I DIDN’T want to stamp metaphorically on a goose. That’s why I delayed reviewing this place.
Lunch for two, excluding drinks, £47
Carina Contini is one of Weekend Life’s regular food columnists, and she and her husband Victor own this restaurant, as well as Edinburgh’s Scottish Cafe & Restaurant and Contini Ristorante (formerly Centotre).
On last Saturday’s pages, Carina showed us how to create a Marie rose cocktail, roast goose, and potato and leek dauphinoise.
If I had followed her delicious creations by slating the newest eatery in their portfolio, that’d be like scooping up a handful of her mayo-clad prawns and smearing them down the wall, then spatchcocking that perfectly cooked gander with my size fives. Not nice at all, but I must always be honest, as I have taken the restaurant reviewer’s vow (dyb, dyb, dyb).
First impressions were positive. It’s situated in Cannonball House – a historic building named after the gunshot that’s lodged in one of its walls, which is rumoured to have been fired by government troops towards Holyrood Palace while Bonnie Prince Charlie was in residence in 1745.
According to the pamphlet that’s available inside, it also boasts the “oldest knocker in the world,” any mention of which has to be countered by “oooh matron” in a Kenneth Williams-style.
However, even though there were hordes of tourists just metres away, the ground floor Contini Gelateria & Caffe was completely empty. It wasn’t particularly busy in the top floor restaurant either.
This was a shame, as it’s a lovely space – full of light, with views to Edinburgh Castle and a relaxed sense of occasion; a birthday spot.
They’re currently serving lunch daily (dinner is Wednesday to Saturday only) and, on our Saturday visit, there was just the set menu of two courses for £18, three for £22.
On the Royal Mile, one is never more than a sporran’s throw away from a haggis bon-bon, except this restaurant serves them as the more upmarketly monickered “cannonballs”. Our trio were dense and crispy crumb-coated, with, on the side, long strips of purple cress-strewn pickled turnip and a few dollops of mayonnaise-y mustard, which contained a subtle slug of Moretti beer. If they fired these out of the One O’Clock Gun, I’d stand on Princes Street with my mouth open.
Our other starter – Phantassie organic beetroot – featured warm and soft slices of golden and blood-red root vegetable. These were sprinkled with sea salt and interleaved like the apple on a tarte tartin, with additional layers of transparent pickled turnip and downy blobs of parsley-strewn ricotta.
My main course of Burnside Farm duck breast (£3 supplement) consisted of four fat pink and fleshy wedges of burnish-skinned duck. These were served on top of verdant chopped savoy cabbage along with dreamy smoked pancetta, each nib of which was so full of flavour they were like concentrated piggy pellets. There were also cylinders of Carroll’s heritage potatoes and an orange juice-imbued gravy. Joy. My other half didn’t quite connect with his main of Phantassie organic pumpkin gnocchi, as he found the flavour and texture too cakey. But don’t worry Carina, Victor et al, that’s him, not you. Anyway, the shavings of good quality Parmesan countered the sweetness, as did the gallons of sage butter.
The set menu’s puddings are prosaic, with a gelato of the day, cheese of the day, affogato or crema cotta. I went for the latter, which was as pale as Mary, Queen of Scots, vanilla-dusted, and featuring the perfect lively wobble. They’d paired it with a bitter cranberry compote. Lovely.
Today’s ice-cream was Ferrero Rocher-flavoured – they are spoiling us. It was served in a sundae glass, with a “Victor & Carina CONTINI EDINBURGH”-emblazoned wafer sticking out of the top of three scoops worth of biscuity, hazelnutty, chocolate-y ice-cream, which was pretty darn good, even in the bleak midwinter.
So, yeah, I’m kind of disappointed that I like this place so much, as I quite enjoy a bit of seasonal goose stamping. It just worries me that it was so quiet, as, by all rights, it should be heaving. Still, maybe it’ll get busier when people get word about the oldest knocker in the world. Oooh matron.
(0131-225 1550, www.contini.com)