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Cooking is an ‘art form’ at Fife chef Stuart Ralston’s Lyla

Cooking is an art form at Lyla restaurant in Edinburgh, as Brian Stormont found out during a recent visit.

Xoco chocolate, barley koji, salted milk ice cream.
Xoco chocolate, barley koji, salted milk ice cream.

This isn’t cooking, this is art! That was what I jotted down in my notes as I gazed in wonderment at yet another delectable course sitting in front of me at Lyla in Edinburgh.

I recently had the opportunity to visit and enjoy its tasting menu that is definitely something completely different.

The man behind Lyla and three other restaurants in the capital – Aizle, Noto and Tipo – is Glenrothes-born and bred Stuart Ralston.

He told me how his dad got him started in the restaurant trade.

“When I was growing up in Glenrothes my dad worked in restaurants locally – the Fettykill Fox and the Balgeddie House Hotel,” he said.

“As I was getting a bit older he made my older brother and I go to work as early as possible. I started kitchen portering for him and it just went on from there.”

Stuart’s ethos

So what is the ethos behind Stuart’s food?

“It is kind of all different across the group in what each restaurant offers and what each restaurant’s demographics are.

Stuart Ralston, fifth from left with the team at Lyla

“In a general sense my cooking is definitely produce-led, definitely a lot of seasonality in there, not too much manipulation, not overworked, quite a natural style, quite organic,” Stuart revealed.

“There is definitely a lot of technique and classicism behind it, but at the same time very natural.

“Quite bold, but simple in essence.

We put a lot of effort into how things look, a certain sense of where you are and what sort of style of food we are trying to achieve.”

A culinary journey

From the moment you set foot inside Lyla, you are on a journey, and taking people on a voyage of discovery is something Stuart wants to achieve.

“It’s important, especially at Lyla, as we are taking people across two levels of a building, starting upstairs and coming downstairs to an open kitchen,” he said.

“I think it is unique in a sense that there is nothing really like this that takes you through different areas of the restaurant and the rooms.

The drawing room at Lyla where your journey begins.

“From a culinary perspective this is the culmination of all my years abroad and influences that I have had over the years and the places I have worked – so there is a certain journey throughout the menu. I have lived in New York, I have lived in Barbados and I have lived in London.

“Everything from there has culminated in Edinburgh at Lyla and you kind of get to see that journey.”

Debut cookbook

Last year Stuart released his debut cookbook, Catalogued Ideas and Random Thoughts: A Cookbook.

“The cookbook came out last year which was a nice project to work on,” said Stuart, who is married with two boys aged nine and four.

“I think after Great British Menu my profile was raised quite a bit from the TV stuff and I got the opportunity to do the book and people seemed to have an interest in it.

“It was important to write a book with one part being my story and how I got here as I think that is quite inspiring to younger people. I had books like that when I was growing up to read about how chefs got to certain places and think that could be me one day and I could really do something. There is also a bit of where I grew up and the places I have lived and that kind of influenced the dishes that went into the book.

Catalogued Ideas and Random Thoughts: A Cookbook

“There are chapters on Aizle and Noto, and there are casual chapters on what I like to cook at home or things I like to cook for my kids.

“I think it was important to have a book that stretches both for professional chefs and keen home cooks, and people who are generally restaurant interested, so it’s not just one demographic so it also gives people something.

“You can pick it up and try some of the garnishes out of the more professional things and use it in as simple way, and there are basic cooking things in there that take a little bit of the mystery away from cooking that you achieve at home at a dinner party. It’s not expensive. It’s just really important for the book to give something to multiple demographics of people but in my style.”

What’s next?

“I don’t have any great plans for what is next. I am concentrating on pushing Lyla. I want it to be considered one of the best restaurants in the country if not the UK so I am working hard on that.

“Next year we are hoping to refurbish Noto and give it a bit of love. Aizle it continues to be a bit of a stalwart and it has just celebrated 10 years in business I would like to continue with Aizle since it has such a good brand.

A samphire martini which Brian enjoyed as an aperitif.

“Then Tipo, I am still perfecting that and ensuring it stays busy. Personally I would like to do some other stuff in the future for maybe design work and a bit of consulting and do other projects and collaborations with other people and do some travel. Since I have been back I have not really spent as much time abroad as I did before.”

Dining at Lyla

The entire dining experience at Lyla is somewhat mystical. You are taken on a journey right from the very beginning.

Interestingly, Lyla doesn’t have its door open. You ring the doorbell, which is answered by a member of staff who takes your coat and guides you to the drawing room.

One of the chefs preparing the snacks.

