Like the best pickings from the forest floor, you need to hunt for Forage & Chatter: it doesn’t give up its secrets easily. Found in a nondescript West End basement, formerly tenanted by The Edinburgh Larder, it’s easy to overlook, a fair trudge from the Gothic splendour of the Old Town and the see-and-be-seen restaurants in Leith. Some restaurants shout. Whisper-quiet Forage & Chatter doesn’t need to.
This is of-the-moment sustainable dining with sandy boots and sea kelp in its hair, thanks to Cameron McNeil, who learnt his foraging trade in England’s New Forest.
Apparently simple, if anything but, the three-course set menu (£17.95) is too interesting to pigeonhole as nouvelle Scottish or innovative organic. This is a place where just-landed mackerel accompanies radish, carrot and coriander. Wild salmon is plated-up with tweezer-perfect cucumber, croutons and wild herbs (hand-picked, naturally). Seasonality is king.
Even more impressively, the mains – such as wild duck with beetroot, carrot and wood sorrel, or pearl barley with cauliflower and herbs – conjure up an afternoon’s ramble through a pine-scented, mulchy forest. That’s veg and game worship that takes you places. Oh, and did we mention the bread? You could almost run the place on the bread alone. Expect delicately-fried Scottish dough balls with yoghurt butter and mushroom powder.
One of Forage & Chatter’s chief tricks is its gentle-service. The drinks appear on your table in fabulous glass stems, almost before you’ve thought of ordering. As with the herbs on the plate, the seasonal influences are all over the place, too. There’s Scottish craft beer, of course, and bio-dynamic and organic wines – all with a gritty backstory – but then there’s also sea buck thorn in your fizz.
At first you may think you’ve seen it before. Harris Tweed upholstery, reclaimed wood, a copper-topped bar and dim-lit booths all neatly packed in a resurrected basement. Then you spy the foliage, potted plants and rows of aromatic box herbs – everything from rosemary and mint to pink lavender, black peppermint and Scots lovage. All of which amp-up the Gorgie via gardeners’ cottage look. That scent? It’s Douglas fir oil dribbled on the dessert at the next table.
The location aces it with business lunchers and savvy locals during the day, but at night you’ll do well getting a table with only three weeks’ notice. The delirium of such a beautiful feast has made Forage & Chatter one of the most talked-about restaurants in Scotland. Landing a prime table is no easy feat.
The sustainability bit
All the food at Forage & Chatter comes from within a 25-mile radius and is seasonal with a capital S. The restaurant also gets its plants from the Secret Herb House Garden, located in a fold at the foot of the rolling Pentland Hills outside Edinburgh.
If you are visiting this beautiful city as an eco enthusiast, then be sure to check our Edinburgh’s excellent array of zero waste shops too.
When to visit
Lunch or dinner, from Tuesday to Saturday (Lunch: 12–2:30pm; Dinner: 6–11pm).
Where is Forage & Chatter?
Find it at 1A Alva Street EH2 4PH, a short walk from pedestrian shopping thoroughfare Princes Street. Haymarket train station is a five-minute stroll away.
Want another taste of Scotland? Try our 10 reasons to head to Skye.