Edinburgh Restaurant Review: Clouds and Soil – Grandiose surroundings, fairly decent food

Samosas with raita.
Pulled pork samosas with saffron raita.

If there is one part of Edinburgh where visitors will never struggle to find somewhere to eat or drink it has to be the area that encompasses the top of Leith Walk, Picardy Place, and Broughton Street. This is a region of the capital that is chock-a-block with bars and restaurants of varied styles and cuisines. However, such is the competition in this culinary hotspot that every now and again a venue will pull down the shutters, only to be quickly transformed into a new food or drink-based enterprise.

One of the area’s venues that appears to be in a constant state of reincarnation is the impressive Georgian townhouse at 4 Picardy Place. Since being converted from a TV production studio a few years back, this place has hosted: (the appallingly named) Thai Me Up restaurant; the GHQ bar/club/boutique hotel complex; and the Fiddler’s Elbow pub. All these enterprises have now gone by-the-by. My interest was pricked, therefore, when I discovered that the team behind Leith Shore’s trendy Bond No 9 had taken over the place, transforming it into “… a cocktail and wine bar, restaurant and four rooms” under the intriguing moniker of Clouds and Soil. Might this venture prove more successful than its predecessors, I wondered?

Queen scallops in lemon butter.
Queen scallops in lemon butter.

So a couple of Friday’s ago, JML and I decided to give Clouds and Soil‘s restaurant a test drive. Crossing the venue’s threshold we were greeted by… an empty hallway. So we popped our heads into the ground floor bar – which was certainly stylish, if not exactly bursting with punters – to be directed up the staircase to the first floor. The restaurant occupies two conjoined, grandiose Georgian rooms which have been tastefully decorated in sage green and decked out with oak flooring. An equally stylish bar area is nestled at one end of this space, with the majority of the covers occupying the larger area which boasts stunning views from its huge sash windows. Initially impressive. Yet did the food match the decor?

The menus – I purposely use the plural here – arrived in the oh-so-common form of paper sheets on a clipboard: these days, almost as ubiquitous in hipster venues as stripped stonework and red-filament light bulbs. At first glance, they were – as I overheard one of our fellow diners state – a bit confusing. We were in the restaurant, but had to navigate the cocktail list and bar menu before we discovered the al la carte offerings. These appeared inviting.

Roast chicken with rosti and mushroom sauce.
Roast chicken with rosti and mushroom sauce.

The dishes described weren’t so much fusion food – a dreadful culinary concept in my book – more a patchwork of different regional cuisines, including Asian, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and Scottish. JML started with mini spiced pulled pork samosas with raita sauce. He was presented with a brace of filo-wrapped piggy parcels and an accompanying dip of saffron-tinged sauce. The samosas were crisp to the point of crumbly, with a tasty meaty filling and were well complimented by the fruity/spicy raita dip.

For my first course, I was sorely tempted by the confit duck leg bon bons with a tomato and chilli jam. But as someone who adores seafood, I finally chose queenie scallops in a lemon and herb butter. This featured half a dozen mini-sized molluscs in half shells, generously doused in a butter sauce. They were succulently well cooked, but the sauce could have done with a bit more of a citrus hit, and I’m not sure that the, somewhat bland, accompanying frisee and radish salad added much to the dish.

Slow roast forerib of Scotch beef.
Flintstone-esque slow roast forerib of Scotch beef.

For the main courses, we both went carnivorous. My rosemary braised Scottish beef short rib was served with a comedic, Flintsone-esque accompanying bone, which I’m sure was not an original constituent of the dish. The meat was tasty enough, but could maybe have done with being cooked until it was a bit more “fall-apart” tender. The accompanying butter bean mash potato was smooth and creamy, whilst the wild mushroom “jus” was more of a cream sauce, but nonetheless added a nice note of umami. However, the promised asparagus was minimalist, to say the least. JML’s roast chicken breast hit nearer the bull’s-eye. It was well matched with grilled haggis and a rich cider and thyme cream sauce, with a turnip and potato rosti providing a very nice contrast in flavour and texture.

To gauge the quality of the sides, we also ordered bowls of Far Eastern-inspired broccoli with soy, chilli and garlic – which was fine for a stir-fried brassica – and some nicely crisp hand cut chips. We also washed down our mains with a very quaffable bottle of malbec, the appearance of which was delayed thanks to it having to be retrieved from the bar downstairs. The very attentive front of house staff were understandably apologetic for the wine’s late arrival, but I did get an inference that they were a bit under pressure, despite the restaurant only being half full.

Sticky carrot cake.
Sticky carrot cake.

The pudding menu was concise and relatively sedate. A cheese board from Ian Mellis is always tempting, but I wanted something sweet, yet with a bit of a kick. The affagato featuring vanilla ice cream, espresso and Ron Zacapa rum was just that – a simple sweet but with the hint of the exotic. Across the table – and after some deliberation – a sticky carrot cake was being consumed. It was exactly as described, being moist and delicious, if a wee bit minimalist – an accompanying scoop of ice cream would have been a welcome addition.

And that was our dinner complete. Maybe that sounds a bit perfunctory. But perhaps that’s because Clouds and Soil seems to have not yet fully worked out exactly what it is and whom it is targeting. Is its main focus on being a high-quality restaurant, a trendy cocktail bar, or a boutique hotel? The building itself is undoubtedly stunning (comparable to Queen Street’s Scotch Malt Whisky Society), but elements of the venue hint at being fitted out either in a hurry or on a dwindling budget – the dated stair carpets, and paint splattered floor tiles in the toilets, being cases in point.


Affagato with Ron Zacapa rum.
Affagato with Ron Zacapa rum.

he restaurant menu tries hard, but ultimately delivers decent bar food, as opposed to a collection of stand-out dishes befitting of the surroundings. That being said, a fairly decent three course meal and a bottle of wine for around £80 does represent pretty reasonable value. Given its potential, It will be interesting to see how this venue evolves, so I shall definitely return to discover if the new incumbent of 4 Picardy Place has, in culinary terms, succeeded in reaching for the sky, or planted its remains with its culinary roots stuck in terra firma.

Food 6.5/10
Drink 8/10
Service 7/10
Value 7.5/10

Ambience – Expect a stylish, yet relaxed bar and bistro.

Clouds and Soil on Urbanspoon

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  • Reply
    July 14, 2014 at 10:54 pm

    What a great review! We passed Clouds and Soil the other day but could't quite decide what we wanted to eat from the menu, it seemed like an usual mix of courses.

    I'm a big fan of Bond No. 9 though, a great for bar food and cocktails perfect if you don't want anything too fancy.

    We'll give a month or so and hopefully Clouds and Soil have bedded in fully.

  • Reply
    Beauty Balm
    July 17, 2014 at 8:47 pm

    Great review Chris. I love an affogato for pud!

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