Barrelhouse Bar and Grill, Edinburgh restaurant review – A most welcome east-end rollout

Barrelhouse Bar and Grill, Edinburgh - interior.
The Barrelhouse’s “smoking” interior.

Barrelhouse Bar & Grill, Edinburgh review – “Finger bowls, extra serviettes and a receptacle for the bones (apologies to non-meat eaters) heralded the arrival of the chicken wings, and pretty glorious they were. Smothered in a rich, tangy, spicy glaze the meat was deliciously tender, sliding off the bone.”

As someone whose day job is in communications, I’m well aware of the adage “there’s no such thing as bad publicity”, and this is often true. After all, had it not been for some wannabe local politician moaning on about the look of the Barrelhouse Bar and Grill – located in my old stomping ground of Willowbrae, Edinburgh – which draws its inspiration from New Orleans-style, blues-playing watering holes, I might not have heard about it. Because according to the prospective Edinburgh Councillor, the deep-south themed exterior of this newly opened establishment “does nothing to improve the area”. Unlike the hostelry’s former incarnation as the infamous Jock’s Lodge pub, which laid semi-derelict for years having been closed following it being the scene of a drugs-related assassination attempt? Aye, that really screamed “up and coming neighbourhood” – NOT! But I digress…

Chilli chicken wings - Barrelhouse, Edinburgh.
Finger-lickin’ chicken wings.
Approaching the Barrelhouse, it’s apparent that the corrugated iron that used to adorn the windows of the old Jock’s Lodge has been niftily repurposed to form the place’s new signage. I semi-jest, as set against the stylish charcoal grey rendered exterior, emblazoning the bar’s name on purposely distressed metal sheeting trendily hints at the venue’s southern U-S-of-A theme. Pass through the doors and it’s surprising at how TARDIS-like the expanse of the interior is compared to the relatively diminutive frontage. I must confess that given its reputation I never stepped foot in the old Jock’s Lodge during the decade I lived in the area, as I am not exactly a fan of a chibbing or ricocheting bullet accompanying a nice glass of Rioja, so I can’t compare the new bar’s look with its predecessor. But I liked what I encountered; faux-distressed wall and ceiling décor, mix and match vintage furniture, a well presented horseshoe bar adorned with more corrugated iron and stylish neon lighting, and – most importantly – a semi-open grill/kitchen, which contains the “god of hellfire”, according to the signage adjacent the pass. The place even houses a modest stage area in order to host live music – smouldering delta blues I would imagine.
Chilli beef taco shell - Barrelhouse, Edinburgh.
Big and bold chilli beef taco shell.
Service was uniformly excellent right from the off, with the extremely welcoming and efficient staff immediately showing me to a table and furnishing me with a smashing pint of American-style rye beer, whilst I perused the Barrelhouse‘s menu and awaited the arrival of dining partner, JML.  Given the venue’s Southern USA theme and the appearance of “grill” in its name, it’s unsurprising that American classics and “BBQ” dishes are prominent in its food offering, but the range of starters and mains is more nuanced than standard diner-esque fare, and a squint at the Barrelhouse‘s Facebook page suggests the menu gets regularly updated.  JML having now arrived, and been speedily supplied with a refreshing pint of continental lager, we dived into placing our order.

Crab cakes, Barrelhouse, Edinburgh.
Crab cakes – southern style.
In terms of starters, the likes of the smoked salmon and asparagus frittata, and haggis bon bons with sweet chilli dip were inviting. But wanting to put the kitchen’s grilling skills to the test I settled on the sweet chilli chicken wings, whilst JML went down a more Tex-Mex route in the form of chilli beef served in a taco bowl. Finger bowls, extra serviettes and a receptacle for the bones (apologies to non-meat eaters) heralded the arrival of the chicken wings, and pretty glorious they were. Smothered in a rich, tangy, spicy glaze the meat was deliciously tender, sliding off the bone.  JML’s chilli-laden taco bowl was also pretty satisfying, with a well balanced capsaicin heat accompanying the minced beef, even if the chopped vegetable salad at the bottom of the taco itself was possibly a wee bit misplaced. Yet these were not to be the end of our starters, oh no.  As we munched, one of our ever-attentive servers appeared with a plate of barbecued ribs, explaining that the chef was trialling a new dish and would welcome feedback. Muckle cuts of tender pork, smothered in a spicy, smoky sauce were succulent and flavoursome. Yep they deserve to go on the menu!
Grilled 8oz steak, Barrelhouse, Edinburgh.
Super-succulent 8oz steak.
For the main event, given the generous portions of my starter – combined with the gratis addition of the ribs – I was leaning towards “meat-out”, so was glad that I had chosen Louisiana-inspired crab cakes instead of the “Barrelhouse Filthy Burger”, or Philly cheese-steak sandwich. JML exhibited no such carnivorous reservations, honing in on the grilled 8oz sirloin steak.  My crab cakes consisted a pair of amply-proportioned  golden disks which were full of intense seafood flavour provided by brown and white crustacean meat, nicely complimented by a smokiness imparted by incorporated spices including – I suspect – pimentón. Combined with a zingy salad and decent fries this was a an competent and enjoyable dish, perhaps only slightly let down by a couple of pieces of crab shell residing in one of the cakes, but at least that hinted that the meat had been freshly picked.  JML’s steak was mouth watering in appearance and just as satisfying in terms of flavour.  Clearly properly aged, and sporting a charred plaid exterior from the grill, the interior of the meat was a perfect medium-rare pink; all combined, melt-in-the-mouth delicious. Add to this a stack of great chunky chips, sweetly roasted tomatoes, really well seasoned sautéed mushrooms, and an unctuous peppercorn sauce and this was a cracker of a main course.
Now I have alluded that the Barrelhouse‘s portions are on the generous side. Such was this the case when we dined there that – somewhat unbelievably – it led to our eschewing the offer of pudding.  Yet I understand that those with a sweet tooth are well catered for by the establishment, even if the pud section wasn’t immediately apparent on the menu.  Not going for a third course didn’t cloud our opinion of the Barrelhouse, however…
In the ten or so years I lived in the leafy environs of Meadowbank and Willowbrae I was adamant that what this neighbourhood lacked was a decent pub, serving a good range of quality drinks and tasty honest grub.  Indeed, it could be argued that travelling east from the centre of Edinburgh along London Road – bar the odd decent takeaway – there was  a veritable culinary desert between Abbeyhill’s Safari Lounge and Portobello’s Guild of Foresters. Well folks, an eating and drinking oasis has now appeared in the form of the Barrelhouse, one I shall definitely return to. Unlike certain wannabe local politicians, my only regret about this place is that it didn’t make its BBQ-wielding presence back when I was still resident in the area.
Food 7/10
Atmosphere 7.5/10
Service 8.5/10
Value 8/10
Ambience – expect a welcoming bar serving appetising, USA-inspired, pub food.         

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