I'm a big fan of horror films, so I know that venturing into the basement is always a very bad idea. Which may be why Rolf and I weren't too excited about visiting The Cellar Door Restaurant.
It's situated in a below-street-level venue, previously occupied by a branch of the Olive Branch Bistro chain and, before that, Dial.
From the pavement, it seems like the management have a PhD in how to make a business look unappealing. There are handwritten signs Sellotaped to the window, and it's dark inside, as if nobody's home – except, perhaps, Leatherface.
The main entrance leads you into their wardrobe-sized upper level. Here we stumbled upon... a pair of glamorous women, drinking cappuccinos and eating shortbread in the upstairs patisserie/cafe. Oh sweet relief.
Then we descended the wooden staircase to discover that the space opens out onto a large and light dining room. We bagged a candle-lit table in the corner, nestled underneath the coved ceiling. The menu consists of the same comfort food classics that you might have found in this venue's last incarnation, which is no surprise as the Olive Branch Bistro's former chef, Eden Sinclair, is still at the helm.
We opted for Stornoway black pudding with goats cheese (5.25) and the salmon, lime and coriander fishcake (5.95). Rolf was chuffed with the latter – a fluffy piscine patty, which was drizzled with sweet chilli dressing and perched atop a dollop of celeriac coleslaw. Aesthetically, it was quite dated, as it reminded me of something they might've whipped up on Ready Steady Cook circa 1996. However, my other half, who's choked down a stale fishcake or two in his time, thought it tasted fresh and vibrant.
My starter consisted of a slice of melted goats cheese, which was sandwiched between two discs of crumbly boudin noir. The separate elements of this dish were fine, but it was a bit dry and claggy without more of its accompanying drizzle of apple dressing.
For mains, I chose the Perthshire lamb cutlets (16.95), from the grill section of the menu. The three hunks of organic meat that I was presented with were juicy and delicious. Their coleslaw side-kick was fine, and the crispy wedges, in a separate bowl, were moreish. So, the only scandal here is the fact that they didn't have any mint sauce for my lamb, which, thus, became all I could crave. Even some frog-spawn-like mint jelly would've sated me.
Rolf had the free-range chicken (10.95), which featured a crispy leg and breast, with a barbecued flavour. Underneath the poultry was a pile of pale green flageolet beans, which were blended with sweetcorn, parsley and smoky nibs of bacon. His verdict was that this was a surprisingly filling, yet summery dish.
We thought that, for pud, we'd be good at sharing the patisserie selection for two people (11), as he likes dull Victoria sponges and I prefer the syrupy stuff. The centrepiece of this option was a creamy version of black forest gateaux, which was artily draped with a redcurrant sprig. While, surrounding this spongy wad of sugar, in descending order of preference, were miniature slices of carrot cake (delish), chocolate shortbread (nice), baked cheesecake (OK) and banana and chocolate cake (fine).
Which leads me to wonder why isn't this bistro/cafe selling itself better? All they need to do is invest in some proper lighting, lose the handwritten window signs and invest in some mint sauce. Then passing trade might be brave enough to venture into the basement.
The Cellar Door Restaurant
44-46 George IV Bridge,
(0131-226 4155, www.thecellardooredinburgh.com)
How much?: Dinner for two, excluding drinks 50.10
Three to try:-
Innerleithen Road, Peebles (01721 724477, www.ossorestaurant.com)
An airy bistro, lunchtime dishes include their special fishcake with buttered spinach and dill beurre blanc.
Carlton George Hotel, 44 West George Street, Glasgow (0141-353 6373, www.carlton.nl)
Glasgow's only rooftop eatery. Try the braised lamb shank or pan-fried trout.
Ostlers Close Restaurant
25 Bonnygate, Cupar, Fife (01334 655 574, www.ostlersclose.co.uk)
Down a narrow side street, this hidden gem changes its menu on a daily basis.
• This article was first published in The Scotsman Magazine, April 24, 2010