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Cheese Lounge by IJ Mellis, Edinburgh, restaurant review

The bijou back room of IJ Mellis’s Morningside shop serves the stuff of dreams, discovers Cat Thomson.

Published: April 16, 2019
Food: 
8/10
Ambience: 
8/10

Like Wallace from the Aardman Animations movies, I’m just crackers about cheese. So I’m delighted to sample the stuff of my dreams at this eatery whose name conjures up images of a hip jazz club, but is actually the modest back room of IJ Mellis’s shop.

Its food philosophy is simple. You don’t have to over-complicate things – people appreciate good food, simply prepared, accompanied by a glass of wine or beer.

The whiff of le fromage has our nostrils flaring before we set foot in the place. The fella and I hit cheddar paradise with our olfactory areas bursting into overdrive. To avoid distraction we close our eyes to the tempting produce covering the groaning counter.

Iain Mellis has been mongering cheese for more than 25 years, initially opening a shop on Edinburgh’s Victoria Street. Since then he has collated a staggering array of fine artisanal delights for his loyal customers in his stores in Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews.

The lounge itself is located behind a glass door. Enter, and you could be in a bar in rural France. The bijou room has tiled walls and floors, marble-topped café tables and dark mismatched chairs.

‘I would never have envisaged roasting an entire slab of feta drizzled with oil and cherry tomatoes. The heat changes the texture, making it yielding and even more delicious’

We order a jewel box of olives, divine salty brine-soaked orbs of all sizes and colours, nestling in the dish with whole garlic cloves. The waiter must have read my mind, as they arrive accompanied by a bottle of tap water and two tumblers.

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To get in the mood, as the cosmopolitan Europhiles that we are, we sip white Viognier plonk and a Belgian Leffe. But if you have a particular wine pairing in mind, a modest £4 corkage charge means any of the fine wines they sell can be quaffed.

I must have the luck of the Irish. The fella orders a scotch egg, and as only
the vegetarian version is left, we both have a chance to sample this layered treasure, cut in half to reveal its innards with two wedges of Cashel blue on the side.

We select both the red pepper goat’s curd and the French onion soup, which arrive piping hot. The pepper soup du jour is a gorgeous fiery red shade but hidden under the surface are spoonfuls of smooth-tasting, velvet-like milk paleness, simply a marriage made in heaven.

The classic French onion is declared “spot on”, a perfect balance between sweet caramelised onions and wonderful salty broth. Three slices of roasted cheesy sourdough toast are more than enough to mop up every last drop.

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At another table, three stylish Americans reminisce fondly about staying in Paris. The poor waiter remains unfazed by the revelation that one person is dairy and gluten intolerant. Instead, he calmly opens a box of free-from crackers to accompany a plateful of charcuterie. “Well done lad,” as Wallace would say.

My fella goes off script with a flavour-packed plateful of sardines on toast, while I experience a new taste sensation.

I am a big fan of salted feta in a salad, however, I would never have envisaged roasting an entire slab of feta drizzled with oil and cherry tomatoes.

The heat changes the texture of the cheese, making it softly yielding and even more delicious. This is a dish that I would return for.

Other options are baked Camembert or raclette, potatoes and finocchiona, but, readers, I do know my limits.

Instead, to end my meal, I opted for a sweet custard-filled pastel de nata. This Portuguese pastry was a flaky, buttery delight, which I paired with a bitter Americano coffee.

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With no cheese in the fridge at home we take advantage of local advice from a Morningside regular who suggests purchasing some Morbier.

This is an ivory-coloured, semi-soft fromage from the Franche-Comté region which has a dark vein of ash in the middle. An impeccable choice.

The dairy industry seems constantly in the news at the moment, with the growth of veganism, the focus on animal cruelty, and other environmental issues.

Five Scottish artisan cheesemakers have launched an urgent crowdfunding campaign, to help fund a judicial review into the new raw milk regulations which threaten their livelihood.

I respect and understand the complexities of both sides of the milky debate and believe ultimately it comes down to personal dietary decisions. Therefore I know this review will not appeal to everyone.

However, if dairy is your thing, you must get along to Morningside for a slice of the good stuff.

Cheese Lounge by IJ Mellis Edinburgh

330 Morningside Road, Edinburgh EH10 4QJ

(0131-447 8889, www.mellischeese.net)

No 1 The Grange, Edinburgh, restaurant review

Catriona is based in the Scottish Borders and works as part of the audiovisual team at the Scotsman but she reviews restaurants for Scotland on Sunday and writes for Scotsman Food and Drink in her spare time.

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