Mark Greenaway is a chef who tells it like it is. Bear with me and, using my French Standard Grade skills, I shall translate the name of his new venture into...calculating... Modern Bistro.
This telly chef (he appeared recently on the BBC’s Teen Canteen, and is a veteran of The Great British Menu) already has a one-year-old eatery on Edinburgh’s North Castle Street – the prosaically named Restaurant Mark Greenaway, which was previously at Picardy Place for two years.
If he opens a coffee shop, it will be called My Cafe. Should he have a new career as a plumber, his white van will bear the legend Mark Greenaway Plombier.
This place is in the former premises of Cafe Fish, where a few other establishments – Circus and Zanzero – have also resided over the years. They’ve refreshed the space with a dab of algae-coloured Farrow & Ball and there’s a snooker table-sized specials blackboard hung on the wall.
Whenever I eat Mark Greenaway’s food I think, this was created by a man who once loved Lego. He’s fond of bricks, blocks and cubes, and all their sharp corners and shiny surfaces. Everything has to be fiddled with. Everything.
Classic bistro food, with its mashes and mushes of casserole and potato, seemed a bit of a mismatch.
But, of course, this is a modern bistro, and everything has a twist.
Despite the fact that one person was shouting to an acquaintance three tables along to tell them; “Have the soft shell crab, I had it last week. INCREDIBLE!” I chose chicken terrine (£8). Not purely to spite Mr Loudhailer, but mainly for the accompanying gingerbread sandwich.
The latter looked like a Bourbon biscuit, and would be the ultimate in doggy treats, as it featured spiced bread that was plastered together with a feral chicken liver pâté. It came with a glossy and simple tasting chickeny plank, with a pretty green streak of leek along its roof. There was also a bank of pale yellow piccalilli, which was way too posh to ever be a pork pie’s sidekick.
Ham hough ballotine (£8) was even better. A perfect puck of rich ham-swaddled piggy was topped by a fried quail’s egg and, on the side, was a cloud of smoked pineapple foam. Sounds wrong, but tasted right.
On to the main event, and a Tinkerbell-light piece of red wine poached cod (£14) came with the filthiest helping of polenta we’ve ever had. It had stolen the souls of Parmesan and butter. Stand back vicar, no exorcism required. Draped with voluptuously floppy enoki mushrooms, there was also a pipe of toasted, spiral cut squid and a stocky sauce nero. Lovely.
Our neat portion of braised pork neck (£14) was topped by a prawn cracker. Oh no, wait, that’s the puffed crackling. It was good – not as nice as proper crackling – but fun. Underneath were some soft discs of braised pork neck, with half a gently pickled plum, tender newborn leeks and a salty piggy jus.
There were also shared sides. Although our huge fish dish didn’t need any extras, the pork asked for a bag of garlic potatoes (£3.50), which were studded with chips of sweet roasted garlic. And there was a helping of green beans, feta and gremolata (£3.50). The nice Irish waiter had recommended this, and I’m glad he did.
Puddings are refreshingly inventive and joyous.
Served in a glass, the snowball (£7) was a riff on a Lee’s version, though it turned out to be a ball of white chocolate ice-cream rolled in coconut, served on top of a super soor cherry granita. Would it be possible to eat a whole one? I’m not sure, but I’d be willing to take a hit for the team.
The jam jar (£7) was, unsurprisingly, a jar (Marmite, rather than pickled egg-sized) that was packed with cream, rice pudding, a little cranberry compote and more cream, with a blob of zippy ripple ice-cream on the side. Smashing.
So let’s hope Mark Greenaway doesn’t set up as a plombier. This place is a keeper.
15 North West Circus Place, Edinburgh (0131-225 4431, www.bistromoderne.co.uk)