Centotre103 George Street,
0131 225 1550
£ – inexpensive
££ – mid-price
£££ – expensive
££££ – very expensive
Review published on 01/06/2004 © Sunday Herald
George Street is Edinburghs smart shopping street, an upmarket antidote to the anytown-anywhere retail homogeneity of Princes Street.
Until recently, however, there was no evidence of any real independent activity on the food front. George Street, despite its pretensions, is stiff with drearily familiar chains restaurants and coffee bars; Est Est Est, All Bar One, Starbucks, Costa et al.
For those of us quaint old-fashioned types still attached to the idea that the retail life of any city should not be an identikit of every other, it was something of a struggle to find anywhere to eat, let alone meet a friend.
The nearest and most civilised possibility was to walk down to Glass And Thompson in Dundas Street. That this indy outlet continues to thrive is evidence, not only of consistently good performance, but the generally unmet emotional desire that many people feel for outlets not stamped out by some corporate cookie cutter.
Now I am positively ecstatic that Centotre has now opened at 103 George Street, hence the name (Italian for 103). Not only is it indy, but look who owns it, none other than Victor and Carina Contini, previously half of the Valvona and Crolla dynasty, an impressive and confidence-inspiring CV in itself.
They have taken over the majestic, pillared and corniced, typically George Street premises, once a bank, most recently a Marie Celeste mens Jigsaw, and electrified it with a buzzy, all-day Italian Caffè, bar and restaurant.
I hesitate to use the latter term because it does not signal the welcome flexibility of the menu, which caters for everything from a coffee or an indulgent aperitivo (I particularly recommend the prosecco cocktails with Fragolino (strawberry liqueur with tiny alpine strawberries in it) to an Italianate four or five-course meal.
The breakfast possibilities are particularly rich, including delights such as porridge with stewed apricots, honey and cream, yogurt smoothies or fresh goats cheese and home-made marmalade on sour dough toast.
The main menu eschews any complication. The appetisers or antipasti are predicated on ingredients with provenance sound salumi, buffalo milk mozzarella, wonderful olive oil. Thereafter a blissful simplicity prevails with a backbone of interesting, less predictable pastas and pizzas flanking a few still fairly priced main courses.
Since the pizza oven is very much at the heart of this operation, we shared a pizza as a starter. The dough was impeccable and nicely fired. It was topped with Italian greens fried with chilli and garlic, pancetta, tomato and Fior di Latte cheese. This cheese is perhaps a fraction too watery to allow a pizza to really crisp up in the middle but the flavours were so delightful, and the dough so tasty, it didnt matter. It went very nicely with a small, simple salad of potato, raw fennel and garlic, laced with grassy olive oil, lemon and lots of black pepper.
As comfort food goes, the papparadelle with a rich meat ball sugo really met the mark with a flavour that testified to long, slow cooking of meat in sauce. Grilled Italian piccante sausages were also intensely meaty (no cheap and nasty fillers here). One sausage is a meal in itself. Served with the double indulgence of a divine potato purée with olive oil and firm, slate-green lentils, this made a fortifying dish.
The menu makes a feature of ice cream, made to an old family recipe, often juxtaposed with liqueurs such as Frangelico, Limoncello. Or theres the age-old appeal of oozing gorgonzola dolce served with a ripe pear or fresh pecorino with honey.
The wine list is mind-blowing for Italian wine enthusiasts and there are lots of possibilities by the glass. Victor and Carina Contini oversee the whole operation with intelligence, committment and wit. It will be hard to stay away.
© Sunday Herald