visiting the city at the table next to us, and the waitress really took her time with them as they went through the beer and real ale menu, making recommendations and pointing out the local brews which they eventually ordered. Her going the extra mile like that really stood out to me (so much that I’m still talking about it two weeks later) – when you work in a tourist hotspot those little bursts of local knowledge make all the difference.
So… remember how I talked about those “twists” on the menu you wouldn’t necessarily think of putting together? Although we were both pretty full from our main courses, neither I nor Lola could resist the intriguingly-named whisky and Coke sticky toffee pudding. It couldn’t possibly have real whisky and Coke in it, we thought; how could that possibly work? Well, don’t ask me what witchcraft was involved but it did and it does.
Served with real clotted cream (a much better choice than the ice cream I was originally expecting when I stuck my spoon into it – I’ve never gotten my head around ice cream with a warm dessert, most of the time it’s half-melted before it even reaches the table) this was a perfect example of a sticky toffee pudding: you could definitely taste the whisky and Coke from it in a way that neutralised the sweetness of the toffee sauce and left a really nice aftertaste. And I’m not generally a fan of whisky! I can’t tell you why it worked, but rest assured that it did. The latte I ordered came with a little shortbread biscuit that I couldn’t swear to you was homemade, but it had that crumbliness you never really get from a packet and was so yummy I had no regrets about not being able to finish my pudding.
I’m fairly out of touch with Edinburgh these days, so it may be that Element is not the hidden secret I’m making it out to be – but I suspect, from the fact that it was busy but not packed when we visited, that its off-the-main-drag location means its not the sort of place that people usually just wander into. Their loss, I say: this combination of fantastic food and great service (and no “Edinburgh tax”, if you know what I mean, in the pricing) would be enough to cross the country for. If, you know, I didn’t have good friends to visit too.
We were given a complementary meal for review purposes, but all opinions are my own and unbiased. Especially the bit about the sticky toffee pudding.