What: A seriously ambitious Edinburgh restaurant within the space that was once home to the late Paul Kitching’s Michelin-starred 21212. On Royal Terrace, Lyla is not a fish restaurant per se but is fish focused, with the majority of the 10 or so courses on its £145 tasting menu seafood based (on our visit, there was just one meat dish).
Who: Edinburgh-based chef restaurateur Stuart Ralston, who can now safely be called prolific with Lyla bringing his portfolio of independently-owned restaurants in the Scottish capital up to four. Originally from Glenrothes, Ralston has a high-flying international cooking CV that includes a stint with Gordon Ramsay Group in New York and heading up Sandy Lane Resort’s signature restaurant L’Acajou as chef de cuisine. Ralston launched his debut solo restaurant Aizle in 2014 and followed up with the more casual but still fairly high-end Noto and Tipo. Lyla replaces Aizle as the group’s flagship and is undoubtedly a play for a Michelin star, which has so far remained elusive for the 40-year-old despite his obvious culinary chops. To this end, Ralston says he will be a constant presence in the kitchen and will no longer cook at his other restaurants. This was certainly in evidence on our visit with the chef overseeing the plating of the petit fours well past 11pm. Kitching’s wife and business partner Katie O’Brien continues to run the building’s four stylish bedrooms under the 21212 brand, which referred to the restaurant’s unusual menu structure.
The vibe: Aizle is a stripped-back affair that to some extent challenged the notion that ambitious restaurants must have a luxurious aesthetic when it launched almost a decade ago. By contrast, the 28-cover Lyla is billed by Ralston as ‘unapologetically fine dining’. The meal begins in a slick upstairs bar that features a Krug-branded Champagne trolley, a large lighting installation and meat and fish ageing fridges stocked with homemade charcuterie, a whole halibut and a huge plaice. The main restaurant area beneath has been completely overhauled. The look is calm and elegant with design details including crisp white tablecloths, grey velvet-upholstered chairs and sconces that cast a dramatic lighting pattern onto the walls. The kitchen is even more open than it was previously with virtually no separation from the dining room (the previous design precluded chefs from delivering the food). While the experience is far from stiff, the service is considerably more formal than at Ralston’s other places with a number of dishes finished at the table.
The food: With just 10 tables to worry about (and a maximum party size of four), Ralston has been able to up the culinary ante significantly - Aizle has 50 covers - delivering picture-perfect dishes that demonstrate good technique while still allowing his high-quality ingredients to do the talking. The focus on fish makes a lot of sense, enabling Ralston to create a much lighter menu and making the single meat course - on our visit wagyu served with a separate bowl of KFC-inspired sweetbreads in a sticky, vinegar-based sauce reminiscent of kung pao chicken - all the more impactful. Other highlights include a crostard of raw lobster topped with sake-soaked salmon eggs; chawanmushi with smoked trout and carefully tweezered marigold flowers; and wild halibut with Jerusalem artichoke and N25 caviar.
To drink: Overseen by former Fhior and Aizle sommelier Stuart Skea, the wine list has around 200 listings and is Europe-focused with ‘just a sprinkling’ of wines from the New World. Skea says he tries to keep things interesting for wine geeks while maintaining accessibility for ‘every palate and budget’. His £110 pairing is largely made up of well-chosen classics but does contain a few more leftfield choices including sake and an ancestral method wine from Savoie-based producer Philippe Balivet.
And another thing: Could Lyla have ushered in a new chapter for Edinburgh’s fine dining scene? A new generation of chefs have for some time been snapping at the old guard’s heels but Ralston has thrown down the culinary gauntlet with his latest opening, creating what is arguably the Scottish capital’s most ambitious restaurant (and one of its most expensive). But while Lyla might not be that accessible in terms of price, it offers contemporary cooking in a manner that is palatable for traditionally-minded diners who equate fine dining with a luxury setting and a more formal service style. Earlier this year Ralston told us that Lyla could be his finest hour. We are inclined to agree. Aizle may have been overlooked by Michelin, but that is unlikely to be the case for Lyla.
3 Royal Terrace, Edinburgh EH7 5AB