I had a lot of adjusting to do when I moved from Glasgow to Edinburgh.
I had to learn that being unpredictably friendly and striking up conversation with strangers was considered somewhat eccentric. I had to observe that Edinburgh folks never stand too close to one another in a bus queue, even if there is a long tail of people standing outside the shelter getting soaked in the rain.
Language was a challenge too. The word 'barry' was not in my lexicon and had me flummoxed. Who is this Barry, and why is he all over the place?
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Ordering a fish supper caused linguistic difficulties. "Solnsos?" What on earth were those people behind the counter mumbling? Even when it was explained to me that they were saying "salt and sauce", the concept still caused me difficulties. What an outlandish, wrongheaded idea to put brown sauce thinned down with acetic acid on your chips. Who can taste anything with that potent brown stuff slathered all over it? Every self-respecting Glaswegian knows that salt and vinegar are the only appropriate condiments.
In the years that I have lived in Edinburgh, I have remained a Glaswegian at core, and have never warmed to that sinus-clearing brown product. And although the brown sauce served at the capital's new Fish Eatery is actually rather good - fruity, deep with tamarind, and with an altogether smoother, more debonair vinegar - I liked the fish served too much to obliterate its taste by dabbing it on.
You'll find it hiding away unsung behind the Georgian facade of 12 Picardy Place, now a boutique hotel, next door to its more extroverted older sibling, Steak. It inhabits the handsomely proportioned room that was once home to Mark Greenaway's first venture, but the decor has been lightened and Scandi-fied, with clean-cut 1950s vibe chairs and a cool tiled wall.
The menu is full of little jokes such as a fast food-ish Bucket 'O Fish but, judging from what I had, not the cringe-worthy sort that only the chef gets. For instance, 'rollmops from a tin' are indeed, served from a tin, but only a culinary imbecile would mistake them for anything other than fresh. They came with cornichons (small gherkins) fried in a tempura batter, which worked surprisingly well. Their bright ochre dill mustard dressing -- of the type you serve with gravadlax - was commendably mustardy, and relatively restrained with sugar.
Halibut kiev was not something that would ever bear a Bernard Matthews label. Firm and thick with fish, its only problem was that the powerful garlic and parsley butter suffered from a common fault: garlic that's simply not fresh enough. It's ridiculously hard to get good stuff. I guarantee that if I went out buying 'fresh' bulbs today, 80 per cent would be stale. The crab baked beans that flanked the kievs were excellent though, firm and floury in a concentrated seafood bisque.
As for the monkfish scampi, these were an opulent bargain: 10 or so big, meaty nuggets for £12. The chips that came with them were crisp and tasty enough to have been cooked in dripping. Caper-heavy tartare sauce was a delight.
The dessert department shines. Peach Melba got a fresh treatment, the peaches still warm, apparently poached with mint, balls of thick vanilla custard rather than ice cream, brittle, sharp-tasting raspberry wafers textured with pips, and freeze dried berries.
A generous wedge of bitter chocolate tart concealed the candied zest of orange in its darkest depths, a satiny crème Anglaise custard caressed it. I will have to go back to try the intriguing rice pudding brulée with warm grape compote, which sounds like an interesting variation of the classic French riz à l' impératrice, a toothsome legend.
This place is central, very fairly priced, and the staff are young, enthusiastic, and eager to please. The Fish Eatery has swum into town not registering on the radar of the usual restaurant trawlers. I can't imagine that it will hide away there much longer. What is there not to like about good fish, imaginatively cooked, and served at a keen price?