Occupying the former site of Clerk’s Bar and (for a seemingly very short time) Diablo Loco on Clerk Street, Sonder has now been open for six months.
All trace of the restaurant’s previous incarnation as a vermillion painted, Day of the Dead, inspired Mexican cantina has been erased to be replaced by comfy booths, wooden floors and the requisite grey painted walls.
The first thing that strikes you as you walk in the door is the open kitchen where head chef Paul Graham, an Edinburgh lad who has worked in the capital’s Number One restaurant in the Balmoral Hotel and with Gordon Ramsay at his flagship Hospital Road restaurant, leads a team of chefs who seemed to be constantly tasting their dishes. Always a good sign.
Owner and front of house, Trisha McCrae has spent the last two years travelling around 20 countries and setting up pop up restaurants at locations as unusual as Everest Base Camp. Settling down in the capital is certainly a change of pace, but with 20 different pop ups under her belt she’s got a good idea of what will work.
The menu is split into sections, Snacks, Garden, Sea and Land. We chose a couple of snacks to get things started. Salt cod Mousse, lemon and cod skin is a glorious Stonehenge of crispy, salty cod skin in the lightest batter protruding from a light, creamy yet refreshing salt cod mousse. The Focaccia, mascarpone and black olive was a warming and cushiony mini loaf with a flavourful olive tapenade which vanished in a flash.
From the garden section I loved the charred flavour of the roast cauliflower, Romanesco and black garlic. The elevation of cauliflower from the bland and boring vegetable of my childhood to a flavourful and versatile ingredient worthy of being the star of a dish is of great pleasure to me. This was no exception.
Mr B’s favourite dish was the mushroom, confit yolk, prune and yesterday’s bread. I can’t argue with him as the earthiness of the raw mushrooms and mushroom puree was beautifully punctuated by the sweet prune, creamy yolk and crunch of shards of bread. The farfalle, pumpkin, sage and parmesan was a hearty dish with a surprising hit of sharp sweetness from the little rounds of pickled pumpkin.
From the sea the monkfish, cauliflower, sea vegetables and curry was a meaty chunk of perfectly cooked fish with a curry flavour mild enough to allow the fish to retain its starring role.
The land section brought a melt in the mouth hunk of beef short rib served with watercress, soy and pickled onions. The carnivore in me almost declared this my stand out dish of the evening, but dessert was still to come.
Mr B got his chocolate fix with chocolate, praline and caramel, I did not as it was gone even before I could offer it a longing sideways glance. My Yorkshire rhubarb with crème fraiche and ginger beer looked as good as it tasted, the gorgeous pink stalks sitting atop crisp and buttery sable biscuits and a delicate rhubarb puree. The ginger beer sorbet was a revelation, providing a refreshing, fizzy and fiery crowning glory to a great dessert.
With snacks ranging from £3 – £6, choices from garden, sea or land coming in at anything between £8 – £15 (you will probably need two each) and desserts around the £6.50 mark this isn’t an outrageously pricey meal, but it felt like a real treat. And I’m clearly not the only one who thinks so. The restaurant is full as we put on coats, hats and gloves in preparation for departure.
Just in case you’re wondering, Sonder means ‘the realisation that each passer-by is living a life as vivid and complex as your own’. As I step out of the restaurant into a snow shower and the huge, fluffy flakes cool the warm glow provided by a good meal I find it hard to imagine that the people walking by can possibly be living quite as vivid a life as I am right at this moment.
74-78 South Clerk Street
0131 667 7032