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Bittersweet, Edinburgh, review - we try Leith's new aperitivo bar

This new place is owned by the people behind Old Poison Distillery

Scotsman Review
Our criteria 
  • Ambience - It's important that a restaurant is inviting. We rate the decor, comfort and atmosphere.
  • Drink - Is the wine or cocktail list as exciting as the food, or does it fall short? Same goes for soft drinks. 
  • Food - We judge dishes on flavour, but also use of produce, cooking skill and presentation
  • Service - The staff and pace of a meal can make or break a meal out.
  • Value - From the food on the plate to service and surroundings, we check that you get what you're paying for.
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Start walking down Leith Walk in your normal attire.

By the time you’ve reached Woodland Creatures, you’ve moulted down to shorts, then a bikini when The Central Bar is in sight. I’ve heard there’s a naturist thing going on around the Kirkgate Centre.

It’s the suntrappiest of streets in Edinburgh and I think it might have something to do with the pale concrete pavements, which refract the light.

Spray your hair with Sun-In, and you’ll have highlights by Casa Amiga.

When I visited this new bar, I went via The Walk, and there were a lot of taps brazenly falling off, even if the tram works meant that they’d end up with mesh-shaped sunburn.

I was glad to reach the shady Henderson Street, where this place has popped up on a corner spot.

Along with his chef brother, Simone, this aperitivo bar is the latest project from mixologist Fabrizio Cioffi. He doubles as director of artisanal distillery, Old Poison, which is based at The Biscuit Factory. They produce Selkie London Dry Gin, Hina Rum, Edinburgh Vermouth Rosso and loads of other libations.

The drinks menu here is a showcase of their creations. There are negronis, spritzes and classics, but we liked the sound of their Wanderlust cocktails, which are designed as a post lockdown celebration of travel. I went for Midnight in NY (£8), which picked me out, shook me up, and turned me into someone new. It was made from bourbon, as well as a handmade syrup infused with sourdough pretzels, Old Poison’s Edinburgh Vermouth Rosso infused with cherries and 1920 bitter.

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It was hefty and heady. I felt a bit anaesthetised only half way down the short glass.

In contrast, my dining partner had gone for the sherbert-y option of Dreaming Philadelphia (£8) which was as blossom-hued and happy-making as a My Little Pony. This contained Selkie Pink Gin, raspberry and lime cordial, ginger ale, fresh lemon juice and a nostril-tickling contingent of ginger ale foam.

We almost forgot about the grub. It comes as it’s ready, and first out was the cod (£8.50) - five breaded bites of fish with very lemony mayonnaise and a few homemade potato chip discs. There was also a surprise chicken course, which we hadn’t ordered, but very much enjoyed anyway. (They didn’t charge us for it). Also served on a long slate, it consisted of Panko-crumbed and palm-sized pads of chicken breast, along with a ramekin full of a gently spicy Sriracha mayonnaise.

All good booze food. Same goes for another fried course of potato crocche (£6.50), or three fat capsules of mashed potato and Parmigiano, with pale gummy rivulets of melted mozzarella in the mix and a thin and sugo-ish tomato sauce on the side.

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There was also a selection of montanara (£8.50). This option featured three billowing and coaster-sized deep fried pizza dough blobs. One of these, the Paesana, was topped with a folded sheet of mortadella, a dollop of ricotta and pistachio crumbs. Another, the Classic, had a little bit of sugo, Parmesan and a basil leaf, and the third had a toupee of pork and beef ragu.

Our alcohol was fully absorbed, as if by a magic squeegee.

And, although our piggy brains had made us subconsciously gravitate towards them, you don’t have to solely go for fried stuff at this place.

There’s also bruschetta, lasagne, parmigiana, arancini, polenta, salad and sharing boards.

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For pudding you can choose tiramisu (£4.50) or Anka’s vegan cake of the day (£4.50).

Since our internal pipes were furred up enough, without adding cream to the claggy mix, we went for the second option, which turned out to be a blueberry cheesecake.

It was whittled from coconut, cashew and chickpea ingredients, and was heavier than your average version of this dessert, but not bad, especially with a big dollop of the berry-punctuated syrup.

For a digestif, we returned to the liquid list and got Lost in Amsterdam (£8.50), with genever, Aperol, handmade chamomile and citrus syrup, blood orange soda and fresh lemon juice.

This concoction was fizzy and light, with that lovely mellow floral chamomile note, and it did remind me of the time we wandered round the Rijksmuseum looking for the toilets.

Bittersweet is a bar first and foremost. The food is secondary - the Robin to the boozy Batman.

I give the drinks a hefty 8.5/10, though if you have too many you might find yourself joining the Kirkgate Centre nudists.

24 Henderson Street


(0131 531 1410,

Vegan cheesecake

Gaby Soutar is a lifestyle editor at The Scotsman. She has been reviewing restaurants for The Scotsman Magazine since 2007 and edits the weekly food pages.
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