A bit of a grouse about the menu

The Apartment, Edinburgh's most fashionable new restaurant, is fresh, modern and has bags of attitude. But what about the food? Well, just order carefully... carefully.
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The Glorious Twelfth - the day when grouse should start running for cover from local and visiting "sportsmen" - is still a week away. But the other open season in Scotland has already begun. From now until early September, droves of London-based journalists descend on the Scottish capital for the Edinburgh Festival; and for the next month reviews of Edinburgh's restaurants will appear in the British press as if it were a culinary Brigadoon that vanishes for the rest of the year.

The Glorious Twelfth - the day when grouse should start running for cover from local and visiting "sportsmen" - is still a week away. But the other open season in Scotland has already begun. From now until early September, droves of London-based journalists descend on the Scottish capital for the Edinburgh Festival; and for the next month reviews of Edinburgh's restaurants will appear in the British press as if it were a culinary Brigadoon that vanishes for the rest of the year.

Just as Columbus "discovered" America (despite it already being inhabited by Native Americans), and Scotland virtually didn't exist in the English consciousness until Boswell and Johnson wrote about their travels, once a year the rest of Britain is reminded that Edinburgh has some noteworthy restaurants.

Of course, some people live in Edinburgh all year - around 420,000 people, in fact. I used to be one of them, until I cracked and moved to London in search of a job and better weather. I used to share a flat in Bruntsfield, 10 minutes from the Castle, with my pal Keith. In strange synchronicity he has now also become a restaurant critic, in his case for a guidebook called Scotland The Best!. Of the batch of Edinburgh restaurants that have opened since last August, he recommended The Apartment as, "Something interesting and different. It's the kind of place Festival-goers will love." And he was right.

There is no Edinburgh couthieness or Scottish theme to The Apartment, which has been open for one year now (that's new, in Edinburgh terms). It is decorated in a fashionable (but not too fashionable) modern-international way with white walls, sisal flooring and some modern art of varying styles on the walls. It could be in Notting Hill. Or more accurately, Notting Hill could be in The Apartment, as its population seems to have moved in. We barely heard a Scottish accent in the place: our fellow diners were young(ish), groovy(ish) - and sounded predominantly English.

We became convinced during the meal that the trendy, good-looking waitresses are one of the key reasons for the success of The Apartment, which is fully booked most evenings. In 20 years of knowing Keith I've never before heard him comment on how the waitresses appear, but he rightly pointed out they "look really cool", which is praise indeed from a New Man raised under early Eighties feminism. It's not what us Presbyterian Scots laddies are used to seeing in our neighbourhood restaurants; glamour and dining are seldom found together in Scotland.

As soon as we sat down we were repeatedly asked what we wanted to drink. Now call us dour, grumpy Scots, but we preferred to decide what to eat before ordering the wine, and that decision could not be rushed. There are half a dozen whites and reds to choose from, but none of them are in any way remarkable except for their amusing and utterly pointless tasting notes. For example, a bottle of "Viognier, Southern France, 13% - £12.90" - no producer or vintage stated, mind - is described as, "A noisy wine with a bit of rage to it, bold and argumentative, it's saying 'don't mess with me, pork chops'. Punches of peach and apricot that particularly suit richer food."

We ordered a Sicilian red for £12.90, apparently a "racy, dark-cherried, spicy number". It wasn't - it was as nondescript a red as you'd find in a couldn't-care-less off-licence for £3.99.

A similar misguided boldness applies to The Apartment's signature dishes - "The CHLs - Chunky Healthy Lines" - which anywhere else would be called chargrilled skewers. We had to look hard at the menus, not because it was difficult to decide which was the most irresistible-sounding skewer, but to pick out the ones with the least unappetising combinations. We passed on "Thai-marinated chicken, king prawn and pineapple with a soya, lemon grass and coriander dressing", and chose "North African marinated spicy lamb balls, merguez and grilled, basil-wrapped goats' cheese" and "Roasted monkfish with sweet red chilli, new potato and spring onion, marinated in natural yogurt".

These duly arrived and looked pretty much as they sounded - each a riotous string of colours, textures and flavours with little rhyme or reason to link them together. To their credit, the lamb balls and merguez were pretty good and the monkfish was nicely done, but there was no need to throw in 15 other ingredients as well, plus a pitta bread filled with an "Apple, beetroot and lentil coleslaw" (no kidding), plus some little garnishes of red and yellow powders that looked like theatrical face powder. I imagine this was how the Massacre of Glencoe must have looked. Although there was altogether too much going on, individual ingredients were good quality and the portions were so big we were unable to finish them. That ruled out desserts of lemon tart, chocolate torte and profiteroles.

Had we been normal Edinburgh folk instead of novelty-seeking nancies, we would have ordered from the other sections of the menu which offer safe, sensible choices. There's a peppered rib-eye steak with fries; seared salmon with green beans, olives, anchovies and cherry tomatoes; three combinations involving penne pasta; oriental-influenced dishes such as Peking duck wraps; and four enticing-sounding salads.

And the food apart, The Apartment has plenty going for it - the buzz, fresh and modern décor, reasonable pricing, and attitude. It gives a big two-fingered salute to the staid conventions of Edinburgh dining, which is just what the city, lagging behind Glasgow's vibrant restaurant scene, needs. But the dishes we ordered were confused and silly; silly us.

After visiting The Apartment, for old times' sake and because some Scots habits die hard, we went to the nearby chip shop for a couple of cans of lemonade to round off our meal. When I last lived in Bruntsfield, I remember watching a couple of wee tykes persuading some gullible Fringe performers that this very same chip shop was a performance space, and charged them 30p admission before legging it. Caveat actor.

The Apartment, 7-13 Barclay Place, Bruntsfield, Edinburgh (0131-228 6456). Mon-Fri dinner 6-11pm; Sat, Sun lunch 12-3pm, dinner 6-11pm. Festival opening times, daily noon-midnight. All cards except American Express and Diners. Limited disabled access

Guy Dimond is 'Time Out' magazine's Food and Drink editor

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