Restaurant Review: The Riparian Rooms, Edinburgh

The Riparian Rooms, East London Street. Picture: TSPL
The Riparian Rooms, East London Street. Picture: TSPL
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I’D estimate that 97 per cent of people will see this restaurant’s name and will ask themselves what the heck a riparian is.

THE VERDICT:

How much?

Dinner for two excluding drinks

£52

FOOD

7/10

AMBIENCE

8/10

TOTAL

15/20

I shall spare you the walk to find a dictionary, the finger work to type it into Google, or the bother of asking a friend, who, unless they’re an angler or a geographer, is only three per cent likely to know the answer.

Definition: a border of moist soil or plants that forms the barrier between a river and the land.

Wow, obscure, and onomatopoeically, it’s not the prettiest sounding word.

In the former premises of Locanda de Gusti, this place is being billed as a “home from home” and the blurb online says it serves “classic Scottish dishes,” though these are phrases that conjure up fantasies of slouchy seating, macaroni cheese and haggis.

It’s a bit fancier than that.

With head chef Gary Cromie, formerly of Orocco Pier, in the kitchen, there’s fish and chips, amongst other things, for lunch, but the dinner menu has gone posh.

My loin of rabbit (£6.95) was pretty good, with cross sections of parcelled up bunny that had been bundled into a hammy wrapping and stuffed with a pistachio and apricot mixture. These came with rolled up ribbons of pickled artichoke and carrot, which could have been slightly zingier in order to offset the rustic and nutty meat.

The seared venison loin (£7.25) had sounded like the working man’s choice. However, it turned out to be a comedically small portion, with seven transparently fine leaves of carpaccio-style meat, each the diameter of a lid off a sandwich paste jar, and a titchy salad of curly endive, Isle of Mull cheese crumbs and crumbled hazelnut. Tasty, but it wouldn’t keep you going through a shift on a building site.

It took a while to choose a main, as they don’t sound that titillating. The only fish dish in this section is sea bass with cherry tomatoes, sautéed baby potatoes, green beans and rocket oil (£13.95). Meh. While, their chicken option comes with crushed new potatoes, shredded spring greens and Laphroaig 10 jus (£13.50). Shrug. Chicken, tatties and whisky sauce just doesn’t float my rubber duck, but maybe that’s their Scottish theme kicking in. Instead, the slow braised oxtail (£12.95) got my vote.

It came with a fistful of soft meat, plenty of bovine jus, and some ridiculously luxurious magnolia-coloured mashed potato that was probably about 40 per cent butter and 20 per cent garlic, with the texture of an expensive anti-ageing face cream. It clung to my knife, coated my gullet and made me feel guilty just to look at it.

Still, the specials dish of pigeon breast (£14.95) with confit swede could have done with more of this lush carb, as it came with just a little cocotte’s worth, when I wanted something more to soak up all the puy lentil-spotted broth, which contained cubes of confit swede.

The puddings are luxey. A peanut butter parfait (£4.95) could have tempted Tufty from his tree, with its nutty, creamy and sticky charms. Its topping of “roasted rum banana” had a strange texture, like cooked carrot, but a nutty tuile was a crisp square of caramelised goodness.

Our salted caramel and dark chocolate bar (£4.95) consisted of a neat brick of dense ganache, with a line up of raspberries and two buttons of a glossy gel on top. It came with a ball of silky vanilla bean ice-cream.

There’s some great stuff here, but I’m a bit confused about this place’s identity.

Conceptually, it does have the feel of somewhere that’s been designed by committee, or is trying to have as broad an appeal as possible. It’s posh and casual at the same time, prices yo-yo, and there’s a bit of gastropub here and a touch of fine dining there. The menu sounds a bit dull, but the food is more interesting than it reads, so I think they’re underselling it.

Maybe that’s why they’re named after a periphery or a border. Let’s call it The Inbetweeny Rooms.

The Riparian Rooms

7-11 East London Street

Edinburgh

(0131 556 6102, www.riparianrooms.co.uk)