Unique is definitely the right word.
I have been desperate for an excuse to try The Gardener's Cottage ever since we moved into the area a couple of months ago. Walking past it every day, hearing the buzz that's been building, looking at the menu on the way past - it was firmly on the list. We'd attempted a few times to book a table but left it too late, so getting a 2 at 7.30 on a Friday in the festival for Mr F's birthday was nothing short of a miracle.
The menu changes daily - any dietary requirements are asked for on booking. A lady to our left was veggie and that wasn't a problem at all - she had a variation on the set menu which looked every bit as interesting as the meaty version.
Communal tables, set simply.
A sharing appetiser of pickled mackerel, broad bean pate and nasturtiums with homemade sourdough. The pate was really unusual - fresh, minted and lovely with the mackerel.
Confit duck leg with fresh beans. The duck was incredible, delicately flavoured with fresh herbs and melt-in-the-mouth soft without being greasy. The beans were crunchy and set the duck off perfectly.
Tomato, red pepper and courgette soup with mint yoghurt. The photo doesn't do the colour justice. It was velvety soft and the perfect temperature to bring out the freshness without having to wait for it to cool to eat it (not too hot, but warmer than room temperature - lovely)
BBQ duck with chanterelles, roasters, jelly and hazelnuts. The duck breast was still pink but not too rare for me, and the small portion of soft game meat that came with it was worked really well with chargrilled broccoli to stop it being too rich. The roasters were phenomenal - more of a confit potato than a Sunday effort. I could have happily eaten a dozen.
Gooseberry jelly, yoghurt granita, Hyssop ice-cream. The gooseberry jelly was lovely and sharp, and the small bits of mueringue that were scattered over the top added a crunch. I wasn't convinced about the hyssop though, I thought that it slightly overwhelmed everything else.
Caerphilly cheese with oatmeal crackers and pickled cucumber. The strong cheese was lovely but the crackers were the highlight, strangely enough.
Brioche, with sweet cicily ice-cream, chocolate cream, and berry compote. The chocolate cream was incredibly rich, so the berries stopped it being too much. Lovely.
Candles and soft lighting at the end of the evening.
The food was lovely - really unusual, and it was great to be served things that we knew were fresh, in season, and sustainable.
The service could have done with a bit of an improvement (our waitress tended to plonk the food down and announce what it was without waiting for us to finish our sentences) and the prices of the after dinner tea and coffee (£2.20 and £3.30 respectively) stung, particularly when we had approximately 5 minutes in which to drink them before our waitress told us that it was 10pm and our seats had been booked. It's a shame that she didn't mention that when we sat down. Luckily for us, the other guests didn't show, so we took our time. If you go, it's worth checking how long you've got.
The highlight though? The company. This isn't a restaurant to go to if you're shy and retiring, or if you want to have a quiet catch up with a friend. For us, the highlight was getting to know the couples on the end of the table next to us. The first couple introduced themselves when we joined them. They were about 3 courses (and 3 glasses of matched wine) into their dinner and chatted away about being up from Kent on holiday for the festival, about shows they'd seen, and about the city. He was the chatty one, she was quieter. The highlight of the conversation included the marvellous line "Yes, we've ben coming to the Festival for about 5 years. We are married, but just not to each other." Cue slightly awkward stuttering about anything going during the festival, and an incredibly well timed duck dish (I take it back about the hit and miss service). After they ran off to watch a show, they were replaced by a second couple, Londoners who were up to watch their son. Their easygoing chat while we were finishing our coffee was lovely. It was this chatter that made the dinner so unusual and enjoyable. It was something that both of our table-sharing neighbours commented on as making it unlike any other restaurant they've been to, and certainly a very "Edinburgh" experience.
Unusual food in a unique setting - I'm looking forward to finding another reason to go back.
Set menu: £30 per person.
Matched wines: £35 per person.
Wines by the bottle from around £14.
Royal Terrace Gardens