Noto is the newest spot from acclaimed Scottish chef Stuart Ralston, who competed on Great British Menu earlier this year. He’s the chef-owner of Aizle – a popular restaurant on New Town’s pretty Charlotte Square serving an ever-changing six-course tasting menu. His latest site focuses on small sharing plates. Inspired by Ralston’s time living and working in New York, the restaurant is named after his eclectic roommate there, Bob Noto, and serves Scottish ingredients prepared and cooked with Asian flair – to great effect.
Noto is just one of the attractive restaurants and bars that line Thistle Street, a picturesque lane that runs parallel to Princes Street. Whereas the more famous street tends to play host to recognisable chain restaurants, Noto is surrounded by independent neighbours, such as Fishers in the City and The Bon Vivant. Painted in striking black gloss paint on the exterior, inside you’ll find a stripped-back space that lets the food do the talking: picture sleek walnut furniture, pale pink Bauwerk-style walls, simple ceramic vases filled with dried flowers and statement bare branches, which snake around the room in place of artwork, and even curve around the arches that connect the bar and the main restaurant. Diners can eat the full menu in either space. Wherever you choose, we suggest one of the bar’s excellent cocktails to kick things off (we went for the rhubarb and custard vodka concoction – delicious).
Choosing between the series of sharing small plates is the only difficulty you’ll run into at Noto. Each plate comes with an Asian flourish: think potato dauphine with miso mustard; aubergine tonkatsu with kimchi and pickled ginger; and lobster noodles with kimchi and spring onion. Our favourites from the main menu include the kitchen’s (rightful) signature dish: North Sea crab and warm cultured butter. These two simple ingredients are melted together to form a rich, umami-laden sauce, which is served in half a crab shell, alongside homemade sourdough designed for loading the buttery sauce onto in generous measures.
In other restaurants, this dish could be a difficult act to follow, but memorable plates keep on coming: a huge portion of sesame prawn toast, topped with katsuobushi (wonderfully salty smoked fish flakes); beef tartare with fried potato, egg yolk and yuzu koshō (fermented fresh red and green chillis); and a wonderfully refreshing kale salad with seaweed, chilli and cucumbers. Each comes prettily presented, but piled with enough to more than justify the prices (starters begin at £6, while wagyu beef tops the price list at £28) and satisfy two sharing.
In Edinburgh, on a weekend away to visit family, we booked a last-minute table at Noto after being tipped off by a SL reader who saw we were in the city on Instagram (thanks, Taurean). From the opening cocktails to the melt-in-the-mouth chocolate pudding with miso caramel and hazelnut, this was a memorable meal with expertly relaxed service all the way. At the start of the year, Noto won a Bib Gourmand, which is Michelin’s award for ‘good quality, good value cooking’. We can’t argue with that – and are already planning a return trip for another go at that crab and cultured butter starter.