SURPRISES. I like them, and a visit to Passepartout guarantees them. Our first came on descending the cobbled Old Fishmarket Close, when a cassock-clad monk (from an Edinburgh ghost tour, I think) sprinted towards us.
7 Old Fishmarket Close, Edinburgh (0131-629 0252, www.passepartout-edinburgh.co.uk)
Dinner for two, excluding drinks, £30.90
“Cooo-eee!” he called, waving with wiggly fingers.
Then we perused the menu, strung onto the railings outside. It’s mainly Franco-Indian, but also features a little Chinese, Italian, Moroccan and Spanish, like a world food jambalaya.
The decor is, well, avant garde.
There’s a whiff of joss stick, everything is draped with psychedelic fabric, Nineties tunes play on the stereo and garden tables are topped by precarious-looking candle-stuffed bottles.
Downstairs, there’s a screening room, which, on our visit, was showing The Rolling Stones’ Let’s Spend the Night Together. Staff look conspiratorial, as if they’re wondering exactly who told you where to find them.
The man behind this eccentric venue, which shares its name with the sidekick in Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days, is restaurateur Pierre Levicky, of Chez Jules and Pierre Victoire.
According to a blackboard: “Passepartout was a little eating place in the heart of Paris, created by two chefs – world travellers. By chance we discovered their diary in a flea market in Montmartre and we believe this was the essence of their menu”.
We decided to share three of the tapas-style starters. It was so sexily lit in here, I can’t comment on exactly what these dishes looked like. Mainly brown I think. The Moroccan chicken (£3.95), presented in a small earthenware pot, was rather good – intensely citrussy and scattered with whole peanuts (not the almonds as billed) and topped with a star anise.
Pulled pork belly (£3.95) was a little too dry and stringy, but fragrant enough in its rosemary jus, alongside fondant potato.
For some reason that we’d forgotten by the time they’d landed, we’d also ordered vegetable dim sum (£1.95).
Not bad, with a batch of around ten crispy skinned wontons that were each loosely stuffed with a finely chopped cabbage and mushroom mixture. On the side – day-glo sweet chilli dip.
At this point, there was almost a full house. “Groupon deal”, explained the waitress.
Budgeteer diners seemed to be milking that, as most of them had ordered the lobster (£19.90) or the T-bone steak (£19.70), both with appropriate trimmings, from the Le Passepartout for Two selection of main courses.
Don’t ask me what happens if you’re a singleton dining at this restaurant, or the three amigos, or a party of five.
The language barrier made it difficult for us to find out. Do report back.
The two of us went for the slow roasted shoulder of lamb curry (£12.90), which consisted of a huge heap of meltingly soft meat that seemed to have been cooked for the appropriate aeon.
There wasn’t a lot more to it – ie. little evidence of other veg or herb, apart from onion, in the medium-spiced dopiaza-ish sauce. This came with a pile of white rice, four triangles of decent naan bread, a ramekin of cucumber-laden raita and a dish of “Casablanca sauce” which tasted like sweet tomatoes and harissa. Taking the price into consideration, it’s hard to complain.
Puddings aren’t great, but you’ll probably be slightly blootered on cocktails (this place’s speciality) by the time you’re ready for these.
I had been tempted by the Soft Bum (aren’t we all?), which contained peach purée, apricot liqueur and vodka (£4.95), but had necked an overly sweet (but rum heavy) mojito instead (£4.95).
So I didn’t mind so much that sticky toffee pudding bits (£4.20) was a pint glass of squirty cream and vanilla ice-cream, speckled with soggy crumbs.
My dining partner was slightly more disappointed with his similarly presented chocolate mousse (£3.95), but only because the raspberry coulis ingredient overflowed, dripped through a slat in the table and on to his freshly ironed jeans. Oops. Anyway, sickly sweet is worth it for the sugar high, which made us feel hysterical when some French pop came on the stereo.
Passepartout is eccentric, but kind of lovable. The prices are bargain- basement, even without a voucher or discount code. It’s unique. I’m not sure if that’s a compliment, but, if you like surprises, please go.