The Wee Restaurant17 Main Street,
01383 616 263
£ – inexpensive
££ – mid-price
£££ – expensive
££££ – very expensive
Review published on 24/01/2007 © Sunday Herald
At The Wee Restaurant, which sits almost below the supports of the Forth Rail Bridge, seafood seems an appropriate choice.
Okay, you are looking at a dirty river estuary, but it puts one in the mood for something piscine. This restaurant, as its name implies, is not generously proportioned, consisting of a few steps that lead to a raised dining area with brick walls that have been whitewashed, doubtless to add to the sense of space.
My dining companion didn't take to it at all. It is all clinical, hard surfaces, tiled floor, bare wooden tables and, on the night we visited, was insufficiently heated. "It's like being in a public toilet, or a swimming pool, " she said. An exaggeration definitely, but I could see what she meant.
We got off to a good start. Three sublime scallops had been ably seared to a golden brown and came with a velvety puree of Jerusalem artichoke, set off nicely by a sharp-sweet truffle vinaigrette. Plump, fleshy mussels were cooked with cream, bacon and Parmesan.
Served in a bowl, the juices pooled at the bottom and mixed with pine nuts to produce an extremely rich sort of soup. The menu had said the mussels had fresh basil. If it was there, you could barely taste it.
When scanning the menu, I went for the cod, not so much for the fish itself as its accompaniments, 'caramelised salsify' and 'red wine jus', the former because it was intriguingly different, the latter because I liked the idea of partnering white fish with red, rather than white wine. Like the fresh basil in the first course, the jus was no more than a ghost presence.
There was a brown drizzle around the perimeter of the cod that had gummed itself to the hot plate. It tasted tantalisingly good, but there just wasn't enough of it. There were about six matchstick-proportioned batons of delicious salsify, the same again of green beans and a modest quantity of creamed celeriac.
So the dish became almost exclusively about the cod, a large grilled fillet with a less than spectacular flavour. Mouthful after mouthful of lacklustre fish, not adequately supported by a supporting cast of other elements is not exciting.
Across the table, the other main course of organic salmon with creamed leeks, herb gnocchi and lobster butter, got the thumbs down. The leeks were interesting as creamy leeks are ever going to be.
The gnocchi were fresh and nice but under-salted and, tasted blind, you would not have picked up the herbs at all. The lobster presence in the butter was faint. None of these timid side acts could stand up to the salmon with its bitter, tinny flavour and its off-puttingly strong fish oil character. I personally boycott all farmed salmon, organic or otherwise, both on taste and environmental grounds, but my companion was more open-minded. She isn't now, however, because she couldn't get it down and left a good two-thirds of the original, once more generous, portion.
I began to notice the deficiencies in the service when our waiter whisked away her plate without enquiring whether there had been a problem with the salmon. A largely uneaten dish surely requires some enquiry, doesn't it? Our waiter seemed to be the only member of staff out front, and as the place filled up, the pace of delivery of the food slowed down and he looked ever more harassed. Any communication was not curt, as much as strictly functional. No small talk, no affable welcome or banter. I'm not asking for a standup comedian or even a genial host, but a soupçon of warmth or charm would not go amiss.
By the dessert stage, I wasn't surprised to find that the rich chocolate sauce that came with an adequate, but not special chocolate parfait was little more than a miniscule dribble on the plate. Blink and you would miss the cigarette paper-sized hazelnut tuile.
A potentially delicious almond and frangipane tart with impeccable pastry and capable vanilla ice cream was wrong-footed by its fruit component: wintry apricots don't taste of much. Why not use quince or apple or pear?
The Wee Restaurant could do with reviewing its dishes from a consumer point of view.
© Sunday Herald