Monday, 27 April 2009

Iris - Edinburgh

If a book should not be judged by its cover, should a restaurant be judged by its bread?

As you sit down at your table, stomach gurgling with hunger, senses heightened, you scan the menu while casting furtive sidelong glances at your neighbour’s plate as your first mouthful of the evening arrives. At my most ravenous, having indulged in a pre-dinner cocktail or two, this mouthful is going to stick in my mind.

Here a chef has ample opportunity to win affection with soft, salted foccacia, floury ciabatta or crispy baguette dunked in golden olive oil. Why, then are we so often greeted with recently defrosted rolls, wedges of flavourless white dough or unappealing pieces of chewy brown rye?

It seems both lazy and careless to pay such little attention to a part of the meal so important and so obvious a tool with which to charm the diner. While one should perhaps be open minded until the first course, patient reservation of judgement does not sit well with the fast pace of the restaurant world.

This is why on arriving at Iris, hidden along one of the cobbled streets for which Edinburgh is famed, the chunky crust of stale white bread that greets me immediately puts the eatery at a disadvantage. It is an offering which is at odds with the menu, d├ęcor and ambience of this latest addition to the city’s evening scene. The promise of Iris’s intimately lit interior, which acts in harmonious contrast to the Dickensian antiquity of its location, warrants more than this.

The menu, while not revolutionary, offers quality bistro classics with imaginative twists like duck with drambuie, or lamb with a celeriac and harissa mash. It is a welcome step away from the generic safety populated by so many bistro menus.

Choosing our starters was the most challenging part of the evening with a variety of enticing combinations which did not disappoint on arrival. Chunky slices of well seasoned chorizo were perfectly complimented by soft morcilla, a smoother Spanish take on black pudding. My juicy king prawns arrived still sizzling in their buttery juices amongst piquant chilli and slivers of sweet garlic. Sadly, the only thing I had to mop up the delicious butter was the aforementioned stale door wedge.

Next to arrive was a stack of dressed rocket leaves concealing a generous slab of tender red snapper. Inverting the usual presentation style was effective but did initially have me wondering if the main event had been forgotten. The fish was firm and fell into delicious meaty flakes that suited the delicately honey dressed leaves atop it. The tender rib eye was full of flavour and although cooked well, lacked the distinctiveness to be as memorable as the snapper.

Our wine was good and the service struck that clever balance, remaining helpful and friendly without slipping into the obtrusive. Iris is a well priced, atmospheric little restaurant with a kitchen producing delicious combinations of texture and flavour.

Unfortunately I have made a discovery about my own shallowness. Whether one should or not I have judged this restaurant by its bread, a sad offering which undermined very palatable dishes, great service and a wonderful location. If I had more depth I’d be back in a flash.

Iris on Urbanspoon

Iris, 47a Thistle Street,

Edinburgh, EH2 1DY

0131 220 2111

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