Askr elevates the ancient art of cooking by naked flames, with a wide and eclectic range of dishes

With the opening of Askr in Leith, barbecue season has officially begun. However, chef Dan Ashmore is offering something far more sophisticated than an over-fired burger. Over set lunch and dinner menus, or the full ‘discovery’ tasting experience, Ashmore demonstrates how much flavour cooking over fire can bring to even humble ingredients.

Askr is the first restaurant with Ashmore’s name on the door but he’s group executive chef for the Dean Banks group and has held high ranking positions in many of Scotland’s top kitchens, including Number One at The Balmoral, Gleneagles, and Dean Banks at the Pompadour.
Dinner begins at the bar, with Ashmore or a senior chef assembling canapes and explaining the ingredients and process. It’s a friendly, convivial way to start the evening, and gives valuable insights into the restaurant’s approach, without the intensity of a whole evening at the chef’s table. 

We begin with a much maligned ‘80’s favourite, taramasalata, that thankfully bears no resemblance to the pink supermarket tubs of the same name. Ashmore’s taramasalata is rich, salty and deeply delicious. 

Fish at Askr is bought whole, Ashmore explains, and the roe, often a discarded waste product, is treasured. Turbot roe, in this instance, is salted, cured for a week, then smoked and blended with lemon, Dijon and garlic. All for an incredibly tasty swirl into a beer batter croustade case. It’s topped with trout roe marinated in raw soy sauce, and finished with micro-cress. “It’s my tribute to an egg and cress sandwich,” Ashmore says. 

(Image: Grant Anderson)

A second umami-rich bite is pickled daikon wrapped around mackerel that’s been dry-aged, cured and soused in a Scottish kombu vinegar. It’s skilfully tweezered into a beautiful sushi-like roll with pickled ginger, shiso leaf and a rich kombu ketchup.

The barbecue is used throughout the menu, but in very varied ways, with a delicacy and subtlety to the flavours I didn’t expect. The restaurant is serene (and fug free), with much of the decor kept from the venue’s previous incarnation as Chop House. The barbecue is used hot: to sear a sweet Orkney scallop, marinated in pine, gochujang and honey, and served with turnip foam and ‘prawn cocktail’ spice mix (a secret combination). It griddles flatbread that’s dunked in smoky aubergine dip with garlic honey. 

A Cumbrae oyster is nestled in the coals for gentler heat, then served with butter and English wasabi, the slow cooking bringing out layers of flavour in the mighty mollusc. Askr takes its name from the old Norse word for ash, and it’s the cooling embers that are used to slowly cook beetroot overnight to a deep fudgy caramel sweetness. The sweet beets are served with ribbons of pickled yellow beetroot, burnt apple puree and a refreshing Granny Smith consommé for acidic ballast.
We eat buttery hake intensified in flavour by the dry-ager, with crunchy toasted hazelnut pesto and shiny spears of asparagus, then lobster tail with courgette puree and chutney, and thrillingly, a tempura claw with a sweet cicely mayonnaise.

(Image: Grant Anderson)

Dessert ends (as it should in summer in Scotland) with berries, an artfully constructed yogurt mousse encased in strawberry gel and crowned with a pastry tuile, cream, poached strawberries and delicate edible flowers. This dedication to Scottish produce is a clear thread through the menu and it’s brilliant to see. The drinks pairing is full of surprises, from a sake and champagne cocktail to a Uruguayan Albarino. A Gruner veltliner from Marlborough, New Zealand is like nothing I’ve tasted. A retro Moscato D’Asti with dessert is, ‘a little glass of deliciousness’ the sommelier says, and it’s hard to argue. 

Askr is a fine dining restaurant with a comfortable neighbourhood feel, service is chatty and approachable and Ashmore is an active presence, delivering some dishes and popping in and out the dining room. 

102 Constitution Street, EH6 6AW