Spry by Nature

As London appears to lose one of its most iconic natural wine bars, I have had the good fortune to become acquainted with what may well be something similar in Edinburgh. Spry Wines is a restaurant, bar and bottle shop (and this year, with a sister café downstairs in the basement) and, through a mix of creative genius and attention to detail, it manages to excel at all three.

Sitting at the top of Leith Walk, at 1 Haddington Place, Spry is smack bang in the middle of the part of Edinburgh I frequent most. Two second-hand vinyl shops within ten minutes, various global food supermarkets down the road, Edinburgh’s finest book shop within less than five, and right over the tram lines, the institution that is Valvona & Crolla.

Founded by Matt Jackson and his partner, Marzena, Spry describes itself as a neighbourhood wine bar and bottle shop, but both the class of the food and wine on offer and its relatively central location make it a destination for anyone in the city looking for natural wines, and for visitors up from the south. The latter will not be disappointed.

The founding ideas behind Spry are local produce, from the British Isles, but from Scotland wherever possible, with a regularly changing seasonal menu, and natural wine. The wine list does contain a fair number of wines from Great Britain, although the amazing list here covers the whole natural wine world (Europe figures most strongly). All the wines are also available to take away at a £10 discount from the very reasonably priced list. The are no gouging markups here.

You’ll find plenty of fairly obscure stuff if you look. I grabbed a bottle from Modal Wines’s new Bugey producer as my take away treat, but I spotted that the new vintage from Annamária Réka-Koncz had arrived, along with several Czech wines from Basket Press Wines. I overheard Matt speaking with another customer about the wine selection and answering a question he said “the wines I’m most intrigued by at the moment are the Czech wines”. Very astute.

If you are going for lunch then the food is very good indeed, although be aware that the plates are quite small. On a Tuesday lunch I went for one main and one dessert, but to feel properly full you would probably want some accompanying dishes. I chose the rolled pork belly with apple and gremolata, which was a pure ten out of ten. At £14 it was the most expensive dish on the menu, but you could easily select two dishes for the same money. I wanted to try the dessert as well, bread & butter pudding with brown butter ice cream. Again, as the photo shows, it wasn’t a massive portion, but sufficient…and again, exceptional.

There wasn’t originally a lot of space for cooking and the dishes are finished at the bar kitchen on the central island. They do a magnificent job in the circumstances (though it’s not quite the old double gas burners at P Franco).

There are around a dozen wines by the glass, priced from £6.50 to £10, which change daily. As Matt said, some bottles will last a couple of days, but some bottles need to be consumed in one day, and if they are not finished by the customers, they get taken off the list, presumably quenching the thirst of staff members. The bottle list, if you need to consume more, is both extensive and amazing.

I drank a glass of Milan Nestarec Năse, a 2021 sparkling Riesling blend which I’d never tried before. Highly recommended. This was followed by something quite unusual to accompany dessert, Weingut Weninger’s Traubensaft. This is Austrian alcohol-free grape juice (not wine), made from organic Blaufränkisch grapes. It has a sweet scent with very concentrated, mostly red, fruit and it’s delicious, far better than a so-called non-alcohol wine for those not drinking. Off the shelf I think Spry sells it for £12/bottle, or £4 a glass.

On a Tuesday lunchtime it was very easy to get a table, being there at 1.00pm sharp. I think you’d be lucky to get in without a booking in the evening, but there are chairs at the bar for walk-ins, either for a glass or two, or food. In addition to the à la carte, a five-course set menu is offered for £45 with the option of wine pairings. This can be willingly tailored to dietary requirements, including fully vegan, with notice when booking.

Opening hours are Tuesday to Sunday, 1-10pm. Since Abbie Moulton spoke to Matt and Marzena for her New British Wine book, Spry has changed a little, not least in that they have just opened a new sister café and bakery in the basement below. Called Ante, it’s described as a brunch café, but it has a kitchen and old bread oven, and now an internal lift can send food up to Spry, so what they can do will be greatly expanded. I’ve not been down to the café yet, but the coffee they sent up was the best I’ve had so far in the city centre by quite a margin.

I think Spry should top any visitor’s list of places to try in Edinburgh, despite there being a good number of smart or famous restaurants in the city. It’s light, with a modern, Scandinavian-influenced, vibe, a very relaxing and friendly place to spend an hour or so away from the shopping or sightseeing. It’s also pretty close to Calton Hill, for great views towards the castle and Arthur’s Seat.

Spry: 1 Haddington Place, Edinburgh, EH7 4AE

Tuesday to Sunday 1-10pm

Tel 0121 557 0005

Matt Jackson (right)

About dccrossley

Writing here and elsewhere mainly about the outer reaches of the wine universe and the availability of wonderful, characterful, wines from all over the globe. Very wide interests but a soft spot for Jura, Austria and Champagne, with a general preference for low intervention in vineyard and winery. Other passions include music (equally wide tastes) and travel. Co-organiser of the Oddities wine lunches.
This entry was posted in Artisan Wines, Dining, Natural Wine, Restaurants, Wine, Wine Bars, Wine Shops and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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