In Venice, a glass of wine that’s drunk in a cicchetti bar, otherwise known as a bacari, is sometimes described as an “ombra” or shadow.
Apparently, vendors used to sell their boozy wares on the streets of the city, including St Mark’s Square, under the basilica bell tower, and to keep their wine fresh, they would move into the shade whenever the sun chased them round. (If only a wee swally had such romantic origins).
We would never have that problem in Scotland, as we are always lurking in the wintery gloom, like Babadooks.
This place is on the shady side of the street, though, to be honest, the other side is also overcast. Everywhere is.
It’s been around under the same name for years, but they used to serve fish and chips, burgers and crowd-pleasing stuff. Earlier this year, the people from the Seafood Ristorante in St Andrews gave the space a smart makeover and they’ve switched to a menu of Venetian cicchetti – small bites, usually eaten standing at a bar.
On a school day lunchtime, this place was busy, probably with office workers from the accounting and business management companies that line Melville Street. I wanted to ask them why they’re called hedge funds, but I was lacking in bravado since we were having a dry meal (even if that does negate the original purpose of cicchetti).
To share among three, we went for two sides and seven of the bigger dishes. Strangely, our favourite was probably the slightly off subject and Scandi style beetroot cured salmon (£6.50), with fat pink leaves of gravadlax-ish fish, along with a blob of creamy horseradish mayonnaise.
Although they were contrastingly cool inside and hot across their breadcrumbed skins, like sunbathers with terrible circulation, we enjoyed our set of three dill-heavy baccala salt cod croquettes (£4).
We’d also gone for the “ravioli of the day” option. These were over-stuffed pasta parcel pincushions (£6), each bulging with a dense salmon and prawn mixture, and topped by a thick, terracotta-coloured sauce, feathers of dill and a blob of caviar.
Pleasant enough, though, like the croquettes, I would have liked their middles to have been warmer.
There was something a little tired about the fritto misto (£8.50) – a clutch of prawns and some chewy and saggy whitebait that didn’t have the perfect posture that a stiffer batter corset might provide.
Our side of crispy zucchini flowers (£3.50) were naughty and nice, with a thick crust of golden batter, as were the truffle Parmesan fries (£4), mainly by virtue of the amount of grated cheese on top of the huge pile of salty skinny (and hot, yay) sticks.
As far as globular things are concerned, we had three huge Ardgay wild venison meatballs (£6.50) that were waist deep in a bowlful of bitter sugo and four doughy, saffron-infused arancini (£4.50) with soft red hearts of spicy red nduja sausage and a tomatoey chilli dip on the side.
I did wish that I had a little ombra when it came to the bruschette (£4.50) – two slices of crostini topped with white cheese, a folded napkin of salami and a dinky crescent of pear – but I might not have ever gone back to the office to write this up.
There are just four pudding options, including tiramisu (£5.50) and affogato (£4.50), but we liked the idea of Venetian biscuits and warm chocolate dip (£5.50) – half a dozen icing-sugar-powdered S-shaped vanilla biccies and a pot full of smooth milk choco to prod them into.
The panna cotta (£5.50) option was a little odd, since it was mashed and topped with granola-ish oaty bits and red fruit compote, for a breakfast-y vibe.
Indeed, we were well fed here, but the food isn’t memorable enough that you’d want it to be your last meal before they trundled you across the Bridge of Sighs. However, it might chase away a few shadows, especially when served alongside one. n