THE décor is a bit severe isn’t it?” said the man who’d come in to book a table. “You should have got Kelly Hoppen to do it”.
11 Roseneath Street,Edinburgh
Dinner for two, excluding drinks, £60.35
“Isn’t she a designer from the Sixties?” replied the waiter/owner.
“No, no, no, she’s contemporary,” he said, knocking at their slate grey and white wall. “She said she got her MBE for making beige exciting.”
For someone like me, earwigging on this kind of conversation is one of the very few joys of being the sole diners in a restaurant.
Still, Wednesdays aren’t known for being busy, and maybe this 17-year-old institution just isn’t drawing in passers-by with its new look. I’ve wanted to visit forever, but never had an excuse to, until I discovered they’d relatively recently come under new management.
Fish has always been their thing, and they source it from Eddie’s Seafood Market, just four doors along this Marchmont street.
Our two starters – garden pea veloute with salted cod goujons (£6.50) and sea bass escabeche (£6.95) – were decent enough. The latter featured a satisfyingly firm, vinegary and limey fillet of fish, with, on the side, a tower of buttery avocado mousse to balance out the acidity.
My bowlful of pea puree was smooth and sweet, with hints of caraway. I’d imagined that this came with salted-cod goujons, but these were more like salted cod-goujons. Still, the pair of crunchily coated fish nuggets were meaty and as fresh as an early morning Loony Dook.
Onto mains and the slices of Gressingham duck (£18.50) breast were rather dry and overcooked, with a cardboard-coloured-ness that was thrown into stark relief by the fact that the waiter had pre-warned me that this would be served “quite pink”. If this is pink, then Elsa Schiaparelli must have designed a colour called shocking brown.
It came with a sweet potato and ginger mash that had a swampy texture, interspersed by solid nodules, which were slowly drifting off, like orange dinghies, into a pool of port and redcurrant glaze.
Maybe they should stick to their fishy forte, as the cod (£16.95) was much better. This fillet came with a lottery of pale gnocchi, some of which were perfect, others still a little floury inside, and a good paprika, red onion and coriander-spiked tomatoey broth, with scraps of chilli-ish chorizo in the mix. Good.
For pudding, the Border apple and butterscotch crumble (£5.50) was the owner/waiter’s recommendation, as he’d picked the pommes from his own garden. It was chunky and gooey and hot and crunchy in all the right ratios and places, with a jug of single cream to slosh on top.
Our other option – dark chocolate espresso ganache (£5.95) – was served in a cappuccino cup. It featured a basement level of gooey soft choco, which was topped with a watery layer of Bailey’s-infused cream. Dunked into this was a crag of honey-laced cinder toffee, making for an insanely sugary treat for those who like their tablet coated in sugar and injected with syrup. I’m not proud to say that I might just be one of those people. So, if you stick to the fish, this place is pretty good, if slightly lacking focus.
I’m not sure if Sweet Melinda’s wants to be a fine-dining establishment (evidence: the classy music, the micro-herbs heaped onto every savoury course, the prices, the wine matched to each dish, the linen tablecloths), or a neighbourhood bistro (the food and casual over-sharing of the very nice staff member, who, when I asked for apple juice, told me he hadn’t had time to go to the cash and carry because another member of staff had been ill).
Perhaps they need to make a decision, and even Kelly Hoppen MBE can’t help them with that.
• Sweet Melinda’s, 11 Roseneath Street, Edinburgh (0131-229 7953, www.sweetmelindas.co.uk)