It’s August in Edinburgh, and we’re up for a few days at the Fringe. So torrential, monsoon rain was a safe bet; in four Fringe visits I’ve never known a three-day stretch without it. The only question’s when it’ll strike, and how close you’ll be to a bolthole when it does.
Edinburgh’s not short of fireplace-warmed, wooden-walled pubs, but Festival rain is like a fierce, brutal game of musical chairs: everybody runs for shelter, knowing there won’t be enough armchairs and fireplaces for everyone.
It’s apparent we’ve struck gold with Checkpoint more or less as soon as we’re in the door. We happened to be booked in for dinner, so this is just overall serendipity that their Bristo Place, edge of the George IV Bridge restaurant’s the exact place you want to be when the Scottish heavens open coldly and determinedly upon you.
It’s as busy inside as you’d imagine anywhere so central would be during Festival months, but evidence points to it being pretty packed year-round; listed as one of the ’25 coolest restaurants in Britain’ by The Times, on a direct line between a fair few tourist sites – halfway from Edinburgh Castle to Arthur’s Seat – and balanced between pared-back, reclaimed schoolroom-furnishings cool and actually nice to spend an evening in.
Where it comes to niceness, proof the first: the menu. Unpretentious, good-value – and not just compared to whatever London restaurant parallels Checkpoint; maybe Hackney’s Marksman Pub? – and serving broadly comfort food, with enough twists to make it feel like a skill beyond your own abilities has gone into it. We start with cocktails – a Hemingway Daiquiri with so much bittersweet citrus-maraschino bite behind the tequila it seems like even Ernest would register it as a fierce one – and the ambiguous Bowls section of the menu. These are sort-of starters, could be a lunch, maybe a light main at dinner if you’re not that hungry – bit confusing, mildly annoying. But what we end up with, thanks to the steering hand of the staff and some entirely unjudgmental faces when we ignore their advice about exactly what constitutes ‘quite a lot of food’, is three of these bowl-starters and a main course between both of us. It’s more or less the right amount, and if technically quite a lot less would still have been, alright, ‘quite a lot of food’, I don’t know where you would’ve cut back. Not with the chorizo, kale and butterbean stew or the fish soup we started with, both of them thick, warming defiance against the rain drumming Checkpoint’s big windows onto the street.
And not with the chicken and ginger stew, or Caroline’s skate wing. Caroline is a person who can strip a fish to its bones in seconds flat, just a clean, cartoon skeleton left behind to show it ever existed. It’s testament to the skate wing’s size that this is the slowest and tenderest I’ve ever seen her with a fish, layers of soft flesh sliding off the bone in endless forkfuls. The price we pay for that main course is that we don’t do the dessert menu right, sharing a raspberry frangipane cake with pistachio icecream and resigning the Scottish cheeses and dark chocolate cake to the always-longer to-be-eaten-at-next-year’s-Fringe list.
The rain wraps up almost exactly as we step outside, compounding the sense of the divine hand of Providence really wanting us to eat chorizo and bean stew and drink like Hemingway here. But fair or foul weather, it shouldn’t take more than the friendliness, the fish main courses and that beer list we never even touched to justify a visit to Checkpoint’s Edinburgh home. Or to make you hope for a London branch on the cards.
Checkpoint, 3 Bristo Place, Edinburgh, EH1 1EY. Tel: 01312259352. Website.