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Restaurants: Edinburgh bargain basement

Some of London's brightest talents return to their Scottish roots. By Ben Rogers
Scotland this week, and the sort of local place about which it is a pleasure to write. The Stockbridge Restaurant is a little, white- tiled basement box, beneath a shop selling vintage costume jewellery, in Stockbridge, on the edge of Edinburgh's New Town. It was opened just before Christmas by a young Scots team who have returned from London with impeccable credentials - if anything from London counts as impeccable here. Chef Paul Malinen picked up a feel for modern British cooking from Martin Lam (L'Escargot), Jeremy Lee worked at Conran's Blueprint Cafe and Alastair Little, while Rachael McQuaid, who does the desserts, and her husband, Keith, who serves and manages, both worked for Simon Hopkinson at Bibendum.

Marco Pierre White's latest venture, Mirabelle, reputedly cost pounds 5m to refurbish; I would be surprised if the Stockbridge cost very much more than pounds 500, spent mainly on some paint, a few mirrors and the odd French poster. Keith McQuaid likens his clients to those of the Caprice in London. Somehow, I cannot quite see Peter Mandelson descending the Stockbridge's precipitous stone stairway, or Peter Palumbo being content with its priciest wine - a 1992 Margaux at pounds 26.50. Still, I believe McQuaid when he says the place is popular with a clubby crowd of Edinburgh foodies. Business, he says, was slow at first, but the restaurant is gaining a reputation and is now full in the evenings - a couple of weeks ago, it had a visit from one of the great stars of British cooking, Brian Sack of Sharrow Bay.

The Stockbridge changes its menu every month or so, but it always features earthy bistro cooking - mushroom risotto, coq au vin, potato pancakes with smoked eel and horseradish, that type of thing. The food, in fact, risks being almost too smooth and homely - it would be nice to see a bit of offal on the menu, and perhaps some shellfish - but it is wonderfully comforting, and shows a fine eye for detail, with excellent home-made bread and coffee. The service, too, could not be warmer: my companion and I sat for most of the afternoon talking, without feeling we were outstaying our welcome. McQuaid even went so far as to recommend a couple of other restaurants in the city we might like to try.

A first course of asparagus was served with Parmesan and truffle oil, a tried-and-tested combination, here nicely done. Wild garlic soup did not have the depth or complexity it might have had, but it was hearty enough and, at pounds 2.50, one of the cheapest dishes I have eaten in a long time. We both went for fish for our second course. Grilled sole was just that, complete with skin and bones, and came with lightly roasted Jersey Royals, and a beurre rouge. Like the sole, my cod was perfectly cooked - baked Mexican fashion, with garlic, coriander and lime juice. I was not, however, sure about the red pepper mash that came with it - the parsley mash that is served with the grilled lamb steak might have been better.

Desserts, although cooked by a different hand, are very much in line with earlier courses, with a knowing, slightly 1970s feel: petit pot au chocolat and creme brulee are staples. I went for what proved to be a very fine chocolate tart, but it was my companion who struck gold with elderflower and olive-oil cake. More than a seasonal gesture, this airy, delicate sponge was deliciously light and moist and worked beautifully with the soft-cooked strawberries and creme fraiche that came with it. With service, coffee, water and a bottle of pounds 15 Mexican Tempranillo from a short, globe- trotting list, our bill came to pounds 57

The Stockbridge Restaurant, 33a St Stephen's Street, Edinburgh (0131- 225 9397). Closed all day Sun, Mon and Tues lunch. Switch, Visa, Mastercard