West Room Re­viewed by Joanna Blyth­man 9/10

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - Food And Drink -

There’s a gen­tle re­proach to Scot­land on the menu at West Room, a proper Ital­ian out­fit serv­ing up Vene­tian ci­c­chetti – lit­tle por­tions of food – to the post-of­fice crowd in Ed­in­burgh’s west end. “In Italy we eat when we drink. Buon ap­petito.” They’re speak­ing my lan­guage here. I’m not a pub per­son. I don’t en­joy drink­ing al­co­hol with­out food. And no, a bag of crisps or a greasy handful of peanuts doesn’t count as food.

Ital­ians, of course, have got civilised drink­ing down to a fine art. If you or­der a drink in Italy, at the very least you’re go­ing to get olives, bits of pizza, fo­cac­cia, dips.

Some­times the snacks that ac­com­pany an “aper­i­tivo” amount to a meal, as in Venice. Down the sin­u­ous back­streets and al­leys of La Serenis­sima, you’ll find those lit­tle bars, bacari, whose ci­c­chetti pre-date the fash­ion for small plates and tapas.

They don’t look like much when they’re closed: a nar­row front, bot­tles ob­scur­ing the win­dow, a cou­ple of rick­ety ta­bles out­side if you’re lucky. Then they spring to life in the early evening when they’re thronged with lo­cals, and the bar tops fill up with plates of Adri­atic seafood from the Rialto mar­ket, cured meats, lo­cal cheeses, salt cod, and much more.

It’s this spirit that West Room tries to cap­ture. Drably Vene­tian decor wouldn’t work here.

In­stead there are su­per­sized lamp­shades, one of those geo­met­ric tiled floors that makes you feel dizzy if you look at it for too long, and pan­elled walls en­clos­ing a grid of gold leaf squares, the look you get in his­toric Ital­ian caf­fès that have been re­cently re­fur­bished.

West Room misses a trick: the wine list isn’t Ital­ian enough, with only one Vene­tian red. But the food?

It starts and ends well. Fritto misto, the acid test of clean deep-fry­ing, com­pe­tence with bat­ter and truly fresh fish, passes with fly­ing colours: pearly squid, stiff, crisp white­bait, sur­pris­ingly good prawns (not too big, quite flavour­some), a mel­low aioli.

Fo­cac­cia is a touch am­a­teur­ish, in a good way, less airy than some but with an ad­dic­tive, salt-dusted, well-oiled crust. Risotto of East Neuk crab with chilli and tomato is fight­ing an in­ter­nal bat­tle with it­self.

The rice is cooked to a cor­rectly firm con­sis­tency; it forms the req­ui­site gen­tle slump and you can see am­ple strands of white crab meat within it.

But the acidic whack of the tomato and the heat of the chilli beats its gen­tle charms into sub­mis­sion.

Three fat pea, moz­zarella and basil arancini are a steal for £4.50, in­ter­est­ing too with fresh green peas at their heart and a pesto that tastes home­made.

Broad bean br­uschetta, mean­while, is the an­tithe­sis of the usual lazy ef­fort: painstak­ingly dou­ble-pod­ded beans piled high on toasted fo­cac­cia spread with whipped ri­cotta, and heaps of oily fresh mint to dress it.

Home­made ravi­oli of the day con­sti­tute an­other bar­gain for £6. Their ri­cotta fill­ing is sim­ple, even timid, the per­fect foil, in fact, for a vi­brant, hand­made pars­ley pesto.

They come with a clut­ter of toasted hazel­nuts, crisped-up cavolo nero, cylin­ders of salt-baked golden car­rots that are still in their skin, and rib­bons of sweet pink pick­led car­rot.

The to­tal­ity, al­though most def­i­nitely not an Ital­ian line-up, makes a jolly

West Room is the op­po­site of a cyn­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment. It talks up, not down, to its cus­tomers

in­ter­est­ing veg­gie op­tion that speaks of kitchen ef­fort.

Prices of ar­ti­san cheese be­ing what they are, I am amazed by our £6.50 plate of Pecorino al Vino, a mouth-fill­ing cheese from the Veneto that ma­tures in red wine for at least three months. Here are three thick chunks, four cros­tini toasts made from the in-house fo­cac­cia, a ta­ble­spoon­ful of fra­grant aca­cia hon­ey­comb. I couldn’t buy these in­gre­di­ents in a shop for this price.

We quickly pol­ish off the tiramisù, that of­ten te­dious dessert, which is rather com­pelling here. Nearly liqui­fied, thin sponge floats on pow­er­ful espresso, un­der a thin creamy froth punc­tu­ated by fatty curds of mas­car­pone cheese. It’s barely sweet, a com­mend­ably grown-up pud­ding. West Room is the op­po­site of a cyn­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment. Hard-work­ing, top-drawer sourc­ing, it talks up, not down, to its cus­tomers. Ital­ian, in the very best way.

Joanna Blyth­man is the Guild of Food Writ­ers Food Writer of the Year 2018

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