Heavy to heavenly: reinventing the Italian restaurant at Contini
By Diana Spencer
The Contini family was one of the first to establish an Edinburgh restaurant empire in 1919. Since then the name has come to be associated with high quality eateries in prestigious locations which define the Scottish-Italian dining scene.
The family's flagship restaurant on George Street has just reopened after a £250K refurbishment. With an emphasis on light meals to share, low on stodge but full of fresh flavours, the new approach heralds a real revolution in Italian dining. Classics like the Milanese and Polpette have been reinvented, with additions like fennel, sultanas, almonds and capers giving a twist on the traditional recipes. The popular Contadino and Agnolotti pasta dishes are still there, but in smaller portions, allowing a variety of different dishes to be enjoyed.
The restaurant was busy when we arrived at 12.30 on a Wednesday and, judging by the clientele, the elegant new interior and modernised menu was already a hit with local businesses, keen to impress colleagues and clients. It’s easy to see how this enthusiasm has spread as the staff are clearly proud of the food and excited to share it with their customers. Based on our hostess’s knowledgeable recommendations we opted to share three of the small ‘Primi’ dishes, two ‘Secondi’ main courses and two salads.
We could have happily enjoyed any or all of the many Primi options, but were delighted with the different tastes and textures in the Salame Calabrese with roasted aubergine, mint crème fraiche, pomegranate and pistachios, and the Mozzerella di Bufala with figs, honey and sourdough toast. Our main courses Cervo and Merluzzo also provided a delicious contrast from each other; the earthy venison was sweetened and elevated by balsamic onions and figs, while the cod with fennel and chilli was light and zingy. The salads perhaps offered some of the most interesting flavour combinations, particularly the well-balanced fennel with orange, olives and honey.
The meal was perfectly rounded off with two of the small but sublimely formed Dolci, Tirimisu and the Limone cream, which instantly had me transported to drinking Limoncello on the Amalfi Coast.
We were unfortunately unable to sample any of the wine or cocktail list on a midweek lunch, but both were intriguing enough to make us plan another visit to try a few more of the tempting dishes on the menu. We left the restaurant satsified and with contented taste buds, but without that stuffed feeling.
Viva la rivoluzione!
Contini George Street 103 George Street, Edinburgh, EH2 3ES 0131 225 1550 Mon-Fri 8am -10.30pm; Sat noon - 10.30pm; Closed Sunday