About two decades ago, I worked in an off-licence on Dalry Road.
It was a colourful time. The occasional “customer” would ask for a litre of vodka – then, when you’d put it on the counter, they’d say, “Oh, and 20 Lambert & Butler as well”.
You’d turn round to get their fags, turn back and they’d be halfway to Haymarket, clutching the booze to their chest like a newborn.
The bottle shops have long gone, but when it comes to restaurants, this street boasts a good reliable clump, including Mia Italian Kitchen, First Coast and South African eatery Shebeen.
There’s also Italian venue Locanda de Gusti, who own this new Neapolitan-style pizzeria that has opened a few doors along from their smarter venue.
It’s a pretty spit and sawdust corner spot, though the customers, who mainly consisted of youngsters and families on our Tuesday early evening visit, seemed to be enjoying the low-key vibe. Since it was already stowed out, us non-bookers were told we could only have our table for 90 minutes, which seemed adequate for a speedy pizza stop.
Three waiters were working the floor, one of whom is the absolute double of the late cyclist Marco Pantani, while there’s also a young dude who was as smooth as peanut butter and as charming as the princiest prince in all of Disney.
For starters, there are three versions of the Neapolitan street food, cuoppo (ie. deep fried stuff in a paper cone). We snubbed the two smaller options – one veggie (£6.95) and one purely fishy (£8.95) – for the mixed fritto misto (£10.95) to share.
It was a witch’s hat of a container that held two whole pale pink baby octopi (which tasted bewitchingly like crispy bacon), finger sized planks of pleasingly chewy centred breaded mozzarella, a shoal of silvery flanked whitebait, a bracelet’s worth of calamari links, battered cod and courgette hunks, potato croquettes, crumbed ascolana olives (stuffed with minced meat), a pool ball sized sun-dried-tomato-y arancini, and a wedge of lemon on the side. Wow.
I think we ate about three-fifths, and we’re sure that the single crevette on the top was mocking us. It’s not a competition, you stupid prawn.
The prince was also very concerned. However, as we explained to him, if we’d eaten it all, there’s no way we would have managed mains too.
Be very hungry when you come here. Try not to eat for three days prior to your visit.
My main was the Mare Kiaro pizza (£8.95). It had a good billowy and crispy ring of crust, with soft dough in the centre and a dappling of ricotta, smoked mozzarella and slices of a feral and herby pork sausage.
These rustic and burly flavours were lifted by the verdant bitterness provided by strands of the cruciferous vegetable that is friarelli (also known as rapini or broccoletti). Very good.
After the lard fest that was the starter, getting through the flying-saucer-shaped deep-fried pizza fritta (£6.99) was a challenge, though we appreciated the golden and sea salted dough’s crispy sweetness.
Its roomy interior was upholstered with more ricotta, smoked mozzarella, cubes of sausage, stamps of cicoli (described on the menu as soft pork scratching, which seems like an oxymoron, but never mind), tomato and black pepper. If the name of the restaurant was reference to the amount of calories in this dish, they may have underestimated.
As well as various ice-cream options, there were a couple of “cakes of the moment” (£3.95). We took these home in a mini pizza box, because, contrary to popular belief, we do not have hollow legs. They were excellent the next day for breakfast.
The pastiera was a orange blossom scented triangle of ricotta tart, while the Sicilian cassatina is a garish looking cherry topped sugar high of a fancy, with green fondant icing and squelchy creamy sponge.
I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so much food for so little cash.
I feel like I’ve mugged them, and it’s very nice to be on the other side of the counter for a change.
85 Dalry Road, Edinburgh
How much? Dinner for two, excluding drinks, £34.79