You may have to look up your history books – OK, Google – to discover why a new Edinburgh restaurant came to have the name the Riparian Rooms.Riparian is the proper label for one of the planet’s 15 terrestrial ecosystems, the wetlands by a river or stream – where land and river converge. I didn’t bring my dowsing rods but apparently the site, most recently home to the Italian eaterie Locanda de Gusti and previously a launderette, stands on the banks of the Broughton Burn as it flows down to join the Water of Leith, albeit now hidden in pipes underground.
It was from this ancient watercourse that Neil Robb and Lynne Ritchie took inspiration when naming their bistro. Probably best not to mention that the burn also served as an open sewer in times of yore, channelling waste from the New Town to the sea. Although there may be some comfort in an 1872 report by the city’s medical officer of health, assuring that “no excrementitious matters are visible”.
Refurbishment has been a year-long labour of love for the entrepreneurial couple, with the doors opening at the end of last month. Head chef is Gary Cromie, whose career includes stints at South Queensferry’s Orocco Pier and the Waldorf Astoria in New York.
The establishment can sit 130 over two floors, including a cosy wood-lined basement bar called Burrow Below.
On our visit the restaurant was buzzing. The atmosphere was relaxed and upbeat, with music and background hubbub at just the right levels. Staff were helpful and charming – despite one slightly comical conversation.
Me, pointing at the dish on a neighbouring table: What are they having, it looks delicious?
Waiter: Chateaubriand, but that’s a special and it’s finished.
Me: Oh, do you have a specials board?
Me: So how do we know what the specials are?
Waiter: I tell you.
Me: Great, what are the specials?
Waiter: There aren’t any. They’re finished.
Unfortunately the lobster, which features on three of the dozen main dishes, was also finished.
DIY Dave, a pescetarian, ordered oysters followed by the layered confit and purée of butternut squash with a poached duck egg, wild Scottish mushrooms and truffled crispy potato.
His wife Nicola chose the loin of rabbit with pistachio and apricot stuffing, pickled artichoke and carrot salad, then the seafood sharing board. This was billed as having mussels, lobster, oysters, smoked salmon, whitebait and black tiger prawns, served with shallot and red wine vinegar, rye bread, charred lemon and tartare sauce. She agreed to have extra smoked salmon as a substitute for the missing crustacean.
Big Man started with crispy pumpkin bites with cubes of Dunsyre Blue cheese, sage butter and caramelised almond, ordering a couple of oysters on the side, while I chose Cullen skink. I had set my heart on lobster and chips for main, but ended up joining Big Man with the prime fillet of Scottish beef. This came with a bone marrow fritter, curly kale, crushed Jerusalem artichokes and onion purée, but you have to order the hand-cut chips if you want them. We did.
Nicola’s rabbit stole the show in the starters – it was delicate with a slightly smoky flavour. Big Man loved his pumpkin bites, declaring the dish a great combination. The lads also gave the oysters the thumbs up – lovely and fresh with an excellent shallot and red wine vinegar. My soup was super-creamy and hearty.
DIY Dave declared his veggie dish – one of two on offer – tasty, though the squash was a shade al dente for his palate.
When Nicola’s seafood arrived, the waiter was delighted to announce that half a lobster had been found – though the tiger prawns had now vanished. Still, it was an impressive spread and tasted as good as it looked.
My beef was a bit beyond medium-rare, though I didn’t mind. Big Man’s fillet was perfectly cooked and deliciously tender, though a little on the scrimp side. The accompanying artichokes were sublime. At £23.95, the dish should come with chips – the extra £3.75 makes it a costly plate.
The chaps had puddings. Big Man was underwhelmed by the peanut butter parfait with roasted rum banana, while DIY Dave found the salted caramel and dark chocolate bar with vanilla bean ice cream a shade too sweet.
Overall it was an enjoyable meal and eating experience, and any little hiccups were surely down to the fact the place had only been open for 24 hours.
It is welcoming, not stuffy, and I love the concept of the menu – a couple of minor tweaks would make it hard to beat. Some of the prices seem a little steep (£35.95 for the shellfish platter) while others are remarkably palatable (£13.95 for pan-fried sea bass). And the three shellfish dishes are perhaps too similar in content, causing problems when a single element runs out.
I welcome the ethos of the place. It is open from 8am until late and offers all-day dining. There is even a Little Bivvers selection for children. I certainly plan a return visit, perhaps even with the offspring.
Main courses £10.95-£23.95
Puddings £4.65-£4.95 (cheeseboard £7.95)