We are in Edinburgh city centre on a Sunday afternoon. It is the time of year I drag my children around the people-packed streets in search of free Fringe delights before one of us starts wailing that it’s too busy/cold/wet to go one performance artist further – usually me. Having dodged a bloke wielding balloons shaped like swords, caught the end of a hula-hooping acrobat’s show and missed the fire eater eating any fire, it’s time to meet my parents for dinner.
I point my daughters in the direction of what I hope will be the star of the show, Café Marlayne, the Antigua Street restaurant (there is a smaller sister restaurant on Thistle Street) that offers French bistro-style food, as well as a simple, keenly priced, children’s menu.
From outside, the Antigua Street site could be mistaken for a simple cafe. However, once through the small, quirky coffee shop front, the place opens up to a spacious dining area. Below high ceilings are green model birds in cages, paper flower shades and a disco ball. One charcoal grey wall is adorned with artworks, while striped wallpaper and booth seating add to the slightly retro feel.
Our drinks order is promptly taken and we opt for a bottle of the house white wine (£17.50), simply because the description that it is as well balanced as stunt cyclist Danny MacAskill makes me laugh (and it turns out to be perfectly decent). Elder daughter chooses chicken goujons and chips, which get a thumbs-up; her sister chooses sausage and mash, although there turns out to be no mash, so chips for her too, with a glass of fruit cordial or milk, followed by dessert (£3.50).
The menu offers eight starters and ten mains, including two vegetarian options. To start, Mum plumps for cured herring with potato and herb salad (£4.80), which has a deliciously tart dressing to go with the generous rollmop. Dad chooses Thai fishcakes with mango, spring onion and peanut salad (£5.50). The fishcakes are plump, well-packed patties of fresh salmon, with a mild spice to the flavouring.
I choose Terrine de Campagne (£5.30), to be served with spinach, roast courgette and pine nut salad, parsley dressing and pineapple chutney. It’s a generous slab of the coarse pâté and the chunky meatiness works well with the spinach and pineapple flavour. A perfectly cooked boiled egg is served, in place, I’m guessing, of the courgette.
"I have eaten here in the past and
enjoyed a much better experience"
Gressingham duck breast served with burnt apple compote, streaky bacon, sweet potato fondant and maple syrup jus (£13.70) is Mum’s choice for a main. It is well presented, but the duck isn’t particularly hot, and the bacon has gone the way of the apple compote and is more cinder than crisp. The duck has a lovely flavour and the taste contrasts well with the fondant, however, as a whole it’s disappointing.
Dad finds it impossible to bypass the rib-eye steak (£14.20), which is served with grilled cherry tomatoes and drips with garlic butter, with the fries served in a little metal pail. He might have preferred man-sized chips, but the steak is well cooked.
I choose fillet of hake with a summer ragu of carrots, onions, courgette, peas, haricot beans and crème fraîche. The hake is a large, fleshy fillet atop a bland vegetable bed; with the crème fraîche it’s almost soupy and all a little nondescript.
Dessert is included as part of the children’s menu and this turns out to be a smaller portion of the regular desserts named on the blackboard, so the girls plump for chocolate brownie, which is gluten free, and chocolate fudge cake.
The adults have also been eyeing the blackboard only to be told that, because the Festival started the day before, the restaurant has been particularly busy and there hasn’t been time to replenish the usual homemade desserts. So our three favourites – sticky toffee pudding, banoffee pie and red velvet cake – are all off today’s list.
We settle for a chocolate fudge cake (£2.95), which is a rich, intense dollop of chocolatey-fudginess, and a baked maple cheesecake (£2.95), which is delicious, but so creamy I do wonder whether it needs another helping of cream on the side.
Staff are helpful throughout, although our wait between courses is lengthy even though the restaurant isn’t busy. The final food bill comes to £68.90 for three adults and two children.
You get the feeling that this place enjoys a regular clientele, which suggests it is normally a strong performer. And I have eaten here in the past and enjoyed a much better experience, but this time it wasn’t the “must see” show we had hoped for.
Children’s menu £3.50
ALSO ON THE MENU
There is an all-day snacks menu with everything from grilled paninis (£4.50), open sandwiches on sourdough bread (from £5.20), croque monsieur (£4.50) and salade niçoise (£4.90) to homemade quinoa veggie cheeseburger, coleslaw and frites (£10.60) and homemade cheeseburger with coleslaw and frites (£11.80).
13 Antigua Street, Edinburgh (0131-558 8244, www.cafemarlayne.com)