In the late nineteenth century, a young Henry Lawson had moved to the city and was on his way to becoming perhaps the era's defining writer, as well as a prolific drinker and fixture in many of the city's pubs. The Edinburgh Castle, which dates back to 1885, was apparently a favoured spot for him to hole up for a beer-fuelled writing session — and the recent refurbishment to the Hotel pays tribute to this legacy with an Australiana theme.
In the upstairs bar — a surprisingly sedate oasis in a busy corner of the city — the walls have been painted a deep shade of bottle green and the room studded with vases of bottlebrush and other colourful native flora. Beautiful leadlight windows keep the space relatively light while maintaining its Georgian architecture.
However, it's not just the design that is warmly nostalgic; one of the best things food can achieve is reminding you of your childhood and an unfussy, delicious plate of grilled lamb cutlets ($20) with a generous dollop of mint jelly are a memory-starting carbon copy of how my grandmother made them. A floury, scone-like ball of damper ($8) is another nod to the Australiana theme.
Head chef Daniel Lanza was previously sous chef at North Bondi Fish, so you'd expect the seafood to be on point — and, as it turn out, the simply-presented but delicious roast snapper ($25) doesn't disappoint. Scattered with capers and sitting alongside a green and gold zucchini, herb and squash salad, it's the kind of dish that always returns to the kitchen as a clean plate. Their take on the schnitty — the saltbush chicken schnitzel ($22) — is well-seasoned and one of the heartier options, sitting alongside crispy potatoes and chunky tomato sauce.
It's a menu that embraces the truly old-school, with upmarket sausage rolls, devon and cheese toasties and daggy-but-delicious sides like a basket of fat, golden house-made potato scallops ($8). They come sprinkled with chicken salt and will remind you of afternoons getting takeaway on the way home from school. A small bowl of plump, juicy glazed Chantenay carrots ($9) is another example of the honest, unpretentious fare on offer.
A couple of true blue desserts would be a nice addition, but there is an all-Australian wine list with the likes of a 2015 'The Whip' Riesling from Canberra's Capital Wines, which offers floral notes. Cocktails (all $18) are sound from the sweet Lawson's Cup which benefits from the berry-like flavour of hibiscus-infused gin. City Slick — a nicely balanced gin and citrus combination — is probably the pick though. Then there's the Old Spiced Pal, which makes the inspired addition of cinnamon to a classic cocktail (people love cinnamon).
Overall, the refurbishment has given the Edinburgh Castle a real sense of identity, and looks to the hotel's past to provide a vibrant future for the venue.