Hmmm. There’s grey and there’s grey. And the new Cafe Fish is definitely grey. Stylish, minimalist grey? No. Battleship grey? Maybe. It’s like walking into the canteen on HMS Ark Royal. Vast expanses of plain wall are painted in the colour, limp lighting emphasises it and pools of grey light gather together in corners for gloomy little get-togethers.
I’m actually wondering if the staff, gathered quietly round that open kitchen near the door, need counselling after long shifts. Or just pop in the back for one of those daylight lamp sessions to cure Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s a stark contrast to the restaurant’s lovely setting in sensational Stockbridge which tonight glitters like a 1960s movie set with its picture windows, twinkly lighting and quaint little shops with tasteful but colourful signs.
Thank goodness the waitress is of the bouncy type, radiating Edinburgh optimism and actually genuinely letting out an involuntary mwah with accompanying 1980s lip-smacking dahling gesture when describing something on the menu.
That’s the sort of thing that would get you a sore coupon in Glasgow, but to me it’s a little pin-prick of light as I sit like a coiled spring waiting for my food so I can bolt it and bolt down the M8.
But hang on. The place is filling up. Various couples in expensive clothes filter through the doors of this former bank, a whole table of what looks like elderly extras from La Dolce Vita squeeze in behind me with cardigans draped over shoulders and weird things – is that actually a cravat – tied round their necks. Then the food arrives. At first? Hmmm. Technically good, visually stunning, but although the confit of octopus with glistening little puy lentil jewellery scattered around it looks lovely and tastes very good, its coldness only highlights the lack of warmth in the room.
It takes a bowlful of salty, coddy, crisp and delicious fish cakes with citrus mayo to start to heat things up. And heat up they do. The waitresses are now mwah-mwah-mwahing all over the place as the room fills up further. Platefuls of fish ’n’chips are firing from the chefs who look like they’ve suddenly been plugged in and, yes, I have possibly the best fish dish I’ve had all year before me.
Pan-seared sea bream – and for once it actually is properly seared, skin crackling crisp and salty – white flakes falling away into a superb sweet and curried aubergine masala, coriander chutney adding a tang to the whole thing. A bowl of pilau rice sits on the side, but it’s totally unnecessary as this thing stands on its own. It’s not a blip, or a one-off, either. The dish of roasted cod is also perfectly presented, Toulouse sausage immersed in a cassoulet of big fat beans that are winey and garlicky and good enough to eat without any accompaniment.
Umm. I’m seeing Cafe Fish in a whole new way. Those cliff-like walls with their relentless dreariness will probably never lighten up, and if I peer over the hubbub I can still see the lonely spots where the brightness curls up and dies, but there is definitely a feel of being somewhere with life now.
A competent and moist steamed ginger sponge with a dollop of gingery ice cream is good, the stem ginger butterscotch particularly good. I should pause here to say the desserts are good value at £5. The only shadow on the culinary horizon is the Bramley apple and bramble crumble which, and this may not surprise you as nobody in the 21st century restaurant world can do a proper crumble, is poor. The crumble topping is thin, hard and could be from one of those yoghurt corners that sell like hot-cakes in Tesco, the filling is like spooning up a bowlful of hot, runny jam. Did it spoil the whole food experience? No. Should they rethink the decor? Yes. Even if they don’t is Cafe Fish worth a visit? Definitely.
Can’t really say better than that.