It would seem that Morrison Street is undergoing something of a renaissance. With the Jolly Botanist gin bar, which has firmly swept away any cobwebs from its site in the former Spider’s Web bar at the Haymarket end, to the cocktail-friendly Lebowskis close to Lothian Road, the area is fast becoming a destination in itself.
Adding to the attraction is Brasserie Les Amis, a welcoming spot to enjoy a mix of French and Scottish food at reasonable prices. Drop in for breakfast, as well as coffee and cake, and there’s a deli counter; lunch offers a well-priced two courses for £14.95, while dinner has two courses for £19.95.
"I’m expecting the restaurant’s visual flair to translate to each plate"
Headed up by a father and daughter team who have utterly transformed the former Murray’s Tool Store into a light-filled, mirrored gem of a space, there is a real sense of walking into a glitzy French brasserie, which reinforces the impression that this is an area worth checking out.
There are four of us meeting for dinner, drawn like moths by the light of the brasserie on a gloomy Thursday evening. The interior is a mix of wood, opaque glass panels, metro-style white tiles and mirrors. Forget your cosy, neighbourhood-bistro style, this is bright and elegant yet relaxed, from the mustard-yellow button-back banquette seating running down one wall to the crisp white tablecloths used for dinner.
There is a fine wine menu (with prices starting around the £50 mark), however there is a more than decent selection of wallet-friendly reds and whites too. We opt for a Château Grand Bireau Bordeaux Blanc, which is excellent, and at £21 seems like very good value.
There are five starter options and five mains from a menu that changes regularly. Tracey starts with Rillettes de Cochon, with gherkins, croutons and salad, but, expecting something with a bit of a kick to it, sadly finds the pork erring on the bland side. Alison and Helen both plump for Salade de Chèvre Chaud, which is grilled goat’s cheese and honey on toast, with lardons and roasted red pepper salad. Disappointingly, there doesn’t seem to be quite enough of the goat’s cheese, while the salad is more of a mixed affair rather than the specified roasted pepper and all the flavour that might have brought.
I choose a dish I’ve never tried, Moules à la Citronelle. The steamed mussels are cooked in white wine with lemongrass, fresh chilli and lemon juice. Served in a fairly upright pot, you have to get quite a way through the chillis and small lemon slices before reaching the flavoursome white wine, which feels too much like hard work.
Main courses range from pan-fried halibut to slow-cooked rabbit leg. Bypassing the bunny, Tracey chooses the veggie option of Tian Provençal, which is a delicious stack of aubergine, spinach, tomato and goat’s cheese, served with roasted baby potatoes. It’s a lovely combination of flavours, however, for a main course a single stack of veg seems a little spartan and a second would have been more than welcome.
Helen goes for the Magret de Canard, with the pan-roasted duck breast served in a Madeira sauce with root vegetables. Perhaps because the restaurant itself looks so good, I’m expecting that visual flair to translate to each plate, but this appears a little ordinary, however, taste-wise it is spot on with the meat still pink in a rich, flavoursome sauce.
Alison and I both choose Entrecôte, which is a grilled rib-eye steak served with a green peppercorn and cognac cream sauce, hand-cut chips and salad. Ordering prompts a brief discussion about what constitutes medium rare in the French school of steak cooking, and our friendly waiter guides us into making wise choices. This isn’t the most exciting-looking dish either, but it’s a generous piece of steak and the flavour is excellent. The milder green peppercorns add enough of an edge to the cream sauce without overwhelming it, but the salad seems little more than an afterthought.
The patisserie-style desserts, however, both look and taste the part. The coffee-soaked almond sponge opera cake layered with buttercream and covered in a shiny chocolate glaze is beautifully presented with a swirl of red coulis and a cape gooseberry perched in an extra dollop of cream. The pear and almond tart is generous, equally delicious and again beautifully presented. The cheese platter is made up of four good quality cheeses and is a fine choice to linger over.
The end result is a slightly mixed bag for our group of four, but this is a young restaurant just finding its feet. I love the look and feel of this place, and cement-grey Morrison Street could do with all the bright, shiny new friends it can get.
Lunch Two courses, £14.95; three courses, £18.95
Dinner Two courses, £19.95; three courses, £24.95
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This feels like the kind of space you could drop in at any time throughout the day and I like the sound of the savoury crêpes (£7.50). Afternoon tea is planned from 3.30pm-5pm, and from 5.30pm-7pm you can enjoy Les Aperitifs with a glass of beer or wine and savoury nibbles.