STRANGE times don’t get too much stranger than a food writer from The Scotsman in Edinburgh delivering a food parcel to the restaurant critic of The Herald in Glasgow. Both of us standing in the street on a quiet Saturday evening as the brown paper bag exchange takes place. While in the background, in my house, the oven quietly whirrs itself up to 180c as advised in a cryptic emailed message.

In the bag, or bags, is dinner from one of the Michelin guide’s newest Bib Gourmands in Scotland, the quirky, classy, interesting Merienda (I’m reading that from my last review on it anyway).

Now, I didn’t order the food, I am not paying for it and although it’s part of the restaurant’s home delivery options – that usually only covers Edinburgh. This is all discussed amongst us diners back in the house as huge puffy balls called La Bomba de la Barcoloneta heat gently, alongside gambas al ajillo (or garlic shrimp) and patatas bravas, as we peer over a tub crowned with fluffy spinach and wonder if it is espinacas con garbanzos. And is it meant to be heated? Then rush to pull something labelled escalavida out the oven and put the espinacas and a separate dish of British asparagus rolled in 24-month serrano in instead – the escalavida is to be served cold. Phew.

A pause here for a word from my sponsors: We don’t take freebies in The Herald restaurant columns, I always pay. I don’t know chefs. And the Hootsmon and The Herald remain the same professional combatants they have been since the days when I was chief reporter of that venerable Edinburgh newspaper 20 years ago, and long, long before that. But these are not normal times.

When an email was forwarded from The Herald with a request to call someone called Campbell Mickel and then that phone call took place, I thought it a bit strange as if I have ever met Mr Mickel I wasn’t aware of it. Turns out he’s a chef. From Merienda.

Uh-oh. Chefs usually only ever call to complain. But hang on, I liked Merienda. Here’s what he said in the call anyway. Since that review lots of people from Glasgow have made the trip through to Edinburgh to eat at the restaurant, he was surprised at that (me too given the distance) and as he was delivering food to some people in the west on a non-commercial basis – would I accept some?

Ummm. For two reasons I said yes. 1) hands up: I hadn’t ordered anything to review this week and 2) I’m telling you upfront, right now that I haven’t paid for this.

The food writer from The Scotsman? Lives in Glasgow and was passing by the restaurant and my side of the city (sort of) and would very kindly deliver. No, we don’t know each other. Bit like the trenches at Christmas then?

I did learn something very interesting from the phone call. Apparently when lockdown came most restaurants couldn’t spring into home deliveries because they couldn’t get any supplies from their normal suppliers – because the supermarkets were suddenly gobbling everything up. ¡Ay, caramba!

And what about tonight’s food? You’ll have spotted by now it’s a Spanish theme. A cuisine I’m claiming expertise in having eaten at superstar restaurants El Celler De Can Roca and Compartir kinda recently.

Those bomba, then: crispy shell, doused in aioli, crunching and cracking when broken open to reveal mashed potato and inside that minced beef, all dipped into a sprightly tomato sauce. Clean, fresh, and appetising.

A container has been upended to reveal Catalan vegetables: sweet and slow-roasted peppers on freshly-made goat's curd, pretty much the whole tangy thing held together with a translucent jelly.

Powerfully (maybe too powerfully) garlicky shrimp follows; a patatas bravas made by someone who cares to choose the right potatoes; and all mopped up with a magnificent and recently baked loaf that somehow manages to be both moist and almost shortcrust flaky outside. Good stuff, though if paying I would say this: ditch the prawns.


30 North West Circus Place

Stockbridge, Edinburgh


Menu: The theme is Spanish from a Scottish Bib Gourmand and includes those striking Bomba de la Barceloneta; smoky escalavida; asparagus in 24-month serrano; interesting.

Price: I didn’t pay for this and deliveries are to the Edinburgh area, but apparently if a few people ask a wider delivery range may be possible. This plus a few more dishes is £55 for two.

Food: Crisp, clean and very carefully prepared dishes with those bomba the stand-out dish, interesting escalivada and the bread was, frankly; amazingly good. Not so keen on the prawns though.