Stylish Italian food and wine bar in the depth of the Old Town
The entrance to Divino Enoteca on Merchant Street is salubriously inviting. A casual wander down Candlemaker Row, a glance to the left and you’ll see flaming torches beckoning you into a cellar full of Italian wine and riches.
The palate of the discerning eater and drinker will swiftly realise that this is a vastly different proposition from the drunken caterwauling emanating from the nearby Oz Bar.
Originally opened summer 2010, Divino Enoteca (literally, “wine library”) is restauranteur Tony Crolla’s latest venture in bringing the best of Italian living and dining to Edinburgh and is in fact situated directly beneath his Vittoria outpost on George IV Bridge.
So as to amp up the high life on offer on at Divino Enoteca, a new head chef has been appointed, Massimo Lauria, with the aim of providing excellent restaurant food alongside the wines which are the establishment’s speciality. This is, first and foremost, a wine bar with a serious amount of quality booze on offer.
I must admit, I am no wine expert. My experience in that department goes as far as watching Jilly Goolden rhapsodise on telly. My knowledge regarding the merits of vintages and grape types stretchesup to whether it tastes nice and gets me a bit tipsy. M and I scan the Enoteca’s wine list until we finally find a bottle which costs less than £20, cheapskates that we are. The wine is ceremonially brought to our table in ice bucket and stand, opened and tasted. Yep, it tastes nice.
Needless to say, it’s the food we’re here for today, specifically the new a la carte menu concocted by Chef Lauria. It’s only 5.30pm on a Friday evening, but already Enoteca has a pleasant buzz and clatter about it. Walking through the plushly laid out bar area, dominated by the central core of the Enomatic Wine Dispenser which resembles something a mad scientist might try to launch into lunar orbit, leads to a formal dining room. It feels pleasantly like sitting in a baroquely furnished culinary study, surrounded by framed corkscrews and extravagantly gilded bottles.
Opening nibbles of parmesan, prosciutto and olives are excellent and we’re then further pre-fortified with marvellous sourdough bread served with a spicy and stickily sweet mixture of Sicilian Extra Virgin olive oil and aged Balsamic vinegar. The menu is divided up the Italian way, with dishes filed under headings such as Antipasti, Pasta, Carni, Pesce etc. Antipasti, or starters, hover around the £6-£7 mark. M decides to begin with the souffle, for which we are told there will be a 20 minute wait, clearly delineating a souffle cooked from scratch and therefore meriting no quarrel. The baked souffle, when it arrives, is filled to bursting with flavoursome Provolone cheese although the texture is slightly dense. My starter is something of an oddity. Billed as “Puree of green peas with king prawns cooked in Armoricana style”, what I get are two large prawns which then have a veritable lake of deep green soup upended over it. It’s perfectly tasty, but is more like a pea broth with a couple of prawns.
It’s fair to say that Divino Enoteca’s menu goes into rich detail about each dish. Here’s how my main is described: “Scotch prime beef strips seared with 10 year old Balsamic vinegar and crowned with rocket and shaved Parmiggiano (24 months old) with roast Artichoke”. Wow, sounds good. So the small salad with beef, rocket and parmesan shavings (and some strangely vinegary artichoke hearts) can’t help but seem slightly underwhelming, pleasant enough though it is, and certainly a bit of a push for the £15.95 price tag attached. M feels the same about her “Baked pheasant served on a bed of baby spinach and drizzled with orange reduction and aubergine emulsion”. It feels as though Enoteca wants to dazzle the diner with the artisan provenance and integrity of its ingredients, only to be (slightly) let down by the quality of the actual cooking.
Happily, we finish off with a shared platter of regional Italian cheeses served with celery, walnuts and some truly divine honey. These cheeses are the highlight of the meal, at least an hour out of the fridge (still a schoolboy error in too many restaurants) with their origins and point of location in Italy explained to us by a well-versed waiter.
I can only say that our evening at Divino Enoteca has been extremely pleasant with terrific service, a great atmosphere and some really nice sharing platters to start and finish our meal. Unfortunately, the actual cooked courses which made up the core of the meal let things down slightly. It must be noted that before this new menu was unveiled, Enoteca simply provided plates of anitpasti to share with drinks. Clearly they are able to source ingredients of excellent quality. They just need to turn the quality of cooking up a notch or two in order to do those ingredients justice.