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First Coast

First Coast

97-101 Dalry Road,

0131 313 4404

Price Rating: 2

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Success is too sweet

Review published on 27/06/2011 © Sunday Herald

First Coast must be doing something right. We rocked up on a Monday night and were lucky to get a table. OK, a good value early evening menu pulls people in, and this densely populated area of Edinburgh houses lots of Dinkys (double income no kids yet) and relatively affluent young single people, so it has a rich demographic to tap.

It hosts themed nights, which cultivate repeat business by offering something new. The menu for a recent French night sounded tempting; things like grilled sardines with sauce vierge, squid stew with aioli, aligot and cherry clafoutis. Perhaps people like the buzzy atmosphere, the affable service and the optimistic freshness of the nautical, Greek-island blue and white colour scheme. Maybe they have spotted the well-chosen wines by the glass. Whatever the explanation, the popular verdict on First Coast is definitely a thumbs up.

On past visits I have enjoyed First Coast, but this time, the food didn’t float my boat, or rather, it didn’t float it enough to make me rush back. Some of the combos are downright weird. Spinach dhal with soft boiled egg? Hmmm, not convinced. Linguine with skordalia (a Greek garlic potato puree) and toasted almonds? Ditto. As for grilled mackerel with “curried aubergine and peanut chutney”, I can’t see those flavours working.

But we remained open-minded, and out of curiosity tried the Persian herb, barberry and pistachio frittata because we couldn’t imagine how it would taste. The actuality was a standard frittata with loads of unannounced red pepper in it. I couldn’t pick up any spice flavours, Iranian or otherwise. The barberries tasted like sultanas. Dried fruit in an omelette – how does that grab you? There were a few pistachios, but nut and firm-cooked egg isn’t a winner. And at £10.95, it didn’t strike me as fabulous value for money either.

Our starters had more going for them. Squares of crisp-fried polenta came capped with a lively, oily melt of homemade, fruity confit tomatoes, pungent anchovies and salty capers. A saucer-sized base of puff pastry was spread with a scant layer of tasty brandade (salted fish, olive oil, milk and potato) made with lythe in place of the usual cod, and partnered by ribbons of pickled cucumber. What I wanted though, was more brandade and less pastry, or even no pastry, which would have made the dish less stodgy and more interesting.

First Coast has always been good at using the less fished-out species, and my coley, simply grilled under a layer of creme fraiche and parmesan, was a clever approach to cooking any white fish. A great idea for cooking at home when you want something healthy and good but fast and easy. Perhaps the secret at First Coast is to go for the simpler dishes. I could have had the coley cooked with brown shrimp, bacon and garlic butter, but didn’t, because I’d predicted that the garlic would vie with the rather special fishy flavour of the shrimp.

So, the savoury offerings were uneven, a bit rocky, you might say, but First Coast really lost the plot at dessert. It was as if the proprietors have shares in Tate & Lyle. Our puddings suffered from massive overkill on the sugar front. A strawberry and elderflower sorbet, which had no perceptible fragrance of the aforementioned blossom, floated in a pond of strawberry and mint syrup so cloying it might have been liquid glucose. The mint component was supplied by coarsely torn mint leaves, making for a crude, faintly medicinal effect – and £4.95 is a lot to pay for such a misjudged pudding.

There was no refuge in the passion fruit pavlova, wherein the zippy fragrance of the fruit was assailed by another two-handed sugar attack of sticky lemon curd and sickly sweet, dusty textured, snow-white meringue. The only meringue worth eating, in my opinion, is baked to a toasty brown and still soft and a little bit chewy in the middle.

First Coast has clearly hit on a successful formula, so I file this as a minority opinion but a hard look at the wacky combos wouldn’t go amiss, and the sweet tooth desserts need correction.