Ondine, 2 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh

I've visited Edinburgh many times over the years, for work and play. I've experienced the cultural highs of the Festival and some memorable lows (the world premiere of Tubular Bells 2 at Edinburgh Castle springs to mind). And though I've often eaten well, I've never eaten dazzlingly well. Edinburgh has plenty of good restaurants but great ones are elusive, particularly at the upper end of the market, where too many of the famous city-centre names prove to be disappointing tourist traps.

This year, though, something seems to be happening in Edinburgh. There's a new excitement around the dining scene, and a broadening of gastronomic horizons. My Edinburgh sources (ooh, get me, Deep Throat) bombarded me with recommendations when I told them I was visiting. New brasseries from Tom Kitchin and Martin Wishart, the capital's most celebrated chefs. A fab gastropub, The Dogs. Wedgwood, a secret gem adored by locals. There was even an honourable mention for the blingy Hotel Missoni, where hunky doormen sport op-art Missoni-striped kilts, and the clientele is pure (Forth) bridge and tunnel.

It was Ondine, though, that emerged as the most popular suggestion. Not strictly new (it opened in 2009 ) and hardly a secret gem – the Good Food Guide declared it Scottish Restaurant of the Year 2011 – it has largely escaped the attentions of the London-based reviewing mafia.

On paper, Ondine has a huge amount going for it. It's a seafood restaurant, in a city with a proud, but neglected tradition of them. The chef/proprietor, Roy Brett, once oversaw Rick Stein's Padstow empire, and his passion for all things fishy is matched by a commitment to sustainable sourcing. And most importantly for the festival-goer, it's central. So central, you could throw an oyster shell out of the window and hit a minor royal processing up the Royal Mile, or hear the cannon-fire from the Castle's nightly Tattoo (or, spooling back to 1992, the bagpipe chorus from Tubular Bells 2).

What we weren't prepared for, though, given its Old Town setting, was Ondine's appearance. The restaurant is on the first floor of a shiny new faux-vernacular development, apparently made from giant caramel Lego bricks, incongruous amid all that ancient soot-blackened stone.

Nor does the dining room offer the kind of Old Town grandeur we were expecting; less Conran-style brasserie, more like the restaurant in a new-build business hotel. A huge horseshoe-shaped bar dominates the room and breaks up sightlines, and the place feels cramped and low-ceilinged.

The black-and-white colour scheme with clashing monochrome textiles looks chilly and dated. "Like one of the best restaurants at Heathrow," as my dinner-date, Harry, put it.

The menu, though, is a lot more colourful, an international greatest hits collection of fish dishes which could be marketed as Now That's What I Call Seafood, Volume 1. Oysters and crustacea galore; salt and pepper squid tempura; lobster thermidor; mouclade of Shetland mussels; roast sea bream curry. And there's meat too – any meat you like, so long as it's steak tartare or sirloin.

To get the full experience, we ordered the roast shellfish platter (£38) to share as a starter, although I was secretly feeling I couldn't get too excited about another plate of shellfish. And then it arrived, a fabulous selection, garlanded with samphire, chilli and sea purslane. Local lobster, crab and langoustines, grilled with butter and wild garlic, whose warm buzz set the tastebuds singing. Razor clams, cockles and mussels, cooked marinière style, in white wine. Loch Fyne oysters supplying a blast of iodine freshness. This was a feast, and by the time we'd worked our way messily through it, I'd fallen in love with shellfish all over again.

Our young waiter was indulgent in the face of the debris-spattered disaster area that was now our tablecloth. "Don't worry, I've seen this kind of thing before," he reassured us, like a paramedic at an accident scene.

A main course salad of grilled squid, black olives, hunks of cucumber and feta was the kind of dish you dream of getting on a Greek holiday, but never do. Grilled whole plaice, removed from the bone, came with anchoïade and a slippery sour-sweet tangle of red pepper. Both dishes were absolutely huge.

Small wonder that the place was hoaching on a Friday night. As the daylight faded, the décor began to look less stark, the arriving clientele more glamorous, and the room gained some of that missing atmosphere.

A shared dessert – chocolate mousse holding a warm pool of salted caramel – and a £38 bottle of Alabarino brought our bill to around £65 a head, but then we did splash out, in every sense. You could simply perch at the bar for a quick pre-show two courses, or post-show plate of oysters. Though on the strength of our feast at Ondine, I can heartily recommend the full, forget-the-show, festival-what-festival? three courses.

Ondine, 2 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh (0131 226 1888)

Food 4 stars
Ambience 3 stars
Service 5 stars

Around £40 a head before wine and service. Lunch/ pre-theatre menu £16.95 (2 courses) or £19.95 (3 courses)

Tipping policy: "Service charge is discretionary. All tips and service charge go to the staff"

Side Orders: Edinburgh eateries

The Honours

Martin Wishart's new Edinburgh brasserie specialises in such classics as rabbit à la moutarde for a reasonable £16.95.

58a North Castle Street (0131 220 2513)

The Dogs

David Ramsden's sensational gastropub serves up Brit-inspired food – try the devilled liver, onions, bacon and mushrooms on toast.

110 Hanover Street (0131 220 1208)

Wedgwood

Wild Scottish deer with poached pear, carrot and olive oil purée, red wine and anise jus is typical of the inventive cooking here.

Royal Mile, 267 Canongate (0131 558 8737)

News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
United States President Barack Obama, right, uses actor Keegan-Michael Key from Key & Peele to play the part of 'Luther, President Obama's anger translator'
video
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Guru Careers: MI Developer

    £35 - 45k: Guru Careers: An MI Developer is needed to join the leading provide...

    Recruitment Genius: Fitness Manager

    £20000 - £22500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leisure organisation manag...

    Recruitment Genius: Visitor Experience Manager

    £25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Delivering an inspiring, engagi...

    Recruitment Genius: Learning Team Administrator

    £17500 - £20500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for a great te...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions