Spanish for snack or small meal, the name Merienda is a big clue to this restaurant’s unique concept: create your very own tasting menu from a vast selection of incredible dishes. Add a pinch of the Mediterranean, combine with a fabulous atmosphere, and it’s no wonder the Social Bitches now have another favourite restaurant.
Being a school night and all, we virtuously resolve that not a drop of wine will touch our lips. But approximately three seconds after walking though the doors of this beautiful restaurant, we find ourselves saying:
“Surely one eensy weensy cremant d’Alsace wouldn’t hurt!”
We are of course correct, it doesn’t hurt a bit. After all, when you’re enjoying food as dazzling as Merienda’s, it seems fitting to toast the occasion with several bottles of something cheeky.
We’re also happy to hear they’re playing Fleetwood Mac, that’s five stars right there. But, once again, we digress …
Our first bottle of bubbles is joined by a little House Hummus infused with coriander, and freshly baked Sun Dried Tomato Focaccia with Basil Oil. Both as satisfying as they are simple, we are immediately happy.
Even better, the Lobster Cocktail with Granny Smith Apple & Crisp Lettuceis also en route. An inspired and modern take on the prawn cocktail, it utterly corrects the inherent faults of the 1970s original.
We love the crunchy, slightly sweet, slightly tart contribution of the apple. What’s more, it’s so wonderfully creamy, Isaac’s practically foaming at the mouth. Stunning! Genius even! Our tasting menu is off to a great start.
The people to thank are chef Campbell Mickel, his gorgeous wife Giselle, and Chef Robbie Probert, formerly of 21212. Together they’re creating dishes that look and taste like a work of art.
They’ve also created a sophisticated and relaxed vibe, where you’re never expected to rush. No flipping the table after two hours here!
Speaking of which, our next dish is the Trio of Shots: Clear Gazpacho, Melon & Port, Pea Slip, with croutons on the side.
We start with the pea. Hmmm, saucy, we like very much. Then we move on to the subtle flavours of the gazpacho. Savoury, with just a hint of sweetness, which sits briefly on the palette. Very, very Good.
But our favourite is the melon and port. Oh my, what a combination. You’d think the port would overwhelm, you’d be wrong. Instead you’re rewarded with an intense, complex taste, and wonderful texture.
“More cremant?” We ask ourselves rhetorically, and then laugh a little too loudly.
It arrives with the Tobermory Oak Smoked Trout, Scorched Cucumber & Gel with a Spiced Crème Fraiche.
Once again, we’re gobsmacked by the astonishing presentation, teamed with unbeatable taste. It’s crisp, but has lost none of its moisture. It’s smoky, but cut with delicate hints of sweetness and spice.
Though let’s not forget the many, many virtues of the Heirloom Tomato Salad with French Dressing. Marvellously tangy, it’s combined with the thing of wonder, that is the garlic crumb, to create the perfect salad.
It’s followed by the exciting arrival of the Isle of Mull Panna Cotta, Leek Oil & Crispy Leek Shards. Oh … my … god!!
Up until this moment, we thought of panna cotta as an underwhelming dessert, but suddenly life as we know it has changed! This dish is almost Zen-like in its presentation, and impressively, it tastes even better.
A sumptuous, soft, smooth cheese with an intense cheddar flavour that we can’t possibly eat enough of. We’re enjoying it so much, people are starting to stare.
With tastebuds tingling, we decide to pause for a moment, and get to know our hosts a little better. Though perhaps another bottle of cremant wouldn’t go amiss.
Campbell has 35 years experience in hospitality, and his day job is catering high-end events, sometimes even for royalty. Though after a health scare two years ago, he decided to work more rather than less.
Don’t worry, he’s tip-top now, but the experience made him think: “I want people to know that I was here.” To which the patrons of Merienda can confidently say: TICK!
But Campbell’s not the only workaholic in the family. Giselle also has a day job, then spends her evenings working front of house. Crazy perhaps, but their passion for food is making us extremely happy.
Which brings us to the Lamb Ravioli with Parmesan Cream & Sun Dried Tomato Sauce. Once again, this is incredible. So very creamy, so rich, with a blast of parmesan that overwhelms you – in a good way.
We fight over the last bite, it gets nasty. Phrases such as “this relationship’s over” and “haven’t you had enough fatty?” are bandied about without a hint of irony.
The only thing that can bring peace to this table is the next dish: Textures of Salmon: Mousse, Roast & Cured with a Dill Emulsion & Citrus Vinaigrette.
Suddenly the love has returned – for the food, not each other – as we marvel at its lightly crisp exterior, along with the stunning contrasts in taste and texture. This might call for yet more cremant.
Nine dishes in, chef Robbie decides to pop out and say hello, no doubt intrigued by our voracious appetites. Whatever the case, his words make it even clearer he’s deeply passionate about producing great food.
So much so, he insists we try all four desserts on the menu. Powerless to resist food, alcohol, or a handsome chef, we of course say yes.
Moments later, we’re delighted by the Perthshire Strawberries, Vanilla Cream, Pistachio Tuille & Coffee Sauce. Presented in the style of a Jackson Pollack painting, the dish is magnificent.
The splash of bitterness makes the strawberries taste even sweeter. And can we just say, the intense work that goes into crystallising a pistachio nut is worth every single ounce of effort.
We’re also rather wowed the by the Angus Raspberries with White Chocolate Cremeaux & Elderflower Ice Cream. This rich and velvety dessert, topped off with gold leaf, gives you an absolute rush.
Though after intense consideration, Isaac decides his favourite to be the Burnt Basque Cheesecake with Berries. Its delicate base and refreshingly subtle blend of cheese and cream allow the delicious Scottish raspberries to truly take centre stage.
As for my gluttonous self, I’m awarding first in show to the Tarte Tatin with Cinnamon Scented Sauce Anglaise. It’s astounding. Large, soft, juicy chunks of apple; a heavenly pastry; and cream that tastes as if it’s a close relative of maple syrup. Easily the best tarte tatin EVER.
The moral of this story: make a reservation NOW!
In a pre-theatre nutshell:
Edinburgh Playhouse 10 minute drive / Usher hall 16 minutes
Lunch / dinner
Small Plates average £7 – £8 / Dessert £7
30 North West Circus Place
0131 220 2020