Review: Cardinal, Edinburgh

Review: Cardinal, Edinburgh

Richard Bath headed out to try the latest venture from Michelin star chef Tomás Gormley.


Tomás Gormley shot to culinary fame in 2023 as one half of a preternaturally young team when he and collaborator Sam Yorke landed a Michelin star for Heron in Leith within months of its opening. The twentysomething duo then combined again to open Skua, a more relaxed, small plates venture in Stockbridge, before going their separate ways.

Although Gormley retains Skua, the recent launch of his new fine dining restaurant, another avian-monikered restaurant called Cardinal, at the bottom of the New Town marks the chef’s first solo launch. In taking on the well-kent site in Eyre Place, he is following in the footsteps of Michelin-starred entrepreneurs like Tom Kitchen, Dominic Jack and the Radfords by taking on one of the capital’s trickier sites. In recent years Malcom Duck, Jean-Michel Gauffre and Michael Neave are just some of the experienced restaurateurs to have moved on from this site tucked away in Canonmills.

Tomás Gormley shot to culinary fame in 2023 Credit: Stephen Lister

Since taking over the site from Neave, Gormley has given the décor a root-and-branch overhaul that’s turned it into a chic contemporary space. Behind the almost anonymous black frontage, there’s a pared-back space of chalky black minimalism, stripped floorboards and walls taken all the way back to the stone. If that sounds spartan, it’s not, but it is very distinctive.

So, too, is the food that Gormley produces. Chefs have a tendency to bang on about provenance and localism, but in his case he lets the food do his talking. Sure, he’ll evangelise for his beef suppliers The Free Company or his herb and veg suppliers Phantassie, but for the main part his thirteen-course taster menu does his talking for him.

Turbot, vin jaune, white asparagus. Credit. Stephen Lister

We start with tiny dishes that explode with flavour. There’s ethical foie gras, beetroot tuille in a beautiful leaf design, rhubarb compote, croustade, oyster, lovage and a gorgeous little tart of Belhaven Bay crab elevated by the addition of finger lime, miso and the edible Japanese seaweed, nori. The attention to detail is immediately apparent, but even more so the dedication to producing intense flavours.

What follows from there is a whirlwind of dishes which come and go with astonishing rapidity. Equally remarkable is the invention. The sourdough waffle with Katy Rogers crème fraiche and buttermilk-fried chicken was a particular success, but so too was the simple joy of Gormley’s beremeal bread and the cultured home-made butter.

Free Company sirloin, peppercorns, tallow. Credit: Stephen Lister

Cherry-smoked lobster with hollandaise was followed by a wee doughnut with taramaslata, egg yolk and wild garlic, and then came an Iberico pork cheek with maitake mushrooms and fermented girolles. A relatively straightforward fish course of common-or-garden turbot cooked in a sauce of vin jaune (think French sherry) and served with white asparagus jangled the taste buds but gave the palate time to rest briefly before being refried. We rounded off the savoury stuff with the much-vaunted Free Company beef (yes, it lived up to the hype) with tallow and shallots.

As we reached the final straight, we started the sweet dishes with granite, the classic Sicilian palate-cleanser. This time it came with a twist. Not only was it made from birch syrup but it was infused with flavours that were added from three droppers: one contained flowering currant, another the essence of Douglas Fir, while the third held lemon from our lovely waitress’s granny’s garden in Italy. The pine was our runaway favourite.

Petit fours. Credit Stephen Lister

After excellent vanilla, strawberry and chocolate ice cream, we finished off with a succession of explosively flavoursome little delicacies. The hibiscus and rose pastille, lavender caramel and sea buckthorn jammy dodgers all disappeared with indecent haste.

So, too, did the pudding wine, a Szolo of muscularity and intensity from Hungary. This was definitely the high point of a selection of paired wines that were eclectic, challenging and memorable, although not always for the right reasons. I also loved the chalky Rathfinny fizz from Sussex and a fierce Barraco from the north west coast of Sicily, but struggled with some of the other natural wines, notably the Strekov ‘Richard’ chardonnay from Slovakia matured in Hungarian oak and the Amor Per La Terra from Catalunya. For those who don’t want their palate challenged, or who simply want to keep the cost down, on your first visit I’d consider dipping into Cardinal’s extensive and interesting wine list rather than opting for the paired wines.

Neapolitan ice cream. Credit: Stephen Lister

That said, this was a hugely enjoyable meal, if on the punchy side when it comes to the bill (£110 for the taster menu and £85 for paired wines). Gormley is clearly a chef of great talent, and it will be interesting to see if he can make a success of an Eyre Place site that hasn’t always been kind to former inhabitants.

Cardinal, 14 Eyre Pl, Edinburgh EH3 5EP; 0131 305 2049;

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