I tried to enter through glass patio doors, part of the smooth black exterior of this rather forbidding new building opposite Edinburgh’s Western General Hospital. I jiggled the door handles of three of them, each time noticing shadowy faces looking at me incredulously from inside. I eventually found the entrance proper. At least there would be nobody in there that I knew.
“Oh hi Gaby,” said an acquaintance whom I’ve not seen for years. “We saw you trying to get in through the window.” Funny how there’s always someone you know around to see you do something stupid. If I visited Machu Picchu and was fatally attacked by a rabid guinea pig, my final moments would involve turning around to see a random colleague stifling laughter.
Anyway, not sure what THEY were doing here, I thought they might have better taste. This is a new chain-y hotel, owned by Village Urban Resorts. Surrounded by grim car park and done out like a low-rent Dakota, it has an on-site Starbucks, hotel, spa and gym. Maybe those other bits are decent, but the restaurant, which you enter via their Public House, is utterly soulless.
With stainless steel tables, it’s a perfect example of the tipping point when the trendy industrial look becomes something akin to a dimly lit morgue, especially where the currently unused “open kitchen” is concerned. Still, this venue might double as a good location for any up and coming films in the never-ending Saw franchise.
Appetisers are a fiver each, and we went for the prawn cocktail, wondering if it might be a knowing take on the genre. It wasn’t. There was a pile of iceberg lettuce topped with chilled prawns in a cloyingly pink Marie Rose sauce, and a bit of sliced brown pre-buttered bread on the side. Wow, retro. Our set of six calamari rings were like a pile of battered rubber bands. One nearly took my eye out after it pinged in my face once I’d taken a bite. They came with a tub of garlic mayo. Aioli makes it sound fancier than it was.

“Our set of six calamari
rings were like a pile of battered rubber bands”

For my main course, I chose the tuna steak (£18) from the Grill menu. It was fine, cooked to well done, of course, and topped with a “soy and sesame crust” that seemed to involve a pink sweet chilli jus and a silty topping of black flecks.
With any order from the Grill section, you get one side dish and a sauce. I went for mash and vierge, both ordinary, though the latter was more like a salsa. My dining partners chose pasta dishes off the Specials list, £16 each. The crab and chilli linguine was said to come in a sauce “infused with ginger and fennel” but didn’t taste of much at all, though there was a decent amount of meat. Kudos for that.
Our pumpkin and ricotta ravioli wasn’t bad, though the edges of the envelopes were rather solid, as if they’d been sweltering on the pass for a while. The accompaniment of “sage and pine nut butter” consisted of a huge pool of melted butter and toasted pine nuts, but none of the leafy herb. Both offerings were similarly under-seasoned. There were two sets of salt and pepper grinders on our table so maybe this was a sign from the chef. DIY.
Desserts are also a fiver each. The title of the apple cobbler crumble annoyed me. There was no need for the tautology, even if US food is a bit buzz-wordy at the moment. It was a bog standard, slightly undercooked apple crumble, and they’d forgotten to add the cinnamon.
Our chocolate and hazelnut brownie was like a slice of sponge traybake topped with chocolate sauce, reminiscent of the out-of-a-packet Frozen themed cupcakes I make with my niece. It might even have tasted better with a sugar paper picture of Elsa pasted onto the top.
On this visit, the one saving grace was the waiter who served us – a red-headed man. It says Steven on my receipt. Thanks, Steven, for being so friendly and making our meal a little less soul-destroying.
It was certainly easier to find the exit than it had been to find the entrance.

HOW MUCH?

Dinner for three, excluding drinks
£70

(www.village-hotels.co.uk)

Urban Bar & Grill, Edinburgh, restaurant review
Ambience40%
Food50%
45%Overall Score

About The Author

Gaby Soutar

Gaby Soutar is a lifestyle editor at The Scotsman. She has been reviewing restaurants for The Scotsman Magazine since 2007 and edits the weekly food pages.

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