The Caley Sample Room42-58 Angle Park Terrace,
0131 337 7204
£ – inexpensive
££ – mid-price
£££ – expensive
££££ – very expensive
Review published on 19/12/2007 © Sunday Herald
I have passed the Caley Sample Room countless times and never considered going in. From the outside, it looks like a tacky chain pub.
Then a little bird told me that there was more to it than meets the eye. There were tales of a menu that sometimes featured rabbit and hare, of a non-pedestrian selection of wines. My curiosity was pricked. If reports were to be trusted, then it boded well for the much-vaunted gastropub revolution that has looked more like a gentle ripple in Scotland.
Who would expect a nondescript pub in a prosperous enough, but not trendy neighbourhood, to quietly and unostentatiously reinvent itself? My dining companion looked quizzical, but I persuaded him at least to clock the menu before heading off elsewhere.
In the event, far from casing the joint and departing, we lingered over a decent, affordable three-course meal and a jolly nice bottle of wine a racy red made from obscure Corsican grape varieties, Clos Columbu. Once inside the Caley Sample Room, we developed that smug "we got lucky, this is a find" feeling that you get when you stumble on a place that turns out to be much better than you supposed.
Inside, the Caley is big and warm, with a raftered ceiling, quite comfortable, welcomingly lit and not unattractively done up. It can accommodate a lot of people without being mobbed, so it has a buzz without any hustle. We liked the mood. It was amiably relaxed and the staff obviously like to chat with customers and give the impression of being happy at their work. The Caley has invested in a "Verre de Vin" wine preserving system, and offers some 20 interesting wines by the glass. The mark-up on bottles is pretty restrained too. More reason to linger.
The menu is quite long, offering bar snacks such as hummus, feta cheese and fried chorizo and home-made potato wedges and sour cream, as well as 10 main courses, mainly priced at the lower end of the £8.95 to £14.95 bracket. There are pub classics such as steak sandwich, fishcakes and fish and chips, dishes such as rack of lamb that you might expect in a more formal restaurant, along with more unusual items such as sea bream with broad bean fricassée, lentil and butternut squash curry and sweet potato and chickpea cakes with parsnip chips. Daily specials add to the variety.
Our starters warm squid and chorizo salad and a crab and avocado salad with a grapefruit dressing were large, fresh and made with high quality raw materials. The squid might have been more tender, but otherwise we were off to a promising start.
For main courses, the special casserole of roe deer was of a competent home cook's standard, not shown off to its best by roast potatoes, (if ever there was a mash opportunity, this was it), but it was still fine. The venison was overshadowed by one of the simplest dishes on the menu, masterfully seared, well-spiced lamb burgers served in toasted pitta with a fresh tomato salsa, alongside wedges and a cooling cucumber raita. None of this was flash or show-offy, just straightforward, tasty and unassuming; the sort of food that is very often exactly what you want to eat.
I guess that someone in the kitchen is fond of their puddings because the love, care and attention shines through. A puffy, golden, luscious bramble bread and butter pudding could have put to shame many much posher establishments. Some strange sixth sense led me normally a banana dessert boycotter to choose the Caribbean bananas with rum syllabub. They were heavenly, all crusty and golden, served with plump raisins in a rich Muscovado-like, fruity butterscotch alongside a cloud of puffy, rum-spiked cream.
The Caley Sample Room is a really useful place. It is open lunch and dinner. You can have brunch, even on a weekday. On Sunday lunch, it also does roasts, and the kitchen is still awake on a Sunday evening.
It's an appealing proposition when you don't feel like cooking and just want something honest and appetising to eat.
© Sunday Herald