Restaurant review: Norn, Edinburgh

Carine Seitz
18 November 2016

While a modern Nordic influence is undeniable, this exciting new eatery in Leith – with its ever evolving menu – definitely has its grounding in Scotland, says Carine Seitz

Over the past twenty years, Edinburgh’s port district of Leith has become one of the most vibrant and colourful areas of the city. Sprawling old trade buildings have been converted into offices, sizeable apartments and restaurants, attracting the bulk of the city’s creatives, young families and culinary talent accordingly. It’s here, in this buzzing locale, that newcomer Norn has sprung up (on the former site of Plumed Horse).

At first glance, you might be forgiven for dismissing Norn (named after an ancient form of Norse spoken in Orkney and Shetland) as yet another of the stark, Scandi-influenced places popping up all over the place, with their sparse furnishings, foraged this, locally-grown that, and chefs that bring your food to the table. Whilst it’s true to say that Norn does tick all these boxes, it does so with aplomb. With chef Scott Smith – protégé of Geoffrey Smeddle (Peat Inn) – at the helm, this doesn’t come as a huge surprise.

Where bread is often a sideshow to the main performance, that which is offered at Norn is one of the stars of the event. The homemade beremeal (an ancient strain of barley) sourdough is crusty, tangy and sweet, and served accompanied by home-churned butter using the kitchen’s own culture. Of course. There follows a choice of a four- or seven- course menu (three courses at lunchtime; matched drinks are optional) of dishes made with ingredients derived from local farms, growers, fish and seafood specialists, as well as those harvested by the chefs on foraging trips. As such, the menu remains truly seasonal (at the time of visiting, the menu had already changed 16 times to reflect this).

Amongst the dishes on offer, that with the title of ‘tomato, kohlrabi, crowdie, bean tops’ belies the startling and clean fresh flavours within; while ‘chicken, mushroom, cavalo nero, lovage’ tastes like the most exquisite, concentrated roast dinner, with layer after layer of flavour. An extraordinary and complex combination of ingredients, tastes and textures is delivered in ‘woodruff, rhubarb, popcorn’: bitter, sweet and salty jostle for attention, swept up in a whisper of marzipan flavour provided by the woodruff leaves. This dish may divide opinion but that of the writer is most definitely positive; served with a mind-blowingly good Moscato D’Asti, it’s a memorable round up to the meal.

Fresh, bold, tantalising ingredients and flavours – Scott Smith can never be accused of delivering run-of-the-mill crowd pleasers.

Service is calm, discreet and knowledgeable; the elements of each dish are explained and quantified.

The sommelier’s choice of matched drinks from small artisanal winemakers (sustainable, organic and biodynamic are the buzzwords here) are delivered with expertise.

The food is most definitely the star of the show, with everything else paling into the background. Quite literally. The pared back minimalism of the interior is almost drab in its starkness. And the carpet (all that carpet) feels out of place.

The latest in an apparent new school of contemporary Scottish dining, the skilled chefs employ a traditional and modern approach, and the result is quite brilliant. Put simply: go.

Seven-course dinner for two people with paired drinks, £250. Norn, 50-54 Henderson Street, Leith, Edinburgh EH6 6DE (0131 629 2525;