Edinburgh’s South Bridge is a majestic accomplishment, an 18th-century engineering achievement, yet today it is almost completely hidden from view. Built across Cowgate Valley to link the city’s old town with the newer university buildings, it was formed from nineteen towering arches. Soon all but one of these arches were encased by tenement houses, towering buildings which stood either side of the bridge, reaching right up to street level. These upper floors looked out onto the bridge, and local businessmen opened shops, keen to take advantage of the passing trade. It was a lucrative spot which, during the early 19th century, saw the value of the land here climb to eye-watering levels. Indeed, at one point it was the most expensive land in all Europe.
And it is in the top of one of these towering tenements, looking out onto South Bridge, that today we find the Mono lounge and restaurant.
South Bridge is perhaps not so busy as it once was, although there is still plenty of passing trade outside. Busy shoppers trudge by, and every few minutes a bus pulls to a stop outside to discharge its sweaty cargo of passengers. Expecting to have to elbow my way through a crowd of salivating and salty shoppers, I made a lunchtime reservation, although in reality when I arrived at Mono I found it almost deserted. Indeed, it was only the arrival of our party of four that tipped the balance in favour of the patrons, who up until that moment had been outnumbered by the staff.
Mono has an Italian theme, that much is evident with a quick glance at the wine list which, running all the way from Piedmont to Puglia, is as long as your braccio. We kicked off with the Franciacorta Blanc de Blancs from Marchese Antinori, simple but lively stuff, while we waited for a board of mixed antipasti to arrived. We didn’t have to wait too long, and we soon set about devouring this platter of bresaola, pecorino, dried tomatoes and a variety of other marinated vegetables, cured meats and cheeses, along with several handfuls of delightfully crunchy crisp-breads. The platter was soon wiped clean, our glasses were empty, and our smiles were broad.
Lured in by colourful images of elegant small plates and delicious tasting menus on the Mono website I was disappointed to find the lunch menu offered nothing so bright or enticing. Our options were smoked salmon, burrata caprese or gnocchi,, just three dishes, four if you include an alternative sauce on the gnocchi. I plumped for the gnocchi al forno con sallsicia, oven-baked potato gnocchi with Italian sausage, a white ragu and parmesan. This was as you might expect, dense, rich, creamy and very filling, and while I enjoyed the flavours I couldn’t help wishing for something to lift it a little, perhaps a side of dressed salad (yes, I know this would not be very Italian). All I could do to aid my digestion was to add a little lubrication, in this case in the shape of the 2020 Roccaleoni Falanghina from Campania, a bright and textured white with attractive orchard fruits and nice acidity, and one of a number of Italian gems on this list.
At this point I should have waved the white flag of surrender, but not being one to give up easily I soldiered on with a deconstructed affogato, a little platter of vanilla ice cream, made in-house, with amaretto biscuit and an espresso. This was pretty good, the ice cream especially so, although I did end up reconstructing my deconstructed dessert in the dish to more fully appreciate it.
Having settled our bill I headed home, and promptly took to my bed. Which, given that it was still only 4 o’clock in the afternoon, probably indicated I had had a good and filling lunch. I would go back to Mono, although I think next time I would give that very short lunchtime menu a miss, and see if I can grab an evening reservation and some of the more elegant plates for which Mono seems to be renowned.
Prices: The Blanc de Blancs cost a heady £75, the Falanghina £45, the mixed board of antipasti was a very reasonable £18 for four, the gnocchi sallsicia £13 and the affogato was £9.50. With coffee, soft drinks and bread, lunch for four came to the grand total of £255.26. (15/7/22)