The problem with being a restaurant reviewer is that you have to pretend to like fancy stuff.
You chew your way through the fermented ortolan lung, or deconstructed croquembouche, but the whole time you’re thinking; “Yes, but it’s not fish and chips”.
Thus, I was very excited when this place, from the Vittoria group, who own five other Edinburgh restaurants, including Taste of Italy and La Favorita, popped up.
It’s in St John’s Church – once Khushi’s and, aeons ago, Byzantium, where there were two levels of antique and vintage shops, and a place upstairs where my teenage self enjoyed many a baked potato with hummus.
For the new 300 cover restaurant, they’ve gone with a heavily branded northern English seaside theme.
There’s no Blackpool rock, though you will find a wall of saucy postcards, one of those photo boards (of people in stripy swimwear, with cut outs for you to stick your head through) and snaps of celebrities eating fish and chips (Camilla Parker Bowles looks incandescent).
They have octopi murals on the wall, booths and placemats with fun facts including; “Fish and chips was served in newspaper until the 1980s”.
Bring it back, I say, I don’t mind having a strapline transferred on to my pickled egg.
The menu is extensive, with steak pie, mussels, chowder and curry, as well as the star billing – “proper fish and chips” (as opposed to the sort made from beef or MDF off-cuts, I suppose).
For starters, we shared the Scotch egg (£6.50), which was pretty good, with a gummy centred egg and a black pudding infused sausagey cladding, It came with a blob of their clever invention – a sweet and piquant beetroot chutney.
We’d also gone for a few flimsy slices of halloumi (£5.50), which had only been tickled by the grill, so were cold. We weren’t keen on the “salsa” that came with this option.
For mains, though I’d tried to sell them the curry, none of my party were willing to stray far from the fish supper theme.
Then, someone – let’s call him, The Winner – did a teary puppy dog nobody-ever-feeds-me wounded heart thing and bagged the haddock and chips (£10.95) option.
It consisted of a silky centred slab of crispy battered fish, chips that are described as “twice cooked”, but are, thankfully, just chipper chips, with the usual big fatties and skinny crunchy golden shards in attendance.
This comes with a nicely chunky tartare sauce, and they provide Edinburgh-style brown sauce, in a squirt-y bottle, as well as vinegar and all the other accoutrements. Great.
I had taken a hit for the team and gone for the vegan fish and chips (£9.95). The meat had been replaced by a thick slice of aubergine wrapped in seaweed. Flavour-wise, it was OK, if slightly bland, though don’t try it if you’re texturally sensitive, as the extreme soggy-ness was reminiscent of microwaved slug.
Their “Bertie’s fritto” (£12.95) supper wasn’t bad, with a frying cage prop that contained uniform sized battered cod bites, three pieces of soft and burly Whitby scampi (the best bit) and six squid rings, plus the chip and tartare trimmings.
I really admire the commitment of those who will now go on to have a deep fried chocolate bar. Here, you can choose from a Mars, Bounty, Snickers, a box of Black Magic or a duty free Toblerone (£5.50), each with ice-cream and raspberry sauce.
Us lightweights shared the caramel apple crumble (£5.50) – canteeny, with tiny cubes of fudge in the stewed fruit and a layer of dusty and sugary gluten free topping. There was a jug of canary yellow custard too.
Anyway, dining here is a decent experience, though the otherwise friendly service is slightly shonky (one of us got their main before starters were finished, and Smug Haddock Boy asked for a cup of tea alongside his, but it didn’t come).
Despite this, I was glad to have a break from spiralised rabbit’s sternum to satisfy my more basic cravings.
NB Just joking about the Toblerone/Black Magic.