We were gooseberries at Maison Bleue.
There was a wedding party arriving at 12:30, presumably direct from a registry office gig at nearby Lothian Chambers, so the only table we could book was at noon. Bit early and, it turned out, kind of unnecessarily so.
The staff were harassed and distracted while they made the first floor look pretty for the bride and groom. By the time we managed to track someone down, get seated at a too small table (extra stools had to be deployed) and were menu-d up, it was, oh, about 12:23.
By this time, the loved up couple were already smooching for a photo op outside the aqua-painted frontage of this 17 year old gaff.
Fair enough, it makes for a nice backdrop, especially as the business has recently undergone a six figure refurbishment. This has involved some of the walls of this three storey Old Town building being stripped back to bare stone, an application of pebble blue paint and dappled gold leaf, as well as the installation of pink neon signs that say things like “Food first, then morals”. Sounds tacky, but looks pretty good.
The lunch menu, which features their formula of Scottish, French and North African food, is ridiculously cheap at £9.90 for two courses.
However, it took a long time for our starters to arrive. We were left on the shelf in favour of a bunch of people with fascinators on.
When my set of 13 mussels à la Bretonne eventually arrived, they were cold, and there’s nothing more like nibbling the ear of a corpse than chewing a tepid bivalve. The oeuf cocotte was better, though this was more of a cheese soup, with an egg yolk that had sunk to the bottom of a heavy fondue of melted Roquefort and chopped leek. Richer than Trump.
Our chilli hot trio of skewered cigarillo-sized merguez sausages, served on skewers, came with a fridge cold chakchouka of peppers and tomatoes. Pleasant enough, despite the temperature yo-yo.
My main course of coq au vin was also a little tepid, but great apart from that, with three squat and soft thighs, mushrooms, carrots and onions in a pleasantly salty jus. No carbs though, so expect to pay extra for a side dish like the rather watery but generously cheesy Gruyère mousseline mash (£2.90).
Since a main course here is £7.50, the pork belly was a ridiculous steal. Yes, the fat on top was a bit flubbery and congealed, but the gravy, buttery mash and thick coaster of ashy black pudding were good (if chilly in parts), as were the slices of caramelised apple. Valued at auction, this was easily a £10.50 dish. If it’d been hot with crackling, £12.50.
Our Moroccan lamb keftas had a good coarse and feral texture, with a note of sweet heat and a side blob of mint-strewn yoghurt. Accompaniments of rather plain beige couscous, chopped peppers and red onions were a bit dull, but fine.
Puddings? Key lime pie, sticky toffee pudding or cheese, £3.50 each. We went for the sugary pair. The triangle of pie was pleasant – very citrusy, with a biscuity bottom, while a ball of copper-coloured sponge, doused in toffee sauce, was equally acceptable.
Thing is, the menu at this place, which is bang in tourist central, is purse-friendly and the building, with its curved stone staircases, so atmospheric, that you can’t really complain. After all, open the window, chuck out a haggis bon-bon and it’d probably hit one of the other restaurants in this area, where you’ll pay twice as much for food of a similar standard.
Just expect to repent at leisure (and eat quite a lot of grub that’s been sitting on the pass too long) if you double up with any nearby nuptials.