ON THIS site Sept. 5, 1782 nothing happened.
So says the plaque outside this friendly new wine and cocktail bar, restaurant and four bedroom hotel.
Clouds & Soil
4 Picadilly Place, Edinburgh
Dinner for two, excluding drinks: £49.55
I’m sure that, since the 18th century, plenty has gone down. Sadly, I haven’t been a witness to much of it, due to a 38 and three quarter year run of early nights, but this venue has been various lively pubs, from the Fiddler’s Elbow to GHQ.
Just downstairs is Chalky’s Late Night Lounge. Shenanigans. One can only imagine.
Clouds & Soil, which is from the people behind Leith’s Bond No.9 bar, is probably one of the venue’s classier incarnations.
It suits the Georgian townhouse, which looks scandalised at the partying that’s going on in its bowels. Now, there’s a word you don’t want to hear in the context of a restaurant review. My editor doesn’t usually let me use it, but Clouds & Soil obviously didn’t read the memo about inappropriate semantics when selling/discussing food.
There is no rest for the kitchen staff, with a bar list of plates, sliders and boards served from 11am-midnight, an 11am-4pm set lunch and an à la carte, available from 4pm-9:30pm. We ordered from the latter, which featured some rather prosaic starters, including one too many varieties of soup, with Cullen skink (£5.50) and cream of broccoli (£4.50).
I went for an artichoke salad (£5.25) and my other half opted for the pulled pork samosas (£5.95). Served on a slate, his pair of meaty scalenes were surprisingly satisfying, with sea salted and crisp bubbly shells, a filling of herby shredded pink meat and a chunky raita on the side.
My salad featured halved spears of faded asparagus, with their delicate flavour stamped out by an astringent fennel-seedy vinegar. There was also some obligatory rocket, grated carrot and a few draped ribbons of roasted red pepper, as well as pickled artichoke chunks and mushrooms.
I felt like I’d been drop-kicked by piccalilli, then slam-dunked by a jar of Branston.
Happily, my main – the rosemary-baked short rib (£13.95) – was like a savoury dock leaf to the burning nettle of acidity. The slab of beef was so soft that it unravelled like a badly made hand-knitted jumper if you tugged at its fibres. Though it was supposed to come with “butterbean potato mash”, a pile of rough tattie mash was decent enough, as was the sweet and earthy mushroom gravy.
My only bugbear was that the bone, which may or may not be the same that the meat was once attached to, had been scrubbed up and placed across the bowl in an ornamental fashion. It was huge – an obstruction – and kind of pointless, unless you wanted to take it home for scrimshaw practise.
If I had 50p for every time I’ve been presented with a soft skinned piece of fish, then I’d spend a lot more time using my office canteen vending machine. And here was yet another, to be peeled off and flung asunder, like a wet dressing gown. Aside from that, the grilled seabass (£12.50) was good, with accompaniments of chorizo buttons, two bunches of confit cherry tomatoes, slightly floury and chewy gnocchi, and some bright green sweet parsley and garden pea cream sauce.
I think £5.95 was a bit much to pay for a low-fi dessert like my petite chocolate orange brownie, which came with a blob of vanilla ice-cream on top. According to my calculator, that’s approx 37p a bite. Like ashes in a cheapskate’s mouth.
We enjoyed the unsophisticated pleasure that was the fluffy topped and crunchy ginger biscuit-bottomed white chocolate cheesecake (£5.95), though it was more like a vanilla version, and its overly hyped “caramelised blueberries” turned out to be a spoonful of berries drizzled with syrup.
Here’s another thing that happened at 4 Picardy Place since Sept. 5, 1782. I had a decent meal in a pleasant hang-out, then went home for my 13,703rd early night. Put that on your plaque.
• 4 Picardy Place, Edinburgh, 0131-629 2728, www.cloudsandsoil.com