Edinburgh, Scotland

Photo: Norn Restaurant

Do you like surprises? Of course. What about culinary ones? At an exciting new restaurant in Edinburgh, this doesn’t mean disgusting (like rats). Nor does it mean endangered (green sea turtles) or deadly (blowfish). After selecting four or seven courses (plus wine), it does require you to give up control, though. Menus aren’t announced in advance. No two meals are ever the same. But you might walk away having eaten the most creative meal you’ve had in a very long time.

Norn opened less than two years ago in the old docklands area of Leith. The small place doesn’t look like a fine-dining restaurant. The austere space, dotted with Scottish ash-wood tables, looks like it was going for a minimal, Scandinavian vibe, but then they forgot to rip up the carpet. You’ll stop looking at the floor when you see the open window into the kitchen. The chef looks far too young to helm a restaurant that quickly drew so much acclaim. He previously worked under the Peat Inn’s award-winning chef. While the concise wine list focuses on natural, organic producers. You quickly realize it has the same ethos as the food.

The capital of Scotland is well known for its restaurants. While Glasgow, the country’s largest city, is famous for its nightlife, Edinburgh is considered the foodie destination. Four of the city’s restaurants hold Michelin stars. There are more restaurants per person here than in any other city in the United Kingdom, including London. Plus food festivals are starting to compete with the city’s famous arts festivals, which already lure so many visitors to the south shore of the Firth of Forth.

Tonight’s dinner is a bigger mystery than ever before. Norn just reopened from its winter break last weekend. The dining room was given a bit of a facelift while it was closed. Meals still start with bread and butter. It’s a loaf of Northern Scottish beremeal (ancient barley) and a slab of sweet, tangy homemade butter. After that, you might be served seared cauliflower with three different purées. Raw scallops could be brushed with sea buckthorn and salt. A baked Shetland black potato—probably the first one you’ve ever seen since it’s so rare—is sometimes served with crabmeat on a bed of fresh Crowdie cheese. Salmon is perhaps sitting in a sauce made from its own smoked head. Or a deceptively simple chicken breast, with some of the crispiest skin you’ve ever tasted, is possibly prepared with layers of chanterelles.

Norn focuses on local produce and producers. The kitchen uses foraged ingredients and creates minimal food waste. The first bite of each dish is dramatic and thrilling. But the single best moment occurs when the chef emerges from the kitchen to present a dish and describe it to you. You can hear the excitement in his voice, see the twinkle in his eye, and feel his pride as he describes how not only this dish, but every dish on the menu, was conceived. So, yes, you’re ready to be surprised.

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