When our sainted Piatto Verde wasn’t available for joint 2013 birthday celebrations, MJ and I were left to agonise for a surprisingly long time over where we should go.
We spent a lovely 2012 birthday in Domenico’s, and much of our celebrating since then has been at the wonderful Mithas, but we eventually decided that we should try somewhere new that appealed to both of us, for this occasion.
Newly opened Fatma, on Commercial Quay, was our eventual choice, as MJ is a great fan of Lebanese cuisine, and I’m a great fan of food.
On the premises previously occupied by Mya (which I believe has upped sticks to Bernard Street, under the name the Mintleaf), the place retains much of the elegance, with a distinctly upscale air, but I think their aim is a more relaxed finery.
The menu has a welcoming feel to it, with a great breadth of choice and some little homely touches. The fish soup, described as “you won’t regret ordering it” hooked me in with its folksy charm.
MJ lists taboulleh as one of her all-time favourites, so it was no surprise to hear her order that. She embraced the meat for her main, with their tempting sounding mixed grill. I opted for the duo of sauteed quail.
The service was full to effusive with thank yous and pleasantries, particularly from the main greeter, owner Samir Saga. The waiting staff were on message, too.
To give an example of quite how accommodating the service was, Mr Saga’s solution to the fact that their card machine wasn’t working, was to offer that everyone could come back and pay another day, without hesitation. It was after long and sincere protestations that he allowed me to toddle off down the road to the cash machine, when I was a little short on ready cash for my share of the bill.
A less successful effort was that the chef came out of the kitchen to visit each table, seeking approbation for the meal that he’d prepared, at the end of the evening. For those who’d had an unreservedly positive dining experience, this was the touch that will have them returning and bringing friends. For us, it was a moment where we passed on sincere but measured thanks.
Our starters appeared quickly and looked simple and promising. My soup was served with decent flat bread, which did an admirable job in mopping up. The soup was richly flavoured with seafood, but it was a little unusual to be served just the simple broth derived from the careful distilling of various seafood whatnots, without any little fishy morsels to chew upon. Often in seafood soups, such morsels are buried in the broth and stewed to rubber, so perhaps this approach was a smart play, but some textural variety was required to elevate the dish.
My main course was great fun. While MJ crammed meat faceward, I got gloriously messy tearing meat from a tiny bird skeleton. Having pulled off the first leg to play “I’m giant Henry the Eighth I am”, I had a brief period of polite forking, before I abandoned all protocol and dived straight in.
The intense pomegranate sauce was remarkable. I think it needed something to restrain it, but I can’t quibble unduly with such boldness of flavour. The simple rice and salad were grand, without be too noteworthy.
Dishes were accompanied by a few sauces. MJ got a bread-based sauce that was pleasingly savoury without being a real winner. The intensely brown and garlicky accompaniment to my quail was soon designated as the “best one”. I turned my gaze for a second and it was wolfed with glee by the delightedly smiling MJ.
Pretty fair espresso rounded things out, then we were on our way, once I’d made my trip to the cash machine.
So overall, I think Fatma adds a good new note to our Edinburgh dining symphony. They have a little way to go to shape their offering, but things start from a solidly entertaining base. The place is definitely worth a visit, as their dishes are enticing and the service, which may not be to everyone’s tastes, is unabashedly welcoming. Good, but not great yet, Fatma has an opportunity to become a real diner favourite.
Mmmmm. Middle Eastern food is some of my favourite food, a very close second behind rustic Italian meals. And when we discovered that my favourite Piatto Verde was closed on the only day that Blythe and I could make a night to celebrate our very close birthdays, then I was at a loss. Luckily, Blythe knew of Fatma, and my love of this cuisine.
We made our way to the pub first and then to this stylish place along the shore. I admit, it felt wrong to be so close to Mithas and not go, but I shook off my reservations and we made our way to Fatma. The service was keen. The owner treated us like someone he knew and was quite fond of, while the waitress worked the room in efficient and friendly style.
I always tend to order the same things when I go to such places: taboulleh and the mixed grill. I realised as of late that unless I make a real effort, I am mostly a vegetarian at home, but when given the option out, I am usually not, as was the case this evening.
I dutifully ordered my pre-chosen options and we chose a bottle of Rioja. I do really like a good Rioja (red or white).
We waited a few moments for our starters while I opened the BEST moustache related jewellery ever! It is the year of the moustache and I hope to soon be able to drink from my moustache mug while wearing my sweater with moustaches dangling from both my ears and on my chain. Is there such thing as overkill? (The answer is, obviously, no)
Our starters arrived with a basket of Lebanese flat bread which I forsook and instead dove into my taboulleh. It could have used a dash more lemon for that extra bounce of flavour, but overall, I was pleased with it and it boded well for the main event. Blythe’s soup, however, was a bit odd. I’ve never seen a blitzed seafood soup. But if the taste is there, why not? Perhaps it is traditional in Lebanon to blitz the soup?
Soon enough, our mains arrived with a flourish. Blythe’s twin quail dish was especially eye catching. It was beautifully presented. The several sauces that came alongside each dish were explained to us, and they took extra care to tell me that one of my sauces had bread in it (in case I should be gluten intolerant) since I ordered my main without the normal bread base. I was served a large plate of mixed meats. The lamb and chicken pieces which were well flavoured and nicely cooked and the minced kebabs were well-flavoured, too. The sauce that went with Blythe’s dish was heavy on the garlic, and the one I liked best. The addition of a bit of garlic yoghurt also played a role in cooling the dish and worked well with all the elements. A side of grilled veggies was nicely cooked, if a bit oily.
Fatma is a nice addition to the fine dining at the shore and gives diners another reason to head down to Leith. My heart was not entirely in it, but I happily ate too much, and would do so again if it were suggested as a dining destination.
MJ scores Fatma
3.5/5 for food
4/5 for presentation
4/5 for service
3.5/5 for setting
giving an overall 15/20
Today’s questers were: MJ, Blythe (35)
We ate: taboulleh, fish soup, sauteed quail, mixed grill
We drank: rioja, water, espresso
We wore: moustache based birthday jewellery, moustache
Total bill: £74.10