Richard Bath reviews Skua, the new restaurant in Edinburgh from chefs Tomás Gormley and Sam Yorke.
THE timing was impeccable. No sooner had Heron in Leith gained its – well-deserved – Michelin star than twentysomething wunderkinds Tomás Gormley and Sam Yorke’s next venture opened its doors in Edinburgh’s most on-trend area, Stockbridge.
Located in what was until recently the Blue Parrot Cantina, Skua occupies a basement beneath a children’s bookshop on St Stephen’s Street and – besides its ownership and avian-themed moniker – is profoundly different in virtually every way from the mothership overlooking the Water of Leith. That starts with their physical outlook, but it doesn’t stop there. Where Heron is bright and airy, with its black walls Skua is dark and subterranean, with an all-enveloping, almost conspiratorial, candle-lit atmosphere.
The food could also not be more different: where Heron is defiantly fine dining, Skua doesn’t stand on ceremony with its open kitchen and ubiquitous small plates for sharing. And the price points are poles apart: at Heron, you need to empty your bank account, at Skua you can just get away with raiding the piggy bank.
So for anyone thinking that Gormley and Yorke’s new venture is likely to be a facsimile of their flagship restaurant, think again. This is an entirely different experience, yet no less exciting. Casual, engaging and relaxed, Skua serves food from Thursday to Monday, and from 5.30pm until 11.30pm, and fits in perfectly in this target-rich environment.
The first thing that you’ll notice when you arrive at Skua is the emphasis on the cocktail list, which was put together by Heron bar manager Seoridh Fraser, and includes half-a-dozen of Fraser’s own ingenious concoctions, plus a handful of old faithfuls. As with the menu and the well-judged wine list, all the cocktails are accessed via a QR code, so if you’re of a certain age bring along a torch and/or magnifying glass.
But what of the food? It is, as you’d expect from a partnership containing the youngest Scottish chefs ever to win a Michelin star, pretty damned decent. We started with the trout pastrami, which sat on top of a bread soldier of rye, with dollops of creamy taramasalata and then a sprinkling of dry, almost crunchy furikake to give some contrast in terms of both taste and touch.
From there we careered through our meal at warp speed, as the bite size and surprisingly punchy small plates came and were dispatched with relish. The sweetcorn chowder with mole and chipotle was a highlight, while the koji chicken with cured egg yolk and a splash of soy disappeared in one big bite. In all we went for four small plates – the other two were the pork lab and bream ceviche – with each costing £5-8, before heading onto a couple of the larger plates.
These turned out to be just as good as the small plates. We followed the house advice and opted for the fried chicken with fermented peach, and although it’s not something I’d ever normally have ordered, I’d happily go back for more. We rounded off the savoury part of the meal with octopus in chilli, soy and maitake mushrooms, before finishing by sharing a typically eccentric version of sticky toffee with stem ginger and miso.
The verdict? Loved it, and with a price tag of £65 plus booze it’s not ruinously expensive. However, there is one caveat. Maybe it’s because we eat quickly, or maybe because the dishes are entertainingly lilliputian, but our meal was effectively over in barely half an hour, forty minutes tops. So get yourself in a mindset where you’re happy to linger over the food and take your time of you’ll be back nursing a pint in the Baillie before you know it.
Skua, 49 St Stephen St, Stockbridge, Edinburgh EH3 5AH. www.skua.scot
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Plus, don’t miss the mystery diner’s restaurant review in the May issue of Scottish Field magazine.