THERE’S been a steady trickle of mid-market openings in Edinburgh of late, and there’s more to come with the news that Mark Greenaway is going to be opening up a bistro in Stockbridge on the site of the dearly departed Cafe Fish just in time for the Christmas rush.
159-161 Morrison Street, Edinburgh, (0131-629 1344, theatelierrestaurant.co.uk)
Starters £3.50-£8 Main courses £12.60-£19.90
Puddings £5.10-£5.30 (cheeseboard £8)
Chief among the new influx is The Atelier, a white-collar restaurant in the decidedly blue-collar enclave of Morrison Street.
Sited in a gradually gentrifying enclave of the capital where rents are low and the trams will soon be frequent, Morrison Street’s most compelling claim to fame is as the home to two of the best but cheapest Asian restaurants in Scotland, Chop Chop and Vietnam Pho House. In truth, the new Atelier is a bit of a fish out of water for the moment: with its huge picture windows, soft uplighting and simply painted walls interspersed with brutalist raw stone, the place has fresh, self-consciously stark edges which are at odds with the more dog-eared surrounding buildings.
The brainchild of Polish chefs Matthew Koredki and Maciek Zielinski, despite the liberal intrusion of saccharine guff on its website (“this is The Atelier; we call it a workshop for the fine art of food”) the place is still a little rough around the edges. Sometimes this isn’t great: our tiny table for four, for instance, was wobbly and situated in front of the main door so that we were treated to a sustained chilly blast whenever anyone came in or out. In other ways, however, the homespun approach is a winning one: the staff were friendly, knowledgeable and efficient, while the place had a low-key, informal atmosphere.
The main thing of note about The Atelier, however, is that it has been full virtually every day since it opened almost two months ago. That’s probably not because of the prices: at an average of £7 for a starter and £16 for a main course, this isn’t bottom-end feeding. As the only other explanation (apart from Koredki and Zielinski having large, hungry families) was the excellence of the food, we ordered then sat back and waited in expectation.
I started off with a courgette soup which felt a little watery and insubstantial, but I was at the lower end of the satisfaction scale. Bea’s warm cauliflower parfait with curried romanesco florets, crispy basil and cheddar sauce sounded like a very posh cauliflower cheese but was anything but: delightfully light, the cauliflower flavouring was subtle yet unmistakable, and the end result was a dish that had Bea eulogising all the way home.
By contrast, Sheila’s seared scallops with slow-braised oxtail and asparagus had promised much, but somehow this was a dish that never got out of third gear. The scallops were good enough, while the oxtail, which was finely ground and resembled a moist boudin noir, had such an understated taste it played second fiddle to the scallops rather than complementing them. The constituent parts were all fine, but somehow the dish just didn’t gel.
Johnny, however, was pleased with his pork cheek with chorizo, Serrano ham and butter bean purée, plus an extraneous dab of blackberry. He mulled the taste over for ages, looking at the crispy exterior and gradually working his way towards the moist interior before giving it a hesitant thumbs-up.
The undoubted (and surprise) hit of the four different main courses was Sheila’s crispy beetroot gnocchi with tomato, aubergine and gordal olive sugo, which sounded like a hellish combination but which was actually a joyous work of art. Undoubtedly the best gnocchi I’ve had for ages, the beetroot supplied a sweet edge to a creamy tomato-based sauce, the whole ensemble turning out to be immeasurably better than anyone had expected.
If Johnny struggled to detect any rapeseed notes in his rapeseed-poached hake, he did spot the fact that his big brick of fish was lukewarm, which was a pity because it was otherwise well cooked. Bea was similarly fixated on a detail – the fact that her vanilla mash was coloured black with squid ink – but passed the fillet of salmon with seafood bisque and crispy prawns fit for action. There were, however, no misgivings about my rack of lamb with braised shoulder, confit belly, butternut squash, beetroot, pak choi and capers. The pink, succulent rack was perfectly cooked and dripping with flavour; the braised shoulder provided a deep, booming, almost percussive taste. My one gripe was the lazy way the butternut squash was cut lengthways and then undercooked.
We rounded off by going through the three puddings on offer. Bea’s tangy and almost soggy polenta cake with passion fruit and vanilla ice cream hit the spot, although even then the old curmudgeon complained that two pieces were one too many. Sheila and Johnny opted for the saffron poached pear with chocolate ganache and pear sorbet, which did what it said on the tin but no more, while my chocolate and apricot “cheesecake” with mango coulis and lemon sorbet turned out to be one of those deconstructed dishes I loathe. Seriously boys, don’t do it: I admire ambition but if I want my food semi-prepared then I’ll ask. What I got was like an unglazed Florentine in which the apricot ran roughshod over all the other flavours. More to the point, it wasnae cheesecake.
This was an enjoyable meal with some genuine high notes combined with a few bum chords. It also came at a price, with the bill for two at the thick end of £100, thanks in part to a 350 per cent mark-up on the wine. “The question is,” said Johnny, an Edinburgh foodie who regularly eats around the corner at First Coast on the Dalry Road, “would we come back and pay that again, or keep walking and pay 40 per cent less.” It was, sadly for The Atelier, a rhetorical question.