Although most of the trauma has been blotted out, my visit involved cold seafood, batty service and a coffee that never came, amongst other foodie faux pas. I never returned.
So I was pleased to see the team behind the successful Italian Scottish eatery, Rocca Bar and Grill in St Andrews, with its three AA rosettes, had taken over. They’ve refreshed the space with chrome globe lights, booths and glass panels to separate the two levels. To those bereft of a canteen, it looks very come-hither.
However, apart from a conference party, who were queueing up for a sandwich platter, it was dead on our visit. But it’s a tricky part of town. There’s a street’s worth of student accommodation, but that lot live off Super Noodles and Apple Sourz. It’s beside the Scottish Parliament, but they have their own restaurant. As for the journalists at The Scotsman office, we tend to forage for roots, shoots, carrion and earthworms on nearby Arthur’s Seat. The more feral of us have gone a bit Sawney Bean.
Starters at Rocca are rather disparately priced. Ham hough terrine – a small block of decent, gelatinous piggy, accompanied by two triangles of toast and some jar-standard piccalilli – was overpriced at £7.30, while a trio of gobstopper-sized arancini were only £4.95. The latter were crispy-coated, but a bit glue-y inside and bland overall, with tiny nibs of mozzarella amongst the tomatoey risotto goo. Starter fail.
Mains range in price from £8.95 to £17.95. My Atlantic cod (£14.90) was surprisingly good. There was an office stapler-sized piece of fish, which was sloshed in magnolia-coloured lemon butter sauce. The latter was dotted with capers, still crunchy commas of Swiss chard stem and ribbons of its dark green leaves. This dish also came with potato two ways – mashed and as a little tower of dauphinoise. Thus, our choices of side dishes – truffle chips, and sweet and sour onions (£3.50 each) – were rendered somewhat redundant. But, as these didn’t come until we’d half finished our mains, they were taken off the bill without prompting, and they happily doggy-bagged them up for me. I ate them later in the afternoon – the skinny fries were scattered with grated Parmesan (no truffle), and the dreamy balsamic-marinated onions, sprinkled with chives, were as sweet, dark and caramelised as Moffat toffee.
Our other main – chicken saltimbocca (£12.75) – featured two ham-swaddled pieces of chicken breast, stuffed with a pancetta and sage mixture. These meaty parcels were a bit dry, even with a large and granular splodge of pea purée. There was also a block of orange polenta, which was pleasingly cheesy, but we’re not sure what the florets of naked and al dente cauliflower were supposed to bring to the party. Gatecrashers.
Puddings were a high point. The tiramisu (£6.95) was a tumbler-full of cocoa-dusted and slick custard, which contained the occasional tip of sponge finger. It came with a cocoa sorbet that was rich, dark and pleasingly ashen-tasting, while, a brick of yellow, wet and crumbly lemon polenta cake (£6.50) was paired with a shot glass full of Limoncello granita on the side (though, if you downed this, you’d be hospitalised with brain freeze). Just what was needed before resuming the position at one’s desk.
This isn’t the most exciting place in town, but it’s definitely the best within sight of my office. Welcome to the neighbourhood, guys.
How much? Lunch for two, excluding drinks, £53.35
Macdonald Holyrood Hotel, 81 Holyrood Road, Edinburgh
(0131-550 4520, www.roccaedinburgh.co.uk)