Merienda is a cosy small-plate restaurant in Stockbridge. If you haven’t been yet, go. This is relaxed, delicious and well-thought out eating where you can build your own tasting menu. Spoiler alert: this post will be a love letter to small plates in general and those at Merienda in particular.
I first met Campbell Mickel when he was a personal chef, the first time I went to an La Belle Assiette evaluation dinner. That was a great night: the food was fabulous, the company lively and the hosting couple sweet and generous. Last year, Campbell has opened Merienda. He’s using his classical training to elevate seasonal Scottish ingredients into Mediterranean-inspired small plates. This is not traditional starter-main-dessert dining; it’s share and graze dining. Share a bottle of wine, have as many dishes as you want and can manage.
Parsnip air, Harris crab, venison chamuças
I’m a fan of small plates, not so much for the sharing but because I enjoy eating a variety of dishes. So I was extremely pleased when I was invited to try a series of dishes with several journalists and food bloggers. We gathered on a Sunday afternoon, tore at fluffy sun-dried tomato focaccia and got to know each other. There was an air of anticipation in the air. We knew we were in for a treat.
The first dish was a hot parsnip air with white truffle and parsnip crisps. I had this dish at the launch in November, then with a Scottish white truffle (yup, I’m a very lucky individual). I loved it then and I love it now. I could spend a night eating nothing but parsnip air: light, sweet and creamy, luxuriant with truffle scent and flavour. It’s perfect with a lively white wine (we had a gorgeous picpoul de pinet) and is the ultimate appetiser. It wakes all your senses.
Campbell’s attention to detail and commitment to local ingredients comes through in each dish. The Harris crab with avocado emulsion, pimento and chilli showed his skill. Sweet crab and avocado goes well and the unexpected touch of pepper heat made the crab even more memorable.
The chamuças – think Portugese samosas – with pulled slow-braised venison was tender and crisp. The red currant glaze added a touch of sweetness. I had one but could have had a lot more. The crunch was so good and the filling so very rich and soothing.
Beignet, pork, scallops, veal
The cauliflower and parmesan beignet with rocket pesto was fun. It had a satisfying chewy texture and a lovely cauliflower-cheese flavour. (We decided it would dip well in parsnip air. Yup. We went there. But only as a thought experiment.)
By now we’d moved on to a very nice Primitivo, one of the wines available by the glass. Merienda’s wines are selected to give great quality for the price. When eating well, why not drink well? The Primitivo worked well with succulent loin of pork, crumbed in prosciutto and garlic and served with roast potatoes and apple puré. I’ve had a few very good experiences with pork in the last two years and this was another one. Flavourful, sweet and tangy. Perfect pork. Perfect potatoes.
The scallops with champagne and chive beurre blank and grapes was a revelation. The grapes were sweet but had enough acidity to raise the scallops to sublime. I haven’t had scallops with apple but I now understand why they’d be served that way.
The parsley risotto was refreshing and the red-wine poached salsify and oyster mushrooms on top had a delicious umami depth.
The last savoury dish we tried was a veal ballotine with lemon-scented ricotta. The meat had the slightest bite, the cheese was creamy – it was a delight.
Tart tatin, plum fool, burnt cheesecake, bananas
Merienda focuses on the savoury side of the menu. According to Campbell, that’s the focus because that’s what his customers are more interested in. I believe him. However, the sweet menu is not exactly lazy. There’s a perfect tart tatin, a tangy plum fool with ginger crumb, caramelised banana with dulche de leche, white chocolate cremeux and streussel.
While you consider the wonderful meal you’ve just had, paying attention to that part of the meal that extends the joy of eating – digestion – why not have a digestif? We sipped AnCnoc with our coffees. It stoked the jolly fire of food in our bellies so we were happy and warm when we took our farewells and set out in the chilly Edinburgh night.
Merienda’s food is excellent. The menu has something for everyone with dishes from field and forest, fish and meat. It’s a relaxed and welcoming space, a place to have a wonderful evening. The food is delicious, interesting and inspiring. For extra foody fun, you can see the chefs working in the tiny kitchen. Just go, and you’ll see what I mean.
30 North West Circus Place
Edinburgh, EH3 6TP
Telephone: 0131 220 2020
Caroline was invited to sample the Merienda menu.
Photos courtesy of Merienda