Upper crustacean Donald Reid finds Roy Brett’s new restaurant Ondine bringing a bit of swagger to seafood dining in Edinburgh
Seafood has always been a Scottish speciality. There’s a line of argument that all the good stuff passes under our noses on the way to Spain, but if you know where to look it’s here alright. If you want to eat local food, then heading to a good seafood restaurant is the best way to play the trump cards in your hand.
Ondine has ambitions to be just this sort of landmark venue. Named after a mythological sea spirit, it’s the solo venture of Roy Brett, the Edinburgh-born chef who ran Rick Stein’s restaurants in Padstow from 2001 to 2005 and made dining destinations out of the sinister black Dakota hotels in South Queensferry and Eurocentral. Located one floor up from street level in the same new building as the Hotel Missoni on the Royal Mile, it has no ties to the hotel but shares its upmarket aura, with its dominant feature a large, curving crustacean bar that pushes all the tables towards two walls of windows which peer out over busy George IV Bridge and Victoria Street. The nouveau, slightly swanky feel of the place, with chunky black leather seats, branded blinds and waiters in what you might mistake for dentist’s outfits, doesn’t do full justice to the quality of food and cooking. If you’re ever inclined to a blow-out on top-notch seafood this is where to do it, with three different varieties of oyster available, lobster thermidor, plates of razor clams and scallops or a platter of assorted hot shellfish expertly oven roasted to buttery succulence. That will cost you £28 (and still seem worth it), but despite appearances it’s not all high-end stuff. Alternatively there’s rich, French-style fish soup, a fennel-laced rabbit stew or tingling fish curry featuring a pearly slab of cod all coming in at more familiar restaurant prices.
Ondine isn’t yet stating the provenance of its fish, but it should. While much of the shellfish travels the relatively short distance from Eyemouth, Brett – a likeable and principled chef – clearly feels ready to lock horns with the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy that exists in
THIS IS THE PLACE TO HAVE A BLOW-OUT ON TOP-NOTCH SEAFOOD many parts of the restaurant industry when it comes to fish. The cod used for the curry – as well as in ‘real’ fish fingers served on the lunch menu – comes not from the North Sea but from the Pacific, where the fishery is certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council. Ondine may well become something of a Scottish flagship for the MSC, which offers the most useful guidance for consumers in the complex world
2 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh 0131 226 1888, ondinerestaurant.co.uk,
Set-price two-course lunch £14.95; ave. price two-course meal £25
of fish sustainability. Sadly for not just Scotland but the world, certain fish stocks seem unlikely to survive our current fishing practices. Ondine’s promise is a chance to get messy with a bunch of sweet crustaceans, but in fuller knowledge and appreciation of their value.
TAKE THREE: SEAFOOD STALWARTS
Gamba 225a West George Street, Glasgow, 0141 572 0899, www.gamba.co.uk Alan Tomkins and Derek Marshall’s city centre basement dining room has been top of the bill for over a decade now with a reputation for quality ingredients, exciting cooking and superb service. Seafood here is either given the Mediterranean treatment or alternatively a Far Eastern twist. 10 THE LIST 22 Oct–5 Nov 2009
Skippers Seafood Bistro 1a Dock Place, Edinburgh, 0131 554 1018, www.skippers.co.uk It’s now 30 years since Skippers sparked the transformation of Leith from down-at-heel port to yuppified culinary quarter. The defining vibe – picked up by the majority of the capital’s other fish restaurants – is a New England-style cosiness with bare wooden tables and nautical knick-knacks. Crabshakk 1114 Argyle Street, Glasgow, 0141 334 6127, www.crabshakk.com John MacLeod and Lynne Jones’ funky but tiny Finneston venue has proven quite a hit since its arrival in early 2009, offering a new style of seafood bistro that blends Scottish west-coast fishing hut with smartly designed urban venue. Simplicity of style marks the adaptable menu.