I’VE had a visitation. It was the Ghost of Restaurants Past, reminding me of all the overpriced festive menus – turkey like sandpaper, spongy sprouts and chewy pigs in blankets – that I’ve chomped my way through over the years.
Ship on the Shore, 24-26 The Shore, Edinburgh
Lunch for three, excluding drinks, £68.20
FOOD 7/10 | AMBIENCE 9/10 | TOTAL 16/20
Then there was a second apparition – the Ghost of Diners Present, who ushered me towards the 25-year-old Ship on the Shore, situated by the Water of Leith. He thought it was least likely to disappoint and assured me that it’s officially the Christmassiest eatery in town.
It doesn’t need to sap the electricity grid, like Edinburgh’s Dome, as it’s got low energy atmosphere in sackfuls, with two silver figureheads flanking the inside door, shipping charts as wallpaper and a ceiling’s worth of holly sprigs.
If Santa was a salty old sea dog – and I secretly think he is, with those boots and that Captain Birdseye beard – you’d find him here.
Mind you, he’d have trouble squeezing in, as the restaurant space is made for skinny eels who can slide between the tables without knocking over the long-stemmed wine glasses.
Seafood is the focus, with a Scotland meets old school fine-dining via India vibe.
Although our starter of curried chickpea, red pepper and cumin pakora (£6.95) resembled the fossilised contents of a sabre tooth tiger’s litter tray, these pellets tasted a lot better than they looked – softer than anticipated, and savoury.
Our set of five grilled queen scallops (£7.50) were decent, if also a little desiccated. Their sandy “crispy smoked bacon crust” was nicely salty and munchy, but its presence further sapped the moisture levels.
Bah humbug, but our moods improved when the mains landed.
The Shetland salmon (£14) was glorious, with petal-coloured, silky flesh and a snowy roof of horseradish-spiked hollandaise. This came with clods of Stornoway black pudding and chargrilled root vegetables. Joy to all men.
If someone gave me Ship on the Shore’s fillet of sea bass (£14) as a Christmas present this year, I’d be happy (and impressed by their gift-wrapping skills). It came with a heap of salsa, which consisted of coriander, lime and pieces of beetroot as minuscule as Lilliputian Lego. There was also a smooth pile of chive-dotted mash and a handful of crunchy sweet potato chips.
Our third main – crispy curried squid (£13) – was decent, though about as crispy as a crisp that’s fallen in a puddle. Instead, it featured soft bits of pale seafood coated in a spicy hot breadcrumb topping. These came in a tomatoey goo, with a blob of minty yoghurt to take the edge off the heat, and some buttery and oniony basmati.
I’m a sucker for desserts that would have been sophisticated in the 1970s, so we shared the bombe Alaska (£6) – a scoop of raspberry ripple ice-cream covered with a layer of sponge, which was then topped by a foam party of Italian meringue.
The pain au chocolat and croissant pudding (£6.75), under a blob of chocolate ice cream, was a variant on bread and butter pudding, except stodgier and, strangely, saltier. I’m not sure if it was meant to be that salty, but I kind of liked the sodium when combined with the melted chocolate that laced this burly doorstopper. If you were to put this out for seaman Santa on Tuesday night, I’m sure he’d leave you extra pressies.
Anyway, the Ghost of Christmas Present was right about this place. The food isn’t always perfect, but the prices are right and, if you can live without flashing lights and Bing Crosby on the stereo, the understated magic more than compensates.
• 24-26 The Shore, Edinburgh (0131-555 0409, www.theshipontheshore.co.uk)