YOU DID it!” There’s a scene in the film Elf where the eponymous character (played by Will Ferrell) goes into a New York greasy spoon to congratulate them after he spots a World’s Best Cup of Coffee sign in their window. Calling your restaurant La Petite Mort (an idiom for an orgasm) might also be setting yourself up for customer disappointment.
Still, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of swagger. Not that the people at this place, in the back room of Bennets, are arrogant. They seem dead nice.
The whole place has been painted in a thundery blue/grey, with bookcases that feature charity shop spoils, including a collection of whisky jugs. Cocktails are their thing, especially porthole versions, which come in a crazy-looking infusion device, which resembles a transparent tombola, but I went for a plain old and very nice elderflower gin fizz (£5.95).
The menu is fun, though there is no pre-theatre yet, which is surprising considering they’re practically nestled into the armpit of the King’s Theatre. Talking of that stinky body zone, my starter of black pudding and goats cheese bonbons (£5.95) featured three breadcrumbed bollards of feral and iron-y wild garlic-strewn mush. These came on blankets of “fennel-seeded courgette confit ribbons” to add a bit of fleshy moisture to the mix.
Our pan-seared scallops (£7.95) were a little underdone, with each sitting on a squeaky mattress of home-smoked halloumi. Some might find the salty cheese too overpowering for the seafood, but I enjoyed the textural contrast of bounce and squelch.
Both starters were lacking a little something to lift them. The scallops’ accompanying sauce vierge wasn’t quite zesty or acidic enough, and I craved a touch of sweetness with my bonbons (as the actress said to the bishop). Still enjoyable, though.
The sugary of tooth will love the pan-fried fillet of seabass (£12.95), which was as close to a dessert as a fish dish can be. There was a crispy skinned fillet on a rack of soft aubergine wedges, each of which was suspended in a sesame seed-studded and honey-injected tempura batter. If that’s not Willy Wonka-fied enough for you, there were also a couple of dollops of celeriac and apple purée. Not for everyone, I understand, but all the more for me.
The trio of pork (£13.95) was like an audition for a pig to show off its best tricks. A pulled pork sausage roll was impressive, with a fennel seed-dusted pastry and soft, shredded contents full of nibbly bits of carrot; braised cheek, served on a dollop of spinach, was an unctuous blob of elemental protein, but two wedges of white fillet were a little dry, which wasn’t helped by the tight application of red wine jus. There was also a block of potato fondant, which was saturated with butter, like a sponge in a bucket of water.
Sadly, when it came to desserts, our Earl Grey chocolate fondant (£4.95) was slightly burnt and its presumably once runny innards had coagulated.
It came with a scoop of suspiciously yellow vanilla ice-cream but the lovely waitress/owner ‘fessed up that it was Wall’s,
since they’d had a freezer malfunction. “We usually serve it with an artisan ice-cream,” she said, before offering a gratis cuppa as compensation.
I couldn’t really taste any vodka in my White Russian set cheesecake (£4.95), but there was a hint of milky coffee in its sticky lotion of a topping, which came on top of a buttery base of disassembled Hobnobs. There were also three transparent cubes of Black Russian jelly – wobbly shots of vodka and coffee liqueur.
“So, does this place make the earth move for you?” I asked my dining partner.
“Almost,” he replied. “But that could just have been a bus going by on Lothian Road.” I’d say they’ve nearly done it.