A thought struck me as I sat in Usher’s on a recent Friday afternoon. I’ve not been to Khushi’s, one of Edinburgh’s most famous Indian restaurants, very often but I have been to it in a total of four different locations as it’s moved around the city. It suddenly made me realise I’ve been back in the capital for nearly 10 years now. One of its locations was in this very space on West Nicolson Street. I also remembered sitting in this place when it was Centraal and trying my first fruit beer in the mid-noughties. How time flies. Back to the present though – what of this place’s newest incarnation – Usher’s?
I won’t sit on the fence too long here. I liked it. I made more notes on this place than a lot of places I visit as it does have quite a lot going on. The first note was “Growlers”. Now, this was not a disparaging note on the female clientele but the fact that you can fill up one of these with a brew of your choice, take it home, and come back for a refill whenever you want. It’s probably not something I’d do but I know it’s popular elsewhere and there are not many places in Edinburgh that offer them.
And talking of brews, there are plenty on tap here, including five of their own. If you pop in, make sure you have a nosy towards the rear of the room where you’ll see a big window looking straight on to the Usher’s brewing kit. It’s impressive and shiny. The brewer himself was at the bar when I was there, happily sharing his knowledge and plans with a group of European tourists who were beginning to work their way through everything on offer, aided by some very knowledgeable staff and some generous tasters. I eavesdropped intently as the brewer explained the difference between cask and keg and the history behind them both.
On the walls, you’ll see plenty Usher’s of Edinburgh memorabilia – there used to be a brewery of this name in the city, started by the Usher family in the 19th century. They were also pioneers in terms of whisky blending and even chucked £100,000 to the city to enable the building of the Usher Hall on Lothian Road. It seems fitting that they are now being remembered by a pretty decent boozer.
Given that Mrs Bar Fly was going to be cooking up a storm later on, I didn’t try any Usher’s food but the menu looked tempting, if not hugely original. After all, this is apparently “beer infused dining”. A cheese and bacon burger with “Vlaamse” fries (Dutch) will set you back £9.50 while the seafood stew with chickpeas and chorizo sounded right up my street.
Drinks-wise, I managed a pint and half. It was £4.00 for a relatively low strength Fair Maid from Inveralmond (whose brewers are helping Usher’s with their new venture) while my half-pint was Usher’s IPA at £2.25. As is the current fashion, pints come in dimpled glasses and thankfully service was with a smile.
I don’t normally review toilets as some of the best pubs out there can have questionable facilities but Usher’s were pretty nice, albeit it was wood-stain infused urinating with there being quite a pungent Ronseal-esque aroma in the gents.
So, decent beer, friendly staff, own brewery, good-looking menu, atmospheric space – are there any downsides to Usher’s? Well, it’s not cheap but it’s not ridiculous either. No, my main gripe is one that I have quite often with new places – televisions showing Sky Sports News for no real reason. I noticed it in the Jolly Botanist the other evening as well. Places are spending small fortunes creating really good-looking bars but then cheapening them by sticking screens up showing speculative, repeated transfer nonsense all the time. If you’re going to show big events, fine, but please turn them off at other times. They’re distracting, have the sound down anyway, and just look out of place.
This site has obviously changed several times over the years so I hope this time Usher’s has got it right. I’m sure it will attract a wide clientele, including the large local student population who probably want something a bit more interesting than the nearby Peartree. It may also attract dog walkers from the Meadows given that it is dog-friendly. Fingers crossed people come here as real effort has clearly gone in to the place. I’ll certainly be back soon.