merienda, edinburgh, review

| invited for review* |

I’ve been really lucky in my time as a food blogger – not only to be invited along to wonderful restaurants that are run by wonderful human beings, but also that I’ve rarely had a bad experience. It makes things much easier to write about when they’re positive but it’s positively a JOY to write when you have a truly spectacular evening. I had one such night at the relatively new addition to Stockbridge: Merienda, a Mediterranean inspired restaurant which doesn’t just use Scottish ingredients, but actively promotes and creates dishes around them to make them sing.

You might have seen recently that I shared their news that they’re offering a “build your own” tasting menu concept. Jay Rayner, who has bemoaned the tasting menu setup for some time would love this. It’s essentially small plates, which you can pick and choose. They’re all of a similar size and come from the kitchen as and when they’re ready. They leave the menu on the table so if you’ve ordered six dishes and decide you want to make that up to ten, you can. You’d be forgiven for thinking this is “just tapas” but when you see the plates, you’ll soon realise that this is so much more than that.

Quite simply, this is one of the best meals I’ve had in Edinburgh. It’s up there with Le Roi Fou, The Kitchin, The Table and 83 Hanover Street for me. This unpretentious neighbourhood place isn’t going chasing for stars, which results in excellent food without the pomp.

Let me start by saying, the food tasted as good as it looks. This was one of the easiest meals to photograph as the plates are so beautifully put together.

Homemade focaccia with basil oil

Basil oil is one of my favourite dipping oils and worked beautifully with this light focaccia bread laced with sun dried tomatoes.

Bresaola with marinated artichokes

This dish, for something so simple, was divine. The bresaola (salted, air dried beef) paired perfectly with the artichokes which are dressed in a marinade taken from the owner Campbell’s time at Raffaelli’s restaurant in Edinburgh in the 80s. It has stood the test of time – and converted my boyfriend into loving artichokes as much as I do!

Tobermory trout with spicy crème fraiche

As soon as I saw this on the menu, I knew I needed to order it having spent an evening with the producer of Tobermory Fish Co, Sally, and knowing this is the best smoked trout on the market! Merienda serve it chunky for maximum flavour atop a Pollock-esque spicy creme fraiche** with scorched cucumber and a cucumber gel. No style over substance here, the spicy creme fraiche just livened up the trout and brought out the best in it.

Seared tuna with radish and mojo verde

In a word: exceptional. This dish was perfection – delicious, fresh tuna rolled in dulse (a seaweed from the shores of Scotland) served with thinly sliced purple radish and on a bed of mojo verde. The mojo verde, a Canarian version of a salsa verde, was fresh, summery and didn’t overpower the delicate tuna while the wasabi mayo brought a kick. Tuna is one of my favourite fishes and my boyfriend, who doesn’t normally like raw fish, declared this as one of the best dishes of the evening.

Loin of veal with golden oyster mushrooms

Served on a garlic croute, the veal loin is cooked sous vide then finished briefly on the stove; the result is perfectly cooked, tender meat sitting proudly on some golden oyster mushrooms which have been grown locally by an artisan mushroom grower – and Edinburgh taxi driver(!) – called Meri Mushrooms. The garlic croute keeps this dish summery but I could also see it working well in winter on some creamy pomme puree. Delicious.

Tenderstem broccoli with romesco sauce

A bit of green to balance out the distinct lack of vegetables in our choice of dishes! Nice addition to our meal, but didn’t sing to us.

Pork belly and barbecue sauce with warm potato salad

Another sous vide dish of pork belly which was as soft as a duck feather pillow, coated with a light barbecue sauce and a homely, creamy potato salad. If this was what got knocked up on the barbecue, I’d be having one every week.

Herb crusted lamb and bonbon with ratatouille

This is the softest lamb I’ve ever eaten, just look at how perfectly pink it is. The herb crust was tasty and added a lovely crunch to the buttery soft lamb. A little tower of ratatouille which I can only assume is the ratatouille recipe from the film of the same name as it’s certainly the best ratatouille I’ve ever had. The bon bon was a touch dry but tasted delicious and the red wine jus was sublime.

Potato and pea presse with pea puree

I love that food can transport you through time – and this clever and innovative dish of pea and potato puree did just that. It took me to Summer 2004 when I worked for a catering company and the salad of the summer was new potatoes, peas, lemon and mint. I’m sure how they achieve this block of compressed flavour is relatively simple, but I’d like to keep the magic alive by not knowing how!

Candied lemon and black olive chicken

I don’t want to do this a disservice by likening it to lemon chicken from a chinese restaurant, but if you perhaps imagine that first then change everything about it to make it good, then that would be this dish. The salty black olives offset the sweetness of the candied lemon and plum tomatoes brought a welcome acidity.

Burnt Basque cheesecake with berries

From above it doesn’t look like much, but this cheesecake was incredible. Rich, indulgent, decadent cheesecake, acidic with berries, sweet with the “burnt” caramelised top, it was the perfect combination of all the tastes you want from a dessert.

The restaurant is owned by Campbell Mickel, a chef and corporate caterer of over thirty years standing, he still has a strong influence in the menu, assisted by head chef Robbie whose experience includes Michelin starred restaurants in Paris and Edinburgh favourite 21212. Front of house is taken care of by the lovely Leanne who was an excellent host for our evening along with Campbell himself. The passion these guys have for the food and produce is palpable – and they’re more than happy to share this with you if you want to know more about the dishes or the produce or the suppliers.

The menu, admirably, is changed every month. That’s around 30 dishes being developed each and every month, based on what their suppliers have in seasonally and the time of year. Each of the dishes we had were perfect for summer and the exciting thing about the menu changes is that you can go back time and time again but potentially never try the same dish twice.

Our meal would have cost around £80 before drinks with us sharing 12 plates so in terms of a tasting menu, it’s brilliant value for money. Particularly when you take into account the quality and provenance of the ingredients coupled with the service, I wouldn’t think twice about paying that amount for the meal. Every dish we had was excellent and contained little surprises of innovation combined with the skill of perfect cooking. It’s the perfect neighbourhood restaurant for intimate meals, family meals or celebratory meals and I can see us going back time and time again. (I just hope they keep that tuna dish on all year round!)

Merienda, 30 North West Circus Place, Edinburgh EH3 6TP

* I know it can be hard to believe reviews when they’re so glowing – especially when I have told you that I didn’t pay for it, but trust me when I say that all words, opinions and gushings about how good this place is are entirely my own. I would happily go back and pay for this time and time again. And fully intend to do so!

** For regular followers, I have been following a dairy and egg free diet for almost a year now due to my baby’s intolerances, but have been getting a little risque in my ordering of things as we seem to be making progress on his growing tolerance of things and if I eat them in moderation / small portions – hurray!

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