By Alex Ralston
The Black Grape is a vibrant new wine bar which has just opened in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town. Set back a few metres from the world famous Royal Mile, the venue is the brainchild of experienced operations manager Murray Ainslie, formerly of The Compass Group, and recruitment specialists Stuart Hunter and Cameron Taylor.
Located at 240 Canongate, the category A-listed site was formerly occupied by the long-running Pancho Villas, before being sold in 2019. Nestled discreetly in an alcove towards the foot of the Mile, the Black Grape aims to cultivate a stylish and easy-going atmosphere for dinner or drinks, with an emphasis on sharing with friends and enjoying new and eclectic tastes.
Designed and fitted by local agency Splintr (who also worked on nearby The Fudge House), The Black Grape presents a coherent blend of modern and vintage elements, creating a stylishly relaxed vibe for the space, assisted by the well-curated jazz, funk and soul playlists that play during its operating hours. Featuring an exciting and diverse menu, the venue is split vertically into a darker bar area and an elevated and spacious dining area.
Entering through the front door leads to a chic bar area with a dark terrazzo bar top and an eye-catchingly minimalist display of premium spirits underlit by accent lights. The casually urbane bar area is complemented by a variety of types of light fittings on both floors of the venue. Two large sash windows above the row of booths provide natural light to the dining area during the daytime hours.
The highlight is undoubtedly the bespoke centrepiece, a striking large two-ringed oval light fixture suspended above the main dining area, overhung with plants and other greenery. Greenery can be found throughout, aimed at making the space feel airier and more relaxed whilst also helping to add a different element to its layout.
The design itself features a cohesive mix of textures and colours: the far wall of the dining area is muted redbrick set above grey wooden panelling, and other walls are interspersed with shelving areas adorned with potted plants set against dark blue tiling.
The walls and ceilings are a considered mixture of light greys and sea blues, which, in combination with the subtle variations in the lighting throughout the late afternoon and into the evening, work to ensure that the atmosphere retains its elegance without being too formal.
The wine bar puts sharing and communality at the forefront of its experience, with a menu designed to allow for the sampling of numerous different cuisines through an emphasis on splitting food with friends from the small plates menu to accompany the large selection of specially chosen wines on offer.
This ethic is represented in the venue’s seating accommodation which invites cosy conversation with friends and fellow customers. The 60-cover venue has a variety of seating aimed at promoting the sharing ethos at the heart of the concept.
Situated across from the rustic bar seating is a 10-seater table intended to be used communally by different parties. Up a few steps into the dining area, the tables become more conventional in their arrangements with small single tables in the centre complete with plush leather booths along the walls, as well as an enclosed, more private booth adjacent to the steps leading from the bar.
The easy transition between the bar and dining areas maximises the space available, allowing the venue to cater to both those dining and those enjoying its extensive drinks list without separating the experiences from one another. Every detail of the venue has been considered in service of best creating the warm and inviting atmosphere that the partners envision for the site.
Murray Ainslie, Stuart Hunter, and Cameron Taylor, having known each other for several years, wanted to recreate their favourite experiences of fine dining with friends, which they hope that The Black Grape will prove a fruitful culmination of.
It is Hunter and Taylor’s first venture into hospitality, having spent nearly 12 years running Advance Global Recruitment together, which specialises in recruiting for the oil and energy sector with offices in Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dubai.