Before your first visit to piscatorial palace Café Fish, the idea of a fish restaurant seems vaguely bemusing. For us regular, selfish, all-consuming meat-eaters, fish strikes you as little more deserving of its one-dish-wonder position on a menu than the vegetarian soupe du jour. This is not to colour anyone as a picky pisciphobe, just in need of a little edification. Thankfully, my eyes have now been opened.
Dinner began with gravadlax, silky coral slivers of home-cured salmon spiked with pepper and lemon and fragrant with dill, excellent on crusty bread with its accompanying mustard and dill sauce and pickled vegetables. At once sweet and sharp, the Scandinavian dish evoked its pure and health-giving heartland. Turning eastwards, the Shetland mussels were juicily plump, fat with flavours of the sea and enrobed by a soupy, spiky-but-not-tongue-smartingly hot Thai broth, fiery red with chilli and redolent with lemongrass, ginger and coriander.
Moving on, a pearlescent fillet of cod dusted with spices—its sweet delicate flesh and dusky cumin crust melding deliciously—made for a gratifying meaty dish with its sweet tomato and lemongrass salsa and olive oil mash. Despite my audacious scepticism, this latter was a triumph of counter-intuitive cross-cultural cooking: creamy but not cloying, the olive oil soothing not rasping the throat.
While I understand that fish cooked whole or on the bone tastes better than its stripped and filleted cousins, I maintain that such fish does not a comfortable dinner make. However, such a condition did not render the whole pan roast sea bass unpleasant; its soft flesh was elegantly regally flavoursome and headily aromatic with rosemary, akin to the tenderest lamb.
Dessert, unsurprisingly for a kitchen which excels itself in so concentrated a fashion, was rather standard. Crème brûlée was as expected—luscious vanilla-speckled custard with a crisp burnished carapace. Though a little crumbly, the pecan pie was satisfying in its nutty maple-laced sweetness. Neither were spectacular, but I wouldn't want them to be. The fish is the thing.
I could be dizzyingly Romantic and proclaim this to be the food of the mermaids, but that would be unutterably naff. Simply put, Café Fish is superb.
£19.50 for two courses, £23.50 for three
Café Fish 60 Henderson Street Leith, EH6 6DE
0131 538 6131