Mono, South Bridge, Edinburgh

South Bridge is central Edinburgh’s least salubrious street, a crush of narrow pavement, oversubscribed bus stops, tacky shops. The urge is to pass by, not to linger. It seems utterly counterintuitive that there would be anything you’d want here, but searching out Mono – the street numbers are confusing –we find the restaurant perched above the Cowgate at a little gap in the buildings I’ve never noticed before because I’ve been hurrying past, head down.

And my, what a transition! While the world outside is enervating, scruffy, Mono is serene and airy. Its aesthetic is naturalistic, almost Japanese: walls in pumice stone and mercury slate, chairs in sleekly bent wood and soft leather. Our shoulders descend, we breathe slower and deeper.

I’m poised for pretension. The website talks of its “research lab” directed by a Michelin star-experienced Polish chef alongside an Italian “foodie”. It promises “a multi-sensory experience; visual, textual, sound, and all kinds of stimuli” (a bit Heston Blumenthal-sounding for my taste), as well as, more encouraging to me, “fresh cuisine that follows the roots of culinary principles in Italy: excellent quality ingredients, honest cooking and the belief that food is culture”. The menu itself is a tranquil oasis: four each starters and main courses, three desserts.

Our meal kicks off with a micro-course of lush, mouth-coating pumpkin soup topped with thick Gorgonzola foam; its saltiness balances the sweetness of the gourd. Then there’s Mono’s own sour-tanged semolina bread, its handmade rough, salty grissini, and saucers of extra virgin olive oil that comes from Sicily, from one of the chef’s relatives who keeps a few trees. Olive oil fraud in Italy is rife; I’ve heard this story before, but this oil is so sensational- fabulously fresh, with a minty, eucalyptus background, I can believe in this pedigree.

Katy Rodgers crowdie arrives encased in three buckwheat pasta agnolotti parcels, washed up on a creamy chive foam, dissolving leeks, and delicate Shimeji mushrooms, while floppy, golden crusted gnocchi come sauced with a venison ragout that surprisingly has a mild curry edge, the intensity of the game leavened by slightly pickled pear and pear gel. Mackerel in “sao’r”- pickled in the Venetian style- is a triumph of evolved food culture: firm fish, collapsing onions, plumped golden raisins, and pine nuts, served with “textures” of cauliflower: a dreamy purée; nutty-tasting slivers of the raw vegetable; minuscule deep-fried florets.

Fregola, those erratically sized, round pasta balls from Sardinia- who’d have thought they could be spellbinding when coated in an ooze of parsnip purée, topped with diced parsnip and parsnip crisps? A parsimonious sprinkle of crumbled honeycomb and some hidden vibrant orange presence make it even more delectable and out of the ordinary. We groan with delight as we dip our forks into an impeccable aged Parmesan risotto. Its powerful cheese foam and soft egg yolk add different weights of unctuousness over and above the firm rice below and set up the most pleasing contrast in the form of pancetta that’s been grilled until its as thin as a crisp. Loin of lamb- faultlessly pink, swooningly tender, napped with a sesame dukkah, arrives with radicchio, fennel, and grapefruit salad, and green potato mash encased in a taut jacket of pastry that might or might not owe its interesting texture to polenta.

Mono would do well either to hire a dedicated pastry chef or simplify its toothsome dishes. Savoury and sweet skills do not always combine in the same chef. Although there are nice elements in them, notably a blissful buttermilk ice cream, these puddings would only benefit from less embellishment. An arrogant Amaretto, marzipan-like bitter almond presence finally blights an over-complex caramelised pineapple dish. Salty miso caramel is another rogue “try-hard” element in an otherwise fairly classic chocolate assembly.

Italian wine fans will be dazzled by Mono’s list from leading producers; it champions artisanal, organic, biodynamic, sustainable and natural producers, and lesser-known grape varieties. But the final flourish is the food prices, which are mind-blowingly reasonable for Mono’s feast of fine ingredients, caringly cooked.

Joanna Blythman is the Guild of Food Writers Food Writer of the Year 2018

Mono, 85 South Bridge, Edinburgh 0131 466 4726

Food: 9/10

Value: 10/10

Decor: 10/10

Service: 10/10