Catriona Thomson discovers an ideal way to chase the winter blues away, with a plant-based Italian meal at Sora Lella in Tollcross Edinburgh.

It’s that time of year again. While we may have made it through the darkest day, or winter solstice as it is more properly known, there is still the slow, gradual climb out of these dimly-lit early months before we reach the brighter days of spring.

In our household, the fella gets a bit maudlin during this season, but he has developed a unique coping strategy.

He simply merges the first two months into one which he calls JanFeb to circumvent seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Psychologically he maintains that there is only a singular month to survive.

I’m not going to knock it if it works for him.

As a teen of the 1980s these first two months will always be linked with the classic and unforgettable Barbara Dickson song, so my cure for winter blues is simple, stay in bed singing this ditty repeatedly while hibernating under my duvet.

Each new year serves as a marker to kick start all sorts of health and fitness challenges, like Dry January where people attempt to convince themselves that they really don’t need a ‘drink’.

Gyms and health clubs will be overrun by newbies, for at least a fortnight before resolutions and enthusiasm start wearing off.

Veganuary is another campaign growing in popularity, where virtuous types will eat their way into 2020 fuelled entirely on a plant-based diet.

Garlic Focaccia

The slightly sceptical amongst us are doubtful of the dietary benefits, but the deluge of celebrity vegans, as diverse as Ariana Grande, Venus Williams, Bill Clinton and Benedict Cumberbatch make it increasingly popular as a lifestyle choice and an important market which very many others seem keen to cash in on.

By this time in the month most newbie vegans will have emptied their store cupboards, which were filled with unusual and unfamiliar ingredients, and possibly be tiring of meat-free recipes.

So what could be better than a leisurely Sunday lunch at a rustic Italian place called Sora Lella, in Tollcross?

We haven’t caved into carnivorous cravings just yet as this restaurant caters exclusively for non-dairy eating types.

The chef has created a huge variety of plant-based selections at this family-run venue and just to confirm, despite having a variety of cheese, steak and salmon on the menu, they are all faux.

It’s also an ideal establishment if you are introducing carnivores to a vegan lifestyle, as they serve familiar-looking fare.

Carciofo alla Giudia

It boasts a three-page menu featuring Italian staples including pizza, both white and traditional Naples-style, plus lots of pasta dishes: bucatini, penne, cannelloni, gnocchi, lasagne, rigatoni and spaghetti.

Eventually, we settled on carciofo alla giudia as a starter. This dish is a traditional Roman-Jewish recipe, consisting of deep-fried artichokes garnished with freshly squeezed lemon juice and a confetti shower of chopped herbs, providing an early taste of springtime.

Eldest and I decided to share our dishes, so we both enjoyed slicing into the flat round focaccia bread covered in oodles of garlic oil and flat parsley with the pizza wheel provided.

It wasn’t the drier puffed up bread I was expecting, but it was delicious.

Both starters had impressed us, so the next challenge was the vegan version of carbonara.

I had opted for Paccheri pasta carbonara, aka jumbo tunnels of carbohydrate, heavily smothered in a sauce so creamy it easily could have been mistaken for dairy.

Sora Lella Edinburgh

Paccheri Pasta alla Carbonara

The only downside for me were the substitute bacon bits which were nodules of smoked vegan sausage and a bit chewy.

Sora Lella Edinburgh

Classic Pizza Ortolano

My eldest had stuck to a staple main course and selected the classic pizza ortolana: a traditional thin, round dough base topped with tomato sauce, grilled courgettes, earthy aubergines, roasted peppers, mushrooms and tasty “mozzarella”.

Delighted with her pick, she declared it a success, “You wouldn’t have known there was any fakery going on here.”

We decided to further test the menu by tasting the ricotta alla caprese, a side salad of homemade vegan ricotta, made from tofu I’m guessing.

It was stylishly presented, served with wedges of tomatoes and a gloriously emerald sprig of basil and decorated by a drizzle of balsamic glaze.

When a dish is so simple, the joy comes from tasting the quality produce, so sadly this really wasn’t my cup of tea.

However all was not lost, as the extra side order of french fries or patatine fritte were tasty, home-cut chips presented in a paper bag (recyclable I’m presuming) with a small pot of vegan mayonnaise to dip them in.

The main portions were so large we couldn’t manage a dessert, but cheesecake and affogato and the old Italian favourite of tiramisu were all there to order.

Ultimately Veganuary may not be for you, but this place offers a palatable option for those seeking a meat-free meal.

Sora Lella

(13 Brougham Street, Edinburgh EH3 9JS)
Tel: 0131 478 2856, www.soralella.co.uk

 

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About The Author

Catriona Thomson

Catriona picture edits The Scotsman magazine and Scotland On Sunday, aswell as reviewing restaurants for Scotland on Sunday and writing for Scotsman Food and Drink.

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