Carina Contini of The Scottish Cafe: Venison

Carina Contini. Picture: Contributed
Carina Contini. Picture: Contributed
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OUR BEAUTIFUL city is slowly returning to normal. Our Festival friends, often a little more outrageous than we locals, will be out of sight after tomorrow’s fireworks until they re-emerge for next year’s fun.

Our business gave us an amazing opportunity to work with and support some of our dearest treasures that form the backbone to these festivities.

For example, the National Galleries of Scotland, providing free access to world class art all year round, are very close to our hearts at the Scottish Cafe & Restaurant, which is downstairs from it.

Alongside the best produce, good principles guide what we do. We work with the Slow Food organisation, which is at the core of our food values, while the Sustainable Restaurant Association supports us in providing key information on sustainability that can help us channel our decisions for the right reasons. Taste our Best puts us through our paces to support us in delivering the finest ingredients from Scottish suppliers, while Ospitalita Italiana, an arm of the Italian Chamber of Commerce, does the same with our Italian roots.

All of this informs the food at our latest venture in Edinburgh. At the top of the Royal Mile, it is a food venue over three floors. Downstairs, Contini Caffe celebrates our Italian heritage with casual dining and a traditional gelateria serving artisan ice cream. Upstairs Cannonball Dining Room offers the very best produce and cooking with stunning views of the Castle and Old Town.

We’ve focused the lessons from our other restaurants into making our new venture just right and offering something for everyone. Here is a sneak preview of a dish from the menu along with a recipe from my Kitchen Garden Cookbook.


These three key Scottish ingredients are all in season and complement one another perfectly.

Serves four

1 Leave the venison at room temperature for about 30 minutes. This is important as the meat is so tender that it doesn’t require a huge amount of cooking, but you must ensure it gets hot in the middle.

2 Prepare the blackcurrant dressing by heating half of the currants with a squeeze of lemon juice and just enough sugar to remove the sharpness. Heat through until the currants have burst, then pass through a fine sieve. Add the remaining currants and keep warm.

3 Pre-heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4. Ensure the venison is well trimmed. Season with salt and pepper and place in a cast-iron pan or roasting tray that is big enough for the whole piece of meat. Add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Place over a medium heat and when the oil is hot, add the meat and sear it on all sides until golden and crisp. Season with a little more salt and add the thyme. Cook in the pre-heated oven for 10 minutes.

4 Remove from the oven, cover with tinfoil and a few tea towels to keep the meat warm. Leave to rest.

5 Meanwhile, heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large frying pan. When the oil is hot, add the chanterelles, the chilli and fry quickly under a hot heat until soft. Add the parsley and heat through.

6 Scatter the salad leaves on a serving plate, slice the venison and layer on top, dress with the chanterelles and finally drizzle with the blackcurrant dressing to finish the dish.


Our gooseberries are in season, sweet and marry incredibly well with the smokiness of the mackerel.

Serves four

1 Make the dressing by blending the yogurt and olive oil with a few pinches of salt. Mix until smooth and set aside.

2 Scatter the lettuce leaves on flat serving plates, then scatter the celery and gooseberry halves on top. Flake the smoked mackerel, checking there are no bones, and layer with the ruby chard. Generously spoon the dressing over the salad and finally scatter the croûtons on top. Serve with a wedge of lemon.


Croûtons are so easy to make and can be added to almost anything. They’re especially delicious in soups and salads.

1 Pre-heat the oven to 230C/450F/Gas Mark 8.

2 Mix together all the ingredients except the cubes of bread in a large bowl. Add the bread and mix well to ensure it is well-coated.

3 Transfer to a baking tray and bake in the pre-heated oven for 10 minutes until crisp and golden. Turn halfway through to ensure the croûtons cook evenly. Remove from the oven and leave to cool. The croûtons can be stored in an airtight container for up to a week.

Shopping list:


800g haunch of venison

250g blackcurrants

squeeze of lemon juice

caster sugar to taste

salt and pepper

2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

sprig of thyme

125g chanterelle mushrooms

1 dried chilli, chopped

handful of flat leaf parsley

125g mixed rocket and salad leaves


16 tbsp natural yogurt

8 tbsp extra virgin olive oil


200g little gem lettuce, divided into leaves

4 celery sticks, cut into small pieces

200g ripe gooseberries, halved

4 smoked mackerel fillets

4 small handfuls of ruby chard leaves

croûtons (see below)

4 wedges of unwaxed lemon, to serve


1 tsp celery salt

1 tsp dried basil

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp chilli flakes

1 tsp dried thyme

8 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

approx 15cm length of baguette, cut into small cubes