Centotre, Edinburgh - Restaurants in Edinburgh | s1play.com

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103 George Street,

0131 225 1550

Price Rating: 3

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Food is central concern

Review published on 29/07/2013 © Sunday Herald

Few menus whet the appetite quite so keenly as that of Centotre. It’s not that the language is overblown, or pornographic. There are, thank heavens, no over-heated descriptions of dishes in purple prose.

In fact, the menu is rather plainly, even functionally written, but the inherent quality of the ingredients, their uniqueness and specificity, shines through and excites.

Reading it is a bit like taking a guided tour of Italy’s finest food and wine producers, in the capable, knowledgable hands of Slow Food, the eco-gastronomic organisation that identifies and vigorously promotes the products of small growers and artisans.

Italophiles be warned: reading this menu may induce a sudden urge to book a holiday to Italy. Although two decades of Berlusconi have done untold damage to Italian society and culture, Italians defend their culinary patrimony with vigour and intelligence. Happily, he has not yet ruined Italian food.

It’s perfectly possible that some of Centotre’s customers are not fully aware of just how noteworthy many of the raw materials served at the restaurant really are, using it more as a superior pizzeria or spaghetteria.

Sitting on Edinburgh’s George Street, in an imposing former bank building, Centotre attracts a well-heeled crowd of people who like glitz, and a dash of “la bella figura”.

It’s a place where some come to quaff cocktails and flash their accessories after completing their passeggiata from Harvey Nichols, but don’t let that put you off. What is on the plates is definitely several notches up from the Scottish-Italian norm – the roll call of hand-picked ingredients here is on par with what you would find at Giorgio Locatelli’s Locanda Locatelli, and the River Café in London.

Mozzarella, for instance, in all its milky, yielding gorgeousness, comes from a favourite producer near Caserta, in the Campania region, using unpasteurised buffalo milk. The burrata, on the other hand – that’s a mozzarella filled with a luscious water bomb of cream within – is sourced in Puglia.

At Centotre, there’s nothing like a plain, old, standard tomato. Instead, you eat sweet, meaty Datterini, sharp Camone and Cuor di Bue, or cherry-sized Pachino; an exercise in biodiversity. Any gardener familiar with the Franchi Seeds of Italy range will be excited to see the mauve-grey contours of violetti aubergine on their plate.

When you are served olives at Centotre, you don’t get any old olives, but Liguria’s celebrated Taggiasche sort, a relatively rare variety, from a small harvest. And some of Italy’s finest extra virgin olive oil producers are represented here, from Le Ferre, down in Puglia, up to the estimable house of Fontodi in Tuscany.

Air-dried beef fillet (Bresaola) from the Alpine Valtellina area – a cured meat with European Union protected status in recognition of its unique geographic character and authenticity – came diaphanous-pink, under celery leaves, double-podded broad beans and shavings of young Pecorino cheese. It was an immaculate dish, but essentially an exercise in assembly.

Potato gnocchi, on the other hand, were a testament to kitchen skill and experience. Deftly hand-formed and swooningly soft, these soothing, smooth little dumplings were bound in a sauce of fresh pecorino ricotta and Fontodi oil, brightened with baby spinach and scattered with pine nuts. Succulent razor clams found a happy home nestling amongst casarecce pasta in a rich, coating sugo of Pachino tomatoes and fresh chilli.

A tender veal cutlet got the classic Milanese breadcrumb treatment, and was only marginally let down by Centotre’s garden vegetables, which, although home-grown, were dully cooked.

Pleasingly simple as it was, the foamy chocolate and Maraschino cherry mousse was effortlessly eclipsed by an Amalfi take on Eton Mess: eggy lemon curd and sharp lemon sorbet in a tussle with home-baked meringue and crushed Amaretti biscuits.

Centotre’s wine list is dazzling, every bit as well chosen as its food. It may be £9.75 for a glass of Bellavista’s elegant Franciacorta, Italy’s top sparkling wine, bottled in Murano glass from Venice.

But what the hell, it’s special.