A new Edinburgh eatery offers private communal dining.
Chris and Rachel Rowley are behind a fascinating new eating experience in Edinburgh – Charlie and Evelyn’s Table. It’s not a restaurant, but a private dining club hosted in their Comely Bank home.
If you are anything like me, you’re probably wondering how it actually works when booking a space at this popular table. Well, let me enlighten you.
I had booked two places at the table for November – but a last minute tweet announced they had two spaces left and had me moving faster than Usain Bolt to snap up the seats for this unique dining experience.
Polite emails were exchanged asking if we had any food allergies or aversions to particular foods, but apart from my allergy to shellfish, myself and my dining partner eat anything that’s put in front of us.
A confirmation email arrived with their address, what time to arrive, a reminder that it was BYOB wine and that payment would be in the form of a donation (recommended £20). We were also sent a copy of the menu they had planned and another chance to declare our foodie dislikes (none).
Four courses plus canapés for that price on a Saturday night in Edinburgh is practically unheard of so we definitely wondered what we were letting ourselves in for.
What to wear Coming from Australia where there is no dress code and shorts and thongs are acceptable for evening dining, my dining partner wondered what to wear for this setting. Not in a Gok Wan way, but just so he wasn’t under or over-dressed. Settling for dark jeans and a shirt for him and casual dress for me, we set off to Comely Bank.
Arrival We pressed the buzzer and heard “welcome to Charlie and Evelyn’s table” and made our way up the stairs, still a little apprehensive. Rachel introduced herself and showed us through to their lounge which had been transformed into a reception room for the evening. First to arrive, we took a seat on the couch and took in our surroundings. The flat is beautifully decorated with stunning pictures and photos on the walls, yet has a homely feel and nothing like a restaurant. We felt as if we were in a friend of a friend’s home.
All our fellow diners arrived within the next five minutes and we introduced ourselves to one another and did what all British people do best – discussed the weather. Rachel explained to us how the evening would progress and that Chris (‘Chef’) was busy preparing canapés.
The drinks we had brought were taken away to be chilled or placed at room temperature, complete with name tags on the bottle necks to avoid confusion.
Pre-dinner, Rachel opened a bottle of bubbly (included in the price) and filled a glass for all of us as we toasted the evening and whatever may lie ahead. Chris made an appearance with the first round of canapés and answered question after question from the inquisitive guests. “Where did you train as a chef?” and “why did you decide to do this?” were asked and answered.
The homemade oatcakes with salmon mousse were a delight on the taste buds, followed by button mushrooms with butternut puree and oatcakes with avocado mousse. The conversation turned to the food, and this simple pre-dinner selection revved my foodie excitement further.
Rachel called us through to their dining room and Charlie and Evelyn’s table (formerly owned by Chris’ grandparents) had been set for eight. No seating plan, but everyone gravitated towards their friend/partner as you would expect. All alcohol had been placed on the sideboard with our choice of white wine sitting in an ice bucket. Rachel poured everyone water and filled their wine glasses with the drink they had brought.Course One
A small cup of sweetcorn soup with truffle popcorn was served, which would never be my choice on a restaurant menu, but was satisfying enough and whetted my appetite further.
An interesting combination of beetroot, buffalo mozzarella and orange served with salad alongside home-made fresh hot rolls with lashings of butter. Again, not something I would normally choose, but the combination worked well and there were soon eight empty plates.
Before the third course, our glasses were re-filled with water and wine and both Chris and Rachel answered questions fired at them as they were working away. We were informed that the venison is served at its best medium-rare but given the choice of how we would prefer it cooked. All eight of us agreed we would take it as suggested, which must have made Chris’ job a little easier in the small adjoining kitchen where he had been producing the delightful dishes.
As this course was served, a smile was instantly put on my face due to the imaginative presentation of the food and the fact the meat looked absolutely divine. The venison medallions had been exquisitely cooked and were nothing short of perfection with the black pepper and poppy seed seasoning working well alongside the port wine jus. The sweetcorn puree and Chantenay carrots complemented the dish without a clash of flavours.
A dessert of pears, green ginger wine, blackberries and creme fraiche was served and promptly demolished by all the diners, who agreed that the food had exceeded everyone’s expectations. Murmurs of “as good as The Kitchin” were heard and I certainly can’t recall a better quality meal I have had in recent times (and there’s been a few).
Post-dessert and payment
We were offered a dram of whisky from the Isle of Jura distillery, who had provided the Rowleys with the drink for their new venture. Orders for tea and coffee were taken (also included in the price) and I plumped for chai tea which came in a large teapot, whilst my dining partner had a coffee. This provided a simple finish to a seriously impressive meal.
Rachel placed ‘donation’ envelopes on the table for payment and these were passed around and filled with pleasure (with a litle extra as we felt £20 wasn’t enough). There was plenty of time to linger and continue the conversation and more questions were fired at the Rowleys about their favourite dining experiences.
My dining partner and I had finished every morsel on the plates served to us, so thanked our hosts profusely and bid our fellow diners goodbye.
The Rowley’s chef skills are on an even level, but the roles they adopt on the night are the preferred ones. Rachel’s service is entirely charming and efficient and the food that Chris cooks is presented imaginatively and is of excellent quality.
There is clearly great passion behind the ever-changing menu and I have no doubt that Charlie and Evelyn’s Table will continue to be a success as it brings something unique to the current range of Edinburgh’s eateries.
Don’t be frightened of this style of communal dining – it really is a great way to spend an evening with other food lovers who are also looking for a ‘different’ experience. Dates are chosen a couple of months in advance and I’m extremely happy I am already booked in again for November.
You use their bathroom, the rest of the flat is out of bounds and it’s not just couples who attend. Single diners and groups of friends are made to feel more than welcome and I wouldn’t hesitate to attend on my own and make new acquaintances.
For groups of four or more, Rachel and Chris are open to hosting mid-week meals and other special occasions. They recently catered for a wedding and can also recreate the experience in your home (minus Charlie and Evelyn’s actual table) using your kitchen. Tourists coming to Edinburgh can also be catered for in advance, just drop them an email.
Don’t delay in booking for this hot table in town.
November 2010 update
We have just eaten here for the second time which was even better than the first (which I wouldn’t have thought possible). Our friend over at Scotland for the Senses wrote an article about the evening.
Suitable for disabled? Unfortunately, their flat is up two sets of stairs, with no lift. But you can arrange to have the Rowleys come and cook in your home.