In 2009, Chef Roy Brett who has a background with Rick Stein and Mark Hix amongst others set about changing that with Ondine. By virtue of the accolades already bestowed upon the restaurant, we might already say he has achieved some of his goals, winning the Good Food Guide's Scottish restaurant of the Year 2011 and the Scottish Restaurant Awards Seafood Restaurant of the Year also. As huge fans of Scottish seafood, Ondine then was simply a must visit restaurant.
Located just off the Royal Mile, next door to the fantastic Missoni Hotel that was our base for our stay in Edinburgh, it's a discrete entrance to Ondine that takes you upstairs to the first floor restaurant. On entering, you first see a private dining room, then the kitchen, followed by the horse shoe bar at which point you glance down to a break in the bar to a fantastic display of oysters, waiting, tempting, calling. Three types are on offer today, Carlingford (County Lough), Donegal (County Donegal) and Loch Fyne (Argyll). The display immediately puts you in the mood for the menu.
The greeting on the door is friendly and indeed staff throughout the night looked after us well, fully understanding the needs of diners who take a hands on approach to seafood with fresh napkins, fingerbowls and even fresh place mats as needed. Our waiter Craig who principally took care of our table was friendly, efficient and knowledgeable, everything you want in front of house, something made all together easier we're sure by the fact that he's working in an establishment where uncomprimising quality stands behind him.
The menu offers difficulties: there's too much we want. It's not helped by seeing some plates come out of the kitchen, not least the Fruits of the Sea Over Crushed Ice that is as visually impressive as any of its kind with its vertical towers of razorclams, crab and lobster claws; it cries out to be ordered. But then there's a hot version too; we finally settle on a strategy.
First, half a dozen oysters, two of each of the above named. Second, a shared roasted shellfish platter, and third, a main course of fish. With lobster included in the platter, the Lobster Thermidor as main seemed overkill (especially in light of the following day's planned excursion to The Lobster Shack in North Berwick).
The oysters were of course fantastic and (as Londoners) a nice change from the Colchester variety predominently delivered in London. Wonderfully different in that respect, the Donegal for example were so much more meaty and milky, it seemed like an oyster mini masterclass. The oyster's came with a mignonette and chorizo, a wonderful start.
The sole was served on the bone (you are however given the choice), and that gave it great depth of flavour, though arriving at the table, the head and the small skirt of bones around the outside had been removed making it simplicity itself to pull from the bone forkfuls of this divine fish. What a fantastic main and on this occasion, lemon sole felt nothing like a poor cousin to the many times more expensive Dover sole. This was for me as good as fish gets.
The sea bream curry was also perfectly on the mark. Reading the menu, it's a dish that sounds great but carries risks that it could go badly wrong. Not to be the case here however, everything on the dish came together beautifully well.
As is usually the case, so full from the splendid food so far, our shared dessert of chocolate mousse and candied hazelnuts was an entirely unnecessary order. While enjoyed, after fish this good, can only ever be a cameo role for the mousse.
Ondine, as far as we can tell, plays to a pretty full house the majority of the time and that's totally deserved. The setting is comfortable, the service excellent, and the seafood as good as it gets in the capital city. Ondine might be winning awards for the best seafood in Scotland right now, but on the basis of our experience, it rivals any of the major seafood restaurants in the UK.
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