Richard Bath visits Enzo, in Edinburgh’s Quartermile district and finds that, whatever else it is, it’s aimed at the top of the gastronomic pile
Aha, at last, something undeniably, indisputably new. Edinburgh has seen more than its fair share of restaurant launches in the past decade, but it’s relatively rare that we get a newcomer that is genuinely in a category of its own. There have been a few – the Michelin star-focused upmarket Indian Mithas, the capital’s first Vietnamese restaurant Pho House, the eccentric theatrics of 21212, Chop Chop’s pared-down Chinese authenticity and Aizle’s outré set-menu schtick all spring to mind – but they tend to be the exception rather than the rule.
And now along comes Enzo. Don’t get me wrong, this recently launched restaurant in the Quartermile district of the capital is not actually revolutionary; it’s simply that Edinburgh has not had an unashamedly top-of-the-range Italian restaurant since the inestimable Santini, the Spartan but expensively authentic adjunct to the Sheraton Grand, closed its doors in March 2012. Whatever else Enzo is, the place is certainly aimed at the top of the gastronomic pile in a way that even the stylish Missoni never attempted.
There are any number of good Italian restaurants in the capital, but none would see themselves occupying the sort of racy gastronomic territory to which Enzo, named after the man who created the Ferrari empire, clearly aspires.
Nor is Enzo’s status as the capital’s most highfalutin (and, yes, expensive) Italian restaurant the end of its novelty value. This newcomer has also chosen to locate in the Quartermile, the name given to the slick modern redevelopment of the Royal Infirmary site at Lauriston, overlooking the Meadows. Enzo looks out over a pedestrianised square flanked by a Malaysian restaurant and a huge “world dining emporium” called Hot Flame, while the undeveloped side of the square is covered by boards proclaiming that the development is “Edinburgh’s cosmopolitan quarter”.
In keeping with surroundings which feel more like you’ve landed in London’s Docklands or downtown Berlin, Enzo is a square, glass-heavy and self-consciously contemporary building whose decor is characterised by clean lines, muted colours leavened with the odd splash of vivid yellow or crimson, and a delicately modernistic interior. Outside, there are several tables for al fresco dining, while the downstairs comprises a bar that was empty except for the staff and a mildly embarrassed DJ shuffling uncomfortably behind his decks in the corner (although Enzo is apparently playing host to the Disaronno Terrace, at which cocktails are served and live music played).
As soon as you ascend the stairs to the restaurant on the first floor you come out into a space that reminded me of the dearly departed Oloroso – minimalist yet luxurious, with most of the tables having views straight out on to the square. The festival has just ended, so trade is traditionally slow and only two of the dozen or so tables are occupied.
Anyway, we’re soon concentrating on a huge menu with disconcertingly small writing and eye-wateringly big numbers. Both of us have spent time in Italy, recognise what we’re looking at and begin to focus. I start with an antipasti of tuna tartare, carpaccio and three small seared slices. Bea opts for the meat equivalent, a carne cruda of beef carpaccio and tartare topped with flakes of Parmesan, a quail’s egg yolk and a smear of truffle oil. My tuna is the pick of the pair: super-fresh and expertly prepared by head chef Cristian Picco, it melts in my mouth. Bea’s carpaccio has a strangely gritty texture, but is brimful of taste, while her tablespoon-sized blob of tartare is unseasoned and densely packed, yet invigorated by the just-set yolk. It’s a decent start.
My primi piatti is a gorgeous bird’s nest of 30-egg tagliolini strewn with shards of beef and Italian sausage, as good a pasta dish as I’ve had in recent memory. With a slightly sweet edge and thin, clearly hand-made yellow strands of pasta, this was the real deal. Sadly, Bea’s spaghetti alla puttanesca is, at best, average. The flavours are joyously strident, with the traditional southern Italian mix of tomatoes, anchovies, olives and capers combining to make a commendably punchy sauce, but the spaghetti is horribly undercooked, less al dente than a threat to your dentures. It’s a surprising lapse.
Our secondi piatti are solid, but never quite threaten to ascend to the dizzy heights of my tuna antipasti or tagliolini. My rabbit braised in the Ligurian style (coniglio alla ligure) is fine, and the meat is delightfully soft, but the diced roasted potatoes are almost overcooked and the combination of the two ingredients without any jus – there is a smidgen, but it’s nowhere near enough – is a little too dry for my taste. Bea thoroughly enjoys her succulent lamb chop in a balsamic vinegar with a honey glaze, and tops up with half a dozen asparagus stems adorned with a stripe of melted Parmesan.
I round off with an excellently gooey warm chocolate and hazelnut fondant with homemade spicy vanilla ice cream, while Bea goes for the exotically named almond thuile millefoglie crema pasticcera and is presented with an intricately constructed three-tier biscuit, raspberry and custard dish that looks like a work of art but which disappears to noncommittal shrugs within what seems like a few seconds.
At the end of our meal, we struggle to come to a firm conclusion. The surroundings are impressive, the service attentive and some of the dishes are outstanding, yet there is an almost indefinable lack of spontaneity to proceedings. Perhaps it’s just their mild sense of shock at being virtually empty so soon after opening, which will presumably dissipate as it gets busier; or maybe we’re just trying to work out whether it’s worth paying £130 for a meal when we can eat authentically Italian food elsewhere for half that amount. The good thing is that we’ll need to come back to find out.
8 Lister Square, Quartermile, Edinburgh EH3 9GL (0131-229 4634, www.enzo-edinburgh.co.uk)
Primi piatti £8-£16
Secondi piatti £16-£20
Pudding £7 (cheeseboard £12)