I took the anonymous call about this new restaurant on the tiny red phone that I bought over 20 years ago from Wonderland.
That shop’s existence proves that, whatever changes have taken place on Edinburgh’s rapidly gentrifying Lothian Road, the market for grown-up toys, dolls’ house furniture, plastic dinosaurs and collectable tiny cars continues unabated. One door up, in the former premises of Indian restaurant Kama Sutra and flanked by a branch of Byron burgers, a chain restaurant, Wildwood, has opened.
Despite owning more than 50 UK eateries, I’d never heard of it.
They’ve freshened up the interior –removing every scrap of saucy Kama Sutra-ness – so that it’s now rather anodyne inside, with white wallpaper with faux cracked paint and floors that look like parquet.
The menu is extensive, yet also a bit unoriginal, though who wouldn’t look forward to the simple pleasures of a baked brie (£5.95) and a Mediterranean platter (£11.50).
The cheese starter turned out to be only OK – a melted wedge was a bit claggy, and had solidified, like amber around mosquitos, over four rather chewy whole hazelnuts. Still, we did enjoy the addition of a few cloves of soft-centred roasted garlic, and there were three slices of crunchy toasted baguette on the side.
Our shareable platter option pour deux was an assemblage of stuff you’d find on any decent high street supermarket deli counter.
There was some pale Parma ham, as shredded as Wilma Flintstone’s frock, two types of salami (a pair of slices of each), a few pickled gherkins, each of stick insect length, a blob of pesto brushed mozzarella, some bog-standard green olives and planks of crunchy bread. Fine.
Our calamari with Cajun mayonnaise (£6.35) consisted of uniform ginger-coloured breadcrumbed hoops, with a pink dip on the side. A bit “mum’s gone to Iceland”, but edible.
For mains, you can have pasta, or salad, risotto, grill items or pizza. I tried one of the latter – with goat’s cheese and chorizo (£9.75).
It was pretty disappointing. Although the light base was OK, the topping, which resembled a Seventies Paisley print and had the texture of lino, was an oily, thin and salty layer of cheese, sugo, sliced field mushroom caps, pepperoni discs (or maybe that was the chorizo) and not much else.
Some milky fromage might have freshened it up, but whatever goaty-ness had been added had been invisibly blended in so there was only a faint feral tinge here and there.
Our lamb burger (£11.65) was slightly nicer, though rather overdone. It consisted of a blackened curling stone of meat, with, like a grown-up woman’s bedroom, every last trace of pink eradicated from the interior.
Presented in a polished bun, this patty was topped with a scoop of rough guacamole and a handful of skinny onion rings, with a pile of serviceable fries on the side.
The puddings, like everything else, were perfectly acceptable but completely forgettable. The chocolate honeycomb fudge cake (£5.75) was a decent slab of cake with ice-cream on the side, while the Wildwood sundae (£5.85) was a jumble sale stall of sweet things, from chocolate brownie chunks to mini marshmallows, chocolate sauce and amaretti biscuits.
I’m still hanging onto the January eating healthily wagon (OK, so one leg is hanging down and dragging off the Tarmac), and this wasn’t worth falling off it. I reached peak resentment three spoons in.
I don’t get this place at all. It serves some of the most nondescript food I’ve had. The dishes could have mugged me in broad daylight and I wouldn’t be able to pick them out of a lineup.
In better news, the staff are very nice, and there’s a child-friendly menu, so maybe they’re trying to attract the sort of crowd who like Giraffe and other family chains.
Anyway – as I wrote in my tiny notebook with my miniature pen – even if they garner a few fans, I do not see this place outliving Wonderland. Next time, I will let my dolls’ house phone go to voicemail.
105-109 Lothian Road, Edinburgh (0131-322 8811, www.wildwoodrestaurants.co.uk)
How much? Lunch for two, excluding drinks, £56.80