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Cucina at G & V Hotel

17/06/17

Royal Mile, Edinburgh

It was my birthday yesterday, but events conspired to prevent us from celebrating together then (Philip was working in Yorkshire while I was at home in Edinburgh). No matter: the date is only a number, and an excuse for a treat. We’re happy to postpone our pleasure for a day.

We’re lured to Cucina with another bookatable deal (seriously, they’re hard to resist), and are soon happily perusing the Star Menu, drinking our complementary Prosecco  (this is becoming a habit; if we’re not careful, we’ll start expecting a free glass of fizz wherever we go). The decor is quirky: all bright colours and modern surfaces, not as in-your-face ‘designer’ as it used to be in its Hotel Missoni days, but definitely drawing on its previous incarnation’s style. And we’re looking forward to some stylish Italian nosh.

We’re not disappointed. The bread arrives promptly, and there’s a choice (we always appreciate a choice). I opt for a pumpkin seed, while Philip takes the sun-dried tomato. Both are lovely: fresh and chewy and distinctly naughty. We accept the offer of a second slice.

For starters, I choose steamed mussels; these are served in a light tomato sauce with garlic and chilli. They’re exactly as they should be: plump and tender and as moreish as can be. Philip’s homemade conchiglie with pork ragu is also very good indeed, the pasta served al dente with just the right amount of bite, and a deliciously herby pork sauce.

Our mains are good too, although maybe not quite as impressive as the starters. Philip’s BBQ chicken comes with roast potato and spinach, and he’s really impressed with the sauce, which is sweet and densely flavoured without being all thick and sticky and overpowering the dish. My cod with Savoy cabbage, chorizo, potatoes and lemon sauce is – in the main – beautifully cooked, although I don’t eat the skin, which is soft and flabby, and not crispy as I’d like. Still, that’s hardly a meal-ruining issue, and the rest of it is mouthwateringly good.

Would we like a pudding? Of course we would. At first, I’m disappointed with my tiramisu: it’s a light, delicate frothy thing, served in a cocktail glass, all sweetness and air. I’ve been looking forward to a thick slab of marscapone and soggy sponge, and this just doesn’t tick the boxes in my head. But it tastes divine and, actually, once I’ve eaten a few mouthfuls and got down to the sponge, I’m kind of glad it’s what it is. It’s less ‘gromphy’ for sure, but it’s a better ending to the meal we’ve had. Philip has no such qualms about his pud: it’s ice-cream. Readers of this blog might not be aware that, in some circles, Philip is renowned for being the world’s second best ice-cream eater, and he’s keen to try the liquorice, cocoa and pistachio flavours on offer here. He declares them bowl-lickingly good, although he does manage to refrain from actually demonstrating this.

Our bookatable deal even includes coffee and petit fours. Okay, so the tiny pieces of biscotti we receive are somewhat underwhelming, but we’re more than pleased with what we’ve had. Even with the (extra) bottle of Prosecco we’ve consumed, this all comes in at a very reasonable £88. Not bad at all.

4.4 stars

Susan Singfield

Chez Mal Brasserie at Malmaison

28/05/17

Leith, Edinburgh

We’re here because some of bookatable.co.uk’s deals are just too good to ignore, and this one – three courses and a glass of Prosecco at the Chez Mal Brasserie for a mere £19.95 – seems like particularly good value for money. It’s in Leith too, which is an added draw: it’s a rare part of our adopted hometown that we’ve yet to explore. So we plot a route on google maps, lace up our walking boots, and set off through the city and along the Waters of Leith. Eight kilometres and ninety minutes later, we arrive at Malmaison, feeling more than ready for this little treat.

Its location is wonderful: a cobbled street on the waterfront. The building dates back to 1883, and its maritime history is echoed in the quirky artwork that decorates the bare stone walls. Service is friendly, and our Proseccos arrive quickly. The Spring fixed-price menu offers four options per course, all of which sound interesting (and, even without the bookatable deal, it’s still only £24.95). We order promptly – being hungry makes us decisive – and select a bottle of French languedoc to accompany our meals. The wine is soon delivered, and is sliding down very nicely… but something seems to have gone awry. Where is our food?

Just as we’re getting to the neck-craning stage (did the people at the next table come in after us? They seem to be on their second courses already), a waiter appears with some complementary bread and apologises for the delay, citing a mix-up in the kitchen. We’re glad of the bread, which is absolutely delicious, and served with both a rich salty butter and an olive oil/balsamic combo. But we do devour it a little too enthusiastically (did I mention that we’re hungry?), perhaps spoiling our appetites for what’s to come.

The starters appear soon afterwards, and they’re good. Philip’s grilled masala spiced mackerel with sweet potato and lime pickle and a cumin raita is especially tasty: the robust fish perfectly enhanced by the sharply pickled veg. My spring lamb Benedict is also nicely done, but there’s a reason it’s usually made with ham, and that’s the saltiness. The lamb and egg together, especially atop the brioche toast, are perhaps a little too rich, with nothing to cut through it all.

Philip’s main is a chicken Milanese, which is a breaded chicken breast with a Burford brown fried egg, truffle mayonnaise and rainbow chard. It’s indisputably well-cooked, and there’s not much here to criticise, but neither is there much to laud. It’s, well, okay. Quite nice. Y’know. My pan-fried river trout is a bit better: the fish is beautifully cooked with a crispy skin, and the pea and broad bean purée accompanying it is lovely. But it still feels like it could do with… I don’t know what, just to elevate it into something better, something more.

The puddings are delicious though; hats off to the pastry chef. We share two. The first is a warm Valrhona caramel chocolate brownie, a rich, sumptuous temptation, which is served with the most more-ish ice cream I’ve ever tasted, a brown butter pecan concoction. Yum. Second is a rhubarb trifle, the creamy vanilla custard and rhubarb jelly offset perfectly by sharp, almost sour pieces of the eponymous fruit, and a spicy ginger crumble. These make for a very satisfactory end to our evening, and we wander off into the Leith evening, ready to walk off our excess.

3.8 stars

Susan Singfield