Sometimes all you want is comfort and warmth bestowed upon you by people who clearly care. So, on a blustery and dark December afternoon, the hours ticking down in frantic desperation for panic Christmas buyers, to step into Apiary gives me a lovely, rosy-hearted feeling. The large former bank site, perched at the point where central Edinburgh's southside begins to melt into affluent suburbia, has been transformed into a dining room which, despite the size, feels cosy and welcoming. Christmas decorations adorn the walls and light seasonal jazz tinkles in the background, but mercifully these baubles are kept as the window dressing they should be. Mild but pleasant seasonal trims rather than the full hysterical screaming Rudolph.
Opened two years ago by the same creative team behind the gem that is Bruntsfield's Three Birds, Apiary brings a similar menu and aesthetic. Informal dining in pleasing surrounds with welcoming hosts and, hopefully, good company are the simple ingredients that make both these restaurants stand out yet which so many others attempt and fail. Quite aside from the affable atmosphere, the real trick which both Apiary and Three Birds have perfected, and which again so many bistro/brasseries stumble over, is to present food which could come from a home-cooked sensibility and then turbo-boost by well-cooked quality ingredients and dishes which don't pander to any fads or food fashions. Both Three Birds and Apiary are the perfect local restaurant, no mean feat in a city increasingly saturated with similar enterprises operating with a fraction of the care and flavour here.
Like Three Birds, Apiary has a variety of different menus. Brunch, lunch, pre-theatre plus a variety of specials as well as the main evening menu. For today, we go for the two courses for £10 lunch menu which is astonishing value. Side dishes are also available and well worth trying, particular the meaty goodness of the pig's ear, pork scratchings given a juicy and succulent makeover, and the french fries. For God's sake, if you go to either of these places you must have the french fries. They could well be the best in Edinburgh, perfectly crisp and moreish.
For starters, my dining companion has the chorizo, cheese and potato croquettes, perfectly formed little parcels which come with a lime mayo, while I have a nicely filleted grilled sardine arriving in a bow of small leaves and spicy red pepper relish. It's beautifully fresh and zings on the tongue, both dishes being exemplary examples of how Apiary take a simple recipe idea and then execute it to perfection.
This rule holds for the outstanding mains. My companion has sea bass with pesto crushed potatoes and sugar snap peas, again a dish common on many a bistro menu but done here with real skill and grace. I go for the neck of lamb with apricots and fried polenta. Just writing that sentence has me salivating at the memory of this tremendous plate of food. The lamb comes on the bone, from which it is falling off to the point of being able to carve with a spoon, while underneath deliciously savoury fried polenta wedges soak up the juices like five-star toast and dripping. If it's meat you're after, this is the dish for you.
There are desserts, of course there are, a selection of ice creams, tarts and puddings refreshingly free from the standard cliched fare so often on offer. But, despite their temptations, we are stuffed and full to the brim with goodness and the knockout value of two courses like these for just £10. Mention should also be given to the nice selection of bottled ales from nearby Barney's brewery. We exit Apiary having paid just over £30 for two people, excellent value for such fine fare. There is little more to be said other than what must by now seem obvious: go to Apiary. Both it and Three Birds are shining examples of the Edinburgh restaurant scene at its best.