January 31, 2012 City Centre, Old Town, seafood 1 Comment

Outside, hard to see, easy to miss

MJ’s Verdict
Today for lunch I walked up the steps of the mound and looked for the almost hidden Ondine Restaurant that hovers over Pizza Express on George the IV Bridge. The glass entrance and the steps ascending to the sleek black and white dining room made me all too aware that I was dressed for the wrong party.

Regardless, I took my seat across from a smug looking B, who had just returned from his jaunt to Istanbul where he ate too much meat and just managed to beat the snow into and out of Turkey (a feat of which is down to the Polartross, no doubt).

Inside is sleek and modern.

We quickly caught up while we looked at the menu. The lunch menu offers the choice of three starters, mains, and desserts, with a decent choice of wine by the glass. None of the starters jumped out at me, and the desserts are not something I really go for, so I opted to order the brown crab and butternut squash risotto which rang in at £14.50.

Gougers and breads

The waiter came back a moment after we placed out orders to make sure I was aware that I could get another course from the lunch menu (the risotto was one of the mains options) for only £16.95, but I assured him that I was fine. I didn’t want to cause a fuss by asking to substitute things on the menu.

As B and I chatted about life, snow, and the proliferation of babies in Istanbul, we munched on good slices of brown and white breads, served with salted butter and a couple of gougeres, which looked light and perfectly crisp.

The theatre that accompanied B’s soup delivery was the most elaborate I have ever seen without some sort of foamy-pouring-over-ostentatious at the table assembly. The huge white bowl was uncapped at the table and the silver ladle was used to fill a bowl on the table. It smelled very fresh and looked hearty and delicious!

Brown crab and butternut squash risotto

Before long, we were on to the mains. I knew the mains were on their way once they delivered a hot bowl of lemon water for B, whose mussels came heaped on a plate and steaming. They were lovely with a bit of curry spice, which was different than I am used to, but something I’d happily return to order.

My risotto was really nice. The brown crab gave it a nice flavour and the rice was silky and well cooked. The small chunks of squash retained their bit of bite and were added a sweetness that worked well with the crab.

The service was top notch; really, I’m not sure I’ve encountered better professional service anywhere else. Overall, it was good. I’m not sure I’d rush back to have the risotto, but the seafood platter sounds amazing and the mussels are a dish I want to have to myself.

One thing I did learn was a new word: Frugentatious…or Ostentugal. Figure that one out (it has nothing to do with the dining experience at all, just wanted to share).

Blythe’s Verdict
Fresh from my little trip to Istanbul (of which more, when I manage to put into words how good the steak was that I had whilst there), I was looking forward to catching up with MJ, passing on all the gossip, and pouring petrol on the embers of her crackling jealousy at my weekend trip.

In addition, I was delighted by the prospect of paying our first visit to chef Roy Brett’s Ondine, as I’d heard nothing but good things, and seen some truly spectacular photos of dishes sampled by friends who’d dined there, over the past few months.

Gougeres, up close

Funnily enough, the chaps at Ondine rang me to confirm the reservation, as I was dining in Etiler, on the Sunday afternoon. I spared them the pain of an expensive international call, and gave them a ring when I got back to Blighty.

Upon arrival, I was greeted warmly at the front desk, then shown to a nice table on the far side of the restaurant, with a good view down Victoria Street. The décor of the place is understated, with cool white the dominant tone. It has a spare elegance, but I have a feeling that it might be just a touch clinical for some tastes.

I contemplated the lunch and full menu and sipped sparkly water as MJ arrived, looking decidedly smiley.

Smoked haddock chowder

After sharing the inevitable photos of my Turkish dining treats, we settled to today’s task. I was happy to go with choices from their lunch menu, which offers two courses for £16.95 or three for £19.95. Given that some of their dishes, including a fillet steak for £40, are on the pricey side, this lunch deal represents really good value.

Nice bread, a couple of airy gougeres, and salt-flake topped butter were presented for us to gnaw on.

My smoked haddock chowder arrived with considerable ceremony, generously ladled from a white soup terrine. It proved to be very tasty, with lovely fine-diced chunks of potato and fish, set in a broth with well-judged creaminess. It lacked another texture or flourish to elevate it to exceptional excellence, but it was richly satisfying.

Mussels in a curry-style sauce

Brown crab risotto for MJ and mussels mouclade for me, arrived in good time, for our mains. I tasted a little of the risotto and it was good. It didn’t knock my socks off, but I think risotto aficionados would have approved it as a good example. My mussels, were vibrant and punchy, with the light curry whispers and bright saffron hue of the mouclade marrying beautifully with the heady shellfish aroma. For me, the spicing was just a little too fierce, but my wimpishness in this regard has long been admitted. I was very pleased with the dish, and wonder why we don’t see mussels served like this a little more often, but this had the feel of real crowd-pleaser, to me.

Good coffee rounded out what had been a really enjoyable lunchtime experience.

Overall, I’d have no hesitation in recommending Ondine for the seafood lover in your life. They’ll need to pack a few extra quid to gain access to the real fireworks on the menu, but I having a feeling they’ll be nicely rewarded. For me, I think the service, which was outstanding and as good as I’ve experienced anywhere in Edinburgh, was the really outstanding thing. The food wasn’t quite to that level, so I don’t think I’ll be beating a path to their door with quite the vigour I would with some other places, but there’s little doubting that Ondine is a high-quality establishment, and well worth a visit.

Blythe scores Ondine:
4/5 for food
4/5 for presentation
5/5 for service
3.5/5 for setting
giving an overall 16.5/20

MJ scores Ondine:
4/5 for food
4/5 for presentation
5/5 for service
3.5/5 for setting
giving an overall 16.5/20

Today’s questers were: Miriam, Blythe

We ate: smoked haddock chowder, brown crab risotto, mussels mouclade

We drank: sparkly water, espresso

We wore: checked tie by www.tieclub.co.uk, kick-ass boots

Total bill: c.£36

Zomato – Restaurant search and Food Guide

Ondine on Urbanspoon

Providers of ties to Lunchquest

Square Meal

Written by BKR