La Bruschetta13 Clifton Terrace,
0131 467 7464
£ – inexpensive
££ – mid-price
£££ – expensive
££££ – very expensive
Review published on 11/12/2002 © Sunday Herald
A little bird told me that La Bruschetta was worth a visit. Fish is the thing, it chirped, which is why I ignored the bruschetta or to be correct, bruschette (plural).
The great thing about Italians is that they don't get hung up on grammatical correctness any more than they agonise about driving through red lights. If you can even spit out a word or two, they applaud and encourage you as if you were the finest linguist on the planet.
Such charm is the order of the day at La Bruschetta. Daring to order in my best Italian accent, I was rewarded with a flattering 'Parla Italiano Signora?', prompting me to revert to the safe house of English instantly.
If the front of house service has an old world feel to it, so does the food. Cosmo Tamburro, formerly of Cosmo's and now in his 70s, shares the stove with partner Giovanni Cariello, who is half his age.
With the exception of the bruschette which come in various forms, l'Originale (oregano, anchovies, capers), la Toscana (chicken liver, pancetta, bay leaves), la Valtellina (parma ham, rocket, parmesan shavings) etcetera, the menu might be frozen in time. There are unashamedly retro Scottish-Italian food icons such as avocado 'alla Scozzeze' - fanned out with smoked salmon and prawns with capers and cocktail sauce. Beef and veal reigns supreme in the meat department, commonly accompanied by brandy cream sauces. It is as if we were still in the Sixties and no one had ever heard of the River Cafe.
What I had forgotten, in the stampede for cavalo nero and extra virgin olive oil, was how good that kind of food can taste in the right hands. Four huge bouncy king prawns instantly reminded me. They had the intoxicating aroma of raw crustacea browned in their shells in a hot skillet. Don't ask me exactly how they were cooked; butter certainly figured, and possibly a bit of wine. All I know is that the juices that surrounded them were so good, I mopped up every last smear, sucking the carapaces dry. A similarly deep fishy flavour permeated the linguine with squid, prawns and mussels, moistened with tomato and fish stock and spiked perhaps with a touch of chilli. All around us, people were tucking into substantial chunks of monkfish and turbot. Mostly the fish is grilled on the bone, which helps to account for its notable flavour. My whole Dover sole was sublime, a golden-brown buttery testament to the pleasures of faultlessly fresh fish, grilled simply but by someone with years of experience.
I shouldn't have ordered saltimbocca all'Italiana, (veal escalope topped with ham, cheese, mushrooms) because what I really wanted was the more streamlined saltimbocca alla Romana where thin veal is rolled with sage leaves and prosciutto into something so tasty it 'leaps in the mouth', hence the word saltimbocca. It was ordinary; if not in execution, in concept. That Italian classic, Cotoletta alla Milanese, a thick veal chop pan-fried with breadcrumbs and parmesan served simply with lemon, looked exceptional. It would have been a better choice.
Italians don't do dessert the way the French or the Brits do, feeling, not unreasonably after the long rigmarole of a proper Italian meal, that a piece of fruit or a gelato is quite enough. Basically there was ice-cream, a rather too firm crema caramela and a token tiramisu apparently devoid of eggs and marsala, where straight mascarpone seemed to have been spread on coffee-soaked sponge.
La Bruschetta's current BYOB status helps keep costs down while clean-cut food and lack of pretension make it a particularly good option for families and older diners.
Joanna Blythman is Glenfiddich Food Writer of the Year . Illustration: adrian mcMurchie www.amcmurchie.com.