54-56 Morningside Road
Dinner for two, excluding drinks,
I like my routine, familiarity, the same dependable things. In a parallel life, I would find my favourite place to eat and I’d go there ad infinitum.
I’d say, “Just the usual” and sit in My Seat by the window. Eventually, when I became an oppressive presence, they’d start giving me free food in return for reducing my visits. Everyone wins.
This new all-day cafe has all the signs of somewhere I’d haunt.
Apart from the fact that it’s nearish my house, the menu is interesting enough, healthy-ish and ridiculously cheap, with all mains under a tenner. Its decor consists of the hipster-by-numbers look. You know, with bare filament bulbs, stripped back walls, industrial memorabilia, reclaimed tables and, in this case, half a wooden rowing boat, Sirius, attached to the wall, like a nautical version of Damien Hirst’s Away From the Flock (Divided).
Sweetly, the menu features a selection of anti-fogmatics – alocoholic drinks that are designed to relieve the ill-effects of rain and haar, according to archaic US medical advice. Beyond booze and brunch, there are also small dishes, sides and mains, which gives some flexibility as to what you spend, and your hunger levels. From the Soup and Salads list, I went for the beetroot and goat’s cheese (£4.50). It was a steal, with meaty chunks of golden and traditionally crimson beetroot, blobs of mild goat-y curd and flecks of cress. Not sure about its accompaniment of blood orange granita, which was pleasant in itself but not particularly as a side-kick to this dish.
The crispy smoked tofu (£4) was another satisfying veggie option, with four battered cubes of tofu, stocky and savoury quinoa, black eyed beans and squares of pickled red pepper.
Served in a big bowl, like supersized Cheerios, we also tried the crunchy coated hoops of soft tempura squid (£4), with a creamy dill-flecked aioli on the side.
My main of slow-cooked chorizo and squid (£8) was rich, super strong and sweet, with a heady hit of smoked paprika and wild garlic. As well as sausagey cubes, the thick tomato ragu featured as many dainty pink legs as, on our visit, were being decanted from Church Hill Theatre, just opposite, after their junior ballet revue.
Our other main – a special of lamb fricassée (£9.50) – consisted of soft meaty pellets, two planks of flattened, caramelised and compacted potato rosti (which tasted more like tattie scone) and a large dollop of onion purée. It was a symphony of brown and beige tasty things (bar the three struts of bright green asparagus).
For pudding, my honey, pear and ginger mess (£4) was served in a tall jamjar, complete with label, which was balanced on a chintzy saucer. I guess this is a take on serving dessert in a Kilner jar or teacup, as trendier restaurants have done in previous years. Here’s a radical thought: I would have preferred a bog-standard bowl.
Anyway, with a long spoon, there were some nice bits to excavate – halved strawberries, a vanilla-speckled whipped cream, blueberries, no apparent pear, bits of preserved ginger, crumbled meringue, all scented by the honey ingredient.
I found the coconut and strawberry cheesecake (£4), which came with a pile of vermouth-sprinkled “boozy berries” a bit bland and milky, but my dining partner was the second opinion, and he loved it.
The earnest owner – who looks about 12 – brought over our bill.
He told us how much work had gone into refurbishing this premises, formerly Basquiat Bistro, and how set they are on keeping the prices low, even though people have told them you can get away with charging more in Morningside.
In my parallel life, I shall be visiting twice a day.