There, an extraordinary gastronomic tasting menu experience begins with three snacks created right before your very eyes by talented chefs.

But before that we were offered a glass of champagne or a cocktail and, having had it recommended, I chose to try a samphire martini, while my wife Karen opted for a rhubarb sour.

Alp blossom cheese, onion, quince.

The opening snack – Alp blossom cheese, onion and quince – was savoury, salty and piquant. It’s like upmarket crackers and cheese, and was the ideal foil for my aperitif.

Scallop, nori, koshu.

Next, we were treated to scallop, nori, koshu which was a beautiful, dainty tart with amazing flavours of the scallop and edible seaweed.

Lobster kohlrabi, sake.

The final snack was lobster, kohlrabi and sake, which featured a delightfully presented light shell filled with pearls of fresh salinity that just melted in my mouth.

All three snacks put a smile on our faces and we then went downstairs to continue the evening.

The main event

The restaurant and kitchen is open-plan so you can sit and watch the chefs at work, which adds a different dimension to the experience.

And the space is intimate, with only 28 covers.

The menu is fish-focused but such is the creativeness of the cuisine on offer you could be forgiven at times for thinking you were eating something completely different.

The restaurant at Lyla.

The opening course was undoubtedly a taste of greatness to come.

The cured sea bream, radish and Exmoor caviar was intricately created radish cups dotted with the caviar, nestled on a luscious piece of sea bream that had Karen and I both in awe.

Sea Bream, radish, Exmoor caviar.jpg

Scottish langoustine, burnt apple and sorrel followed next. The langoustine, for me, was next-level scampi or crispy fish finger. It had a fantastic crunch and encased a sweet, unctuous piece of shellfish that I gleefully devoured.

Langoustine, burnt apple, sorrel.

Encouraged to eat it with our hands, it was finger food at its most fantastic.

Chawanmushi, smoked trout, purslane.

Chawanmushi (Japanese savoury custard), smoked trout and purslane was the highlight of the night for me.

The custard was the bed for the trout that had been smoked to such a low moisture level that it resembled trout ham. The two combined for a creamy, smoky treat.

Laminated bricohe, caper berry and wild garlic butter.

I have never had a bread course in the middle of a meal before, but the laminated brioche, caper berry and wild garlic butter did not feel out of place. This was a light, rich and tender delight accompanied by an incredible butter that was a dream to devour.

Pumpkin, spenwood, winter truffle.

Pumpkin, spenwood and winter truffle was a light yet complex course. A lovely spenwood foam lay on a pumpkin puree generously covered in winter truffle. It had a lovely texture to it and a moreish saltiness.

Turbot, Jerusalem artichoke and N25 caviar was beautifully presented with a perfectly poached piece of turbot decorated with discs of artichoke and salty yet fresh caviar.
Wagyu beef, onion, black walnut featured Asian influences and was an absolute joy.

Turbot, Jerusalem artichoke, N25 caviar.

You are asked to choose your knife for the main which was an unusual touch, but something I liked. Such was the enjoyment of this I cut my wagyu beef into slithers and happily devoured them with amazing sweetbreads and truffle.

Labanory, hibiscus, flowered lavosh.

Laganory, hibiscus and flowered lavosh was a creamy cheesy creation that resembled a dessert, such was its sweetness and intense flavours.

Yorkshire rhubarb, red pepper, goats milk.

Yorkshire rhubarb, red pepper and goat’s milk was an intriguing dish. Refreshing goat’s milk crumb paired perfectly with the rhubarb, which provided a little tartness with the sweetness of the red pepper.

It also cleansed my palate for the final course, a luscious dessert of Xoco chocolate, barley koji and salted milk.

Xoco chocolate, barley koji, salted milk ice cream.

A rich chocolate delight was accompanied by the salted milk ice cream that was some of the creamiest I have ever eaten in my life and made for a perfect pairing.

Petit fours.

The petit fours – praline bon bon, kelp and white chocolate financier, pear and rum canele and Paloma pate de fruit – were a fitting finale.

The experience

In my honest opinion, Lyla, at No 3 Royal Terrace, Edinburgh, is a dining experience I have never sampled before.

From the knowledgeable staff and chefs, who are happy to chat and give you a great insight into what is coming out of Stuart’s kitchen, to the wonderful surroundings and the sublime food, there is nothing not to like about Lyla.

This is a restaurant doing something different and excelling at it. It isn’t for everyone’s budget, but it’s an experience I’m happily saving up for again.

  • Lyla’s tasting menu is £165 per person. A wine pairing can be added at a cost of £120, with a soft drink pairing available at £65.