You know when you’re bemoaning the lack of cherry blossom and, suddenly, it’s everywhere, like an eruption of raspberry Creamola Foam when you’ve added too much water. Or, when your sock drawer is brimming over like a trawler’s net, because they’ve all been through the wash and you don’t need to wear them any more.
Blackbirds acapella until their beaks are hoarse, green things look greener and you feel guilty about staying indoors to watch an episode of The Fall with the blinds drawn.
BOOM. That’s the sudden arrival of summer.
And this ten-year-old restaurant is prepared, as they’ve just launched a seasonally appropriate menu (while everywhere else still seems to be serving kale and left-over Christmas cake). Anyway, I needed any excuse to visit, as this corner venue has the finest people-watching seats in the capital, with huge windows that look directly onto the White Rabbit sex shop and the Phoenix pub.
Eyes like saucers, we bagged two of the ring-side wicker chairs. These were rather flush to the table so my six-foot-something dining partner thought he might have to fold into the lotus position. He managed to wedge himself in somehow, though he kept trampling on my sandals. Other design glitches include the fact that this place’s slightly tired-looking décor needs a bit of a freshen-up, as do the ragbag toilets.
All of the dishes fit into their billed theme of “relaxed, informal dining”. Essentially, it’s mummy’s home-cooking. She doesn’t want to frighten you, or thrill you. All she wants is for you to feel cosy and have a full tum-tum. Aw. We should’ve brought our washing along too.
The chick-pea and lentil cake (£5.25) was a burly and breadcrumbed puck of fibre, with its listed ingredients as well as flecks of onion, courgette and carrot. On the side – a goldfish-coloured mango salsa, with red onion, and coriander, as well as a big fluffy pile of frisee.
Same goes for the roulade (£6.25). It featured green whorls of rolled and sliced crêpe, with pasty contents of hot smoked salmon and cream cheese. For a small portion – essentially, half a rather dry wrap – I did feel slightly diddled.
Still, I was cheered by the braised shin of beef (£13.95). It was a huge portion and the meat was perfectly melty (as if it’d been slow cooking since Eurovision was on the telly). This was doused in an intensely tomatoey ragu, and came with a big dollop of no-frills mash. This dish wouldn’t win any prizes, but if I’d made it at Casa Soutar, I’d think, that turned out well, and would draw a smiley face beside the recipe.
I think they’d forgotten to add seasoning to the jerk chicken (£12.95). This poultry thigh may have been a dweeb, or a geek, but it was no jerk. As is probably appropriate for a Scottish summer, there wasn’t even a whisper of the anticipated heat. Very smoky tasting though, with a mound of coconutty rice and kidney beans (aka Jamaican rice and peas) on the side, as well as ribbons of pickled cucumber. More of the mango salsa from earlier too. Good.
The waitress bigged up the chocolate brownie for pudding (£5.25). She says she once managed two at one sitting. I don’t believe it, as the portion was about the size of a phone directory. I liked the addition of sour cherries, which cut through the enjoyable sugary mulchyness of the chocolate. However, the coconut ice-cream accompaniment had a slightly cheesy taste.
As the sex shop closed its doors and the pub opened its shutters, we tried the rhubarb and ginger crème brulée (£5.25). It featured very little of the latter ingredient, but was decently creamy and slick, with a layer of sweet stewed fruit on the bottom.
There’s obviously a market for this style of no-surpises home cooking, as evidenced by their full dining room. You’ll find salt cellars on the tables, and they won’t be insulted if you use them. I wouldn’t say this is The Restaurant of Summer 2013, but this place isn’t pretending to be anything that it’s not. Visit if you can’t be bothered to do the washing-up, or if you want a night away from watching the box in a darkened living room.
91 Broughton Street, Edinburgh (0131-557 8589, www.theolivebranchscotland.co.uk)
Dinner for two, excluding drinks, £48.90