Neil Braidwood enjoys the best pizza he’s had outside of Italy in this former Edinburgh church.
Edinburgh has a long tradition of brewing beer which goes back centuries. The city also boasts a huge amount of churches for its size. However, with congregations falling, beer is the new religion, and Robertson Memorial Church in the Grassmarket was ripe for a refit by Signature Pubs, owners of Cold Town Beer.
They do say that location is everything – and this fact is not lost on Nic Wood, owner of Signature Pubs: “Cold Town House is something completely new for Edinburgh and we’re excited to bring this iconic building back to life, as well as restoring the Grassmarket’s history of brewing beer.”
Every scrap of available space has been used – much of it to house the stainless steel brewing tanks, which are on display – but the masterstroke is the roof terrace, which has unmatched views of Edinburgh Castle.
My wife Maureen and I visited on a rainy Thursday evening, and were ushered past the bustling ground floor bar upstairs to the ‘Pizza and Prosecco Bar’. Whereas downstairs was largely made up of men, it was the opposite upstairs – with groups of women enjoying cocktails and sharing plates of food.
The decor is mostly distressed industrial, with exposed brickwork on show and scaffolding railings softened with lush verdant ferns and succulents (which turn out to be plastic). The gents toilets utilise cutaway beer barrels as urinals – I wonder what the minister would have thought…
Dominating the open kitchen space is the Neapolitan pizza oven brought over from Italy and craned into position while the roof was being replaced. It certainly looks impressive, and so efficient that it can cook a pizza in about two minutes.
First things first, though – I order a pint of Cold Town lager – a refreshing pint with notes of elderflower, according to the manager. Maureen opts for one of the many other craft beers on offer – many from Scotland – while we peruse the menu.
We decide we can’t leave without trying one of the stone baked pizzas, so choose the ‘Calton Hill’ – topped with tomato sugo, buffalo mozzarella and Tuscan fennel sausages. The pizza dough is even fermented using Cold Town Beer, giving it a featherlight feel.
We also try a ‘hanging grill’ – a kebab served hanging vertically accompanied by ‘skin on fries’ (or salad). We plump for king prawn and chorizo, with plenty of sweet chilli and ginger sauce that deserves to be poured down the skewer for maximum taste. Our fries were a bit disappointing, having been completely denuded of any skin, but they are crisp. The prawns and chorizo are delicious and a perfect flavour match.
Our pizza is one of the best we’ve eaten outside of Italy, the fennel sausages providing a delicate and distinctive taste, while the dough delivers a light, yet firm crust. It’s a good size too, so perfect for sharing.
We still have room for puddings, so Maureen decides on a ‘Boozy Baba’, while I try a Hogwarts-sounding ‘Butterbeer Sundae’. Mine is served in a ‘jam jar’ style beer glass, and made up of vanilla ice cream, salted tablet, shortbread and chunks of blondie made with pale ale, all drizzled with a butterscotch beer sauce. Just the job. Maureen’s consists of a whisky infused cake topped with an orange and star anise compote and cinnamon creme fraiche. It’s difficult to detect the whisky, she says, but she seems to enjoy it, as next time I look, the plate is empty.
Afterwards, we are just about able to climb the stairs to take in the view from the rooftop terrace. And what a view. The Castle towers before us, and I can see why this was a great choice of venue. There are seats here too, including two little ski pods that offer some shelter from the drizzly rain this evening. During the summer months though, and especially throughout festival season, I expect this will be the place to come.