I’ve recently moved house and it confirmed something. However contemporary-looking the property, there’s always Seventies wallpaper lining the cupboards (and, as decorating the inside of your closet is about as sad as ironing your pants, this will probably never change).
20 Princes Street, Edinburgh (0131-556 4901, www.twentyprincesstreet.co.uk)
This place is a bit like that. It was formerly (and still sort-of half is) the Royal British Hotel, but has now been taken over by the Cairn Group. They’ve fixed up the restaurant, and the bar (now named Juniper), and are moving onto the dated bedrooms and other bits. They will be announcing the new name of the hotel in due course.
Despite the 19th century shell, their refurbished dining room is determinedly contemporary, with curved booths, monochrome striped chairs and, on our visit, a brave mix of house and jazz on the stereo. However, push through the swing doors to the toilets and – ka-pow – we’re back in 1983.
It’ll take a while until the hotel make-over is complete, but it’s clear food and drink is a priority.
The head chef is Tony Sarton, formerly of trendy George Street bar and eatery, Tigerlily. Like the latter, the food is blinging.
For example, a common or garden Mr Claws would’ve done, but these show-offs had to create a starter from the upended stumps of an Alaskan king crab (£10), with its alien-looking knobbly spikes. Its sweet and stringy meat came with a hot chilli and tomato sofrito, a blob of crème fraîche and, for texture, deep fried threads of fennel-salted straw potatoes.
Great, as was the smoked venison (£6.50), presented under a glass cloche filled with swirling hickory smoke, like the dry ice in a Nineties disco. The accompaniments; rich celeriac remoulade, a flurry of microherbs and a drizzle of pale yellow juniper-infused syrup.
Mains were impressive too. A perfectly cooked piece of halibut (£19) came in a bowl of comforting dashi broth, with crinkly, mouse-coloured chanterelles in the mix. The fish was acting as a pontoon, to prevent a sliver of yuzu jelly from dissolving, and an afro of crispy vermicelli noodles from soggifying.
Kudos for theatricality. Luckily, I ordered an additional carb – a side of rust-hued triple-cooked chips (£3), which turned out to be some of the best I’ve ever had.
My dining partner had gone for the rump of lamb (£18) main, which featured spongy slices of meat in a thick pea and mint cream, with a brown-bread-flavoured pea and Parmesan soufflé on the side. Surprisingly homely.
The pudding – “three of our favourite biscuits” (£6) – was a cute concept. The Jammie Dodger – aka vanilla ice-cream laced with blobs of cookie dough and strawberry jam – was a success, as was the perfectly square “custard cream,” made from panna cotta in a biscuit sandwich.
Not sure about the chocolate Hobnob. It consisted of a blob of chocolate ganache, with honey underneath and oats sprinkled on top. Fine, just not particularly Hobby or Nobby. But maybe I’m more of a Jaffa Cake girl.
The dark chocolate fondant (£5.50) ticked the right boxes, with a cocoa-y outer and oozy inner. It came with a smear of passion-fruit pulp and a blob of buttery white chocolate cremeux, which was slotted into a glossy teardrop-shaped chocolate cage.
I was surprised by the food here, it’s good. Yes, it’s faddish in parts and has lots of swagger, but we could do with somewhere like this on Princes Street, and the new owners have had a LOT of cobwebs to blow away. Soon they’ll have the grooviest cupboards in town.
How much? Dinner for two, excluding drinks, £68