Herbs can be divisive.
Especially coriander, which splits the crowd more than Marmite or Coldplay. I have a complicated relationship with dill, thanks to my experience of boil in the bag fish back in the Eighties. Also, though I grow oregano in my garden, it’s snubbed until the tiny leaves turn black, while the rosemary gets coddled, stroked and trimmed all the time, like a Norwegian Forest in a cat café. Mint, tarragon, basil, sage, sweet cicely and chives, I love them all.
Lovage, though, is a bit of an archaic herb. It’s part of the parsley family, but tastes more like celery. According to Herbarium by Caz Hildebrand (£16.95, Thames & Hudson, out 25 August) travellers used to slip this plant into their shoes as a deodoriser.
So, this new eatery has, sort of, named itself after a medieval Odor-Eater. Its website explains that the owners, brothers Lukasz and Bartek Jedrejek, have varying experience including working in biomedical science and at Tom Kitchin’s Scran & Scallie gastro pub.
This is their first venture together, in the former premises of Stac Polly. Although the interior is quite plain, we liked the pretty rustic plates, with surfaces like beach pebbles, and long-handled cutlery that resembled Game of Thrones weapons for hamsters. Thus, I will forgive them Michael Bublé on the stereo.
In a restaurant whose neighbour is vegetarian eatery David Bann, they’ve created a few interesting options for meat-free-munchers.
For example, my beautifully presented and pea-shoot strewn wild garlic panna cotta (£6.95) was a dream.
There was a brick of savoury, creamy, perfectly seasoned wobbliness, with a smudge of green tasting garlic purée on the side, as well as a couple of baby carrots, Parmesan crisps and cuckoo spit puffs of lovage foam.
A meaty starter of soft pork belly (£7.95), with a crackling lid, was beautiful too. It came with charred baby leeks, and there was a satisfying depth from the porter, chorizo and buckwheat ingredients lifted by the apple purée and horseradish.
I’d gone for the hake (£17.95) main course, mainly for its tempura mussels, which didn’t quite work, as their potentially crispy jackets were more like spongy packing foam fleeces. Still, the flavour was there, and the fillet of fish had a beautifully crunchy skin, with vivid and bouncy green broad beans on the side.
This dish also came with quinoa, which can be boring, but this tasted sweet and smoky.
Our chicken supreme (£17.95) was great too. It came with a risotto of summer veg featuring carrot, green beans and broccoli, with a salty and buttery sauce through the rice mixture, and a tanginess from three blobs of fluffed up crème fraîche.
My pudding of honeycomb (£6.75) was a tiny fail. Don’t mess with classic cinder toffee, I’d say, or you risk dashing expectations of a “thank Crunchie it’s Friday” moment.
This semi-transparent version looked like something in the geology section of a museum and tasted like honey and lemon, but was chewy rather than crumbly and almost impossible to eat without yanking out a molar.
At least the other elements on the plate were good. There was a pine sorbet, with just a hint of its billed ingredient (so it wasn’t like licking an Air Wick plug-in), some milky coffee-infused custard, strawberries, tiny bits of citrus jelly and strips of candied lemon. Bit of a selection of oddments, but fun.
Our dark chocolate fondant (£6.75) was an oozing-in-the-middle delight. It came with a zingy blackcurrant coulis – a nice change from raspberry – and dried milk skins, which had textural interest but not much else.
But, wow, this unassuming eatery is really quite a nice surprise. Lots of work has gone into every dish and someone in the kitchen is very clever with seasoning and making flavours pop. The service is also great, and they were accommodating when it came to tweaking the menu for a nearby table’s 10-year-old.
So, I love Lovage, as it’s definitely a lot nicer than dill, and it might even be as strokable as my homegrown rosemary.
Dinner for two, excluding drinks, £64.30
St Mary’s Street, Edinburgh