‘Unimpressed by the atmosphere, we weren’t much cheered by what followed’ - Richard Bath reviews the Mia restaurant, on Edinburgh’s Dalry Road.
RESTAURANTS come and restaurants go, so I tend to have a pretty phlegmatic and Darwinian take about the constant churn. Once in a while, however, an old friend shuffles off the culinary coil and I take a moment to mourn their passing. David Ramsden’s Rogue was one long-lamented casualty, but there have been plenty of others – Daniel’s Bistro in Leith, for example, and Abode in Glasgow. All fall into the gone-but-not-forgotten category.
A year ago, another wounded soldier succumbed. After earlier losing head chef Rosario Sartore to the lure of Locanda Di Gusti and life as an itinerant celebrity chef in the Middle East, the inestimable La Partenope finally stopped trading. This fantastic Italian family restaurant on Dalry Road had been one of the city’s genuine hidden gems, a place frequented largely by Italian families and locals, it served remarkably good, authentic, mainly Neapolitan food and was somewhere worth travelling for.
So it was with huge interest that, while recently eating across the road at the equally beloved First Coast, I spotted the fading La Partenope sign had been taken down and the place had been reopened as Mia – the Italian Restaurant. Pressing my nose up against the window, it was clear the inside had barely changed, save for a fresh coat of paint and the rearrangement of knick-knacks. The menu looked interesting too: far smaller than La Partenope, but considerably cheaper; a pared-down version of what had once surely been the longest menu in Edinburgh.
The only surprise is that it took me almost a week to arrange to come back and eat there, which made it a fortnight after Mia’s opening. I was, it’s fair to say, pretty excited about the evening ahead, and we charged straight in. From the beginning, however, things didn’t go to plan. It’s easy to look back with rose-tinted specs, but one of the things I liked about La Partenope was that the service was efficient but relentlessly friendly; not in the schmaltzy, over-pally way that can get up your nose, but with the easy familiarity and lack of stress that comes when people are happy in their work and treat their customers with care.
Sadly, that was conspicuously missing at Mia, where the good work from our nice waitress from Barcelona was undone by the front of house, a grey-haired Napoleon who exuded stress and who seemed to delight in being unapproachable. “How long have you been open?” I asked. “Two weeks,” came the unsmiling reply. “And where did you work before?” I persisted. “Here and there,” he replied, clearly irked at my curiosity before abruptly leaving.
If we were unimpressed by the atmosphere in the place – and atmosphere was definitely the right word – we weren’t much cheered by what followed. Firstly there was no bread, and looking at our menus we saw that there’s a charge of between £2.50 and £6.95 depending on what type of bread you want – at those prices we wouldn’t have dreamed of ordering any but it would have been nice to have been asked.
The arrival of our food wasn’t a cause for celebration either. Bea spent a while living in Venice as a youngster and loves pasta with clams, so jumped at the chance of a starter of linguine vongole e rucola, which is linguine tossed in fresh clams, garlic, olive oil, rocket and white wine. It was as bland and uninviting as a two-hour Noel Edmonds Christmas special, and she struggled to drum up enough enthusiasm to finish it.
That blandness, however, was like manna from heaven compared to my starter. Bea laughed at me when I said I was ordering the chef’s special risotto, which was cooked in a strawberry, mascarpone and courgette sauce, and she certainly had the last laugh. This was without a doubt the most ill-conceived dish I’ve had since I tried pepper ice-cream. I have a sweet tooth but this was too much for me; it was so much like the Muller rice muck my kids like that I half expected to see a German dancing bear sashay across the restaurant floor in my direction, singing in a faux Bavarian voice as he went.
Sadly for Mia, our next door neighbour for many years was a wonderful guy called Clyde, who used to have a fish van. What the good ladies of Greenock and Port Glasgow didn’t buy on a Friday was invariably offered to us at a knock-down price, so more often than not Friday evening was tuna steak night. So when Bea ordered a main course of tuna steak she had a good idea of what she should expect. In Mia’s defence we were eating on a Sunday night, but this wasn’t a particularly fresh piece of fish, although it was cooked competently and a decent size.
As for my main course, I was significantly less impressed than Bea. My veal was fatty and came in a lumpy marsala sauce that looked as if it had spent too long standing. In fairness, like many of the dishes on a keenly priced menu, it was a bargain at £12.50, but I’m not sure I’d choose it again.
Bea’s cheesecake was rather good; a large chunk of creaminess that disappeared in a heartbeat. My tiramisu was dry, underflavoured and seemingly devoid of booze. But by now I couldn’t really care less and just wanted to leave. Annoyingly, it took ages to get the bill and, when I did, there was no credit card machine. Would I like to walk down the road to the cashpoint? This time it was my turn to be monosyllabic. “No, I wouldn’t. Goodbye.” It was never like this with La Partenope.
96 Dalry Road, Edinburgh (0131-629 1750, www.mia-restaurant.co.uk)
Main courses £7.50-£20.95
Puddings £4.95-£5.95 (cheeseboard £7.95)