FOR someone extremely risk averse and quite boring, I’ve got more in common with a hurricane chaser, crystal meth addict or base jumper than you’d imagine.
72 Commercial Street
(0131-554 2588, cafetartine.co.uk)
When you’re reviewing restaurants, you end up always wanting the next experience to be more exciting than the last. However, thrills are not necessarily what the average muncher seeks.
Take Café Tartine, which is so busy because it’s dependable and crowd-pleasingly nice, like tomato soup or sheepskin slippers.
They’ve created a space that’s French-ish country kitchen style and, for someone like me who has wonky spacial awareness and doesn’t like tables pushed too close together, the feng shui is perfect.
With efficient service and a decent contingent of waiting staff, you get the impression of a machine that’s been generously sloshed with WD40.
There’s even a small conservatory where dogs are welcome. We were seated in the vicinity of a fawn-coloured greyhound who, it transpired, didn’t like being approached from the rear; a delicate woodland creature of a pointy-hoofed whippet, and a Border terrier with hair like Gene Wilder, who only had eyes for its owner’s hot chocolate.
The menu here fits their schtick, with plenty of Gallic-lite options to suit bigger parties in which fusspots might lurk.
For example, nobody could complain about the entrée of soupe de poisson (£5.95), which was a lobster-coloured exorcism (then liquidation) of a fish’s soul, topped with a huge crouton, chopped chives, two prawns and a dollop of rouille. It came with a doorstop of soft brown bread, and a foil-wrapped pat of butter.
As tartines are their namesake, we had to try the button mushroom version (£5.95) on the starter menu. I can’t get that excited about a lid-less sarnie, but the toast platform was suitably crispy and its toppings of garlicky cream-slicked fungi, tarragon, cress and bouncy salad made for a satisfying demi piece.
Main courses were wrestler-sized portions.
My burnish-skinned and well-seasoned fillet of salmon (£12.95) came with heaps of forest floor-coloured broccoli and spinach, an embarrassment of gremolata potatoes and a chive-dusted sandy-hued beurre blanc.
The braised pork belly (£13.95) was another hefty plate, with a thick wedge of crispy-topped meat, shredded mustard-laced Savoy cabbage, a clod of sagey black pudding and enough buttery mash to feed a coach party, all anointed with a rich calvados cream.
Confit leg of duck (£13.95) came with similarly traditional accompaniments – glossy and sweet braised red cabbage, more mash, a bushel of green beans, port and orange sauce, and loads of pomme purée.
With all three of these courses, it seemed that the kitchen had put in a little more effort than they needed to, and I made sure to jot a smiley face in my reporter’s notebook as appreciation.
As well as other stuff, like white and dark chocolate mouse (sic), there’s a huge selection of lardy crêpes for pudding, with options such as Peanutella, Apple Pie and Bounty (but no Suzette).
We went for the equally unsophisticated Banoffee (£5.75) – a skinny half moon of fried batter that was full of toffee sauce and chopped banana, with a bank of whipped cream along the side. Although the lemon curd tart (£5.95) filling was a little granulated, this offering was suitably buttery and zesty, and came alongside a ball of tart raspberry sorbet and some decorative bits of fruit.
All good, but unless you get your thrills from stroking a grumpy greyhound’s rump, or want to abseil down the nearby Ocean Terminal after lunch, do not expect to be overly stimulated here. It’s not that kind of place.
Instead, Café Tartine is reliable, satisfying and traditional rather than trendy, and the sort of venue that, ultimately, it’s difficult not to love.