During the festival, there are many establishments in Edinburgh that offer entertainment with your meal. Jugglers, musicians or waiters taking on the role of Mr Fawlty and Manuel are all available should you not want a break from performances to eat. But some places in this busy season provide totally unplanned sideshows, and so it was with our visit to Makar’s Rest at the top of the Mound.
The restaurant is well situated to catch the tourist market; the views are out over the city and the location is buzzing. The room inside is hip, with stone walls and scaffolding tables. There is a beer garden and the cuisine is heartily Scottish, with local ingredients given pride of place.
We were a mixed group of Edinburgh residents and visiting festival-goers, slotting in an early dinner before heading out to comedy venues. And we were disparate in our tastes, consisting of a vegetarian, a pescatarian, two greedy omnivores and a sometime fussy teenage boy.
In a holiday mood on a long-awaited sunny day, the three adults ordered cocktails; there is a tempting menu here. Rob and I had strawberry bellinis, which were pleasant enough, but Mary hit the jackpot with her Bloody Mary, which was a half-pint jam jar of ingredients to nourish the appetite and good value at £5.50. As our vegetarian representative, she was to be glad of the calories.
Three starters among five ranged from the very good to the disappointing. Smoked salmon served with crowdie cheese was well put together and generous. The smoked duck with rhubarb carpaccio came with a beetroot and green bean barley and was tart and rich with a great combination of textures. Which is more than can be said of the vegetable tempura, which consisted of overcooked veg in a stodgy batter.
"Then the cointreau incident happened
which elevated our evening no end..."
The mains were a similar mixed bunch; teenage boy’s Makar's Burger with pickled peppers was wolfed down in record time. The steak, at £21, wasn’t huge and was cooked to medium – having been ordered rare – but was nevertheless tender and tasty. Chips and salad to go with it had to be ordered separately; at £3.50 for each side dish it made for an expensive main.
I opted for a small dish of stovies, made with succulent ham which was delicious if at the top end of the range of acceptable saltiness – and that is coming from a woman who has been compared to a goat for her salt intake. Fortunately, I hadn’t added extra before tasting – mainly because we had to go and get salt and pepper from another table as the waitress’s eye wasn’t to be caught.
Rob ordered the grilled sea bass, accompanied by warm potato salad. The serving of fish was a single fillet, without any of the crispness of skin that is the joy of grilled fish. It was a little soggy, and half the portion he was expecting.
Mary’s summer risotto of broad bean, pea, mint and ricotta was the biggest disappointment, however. It was not only bland, but cold – a state of affairs that she wouldn’t have mentioned, being polite to a fault, had I not insisted on my reviewer’s forkful.
A shared brownie and a cranachan parfait for pud were unremarkable; the brownie was a bit tiffiny rather than oozy in texture, but was a nice chocolate hit. The parfait seemed to resemble raspberry ripple ice cream more than an interesting twist on the king of Scottish puds.
Service was a little distracted and the whole would have added up to a forgettable meal – albeit an expensive one (at £141, including drinks) considering the comparable restaurants hereabouts who manage to offer this sort of food, delivered with more consistency and at much more reasonable prices.
But then the Cointreau incident happened, which elevated our evening no end.
Being avowed earwiggers and nosey parkers, we first noticed the woman at the table behind having a discussion with the waitress over her cocktail. In a silent performance, her glass was taken up to the bar, sniffed by the barman and then returned to her.
Clearly not a woman to be satisfied with this, she took it back to the bar herself and remonstrated, this time in a voice pleasingly loud enough so the whole restaurant could enjoy the unfolding drama. “I don’t know what this is, but it isn’t Cointreau,” she said as we all leaned in, pretending not to listen. The barman stood his ground, showed her the bottle it came from, pouring another shot from it and letting her taste it. We held our breath.
This is when Cointreau Woman came into her own. In a scene reminiscent of Crocodile Dundee’s “That’s not a knife” speech, she floored the barman with: “That’s not Cointreau, this is Cointreau,” taking her own bottle of the orange liqueur out of her bag and slamming it down on to the bar. Showtime...
The audience gasped, the barman tasted a shot from her bottle and placated her with alternative while the rest of us wondered if she was an eccentric, had a point, or was in fact a Fringe act sponsored by the Cointreau marketing board.
It turned out to be the best performance of the day.
Starters, mains and puddings £13.50 for a main course, £18.50 for two courses, £21.50 for three courses