Contemporary Italian Tapas-style dining at the fashionably re-styled Contini, George Street, Edinburgh
Since Victor and Carina Contini opened their Ristorante in 2004, (previously named Centotre), Contini George Street has established a fine reputation for the best Italian food in Edinburgh. The interior is just stunning, an ornate, pillared 18th century Georgian ballroom-like space, formerly a banking hall.
A fashionable, classy revamp has recently transformed the former Cafe area at the front into an elegant Coffee House and Cocktail Bar for all day drinking and eating from Breakfast to Aperitivi, sitting around comfortable booths.
The Ristorante beyond has also benefitted from a better layout of seating with long banquettes in soft grey leather, white tables and colourful velvet wrapped chairs.
Feature walls are colourfully decorated with Italian Baroque frescoes.
To complement the refreshed design, a new menu is based around the modern concept of a small plate dining experience, Italian Tapas – Meze-style:
“When we first opened, our menu was a reflection of hearty meals like lasagne, pizza, and carbonara. Now, rather than ordering a traditional starter, main course and pudding, we have created a menu with sharing in mind, which showcase the very best Italian ingredients and the pick of Scotland’s larder. ” Carina Contini
As followers of the Slow Food Movement philosophy, the Continis take pride in promoting small-scale producers, and using good quality, locally-sourced, sustainable food. The motto is fresh, simple, seasonal, specialising in quality Italian produce ~ Amalfi lemons, Olive oils, cheese, cured meats, sausage, honey ~ fine Scottish seafood, venison and chicken as well as hand picked fruit, herbs and vegetables from their kitchen garden at their home in Lasswade, just outside Edinburgh.
Carina explains that this is very much the modern Italian cuisine which the Continis ccook and eat at home with their children, especially for Sunday Lunch.
The choice of Primi dishes and Insalate are healthy, light for the perfect appetisers, served on lovely blue plates – select two or more to share with your dining companion/s: Begin with an ice cold glass of Prosecco as you nibble a chunk of the softest, home-made Ciabatta dipped in Tuscan olive oil. Then from the choice of “starters”, Salame Calabrese paired with aubergine, pomegranate and pistachio, and a divine, creamy Mozzarella di Bufala with ripe figs, drizzled with honey, served with paper thin toasted sourdough. And of course, there’s pasta: Agnollotti, for example, organic egg pasta ravioli stuffed with spinach and ricotta, with a butter and basil sugo sauce.
On to Secondi, and again the dishes are innovative culinary concoctions such as Cod poached in cold pressed olive oil with fennel, samphire and chilli. This unusual cooking method does not make the fish oily at all, as one might expect, but delicately tender.
A stand out, signature salad is Finocchio, with crunchy fennel, slices of sweet Tarocco orange, salty green olives, creating the most perfect match of texture and flavour.
Other seafood includes Fritto Misto (squid, langoustines with courgette), and Cozze, fresh mussels. Carnivores are in for a treat with such dishes as Venison haunch, slow cooked Oxtail, or Charred Lamb with anchovies. The vegetarian Risotto sounds divine – butternut squash with thyme, mascarpone and pear. I shall have to return soon to sample this ….
To finish, I personally recommend the classic Tiramisu, (Genovese sponge soaked in espresso and layered with Marsala mascarpone cream), as light as a feather it could be zero calories.
The Carta dei Vini offers around 40 wines by the bottle and per glass, from Pinot Grigio delle Venezia to Nero d’Avola from Sicily. Diners have the option to purchase their favourite wine, at a Takeaway price, to enjoy at home. Cocktails include the classic Italian Negroni made with Edinburgh Gin, Campari Arancio, and “Ferrari’ Gin & Tonic with a shot of Contini espresso on the side. And of course there’s Italian Fizz: V&C Prosecco Spumante extra dry, Ca’ di Alte, Veneto, has a light straw yellow colour, the taste described as summer pear, very dry and fresh.
Visit Contini too for Breakfast – a most enticing menu to start your day the Italian way: fruit juices, organic porridge with apricots and banana; what could be healthier than Poached eggs with smashed avocado, chilli, samphire and spinach?;
Also a traditional full Scottish, pancakes, pastries and of course, strong caffe. And why not indulge in a Morning Cocktail – a Prosecco Mimosa or a Bloody Mary to begin the day with a kick.
At the end of the day, call into the Bar for an Aperitivi, classic and modern Italian cocktails to revive the spirits: a Sofia Loren, Edinburgh gin with cointreau, lemon juice, Bellini, Prosecco with peach puree, or a Limoncello Martini, shaken not stirred with a lemon twist. The Bar also serves Beer (Paolozzi, Peroni et al) and range of spirits.
For special occasions, Contini George Street also has a downstairs private dining room which can be booked for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Victor and Carina are passionate, pedantic and purist about seriously good Italian food and wine and this new contemporary approach to Italian dining is an inspired, artistic vision. Since 2004, Contini Ristorante has been the D&G, the Ferrari, the Versace of casually sophisticated eating and drinking and now enhanced with fashionable style. Bellisimo!
Recent guests have enjoyed the new small plate experience at Contini.
“This is a beautiful and welcoming place for any meal. I had Pomodori, thyme and smoked garlic insalata, Lardo cured salame with thyme roasted grapes and Italian creamy goats cheese, then finished with an Affogato”.
“We had a wonderful lunch .. very nice to share food. The poached cod with fennel dish was a winner. The venison with kale and pickled figs was a firm favourite, Ox-tail and gnocchi, and hand made ravioli”.
“A lovely relaxed atmosphere with friendly staff. Tried a prosecco cocktail with a strawberry liqueur”
Contini George Street, 103 George Street, Edinburgh EH2 3ES. t. 0131 225 1550
For more information, menus, opening hours and bookings: www.contini.com