A pleasant surprise: dinner at Bar Diesel

Saturday 8th March was a day full of sporting surprises, not least Scotland’s victory over England in the 6 Nations and lower league teams progressing in the English FA Cup. The evening’s ad hoc choice for dinner, Bar Diesel in Leith, provided a further pleasant surprise and rounded the day off very nicely.

Chicken breast on a bed of mash potatoes at Leith's Bar Diesel, Edinburgh Bread & Butter pudding for dessert at Bar Diesel, Leith, Edinburgh

Last year Bar Diesel replaced The Smoke Stack restaurant and bar. The Smoke Stack continues to operate on Edinburgh’s Broughton Street. Bar Diesel is located on the ground level of an old warehouse, which is obvious once you see the spacious interior. However the ex-warehouse features are used to good effect inside Bar Diesel, even if it means the floor is quite uneven: my original position had such an angle that the plate kept sliding off the table!

The formal restaurant area of Bar Diesel is located at the back. However we were after informal dining and the lighting looked too bright in the restaurant area. Bar Diesel were happy to serve from the a la carte menu in the bar area though, so we took our seats and began to peruse the A4 menu while our waiter reeled off the list of specials. It’s worth noting now that Bar Diesel’s staff were all exceptionally friendly and helpful. It’s an obvious statement, but it really does make such a difference when you feel comfortable and happy in your dining surroundings. For this Bar Diesel could not be faulted, despite a few people who were clearly worse for wear after watching the day’s rugby.

I was expecting Bar Diesel’s menu to be standard bar-fare, but I was wrong. Most of the dishes sounded interesting, if not delicious. For starter I ordered haggis in oatmeal (¬£3.50) and my dining partner the smoked salmon fish cakes (¬£3.75) from the bar menu (Bar Diesel were happy for us to mix and match from the a la carte, specials and bar menu). We ordered main courses of seared breast of pheasant (¬£9.50) and chicken breast (¬£9.75), the latter coming from the specials menu.

Smoked salmon fishcakes at Bar Diesel in Leith, Edinburgh Seared breast of pheasant wrapped in bacon at Edinburgh's Bar Diesel in Leith

Bar Diesel is better inside than it looks from the outside. The bar has a laid-back, very informal and completely chilled atmosphere with many high tables and chairs spaced well apart from sofas. It’s more like a cafe or arts venue, than a Leith bar. That being said it does show major sports matches on the plasma TV, which doesn’t seem to fit with the bar’s image, but no doubt helps to get numbers through the door. Bar Diesel, as could be implied by the name, has a motorbike theme running through it. This is demonstrated by art on the walls and a motorbike by the bar.

It wasn’t long before I was enjoying the outstanding value of the haggis in oatmeal. Three haggis balls, which were delicious, were served around a salad. I found the combination a little odd, but had no problem in eating every last bit. The smoked salmon fishcakes were really quite tasty, with the right mix of potato and fish. Crucially they were quite light and did not taste overly fatty or fried, like some fishcakes. All in all, perfect for a starter portion.

My dining partner described her chicken breast as the best she had ever eaten. That’s no easily earned compliment. I also tried some of the chicken breast and it was indeed fantastic. I’d really like to know where Bar Diesel sourced their chicken. Part of this dish was a chicken confit which again was done well and melted in the mouth. The mash potato and vegetables the chicken was served with were impressive; the mash potato especially smooth and creamy. Maybe a little strange to serve chicken breast and chicken confit, but when it tastes this good I’m not going to argue.

My seared breast of pheasant, wrapped in bacon, was served on a bed of black pudding mash. The mash potato was faultless. I’m unsure whether the strong salty taste which accompanied this meal was solely due to the bacon or whether too much salt had been added to the accompanying sauce. Either way there was too much salt. This didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the meal - the pheasant was still very good and plentiful - but it did distract somewhat.

The real star of the show was the bread and butter pudding we shared for dessert (¬£3.50). We ordered this from the Diesel Delights portable chalkboard menu which our waiter left on our table. It was a close choice between this and the passion fruit cheesecake, but the outstanding bread and butter pudding fully justified the choice. Presentation was impressive with a slice of bread and butter accompanied with cream, sliced strawberries and spun sugar basket. This really was an exceptional dessert, the actual bread and butter pudding was perfectly moist, had the perfect texture and tasted great. At ¬£3.50 it’s by far the best value dessert I’ve ever tasted. Truly exceptional.

Anyone who knows Leith’s dining scene will know how competitive and varied it is. Bar Diesel is a venue which could easily be overlooked. Based on the evidence of my visit that would be unfair. Definitely worth a try and definitely worthy of mention alongside the more familiar names. Also exceptional value for such fine quality and finely prepared food.

Bar Diesel is located at 19 Shore Place, Leith, Edinburgh, EH6 6SQ. Contact Bar Diesel on 0131 476 6776.

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