The woman at the next table keeps staring at me. At first I’m flattered. I’m looking pretty good tonight, what with my new blonde highlights and a chunky resin necklace, so who can blame her? When her dining companion starts looking over too, it starts to get odd.
"It’s mainly students who’ve dragged their parents out to pay for a free feed. Mr Finch and I won’t be whispering sweet nothings this evening"
This must be how Beyoncé feels every time she steps out the door.
“Amazing view of the castle, isn’t it?” says Mr Finch, glancing up from his menu. As I turn around it all makes sense. My A-list looks aren’t the big draw on this side of the room – it’s the picture-perfect view of Auld Reekie’s skyline.
From the street, The Outsider looks subdued and sophisticated – the perfect spot for a candlelit dinner à deux. Step inside and it’s a different story. The placed is packed with yummy mummies and daddies and their adorable offspring; tourists with guide books on their tables; groups of friends; mothers and daughters; and the majority demographic – students who’ve dragged their parents out to pay for a free feed. Mr Finch and I won’t be whispering sweet nothings this evening.
The décor is contemporary – pale wood furniture, dark grey walls, metal lights and abstract art. The high-ceilinged room has been imaginatively divided up into sections with a mezzanine level, a little nook in the wall for one lucky group and tables covering almost every scrap of floor space, making trips across the room a logistical challenge for the waiting staff.
Our waitress is smiley and laid back. Mr Finch observes that her relaxed attire is more suited to a beach bar than a smart-casual establishment and while I’m in agreement, I do wonder at what point in time we became such curmudgeons.
Just like the décor, the food comes under the contemporary banner too. Mr Finch jumps right in with the warm ham hough rillettes with green pea velouté, crispy shallots, bacon oil and pea shoots (£6.10). The verdict? “Very pea-y. And very hammy.”
At this point I’m forced to put down my cutlery and give a short lecture on the responsibilities that come with being a “plus one”. Suitably reprimanded, he praises the classic combination, remarking that it could have done with a chunk of bread to mop up the velouté and querying the need for the “cold, crispy things” on top.
My smoked portobello mushrooms with Ardrahan cheese, toasted sourdough and wild garlic aioli (£5.80) taste like they’ve been cooked in a bonfire. Charred bread and smoked cheese collide for maximum impact and I think I like it.
By the time the main courses come out, Mr Finch is on a roll. He’s opted for roast pheasant breast with morcilla achorizada, mushrooms, wild garlic crushed potato and plum jus (£14.80) and it is declared a “good earthy plate” with the wild garlic coming in for particular praise, with its “soft and grassy” flavour. The pheasant, however, gets a shrug and “it’s a bit overcooked”.
My crispy rosemary gnocchi with candied and golden beetroot, basil oil, goat’s cheese and confit orange, tomato and black olive salsa (£14.40) is a combination Jo Malone would be proud of. I love the freshness of the basil and orange and the crispiness of the gnocchi makes a nice change from the usual doughiness.
The beetroot and sharp cheese contrast well and the only downside is the quantity of oil – I’d much rather have just a drizzle on my plate than a downpour.
The carafe of Chilean merlot (£14.20) is going down nicely and there’s still room for dessert. The chocolate and espresso pavé with molasses ice cream (£5.40) is pleasant enough, although I don’t think it needed the pile of gingernut gravel on the side.
The rhubarb and burnt orange panna cotta (£5.40) which the waitress says she has every morning for breakfast (how the other half live!) is light and fragrant. It comes with a disc of thyme and rhubarb jelly on top which reminds me of the occasion I made damson jam and left it on the boil for too long. Mr Finch tries gallantly to pierce it with his spoon but a knife and fork would have made the job easier.
So what’s the verdict? The atmosphere is lively, the staff are friendly, the menu is imaginative and the dishes are nicely presented. But the execution is hit and miss. The Outsider is a popular place, and the high and fast turnover has an impact on quality. If you’re looking for a central venue to eat with above-average food then it’s a reasonable bet, but for me it fell flat – a bit like a blind date that looks great on paper but lacks chemistry in person.
If they got rid of a few tables and slowed down the pace, maybe the food would have more of a chance to shine.