WHO is Michael Neave? I didn’t know, until I Googled him.
Turns out he was formerly a chef at Amber (at The Scotch Whisky Experience) and The Bonham hotel.
Now he’s opened his own restaurant – despite the fact that, in his early twenties, he’s still as green as a tree frog. Still, well done that entrepreneurial chap.
Unfortunately, he’s chosen an awkward property for his first venture.
Formerly Wild Sorrel restaurant and, before that, Mai Thai, this venue is situated a little bit too far down a steep cobbled close, off Edinburgh’s Royal Mile.
Passing trade is almost nonexistent (unless they’ve already booked into Passepartout next door), but potential footfall is only metres away. Looking up this street must be like staring into a particularly cruel zoetrope. Hence, the maitre d’ was desperately flyering on our visit, trying to tempt those consumers down the hill. Early on a Friday evening, this two-level venue was sleepy inside, with only two other tables-pour-deux.
Upstairs, there’s a rather soulless-looking whisky bar, with low-slung leather sofas. We went against the grain and ordered G’n’Ts, made with The Botanist Islay Dry Gin (£4.45 each).
In the basement there’s an equally personality-free eating space. White and sage walls are set off by DFS-style dappled brown leather seating, with faux gerbera in vases on the tables.
The eager waiter looks about 12 (“Are you from Russia?”, he asked one table. “No, we’re Swedish”, they replied. “Are you from Germany?” he asked the other couple. “No! Do we look German?” they snapped. Not a great opening gambit, then), and you get the feeling that the decor has been done on a shoestring.
However, micro-budgets are no excuse for the music – a wedding disco soundtrack including Gary Glitter, Air Supply and David Soul. Tragic.
Some of the food is equally retro-sounding. We opted for quail breast (£7.50) and crayfish ravioli (£7.50, or £14 as a main).
The former was good, with a palm-sized hunk of wet, pan-frazzled meat alongside a teaspoonful of ricotta and a swirl of chunky, pine-nut dotted pesto. However, this assemblage was accompanied by half a pear, poached in red wine, which needed to be much sweeter, in order to draw out this dish’s fancy chiaroscuro contrasts.
Our ravioli dish featured three wallet-sized parcels of pasta, inflated by innards of meaty seafood. The squares were doused with a glossy and brick- coloured crab bisque – sea salty and very crustacean-y. Good, but I suggest that you stick to the starter size, as this was mouth-coatingly rich.
My main – roasted duck breast (£14.90) – was a take on duck a l’orange, but with a bit of caraway seed in the sauce, and meat that was served atop a crisp potato rosti. Despite the attempt to modernise this classic, the combination still seemed a bit old-fashioned and heavy, and the duck was slightly overdone. Still, my plate was cleared.
Fillet of grey mullet (£12.50) was fine. Though, if you’re going to breadcrumb and fry a fishy, best to take the skin off beforehand, so it doesn’t peel away like a wet Elastoplast. As well as a handful of waxy potato wedges, this came with a “firey tomato sauce”, which was a cream-of-tomato-soup-esque concoction (a salsa-style mixture may have been better, and cut through any oiliness), with mild notes of cumin and turmeric.
The puds were a bit meh. My chocolate and orange mousse (£6.95), tasted metallically sugary rather than of cocoa, while, mango parfait (£5.95) was too hard, though nice and fruity, with a light and crisp coconut tuile impaling its rigid rectangle, and a chevron stripe of orange sauce.
After we’d eaten, the fresh-faced chef came out to chat, and explained that it’s early days for the eatery, and that they will be adapting the food as they go along. I’m sure the grub will be tweaked.
As it stands, after eating this young cook’s food I might have imagined that he was drawing his pension (there are a lot of heavy, cruise ship-style dishes on the menu, and little mention of ingredients’ provenance). It’s obvious that the chef has the technical skills; he just needs to add a bit of personality.
If he can do that, I’m sure we’ll find out who Michael Neave really is.
Michael Neave Kitchen and Whisky Bar
21 Old Fishmarket Close, Edinburgh (0131-226 4747, www.michaelneave.com)
Dinner for two, excluding drinks, £55.30
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