No sooner are you seated at Osteria del Tempo Perso than you are presented with a small glass of sparkling rosé wine.
A pleasant surprise but, in the UK, also potentially worrying. Did you get someone else's drinks? Will it be added to the bill? No, they come gratis, with the compliments of the management. This little ritual, though not an unfamiliar one in Italy, is unusual in this country, and it flags up the enthusiasm and generosity that drives this newly opened Edinburgh restaurant.
The owners have a restaurant of the same name in Lazio, and seem committed to serving up a menu that is traditional and authentic.
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Osteria del Tempo Perso has taken over premises most recently occupied by a standard Britalian outfit serving up all the usual clichés, and the new brand is keen to show that it is cut from a different cloth, hence the conscious decision to have a no pizza menu. You might think that is a bit severe - after all, never sniff at a decent pizza - but the best ones are to be found in a dedicated pizzeria. This noble attempt to unravel the tangled strands of Italian dining in the UK, where categories of dining that would be distinctive in Italy are constantly conflated, is refreshing.
The place feels like a family concern; everyone who serves you very evidently takes pride in the project, and is keen to know what you think, not only of the food, but also the wine. For oenophiles, the list is full of gems, with a progressive emphasis of those that are produced by small producers using organic and biodynamic methods.
Another encouraging sign is that, with the exception of spaghetti, all the pasta is handmade on the premises, so when you get lasagna for example, someone in the kitchen has been busy with the pasta machine. The treatments of pasta are refreshing too. Instead of the corrupted Britalian spaghetti bolognese, there's toned, lithe pappardelle anointed in a rich, meaty ragù. And mezze maniche - a pasta shape somewhere between penne and rigatoni - gets the Roman cacio e pepe treatment. Now this dish I really appreciate for its simplicity: it consists of pasta, pecorino Romano cheese, salt and black pepper. But the trick is to toss the cheese with some of the starchy pasta water in such a way that it forms an emulsion, to produce just enough creamy sauce to coat it. Classic cacio e pepe pasta is one of those apparently simple Italian dishes that is curiously hard to make correctly, but when it has been, it's wonderful.
Some people might lament that certain starters are served lukewarm, but in the case of the aubergine parmigiana and a sformato di patate (a mashed potato, cheese and cured meat bake), this was exactly the temperature required to show off their charms. However, a daily special of panzanella (slightly stale bread softened in the juices from fresh tomatoes, with olive oil and basil) needed more of a lift for me - from red onions, or a hint of vinegar or anchovy perhaps.
Pork fillet had a gutsy cabernet and bitter chicory sauce, it was just a pity that the meat tasted as though it had been cooked and added to the sauce at the last minute, so it didn't really penetrate the heart of the meat. A less lean cut, braised in such juices, would have been terrific.
I'm glad we tried the warm chocolate cake, not least because it came with a complimentary glass of wine - yes, another one - this time, a fragrant moscato spumante. The cake might disappoint UK diners accustomed to heavy and sweet "death by chocolate" desserts. This one, in the Italian style, was quite dry, and plain by our standards, but then if you ask me, Italians often see pudding as an excuse for a sweet wine, dipping biscotti into Vin Santo, and so on.
Osteria del Tempo Perso is a good-looking dining space, more attractive than in past incarnations. Its prices are reasonable, especially if you count all the added extras, alcoholic and otherwise. It deserves to flourish. Bene vale vobis - may you prosper.