Writing and food.
It's amazing really how similar the two things are.
We have raw ingredients, one uses vegetables and meats, fish and herbs, the other uses 26 different varieties mixed in a whole host of ways. You have different styles, direct, sharp, to the point, or lovely and floaty and bouncy and frothy. Want a light snack, get a comic. Fancy an eight course tasting menu with matched wines, try Harry Potter with matched Cursed Child. And then there's variety, the mish-mash of all-sorts that is British, or the heavier traditional Scots. Delicate, classic French or big, brash American, language and cuisine are almost interchangeable.
And both are constantly changing, new words are created - Brexit, Binge-watch, covfefe…, even Sonder. A relatively new addition to the dictionary it is “The profound feeling of realizing that everyone, including strangers passed in the street, has a life as complex as one's own, which they are constantly living despite one's personal lack of awareness of it.”
And in much the same way restaurants come and go, over the years of SFR we have seen many eateries appear in a building, close and reopen as something else, and so it is 74-78 South Clerk Street has moved on from being Clerk's Bar, to being a Mexican, to now opening as a fabulous new restaurant. Yup, that lengthy and rather tenuous introduction is all a big McGuffin to lead us in to the fact that we'd been invited to review the wonderful Sonder, and here it is…
First up, location wise it's a bit out from the city centre so if you need to park a motor, you can, but it's still just a short enough walk or a cheap taxi ride away from the Castle or Waverley depending on your idea of where the middle of Embra actually is. Outside neat olive paintwork let's you know you've arrived, and in through the green door you go. The black door, well that's a different story…
Inside the bar is no longer a bar, it's the kitchen. Brilliantly bonkers - putting the chefs not just in sight, not just the first thing you see as you walk in the door, but also within actual touching distance of the seats, but don't actually touch them they may not appreciate it! Make no mistake this is deliberately the focus of the whole place. Who wouldn't have wanted to watch Shakespeare compose Romeo and Juliet , or Roald Dahl imagine the BFG, well the same is true with the culinary artists at Sonder, you can gaze on as they create fabulous meals in front of you. The rest of the interior is contemporary and bright, with the noise of conversation and an awesome soundtrack creating a great atmosphere.
Food wise the menu is based on the small plates concept. Your food arrives when the kitchen is ready to send it, so you get to relax, enjoy a plate and then wait for the next one to come along, brilliantly laid back dining, with the added fun of not knowing what order things are arriving in. A simple menu where you grab yourself a “snack” and choices from the garden, the sea or land. We were recommended towards one of the snacks and two of the other plates each, so guess what, if you're prepared to share food with your dining partner you'll be able to taste a huge swathe of the menu. If you worry that this is all naff, arty farty food and you'll need a kebab after to satisfy your hunger then let me set your fears to rest. Between the two of us, two snacks, four plates and two desserts left me full, and I'm a bit of a chunky monkey who likes his food.
The snacks arrived together the crispy artichoke topped with celery and yoghurt were tasty little bites, the crunch from the sunchoke a brilliant base for the creamy celery. The olive focaccia was stunning, a beautifully crusty mini loaf with a soft airy centre was delicious on its own. But accompanied with either the black olive tapenade or better still mascarpone and green olive juice it was sublime. The creaminess of the mascarpone pairing especially well with the crunchy bread.
Like Mushrooms? Then the Mushroom, confit yolk, prune and “yesterday's bread” is the plate for you. We ordered it out of pure curiosity as to what yesterday's bread could possibly be. In amongst the sliced mushroom, cooked mushroom, on a bed of mushroom puree were three wee surprises. First the egg yolk adding some richness was a great boost of flavour. Next up the chunks of crispy bread, more honeycomb than crouton added some crunch to each fork full. But it was the massive fruity hit from the prunes that really brought the dish to life. The best thing is you don't know what each mouthful will contain, will it be eggy, crunchy or fruity, it's a fungi lottery.
Next up, Venison bresaola. We were warned when we ordered this wasn't a big chunk of Venison steak, which for a £9 plate we wouldn't have paid anywhere near enough for and as its a bresaola a thin slice is all you should ever expect. The artichoke,and mesclun leaves should leave you under no illusion you're getting a salad. And so it came to pass that's exactly what we got, but wow what a salad. The colours were so vivid, just like the flavours. The rich burgundy of the Venison hinted at the huge Meaty flavour it was packing. The bright orange of the pickled carrot was matched by a crisp sharp flavour but it was the smoked mayo that made the dish. Its warmth combined perfectly with every element, pulling together a great plate.
Still the plates came with perfect timing. From ‘the sea’ was the Scallops served with a roe puree and a fennel puree, because sometimes one puree just isn't enough. Both were chocked full of flavour, great for dipping the perfectly seared Scallops into. The real surprise was the grilled cucumber, yup you really can grill a cucumber, it was such an unexpected taste from such an ordinary ingredient you wouldn't believe it unless you tried it yourself.
Then without even realising it, we were onto our last plate and that made us sad. The Ricotta Agnolotti were cute little pasta parcels of soft cheese and then a cheeky citrus tang from the simple addition of lemon zest. And accompanying these were leeks and hazelnuts, another triumphant combination of flavours and textures you may never have considered, but boy, yet again it was brilliant.
And then that was that, the amazing tastes, the great flavours, all the wonderful and wacky dishes were finished. All done.
Oh wait, there's still dessert, Woohoo!!!
The menu was again more a sneaky suggestion of what may or may not be on your plate. Having already decided that whatever we picked would undoubtedly by amazing we went with the Milk parfait, wildflower honey and puffed rice. It was stunning, the parfait was the centre piece, and much like Peter Quill, it was great on its own, but with some amazing sidekicks it became so much more. The smooth creamy parfait, needed the genius, but slightly unorthodox crunch provided by the rice and a big heavy hitter of sweetness provided by the honey. The milk froth was an amusing addition which added yet another dynamic to the dish.
The Strawberry in our final dessert was provided sorbetted, fresh and Poached, all were equally epical. For some added confusion the chunks of sable biscuits were almost identical in appearance to the caramelised white chocolate, which made each mouthful a particularly flavoursome lottery. As if all that wasn't enough work the chef created tubes of meringue to top off the plate and add a little bit more sweetness and texture, as if it didn't have enough already!
And this time we really were finished. And I genuinely felt dismayed by that. I wanted to see more dishes, I wanted to taste more fantastic combinations, I wanted to see how deep this culinary rabbit hole would go. The food was not just delicious, but fun and exciting. You never really knew what each dish would be like the menu description gave you a slight steer, but from then on it was a bit of a mystery.
Service was impeccable and friendly, not just for us, but for everyone in the restaurant who was enjoying the experience with us. If Sonder isn't already on your Edinburgh eating bucket list it really needs to be, this place is so, so good.
We were invited to dine at Sonder, but the content and opinions in this review remain very much ours. Couldn’t you tell…?