Valvona & Crolla
This one of Edinburgh’s best known eating establishments, a must-eat-here venue for anyone who passes through Scotland’s capital city. An Italian delicatessen located on Elm Row, near the top of Leith Walk, Valvona & Crolla have long impressed with their fabulous selection of all things Italian, whether we are talking cheese, bread, pasta, wine and much more besides. At the rear of the shop, however, is the smartly presented Caffè Bar where family recipes, handed down through generations, are put to good use in feeding the hungry patrons of Edinburgh’s city centre. Having made your way through the shop to the back, it is just a few short steps up (past the wine section) to the long room, packed with tables for two, which is also put to use by Valvona & Crolla for their numerous events, which include mushroom identification surgeries, book signings and cookery demonstrations. It is all very clean and functional. There is an attractive menu of antipasti, primi piatti, piatti principalli, pizze and contorni and a fairly short wine list. This last point, however, fails to take account of one of V & C’s main attractions; choose any bottle from the wine shop out front, and it can be served for you in the cafe at the rear, for a corkage fee of just £6 per bottle. I chose a 2004 Planeta Cometa from the shop list, which I have found to be delicious in previous vintages.
The menu is crammed with Italian and Italianesque delights, such as a zuppa di broccoli con formaggi, a soup of broccoli and stilton, crespelle alla Fiorentina, savoury pancakes stuffed with spinach and ricotta and baked with Fontina cheese or perhaps a fegato alla Veneziana, a pan-fried calf’s liver with red onions, bay leaf, chilli and balsamic vinegar. I opted to kick off with a very simple spaghetti carbonara, a simple dish which when done well, can be divine. The end result depends on attention to detail and most importantly quality of ingredients, and I always find it a very transparent dish. That is, when done without thought or care, it is always clear that that is the case, but when done well it really shines, despite its seeming simplicity. I have had some poor examples over the years, but not here. Little pieces of smoked belly pork, in a well flavoured sauce, made this a winner. And next up was pan-fried chicken, which was just fine; meltingly tender and full of flavour, with little slices of potato and green beans. Another simple but well executed dish, rather rich and buttery, but nevertheless very well done. I finished with a huge meringue – a great way to use up those left-over egg whites, off course – which was just too much for me, and was a bit too crunchy-powdery through to the core for my tastes, but it was very good all the same.
The service is youthful and friendly, although not always terribly efficient. With a half-empty café it seemed like an age as I waited for simple items such as a wine list or water. My other gripe is that the list promises that white wines purchased in the shop may be chilled down within minutes; having seen my bottle disappear for a quarter of an hour, it returned barely cooler than it was when I waved it goodbye. Whatever chilling device is in use here, I suggest that it may need a service. But overall this was a good experience, and I am glad that I am beginning to find some good value eateries in Edinburgh that offer quality sufficient for me to want to return. The Valvona & Crolla Caffè Bar is just such a place, and based on this experience the associated VinCaffè in Multrees Walk may also be worth a try.
Planeta Cometa 2004: A bottle purchased in Valvona & Crolla, and downed over lunch in the associated cafe. An ‘absolute cracker’, quipped the guy on the wine counter as he handed over the bottle, who clearly thought this a good choice. A little warmer than I would have liked, but not too warm to appreciate. A really very deeply coloured, golden wine. Rich, candied fruit on the nose, with a backbone of honey and oak. The palate is rich, full and firm and quickly reveals a real kick through the midpalate. There is a firm, tongue-furring presence of alcohol, and the label reveals 14.5%, which is certainly quite tangible. There is good acidity, but it doesn’t have any freshness. In fact it develops quite a tannic grip, probably oak derived towards the finish, and it really has the structure of a red wine. I think this will make some swoon with delight. I find it impressive, and yet unbalanced and lacking vigour. 14/20 (April 2007)
Price: Three courses for lunch may come to around £30 per head, with the wine variable. A very decent £6 corkage on an extensive retail wine list. (14/4/07)