I HAVE no qualms whatsoever about paying decent money for a good lunch but even I draw breath when we sit down at the Tower for lunch and look at the menu. “Er, it is £21 for three Scottish scallops in here,” I lean over and say to Greg as we settle at our somehow disappointingly bare table on the sprawling terrace. Although that does include a velouté, I hastily add. And some shells.

We search on then, past heirloom tomato gazpachos at a less salty £8.95, lingering briefly upon a main course of corn-fed chicken breast with sweetcorn for – wait for it – £30. Hmmm.

To put you in the picture here: it’s a Monday, it’s a lunchtime, in the season. The streets nearby are thronged with so many visitors that any progress on foot is an endlessly stop-start affair; something that used to drive me slightly bonkers when in another life I worked out of a newspaper office on the Lawnmarket, but now, with the sun drenching Scotland’s streets, it somehow adds an international glamour.

Edinburgh today then is a complete joy to be in and one that cries out for a decent lunch to go with it. Yet just about every decent restaurant I consider has a website saying shut. On Mondays in the summer? Crikey.

It’s off to the Tower then. On Chambers Street. Through the National Museum entrance, get directions from the nice man at the front desk, navigate some tight corners at the toilets, find the lift and then pop out at last into a long, attractive and panoramically placed dining room.

It’s scorchio outside so we happily take a seat on the terrace when offered the opportunity by a rather suave maitre d’. Frankly? Not nearly as plush as the restaurant, a tad utilitarian actually, but then there is that amazing view of the castle – so close that we can almost reach out and touch the miles and miles of scaffolding that seems to hold up the seats for the Tattoo.

Momentarily, we become rather fixated by that curious-looking dip in that self-same scaffolding. Until we get the menu. Then, as you know by now, we become fixated by it.

Which is the point at which you came in. I’ll cut to the chase then and tell you right now: the day I pay 30 bangers at lunch for corn-fed chicken has not yet arrived. As for the scallops. Shells or not? Nah.

Like shipwrecked sailors spotting a rock in a storm-tossed sea we fix then upon a section of the menu entitled Light Lunch/ Theatre Supper at a not hugely reasonable £19.95. To be frank, everything about this – its location, its layout and content – somehow screams: “If you must!”

There isn’t much choice and largely we divide it. It contains: sweet potato, coconut and chill soup (Greg); pork rillette with walnuts (neither of us); home-cured salmon, cornichons, capers (me).

Putting aside the thorny question of what home-cured actually means in a restaurant, we move onto choosing the main courses. cottage pie (neither of us); Tower fishcake, leek and bechamel sauce (me); wild mushroom and truffle oil tagliatelle (Greg). Those are all the choices.

The home-cured salmon turns out to be an extremely ordinary-tasting smoked salmon with pickles. Ho hum. My main course fishcake is at least well cooked, potatoey and salmony chunky, but the world these days is absolutely full of these. And unfortunately, by the time its bechamel has been navigated out here to the cooler terrace, it has acquired a rather unattractive skin.

Greg’s tagliatelle is no more exciting than it sounds on the menu, the pasta at least a little al dente, the portion, as they all seem to be, reasonably substantial.

There is nothing here that is in any way going to stretch a decent chef; or do the same for an interested customer. Apart perhaps from in the wallet. Nothing to linger in the memory then. Apart from perhaps those prices.

  • The Tower Restaurant, Edinburgh

National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh, 0131 225 2003 Opening hours: 10am til 10pm (10.30 weekends)

Menu: Corn-fed chicken, sea bass, scallops – nothing that is not available at many destinations in Scottish food land. 2/5 
Atmosphere: You pay for the view of Edinburgh Castle, but it’s plusher inside. Possibly one for the tourists. 3/5 
Service: Pleasant enough, but as we were out on the terrace not much engagement. 3/5 
Price: We paid £19.95 each for two very ordinary Scottish lunch courses; the corn-fed chicken breast main is £30. 2/5
Food: Supremely ordinary. 5/10

Total: 15/30