I’ve been going to quite a few ‘Yelp’ events lately. Sure, they are often centred around food, but I’ve found that they are also a great way to meet people who love going out and exploring their city and to get to try out and support local businesses; supporting your local businesses is a great way to keep the city ‘healthy’.
One recent event took me to the newest foodie creation from the ‘Contini’ dynasty, Contini Cannonball. I love their Scottish Cafe in the National Gallery, but usually only go for a quick bite, so I was keen to see what they had on offer at their new premises on the Royal Mile. Another great thing about these Yelp events is that we don’t just go for a meal. Oh no, these events are designed to allow the host to showcase their wares (food in most cases) and to get to know their clientele. For us, we get to sample the food and most importantly get to talk to the staff and even the owner and chef. I have to say, Contini were the most gracious hosts I’ve come across so far! They created a signature cocktail, had soft drinks, Hors D’oeuvres, gelato, tours of the building AND we met the lovely chef, Emma and the super friendly owner, ‘The’ Victor Contini.
I’ll start with the building. As you approach the Castle Esplanade it is the very last building on the left. With such a prestigious location (with some of the best views in the city) I thought that it must have been an important building. I love the history of Edinburgh, and getting to explore the streets and architecture, so it was a real treat when Victor told us about the building’s past. It was built in the 1600’s as a private residence; over time, and with damage from fires, it was rebuilt into a tenement. Following that, it has been a school, a hospital and more recently, offices for the Royal Military Tattoo who still own the building. In fact, Victor told us that the Tattoo approached them, asking if Contini would turn the offices into an eatery with proceeds helping to supports the work of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo and the Benevolent funds of the armed forces and the arts in Scotland. The building is also famous (and named) for the cannonballs lodged in the outside wall. Despite rumours of battles and Bonny Prince Charlie, Victor admitted that the truth was that the cannonballs were height markers for the water pipes which brought drinking water into Edinburgh (it was funnier when he told it!). The building is set over several levels. The lower level is a gelateria, styled like an old fashioned ice cream parlour with pastel colours straight from an American diner in the 1950’s. The next level is a cafe for breakfast and lunch and the top level is a restaurant serving lunch, dinner and Sunday Roast. Which brings us to the food…
During the evening we sampled lovely little bites of roast root vegetables with Scottish Crowdie Cheese, set on a base of flaky ‘butteries’; smoked salmon canapés, and celeriac soup with apple compote. Later Victor and the chef, Emma explained that nearly all of the ingredients used at Cannonball were Scottish and seasonal. That’s my kind of restaurant! I don’t follow a strict eating ‘ethos’ but if I had to adopt a label it would be something like ‘localtarian’. I try and eat local to reduce food miles for the sake of the planet – but also to ensure the food gets from farm to plate as quickly as possible to maintain nutrient content. Eating local also helps the local economy and in most cases ensures you are eating what is in season. Contini have summarised their approach on their website….
“The finest Scottish dining with a hint of Italian heritage in the heart of the Old Town, with fabulous views of Edinburgh Castle”
Emma did admit that this often brought her challenges in the kitchen, often having to adapt dishes at the last minute due to availability of ingredients. The samples I ate showed that she is definitely up for the challenge!
After meeting Victor and Emma, hearing about the history of the building, and learning how the restaurant is helping to support the Tattoo and Scottish food producers, I knew I wanted to come back for a meal with my husband.
Arriving for dinner, we were greeted by a shivering cold but still friendly hostess who took us past the side door I used previously around to a back entrance.
I never had a tour of the upper level so I was excited to see what I missed during the Yelp event. We had parked the car in Grassmarket and walked up both Granny Green’s steps and Castle Wynd so we thought we had a good pre-dinner workout before getting to the restaurant! But, we were now faced with even more steps – I’m definitely ordering dessert! The bright, wide staircase was minimally but effectively decorated; vintage Tattoo posters, a wee school desk, signs for the Headmaster’s Office all helped tell the history of the building.
We arrived at the top, surprisingly not too out of breath. The restaurant is casual, bright and minimalist yet not modern. The decor still has a sense of history through the architectural features of the bar and the utilitarian lighting that could have been in the best Victorian schools.
Although I’m not a vegetarian, I don’t eat a lot of meat. When I do, I prefer to eat game or pasture fed meat. Sure, it’s more expensive but that’s why I don’t each much. Luckily there were lots of options that met my picky criteria as well as seafood and at least one vegetarian option per course. Everything was delicious from the complimentary bread, butter (Scottish of course) and olives (not so local) to our final, final dessert. The portions were not huge, and the ‘tower’ style presentation made it look like there wasn’t enough to fill the plate but it was very satisfying. After our first dessert, we were enjoying the view of the castle and just chatting in a lovely room so we ordered a second round of dessert – a cheeseboard to share. Well, I had to try the Scottish cheeses!! I’m not a food critic so I’ll just let the pics do the talking….
Burnside Farm roasted pigeon with parsnip and honey puree, white turnip
Chargrilled venison with spiced red cabbage, Scottish hedgehog mushrooms, celeriac puree, berry jus
Baked Peterhead lemon sole with Carroll’s heritage potatoes, Phantassie kale and spinach mustard cream sauce
Dark chocolate pudding served with iced creme fraiche and coffee meringue
Affogato Frangelico (note: ‘Affogato’ means ‘drowned’ in Italy so this typical dessert is icecream ‘drowned’ in espresso, my husband choose the option to add a shot of hazelnut liqueur as well)
Cheeseboard: Isle of Mull Cheddar and Lanark Blue, seasonal chutney, dried fruits and sourdough bread