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  • Nick Lander
Written by
  • Nick Lander
25 Sep 2001

Edinburgh may have Valvona & Crolla (19 Elm Row for a great deli, Italian wine store and daytime superior café, tel 0131 556 6066), the deliciously serious 'French' café St Honoré (34 NW Thistle Street Lane, tel 0131 226 2211) as well as a useful, dead casual Italian wine bar called Ecco Vino behind the new Scotsman Hotel (which is very obviously under the same ownership as 42 The Calls in Leeds), but Scotland's other city is exploding with new places to eat.

Byers Road in the West End is virtually lined with blonde wood, clever graphics and cute names of cafés, bars, delis, tapas bars and fullblown restaurants.

Perhaps the most accomplished chef in the area is Rupert Staniforth, whose wife Aisla dragged him back to her Scottish roots three years ago from Sonia Kidney's celebrated kitchen at the Marsh Goose in Moreton-on-the-Marsh in the Cotswolds. Their tiny restaurant No. Sixteen (16 Byers Road, tel 0141 339 2544) is open for lunch and dinner every day except Sunday and you need to book, especially for dinner. The cooking is first-rate, as one whiff of the stockpots tells you as you cross the threshold. I chose from the set lunch menu (two courses £10.50, three courses £12.50) which offered three different options at each stage. I lapped up two courses I would expect to pay a least £25 for in London.

Hot local beetroot with parmesan fritters and a caper cream sauce was original without being silly: generous wedges of well-flavoured tuber were punctuated by deep-fried balls of parmesan mixture that managed to be red hot (in temperature) and feather light (in weight). A creamy pink, caper-dotted sauce kept the whole thing together. Main courses came in deep white plates, in my case the roast breast of corn-fed chicken was marooned on an island of wild mushroom risotto (the variety of the mushrooms unadvertised on the menu) in a sea of the most convincing madeira sauce - not too heavy, sweet or reduced. The stockpot clearly had an influence here. Olive-oil mash (currently almost as ubiquitous as Caesar salad, it seems) and green beans came unbidden. We enjoyed the sticky toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce and cream vicariously, via two Glasgow matrons at the next table who shared one, commenting on every mouthful. A great find.

Café Gandolfi, with a particularly airy branch on the first floor of Habitat in Buchanan Street, can provide an excellent light lunch - so long as you don't want to drink interesting wine. Distinctly superior, freshly-made salads and pastas though.

Stravaigan (26 Gibson Street, tel 0141 334 2665) and Stravaigan Two, its lighter sister also in the West End, are getting rave reviews too.