We’re seated beneath a John Bellany painting depicting Carina Contini’s grandfathers Ice Cream Parlour in Port Seton/Cockenzie.
We’re seated in what can only be described as one of the most beautiful buildings on George Street. A former banking hall, with highly decorated ceilings, large windows and pillars.
Contini’s on George Street have had a refurb and have opened up the space and made it feel bigger, and brighter – it has gorgeous soft grey leather seating mixed with beautifully upholstered chairs, alongside some communal eating benches; there are lots of Italian frescos and golden cherubs!
The emphasis is on sharing; you’re encouraged to order a few dishes from the Primi (first course) part of the menu. Every dish listed sounds mouth-watering. The Carpaccio – thinly sliced raw fillet of Scotch beef, porcini cream, Parmigiano Reggiano DOP and caper crust; or the Proscuitto di Parma DOP with candied cranberries, fresh herb ricotta and shaved chestnuts.
We ordered the Fritti which is fresh Scottish baby squid, deep fried Italian vegetables
with Amalfi lemon and Mara seaweed homemade mayonnaise. I love seafood and really like squid but I much prefer the meaty part and tend to skip the tentacles; which works out fine as my partner loves the crispiness of the tentacles. Sharing nailed!
The meaty part of the squid was cooked well, it was tender and perfectly seasoned. The mayo was light.
Next up was one of my favourite dishes of the night, the Burrata. Puglian Burrata cheese with honeyed beetroot, fresh grapefruit and honeycomb.
I was a little disappointed as Burrata usually comes similar to a whole Mozzarella ball and when you cut into it, it’s gooey on the inside. This one had been cut in half so some of the theatre was lost but not the taste. This is a taste sensation on a plate. The cool creaminess of the burrata with the grapefruit is genius and the beetroot added that slight crunch. Delicious.
This little jewel of a dish is the Contadino and it’s been on the menu since 2004. It was removed from the menu but after having been inundated with requests to put it back on, Victor and Carina have made it a staple on the menu. It’s fresh orecchiette with Italian piccante sausage, dried porcini mushrooms, rocket, fresh cream and Parmigiano Reggiano DOP; AND it’s sensational. The pasta is al dente. The cream carries the taste of the earthy mushrooms and the deep flavour from the sausage. You can order this as a starter or Mains. I’d go back for a mains for sure!
No Italian meal is complete without some homemade bread so we ordered the Pane al Forno; flavoured focaccia served with roasted hazelnut crema and I Ciacca cold pressed olive oil. The hazelnut crema is whipped but still wee tiny pieces of hazelnut in it. They don’t serve many slices which is a good thing – there are too many lovely dishes to eat and you don’t want to fill up on bread.
On the Secondi part of the menu you’ll find Veal, Pork Belly, Stone Bass and Seabass. You’ll also find the two dishes that we ordered for our mains.
Capesant – seared hand-dived Isle of Mull scallops with roasted cauliflower purée, sanguinaccio and smoked pancetta. No prizes for guessing who ordered the scallops??!!
There were loads of scallops on this dish. I think 6 in total and 4 were massive and plump and sweet and silky and …..
The roasted cauliflower puree was sweet and smooth and the wee nuggets of sanguinaccio or black pudding were quite crispy; along with the strips of bacon added the crunch texture profile needed for this dish. I was slightly confused by the endive leaf – I think it was just there as a prop; a vessel to carry the scallops on. None-the-less it didn’t really detract from the scallops.
Sadly, my partners course was the only dish that wasn’t great; and from the reaction of some of the other diners, they thought the same too. The Ossobuco is Chianti braised beef shin with parsnip and Vialone Nano saffron risotto. The risotto had the texture of an overcooked rice pudding and was complete mush. The beef shin unfortunately hadn’t been cooked for long enough which resulted in the outer part of the beef shin, falling apart but leaving the inside slightly tough and chewy. It’s such a pity as the whole meal had the potential to be outstanding.
Moving on to desserts, and from the Dolci menu we went for the Crema Cotta with orange and cinnamon and nutmeg meringue and from the Affogati menu the Classico Affogato of Espresso with Madagascan vanilla gelato. The Affogato was pleasant, the coffee strong and the ice cream creamy.
The Crema Cotta was very creamy and dense and the orange flavouring was strong but not overpowering. I loved the orange crisp as it was quite tart and rounded off the sweetness of the dish.
Victor and Corina Contini have three very successful restaurants in Edinburgh and you can see why. They pay great attention detail and are really behind using local suppliers where possible, using suppliers like Peelham Farm, The Ethical Shellfish Company and Grierson’s Organic.
They are very true to their Italian roots and haven’t succumbed to the pressures of making Italian food to suit the British palate. You want Italian food, you get Italian food.
This was a lovely evening spent eating some fabulous Italian food in an amazing venue in the heart of Edinburgh. Highly recommended for authentic Italian food.
Contini, George Street, Edinburgh Tel : 0131 2251550 www.contini.com
My Spoon Award : Gold Spoon 9/10