A Peek Inside Gardener’s Cottage with Chef Dale Mailley

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Editor’s Note: Last November we had the pleasure of spending 10 captivating days in Scotland. Below is but one adventure of many from our stay. We hope the joy we experienced comes through in all our posts and missives from our adventure, which no doubt read better with a wee dram in hand.

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Located in Scotland’s compact capital Edinburgh, The Gardener’s Cottage is an atmospheric little restaurant that fits perfectly into the city’s lush, hilly terrain. Located in the Royal Terrace Gardens at the foot of Calton Hill, it was actually home to the grounds’ gardener when it was built in 1836. Now the space has been transformed into a seasonal dining mecca, helmed by chef Dale Mailley and Edward Murray.

Quality produce and protein is the focus, so simplicity is key to showcase each ingredient.

The Gardener’s Cottage is known for local produce—much of which comes from the restaurant’s garden—and communal dining that’s marked by long wooden tables where friends and strangers alike eat elbow to elbow. Weekend brunch and an a la carte lunch menu are served, as well as a set seven course dinner menu that doesn’t cost an entire paycheck.

Quality produce and protein is the focus, so simplicity is key to showcase each ingredient. Dishes like a meatloaf brioche sandwich with poached egg, greens and hollandaise, and halibut cooked with mussels, razor clams, wild leeks and fennel leave you feeling full and satisfied, but not stuffed or heavy. Each plate looks as beautiful as it tastes, so it’s plain to see how much the staff cares about what goes into each meal. Believe us when we tell you, if you have to choose one place to dine in Edinburgh, book it here. It was the most charming, cozy, and friendly food experience during our visit.

To learn more about The Gardener’s Cottage, we stepped inside the kitchen with Chef Dale Mailley to see the produce he’s working with this season and what’s next for the business.

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Did you always want to be a chef? Where were you working before The Gardener’s Cottage?

I grew up in Perthshire, Scotland and finished school at 16 when I enrolled in a catering course at the local college. I was always in and around the catering industry as my grandfather was the catering manager of a large conference and sports centre in Perth. We spent lots of time there as kids because we got to go skating for free all day long. My grandfather had me working as a waiter at the age of 13, so I suppose the hospitality industry was a natural career choice.

After training and working in Sri Lanka, New Zealand, and other parts of Asia, I returned to Edinburgh and worked at The Outsider Restaurant as the head chef before opening The Gardeners Cottage in 2012.

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Which came first, the cottage or the restaurant? Were you seeking a space to open an eatery or did the space inspire you?

My friend and co-founder of The Gardeners Cottage Edward Murray noticed a sign outside [the cottage] offering the building up for lease on a commercial basis from the Edinburgh council. He called and asked me to come and have a look, and I was onboard immediately. The space certainly inspired our offering, but communal dining and the open kitchen all happened because of the building’s restraints.

You use only the freshest, most in-season produce possible. What crops are you looking forward to harvesting this spring and summer?

We grow as much as possible in the restaurant garden. Because space is a premium, we try to grow the more unusual vegetables and herbs. I love lovage and can’t wait until it’s back in season because it grows so well in our garden. The flavor is amazing, almost slightly curried—the young leaves work well in salads and the larger, tougher leaves make great soup. We even make a granita out of the stems for a palate cleanser.

Do you have go-to family meals?

Pad Thai is my go-to meal—we eat it at least once a week. A chef friend, Ting of Ting Thai Caravan, shared his secrets with me and I’m addicted.

When you’re not in The Gardener’s Cottage kitchen, what are some of your favourite local hangout spots?

Timberyard for a special occasion, Bodega for a mid-week treat and Red Kite Cafe for brunch, great coffee and cake.

What’s next for Gardener’s Cottage? Do you have the desire to open any more restaurants in the future?

We are opening a bakery at 92 Commercial Street in Leith in a few months, so I’m very excited about that.