WITH all this phoney pre-electioneering going on, I couldn’t help but mentally mangle a famous political aphorism as I sat in Ignite and pondered whether or not Edinburgh’s newest Indian restaurant would work. I fear not. It is, as Bill Clinton would have said, had he been partial to a chicken jalfrezi, "all about the location, stupid".
There is something slightly unsettling about sitting in a restaurant that used to be known as something else. In this case, Ignite’s former life was as the traditional and highly rated Brattisani fish-and-chip emporium. Although Ignite ("we will ignite your senses and tantalise your tastebuds", apparently) isn’t exactly trying on dead men’s shoes, the whole scenario reminded me a lot of the various restaurants which have tried to make one particular waterside site in Leith work in the past two years - first there was Rock, then Hugo’s and now La Palourde. If Ignite is to succeed, it will have to overcome the same combination of factors that have bedeviled what is fast becoming known as the Leith Triangle.
For a start, Ignite may be very central, but it is tucked away in the same sort of way that saw the recently departed Rogue (great food and close to loads of office workers, but just not enough passing traffic) go bust late last year. And in the same way that Rock et al suffered by being surrounded by a number of similar but better-positioned restaurants, so Ignite has the long-established and well-known Cavalry Club within a two-minute walk and in a far more prominent location.
Anyway, enough of the doom and gloom. What of the food? Ignite specialises in northern Indian and Bengali cooking, and tries to offer a mixture of traditional favourites and new takes on old dishes, all made with locally sourced ingredients. Leaving aside my initial reservations about the chances of finding capsicum in the cosmopolitan melting pot that is Haymarket, we decided to ease ourselves in to lunch with two old favourites, John choosing the bhari combi (fresh mushrooms stuffed with spiced minced lamb and coated with batter), while I chose the king prawn puri (king prawns cooked with medium spices and served on puffed fried bread).
The bhari combi was excellent, nicely rounded with succulent mushrooms. John’s only misgiving was the fact that they were so perfectly round: he was convinced that they had been mass-produced in one of those warehouses in Glasgow where Indian food is bought by the ton. My prawn puri was similarly good: four disks of non-greasy flatbread lathered with beautifully creamy coriander-infused sauce and succulent prawns the size of a ping-pong ball. Had they been any better, they would be threatening the peerless position of the puri at my local Indian restaurant, Gourock’s Taj Mahal.
Our main courses were just as good as our starters. John used to spend lengthy periods in India as a tour guide and knows his bhuna from his balti. His murgh sarisha (sliced marinated chicken cooked with potato, garlic, tomato, mustard and coriander) got a fairly enthusiastic thumbs-up. I went down a more contemporary road, plumping for the lasooni macchi - a whole pan-fried sea bass cooked with onions, tomatoes, green chillis and fresh coriander. The sauce was rich and tangy without ever becoming too hot, and the fish was nicely moist. But it did make me wonder once again why so many of the fish dishes I order have subtle flavours that are steamrollered by a powerful sauce.
It was only after our meal was over that I noticed we were the only two people in the place on a run-of-the-mill Thursday lunchtime - although, with hindsight, it wasn’t really all that surprising, because most people are still not in the habit of paying 14.50 for a main course in an Indian restaurant, no matter how slick or contemporary it feels.
And Ignite is slick and contemporary - superior Indian food eaten in an upscale environment devoid of flock wallpaper and with excellent service. I hope it succeeds, but in order to do so I suspect the owners will have to be prepared for the long haul.
Ignite, 272 Morrison Street, Haymarket, Edinburgh (0131 228 5666)
out of pocket
Starters 2.95-5.95 Main courses 7.25-14.40 Pudding 2.50-4.25