Although I’ve visited Contini Cannonball on Castle Hill, with its Glengoyne private dining room, quite a few times in the last six months, it’s a long time since I had set foot in Victor and Carina’s Italian flagship restaurant Contini on George Street.
I was therefore delighted to accept an invitation to a blogger’s lunch to experience their brand new menu, decor and dining experience.
The revamp sees the interior of the 4,500 square foot former banking hall transformed – with banquette seating in soft grey leather, an open bar area, and striking wall hangings depicting Italian frescos. What an entrance in this beautiful, former banking hall.
Contini’s lovely owners Victor and Carina Contini were on hand to explain the new menu, along with their very talented Executive Chef, Suzanne O’Connor.
As Carina explained, “The new menu is a break away from what has become perceived as Italian food such as pasta and pizza, the type of food that was a reflection of the Italian food passed on from our grandparents. While these are all delicious, the way people eat has changed.”
Sharing is caring!
The new menu focuses on small plates that can be shared, using Scottish producers with an Italian twist. Contini’s suppliers are an integral part of what they do, with them using the likes of artisan Italian cheese makers to Peelham Farm, Fish Brothers, Griersons organic, and Fontodi Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
“Guests want to try lots of different dishes, sharing them with friends rather than ordering a traditional starter, main course and pudding,” Carina continued. “What we are presenting now if food from the heart but for the next generation.”
Carina had chosen a selection of their dishes to showcase their new offering. We started with Pane Al Forno, a homemade flavoured ciabatta served with Fontodi, their favourite Tuscan cold pressed olive oil and crema al macadamia. The olive oil isn’t for the faint hearted as it certainly packs a mouth punch but the crema al macadmia was light and creamy.
Their Primi (starters) served consisted on Salame Calabrese, with roasted aubergine, mint creme fraiche, pomegranate and pistachio; Mozarella Di Buffala DOP served with figs, Italian honey and sourdough toast; and Agnolotti, homemade filled organic egg pasta with spinach, nutmeg and ricotta, served with butter and basil sugo.
I would like to have eaten a whole plate of the Salame Calabrese on my own but in the spirit of the new menu, sadly had to share with my fellow bloggers. Suzanne, Contini’s Executive Chef, suggests ordering three dishes for a table of two; so that’s one dish per person and another one for the table.
Secondi on offer was Scottish venison haunch, cavola nero, roasted balsamic onions, dried figs and Aceto di Musto; and cod poached in cold pressed olive oil with fennel, samphire and chilli.
Being allergic to fish I only tried the venison, which was sublime and melt in the mouth but I was intrigued with the cooking process of the cod. It is poached in olive oil for 16 minutes to a heat of 55 C degrees. Suzanne explained that they had tried the method with various types of fish, with the meatier types of fish such as cod, which the Italians eat a lot of, working particularly well. I was assured it wasn’t greasy and tends not to absorb the oil.
We were also served some delicious Insalate, which Victor explained is something that was inspired by the type of food they eat with their family when then they eat on a Sunday. Carina is particularly keen to ensure her family is getting goodness alongside their helpings of meat and pasta.
The Cavolfiori, raw cauliflower with porcini and lemon oil, breadcrumbs and Venetian spiced walnuts was inspired and will be something I will try and recreate at home, but perhaps without the walnuts. I always have a fear that I might have a Julia Roberts moment in the film Pretty Woman, with them shooting across the dining room as I try to pierce them with my fork!
Our dolci or dessert was hot homemade doughnuts served with a warm chocolate sauce. They also treated us to a chocolate mousse with some drunken Amarena cherries and a traditional tiramisu. Once again, I really didn’t want to share as they were so moreish and had I not been so polite, might have demanded my own chocolate mousse all to myself. Either that go with someone who doesn’t like desserts.
Wine by the glass or bottle or ‘to go’
The wine list offers a choice of 55 Italian wines by the glass (125ml or 175ml) and bottle, with the unusual addition of a ‘to go’ price for every bottle, so that diners can take home their favourite to enjoy. There was also an impressive cocktail list on offer too but being lunch-time, we never got round to trying these.
The Continis are on to a winner
It’s fair to say that the Continis are on to a winner with the new look menu and decor. Anyone who thought that lunch-time dining was dead, should think again. The restaurant was buzzing with tables of all sorts of clientele and all ages when I visited on a Thursday lunch and seems to be a big hit with clients old and new. And you don’t just have to come in for lunch or dinner, they also serve breakfast and coffee and tea at their lovely banquette window seats.
Kerry dined as a guest of Contini.