THE bulgar pilaf had confident, big flavours
You know what they say about doing sudoku or crosswords as you get older? Apparently, these puzzles can slow down the decline of mouldering grey matter. This terrible use-it-or-lose-it analogy could be applied to restaurants.
For example, First Coast is nearly nine years old, but it keeps enthusiastically active and, thus, continues to draw in the punters.
This self-styled “neighbourhood bistro”, whose head chef is Hector MacRae, hosts regular suppers for the Edinburgh branch of the Slow Food movement, and organises plenty of imaginative events.
The night before we visited, they’d offered a Scandinavian menu and, a few weeks ago, a Sichuan-style feed. Generally, they serve locally sourced brasserie-style food, with a smattering of global influences. It’s not all fishy stuff, as their name might lead you to expect.
The location of our table à deux in the horseshoe-shaped space meant we were sandwiched between the roaring fireplace and a fire alarm.
Hot on one side, cool on the other, I rolled up a sleeve and chose the vegetarian starter – bulgar pilaf (£5.50).
This Middle East-influenced option featured cracked wheat, pimped up with cinnamon-spiked crispy onions, blanched spinach and blistered cherry tomatoes, as well as quenelles of milky white labneh. Big confident flavours, with the latter ingredient contrasting the toastiness of the mouse-coloured carb. It was definitely the best animal-free starter that I’ve sampled since Meat is Murder by The Smiths was topping the charts.
My dining partner was equally wowed by the stuffed squid (£5.95). These seafood bodies resembled transparent support stockings, tightly packed with a meaty, salty mixture of minced pork and pistachio, with a high kick of chilli. On the side – two star-shaped bunches of blush-coloured tentacles, and a thick slick of preserved lemon mayonnaise, dotted with chives and boasting enough zesty oomph to lift the burlier ingredients.
For my main, braised ox cheek (£13.50) was a simple concept that had been coaxed into fulfilling its potential. The meat was incredibly soft. I didn’t need my knife at all, I could’ve sucked it up through a straw. This protein was coated in a tar-black sauce, which contained Pedro Ximénez, for a clingy, intense sweetness. It came with perfectly caramelised struts of carrot and parsnip, and a large mound of mash.
Rolf’s thick fillet of pointy-faced lythe (£13.95) was balancing on a pile of the same tattie, which was sooking up the intensely garlicky, lemony and brown buttery jus that surrounded it. On the top came a generous tumble of cheeky little shrimps and mussels, sprinkled with parsley and doused with more of the sauce. Impressive.
Puddings, less good. I’m so middle class that I expected actual honeycomb when it came to my white chocolate and honeycomb parfait (£5.50), as opposed to the boulders of cinder toffee scattered across the plate. Crunchie bars are not made by bumble bees.
Still, the white chocolate element, which had an unctuously creamy texture, was way too sugary to be accompanied by either variety of honeycomb. It needed something tart on the side.
Our other dessert (£4.95) was served like a sundae, in a glass with hazelnut-flavoured caramel sauce at the bottom, then a layer of glossy Frangelico custard and, on the top deck, rocks of hazelnut meringue and whipped cream. As soon as we were served this, squirrels started pressing their furry noses against the restaurant window and giving us pleading looks with their beady eyes.
Well, not really, but it was very nutty. And perhaps a little too sweet.
This eatery’s savoury options are rather better.
I’ll be back for some of those, as long as they keep up the sudoku – or whatever it is they’re doing to stay so fresh and youthful.
• 97-101 Dalry Road, Edinburgh (0131-313 4404, www.first-coast.co.uk)
Dinner for two, excluding drinks, £49.35
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Friday 24 May 2013
Temperature: 3 C to 12 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 7 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West