VISITING the new Cannonball restaurant in Edinburgh feels a bit like going back to school - if that is, you were educated in the old-style setting:

stone stairs, tiled corridors, sturdy radiators, solid wood floors, iron railings. Charles Rennie Mackintosh's Scotland Street School in Glasgow is the pinnacle of this style. Personally, I find those old schools wonderfully nurturing. They remind me of happy days spent parsing (usefully, we were taught grammar), skipping in the playground, growing mustard cress from seed, singing hymns. Modern schools are increasingly pre-fab kit affairs - a dash of corporate glass and steel, the functionality of the call centre, anything that meets the imperatives of crowd control, security and budget. They just don't have the character.

The hard-working new "heads" of Cannonball House, Victor and Carina Contini, who run the Scottish Café and Contini Caffè (formerly the pronunciation-challenging Centotre), have taken on this special building, but the architectural inheritance doesn't stop there. Erected in the 17th century, Cannonball House is the last building on the Royal Mile before you reach the castle. In fact, from our table in the restaurant we had a bird's eye view of the esplanade, with the castle looming behind it. The vista only got more spectacular as dusk fell, and the castle was bathed in pinkish-mauve light.

The custodians of such a unique property have a special responsibility to respect and honour the legacy, and the hard-working Continis, with their very evident aesthetic sense and eye for style, are just the pair to do it. The dining room at Cannonball is quite splendid, with its monochrome decor that references Art Deco, yet it lets the architecture do the talking. This would be a venue worth visiting even if the food was bad; which, of course, it isn't.

The Continis have put together a sensible menu that embeds their southern Italian roots in Scotland's developing, progressive food culture. A creative Italian mindset is brought to bear on our national larder, one predicated on the modern embrace of homegrown, wild and seasonal produce, the philosophy so gently advanced in Carina's recent Kitchen Garden Cookbook: A Year Of Italian Scots Recipes.

What I admire about this bi-cultural exercise is its simplicity. Six hot oysters rocked up, clothed in the lightest, crispest batter that could ever grace a fritto misto, each supported by a pile of rock salt, and elegantly laid out on an oval wooden board, with wedges of ripe Amalfi lemon reclining alongside. A stunning starter, but then so was the crab lasagna. With its muscular white crab meat matching the palate-stoking bounce of its handmade egg pasta sheets, it was a seductress.

I cringe when I hear people advancing the assertion that "Scotland has the best ingredients in the world". This swaggering, generic overstatement strikes me as insular and uninformed. Try telling that to the farmer who rears Tuscan Chianina beef, the cheese makers of Roquefort or Normandy, the growers of Sicilian Pachino tomatoes, the people who raise Bresse chickens, or the Japanese fisherman. But when we talk of grouse, then Scotland can legitimately brag. Here at Cannonball, this legendary bird was a genuine world-status wonder, with its butter-tender meat and that distinctive controlled explosion of gamey flavour in the mouth. Sumptuous visually also, with its glossy gravy, beetroots of various hues and shapes, and turgid, glistening brambles.

Naturally, it was impossible to resist the wanton beckoning of this description: Orkney lobster thermidor macaroni cheese. I mean, come on, if this isn't entrapment, what is? And the reality fitted the bill. Comfort food for millionaires - what more do you want? - yet at an approachable price.

Dessert? I'll pass on the gelati - they are too Scottish-Italian, as opposed to Italian-Italian for me. But for lovers of a sophisticated dark chocolate dessert, the Valrhona torte, with its alcohol-soaked amarena cherries and brittle almond biscotti, does the job very nicely. A few well-chosen dessert wines by the glass make another toothsome option.

It's not easy to find your way through this quirky building; escorts are provided. But unlike the sinister house belonging to David Balfour's uncle in Kidnapped, there's something very pleasant waiting for you at the top of the stairs.