STREET food is fun in other countries. In Scotland, not so much. Nobody wants to eat outside when it’s this cold.
5 Hunter Square
(0131-220 0851, www.civerinos.com)
Lunch for three, excluding drinks,
Yes, there are vendors who hawk their wares in summer time along Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, and, a few centuries ago, we’re sure that, in the same place, pedestrians bought oysters, sheep’s feet, buns and jugs of claret from black-toothed sack-clothed hipsters.
Still, there’s a sad irony to street food restaurants, like Civerino’s, in that their food has never known what it is to run wild, and will never be repatriated onto the actual street.
It’s permanently captive, like the oily bird in the animal sanctuary which Fairy Liquid just couldn’t save. This Italian restaurant is in the high-ceilinged former premises of French eatery Le Sept, which was renowned for its gummy gooey crêpes.
Now there’s an orange Pinarello bike hoisted up to the rafters of an interior that features bare brick, white tiles, refectory-style seating and loud music on the stereo from the likes of Amy Winehouse and a groovy new band called The Rolling Stones.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND MOBILE APPS
We asked them to turn it down a tad, because the old take pleasure in spoiling things for young people.
Small Plates are served in oven dishes, foil cartons on wooden boards and in metal tubs lined with gingham napkins, in a ramshackle teddy bears’ picnic kind of way.
Our favourite dish consisted of yellow caterpillars of zucchini tempura (£4.40) – crispy, herby and hot, with a super sweet cold sugo dip on the side. These were closely trailed by the knobbly and dense chianina beef meatballs (£4.80), which were barely lukewarm, but tasty, and came in a tomato sauce the colour of fresh gore. A portion of two potato crockets (sic, £4.20) were heartily-sized, with sturdy bodies of well-pulped and packed mash and hearts of melted asiago cheese. They really needed a bit of seasoning though, as they were a bit bland.
The artisan bread with homemade Italian sausages (£4.40) turned out to be a bowl of bolognese with crispy triangles of good, if very over-salted, garlicky bread on the side. Those who like tubular bangers will be sad.
From a choice of 11 pizzas, served by the slice or whole, we tried the sophisticated-sounding walnut, pecorino, pear and honey (£13.80) version. The base of this “white pizza” was skinny and crisp, topped with a fine blanket of melted ivory cheese that had moulded to its bubbles and billows, as well as chips of pear, crumbled walnuts, rocket and a drizzle of honey.
Sadly, the cheese wasn’t quite strong enough to balance out the sugary-ness, so only order this one if you’re the sort to skip mains and go straight to dessert.
When it comes to pasta, choose from four shapes of carb – penne, spaghettini, bucatini or linguini – and the same amount of sauces. I went for penne and puttanesca (anchovies, caper and olive, £10.50) and it was as punchy as this dish should be, if rather overpriced for a bowl of something so prosaic.
We also fancied the spaghettini with smoked pig cheek carbonara (£11) on the basis of the pig cheek, which turned out to be a bit grey, fatty and flavourless. Apart from that, this Parmesan and rocket-topped option was decent enough.
For pudding, we snubbed the tiramisu (£4), and shared the Nutella calzone (£8). It featured a doughy parcel the shape of a crab carapace, stuffed with melted hazelnut chocolate spread and a frothy blob of vanilla cream on the side.
Nice enough, but I’m torn. I really like this place in theory and the service is excellent, but the food is slightly off key in places (underseasoned, over-seasoned, cold) and prices for some offerings are a little higher than they need to be (those bowls of pasta).
Still, as Mick Jigger from that new Rolling Stones outfit would say, “You can’t always get what you want”.
A shame as, with a tiny bit more effort, this place could be totally rockin’.