I remember many years ago when “gastropub” became the ghastly word de jour. The Eagle on London’s Farringdon Road, next to the old Guardian building, seemingly the original culprit. In Edinburgh, I first associate the word with The Caley Sample Room in Slateford. With pubs serving decent food a cut above the usual toasties and chips now proliferating in the Scottish capital, including the nearby new-look Fountain, has this one managed to keep up a high standard?
It’s a Sunday afternoon and myself and Mrs Bar Fly have been flat-hunting in the west of the city. After four viewings, we decide to head for a drink. While crossing the road to the Caley Sample Room, we joke that this is exactly where Kirstie or Phil would bring us to “do a deal” and get us our dream home had we been on Location, Location, Location. And stepping into the bar, you can picture them in here – it’s all wooden tables, natural light and sturdy-looking fixtures and fittings. Phil would sit with his glass of red (we’d rather have Phil than Kirstie), stick in a “cheeky” opening offer and then tell us all we can do is wait. After the usual bartering, we’d meet the vendors in the middle and he’d congratulate us on our new home with a firm Phil Spencer handshake. Sadly, Phil’s not with us today so we make do with a cup of tea and a pint as we pore over schedules for flats we can’t yet buy.
The Caley Sample Room, although one room as the name suggests, is very much split into a pub/bar area and a dining area, with the bar stretching almost the full-length of the room. The clientele today is mixed: guys meeting their mates for beers, girls meeting their mates for wine, families enjoying a Sunday lunch out and couples a quiet drink or meal. I spot an acquaintance in the far corner but choose not to interrupt his meal with wife and daughter.
We didn’t eat on this occasion but I have eaten in here before, albeit just a burger. It was a good burger. I don’t remember it being the best burger ever but decent. By all accounts, most people I’ve spoken to who have eaten here rate the food quite highly and from what we saw coming out from the kitchen, it certainly looked good. A look at the menu shows the Caley House Burger retailing for £11, the same price as the likes of haddock and chips and a potato, spinach and cauliflower curry. Steak, complete with sauce and chips, is a reasonable £17.50. The menu probably doesn’t look as “gastro” these days, given the improvement in pub food across the city, but it’s a cut above the many new burger and hot dog places and this place can boast good form over a number of years.
As you’d expect from the name of the pub, this place’s history is inexorably linked to beer, situated just the other side of the Caledonian Brewery from the nearby Diggers (Athletic Arms). There are eight cask ales complemented by a huge bottle selection, the boxes for which create an attractive display behind the bar. Shamefully, I can’t actually remember what I had a pint of on this occasion but the beer’s always been decent when I’ve met friends here in the evening or celebrated a Dundee United victory at nearby Tynecastle.
There’s a good mix of seating in here, from the dining area with its wooden chairs and tables, all adorned with fresh flowers, to bar stools and luxurious sofas by the windows. If I had one criticism it would be that most of the tables in the more informal bar area are large so it doesn’t take a huge number of people in here for all tables to be taken. At the far end of the bar, you’ll find the toilets. Well, you might find the toilets. We watched as one woman stood right outside them looking lost before asking a slightly perplexed member of bar staff, only to be pointed to the door she was looking at. In her defence, the signs for ladies and gents are illuminated above the door, rather than on the door, so there is a little room for confusion.
The Caley Sample Room is the kind of place you’d love to have on your doorstep. Well looked after, consistent and the sort of pub you’d be delighted to take visiting friends or parents. We’ll continue our flat search in the area so that it might become our local – or maybe we’ll just get Phil on the case.