Ondine, George IV Bridge, Edinburgh
Ondine is mostly, but not exclusively, a fish restaurant (rather bizarrely it is also known for its steak tartar) so I thought it would be a good place to take my pescatarian mother. It came highly recommended by my financial buddy Lesley, who's opinion is usually reliable, it also seemed like it might fill Edinburgh's obvious need for a brilliant fish restaurant - which seems to be a significant deficiency in the nation's capital. I'm talking about something of the quality of Oban's EE-USK. And before you ask - yes I've tried
  • Fishers mediocre,
  • Skippers (as was) horrible,
  • the Mussel Inn great - for mussels,
  • Sweet Melindas just lovely, but underpowered for Edinburgh's top fishy slot,
  • The Tailend Fish Bar excellent - but when all's said and done it's just an upscale fish and chip shop,
but found them all variously lacking. I'm looking for tank-loads of gloriously fresh seafood, sensitively prepared and beautifully presented - is that too much to ask?
Well, it is for Ondine obviously.

We first went there with a party of 6, and so sampled a wide cross-section of their menu, to universal disappointment:
The portions were small, overpriced and underwhelming. Jude's main course consisted of three scallops with hunks of chorizo, my grilled lemon sole was so dried out as to more resemble a fish biscuit, Aidan's steak was the size of his thumb and came with precisely twelve thin chips. None of the fish seemed particularly fresh nor particularly well prepared and we left cursing Lesley's expense account tastes.

Since then, though I've read only good reviews of the place, so when it came to looking for somewhere to eat out on Mum's latest visit I decided to give it a second chance. Surely all those reviewers couldn't be wrong?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind. What's that it whispers? Oh yes, other reviewers have terribly low standards.

Our second visit, just the two of us, was not as awful as the first, and if it weren't for the overblown prices and the overbearing sense that the place thinks it is something which it isn't it would have been a perfectly acceptable meal.
It's just that in all honesty, their food really isn't all that good.

The meal begins with the arrival of our soda bread, and two strangely leathery cheese gougères, followed by our starters:
the Fish and Shellfish Soup
A slightly spicy tomato/red pepper-based fishy soup - full of texture, perhaps too much texture (some of that texture was a bit gritty), but surprisingly little flavour. It was served with a spicy Rouille which helped to give the soup some character, but didn't quite rescue it.
and Squid Tempura with Dipping Sauce
Those of you familiar with my work will know that I'm something of a connoisseur of the batter tempura, and I won't be taking any tips from these guys. Their batter was thick, stodgy and soggy. Even after they replaced the first batch (I complained), the second didn't hold its crispness for any length of time. A sure sign of the inappropriate presence of egg in my view. The squid inside was rubbery and slippery - resembling a used condom. The only redeeming feature was the very refreshing dip - something like Phrik nam pla - sweet, hot and sour with eastern overtones I'm told it consisted of
  • red wine vinegar rather than the more usual rice wine vinegar
  • Nam Pla (fish sauce)
  • lime juice
  • finely chopped chillies
  • finely chopped garlic
  • brown sugar
  • seasoning
and not, as I had guessed, tamarind.
We struggled with our main course choices, I quite fancied trying some razor clams having seen them arrive on our neighbours' Grilled Seafood Platter, which incidentally looked somewhat skimpy for £40 - fitting as it did onto an ordinary dinner plate, which to my mind doesn't make it a platter. Unfortunately they didn't appear on the menu. However our waiter kindly offered to have a dish made up for me, and also to make a fish substitution for Mum who didn't fancy the lemon sole (too bony) and was disappointed to discover it to be the only fish on the menu. Odd really. For a fish restaurant!
So I had Razor Clams Marinière
These were very nicely prepared with virtually no hint of sand.
Despite their lovely buttery garlic sauce they were a little bit rubbery. But to be honest I've not had that many spoots, and they all seem to have been rubbery (especially my own!) so maybe that's just the way they are.
and a precautionary side order of Scallops with Caherbeg Black Pudding (yes, I was hungry and I have eaten here before)
These were prettily caramelised, and served on the shell with more of that garlicky parsley butter, but to my mind were slightly overcooked. The thin disk of black pudding was perfectly nice, but without an intervening layer didn't particularly complement the scallop, and at £5 a shot seemed extravagant.
and Mother her custom Grilled Plaice in Brown Butter and Lemon
The fish was nicely prepared, looked quite the part, but was somewhat moist and mushy and surprisingly bland. Perhaps it had been too frozen for too long?

Our side dishes were perfectly fine - a tasty fresh spinach creamed with butter and nutmeg and thin cut chips.

We had less trouble deciding on desserts: Innis & Gunn Steamed Pudding with Muscovado Sugar Sauce please!
Excellent - nice deep flavours from the Innins & Gunn (a beer I heartily recommend - despite my friend Gus's unfair but disturbingly accurate description tastes like custard and fag ash), wonderfully complemented by the rich sauce and just nicely lifted by a dollop of whipped cream on the side.
and the Chocolate Mousse, Biscotti and Pistachio Ice Cream
Individually the mousse and the ice cream were lovely - I was particularly impressed with the crackly mousse which the waiter explained was made with a pistachio praline: pistachios cooked down in sugar syrup, then ground up.
The trouble is, there was no synergy to the dish - the two flavours did not work together for their mutual betterment, and the biscotti was nothing more than a guest at the feast.

At least the meal was rounded off with something I could find no fault with - two delectable dark chocolate truffles that simply melted away in my mouth.
Both of them.
Pity Mum doesn't do dark chocolate :)

To summarise; although the portions have either grown or we have learned to anticipate their paucity, Ondine's prices are still substantially higher than their food deserves, and they don't seem to do fish particularly well.
The service was good, the decor is pleasantly open and modern, the seating is a little cramped, but overall the food is disappointing.

The search for Edinburgh's definitive fish restaurant goes on...