Restaurant Review: Merienda, Edinburgh (Nov 2019)

Merienda Logo

meaning a small snack, is a 20 cover restaurant serving small plates of
Mediterranean inspired food which opened in 2018. This year it was awarded a
Bib Gourmand by Michelin, acknowledging its value for money. Located in
Stockbridge, a fashionable area of Edinburgh already crowded with a range of
eateries, it entered a highly competitive market but has held its own after
receiving plaudits in the Edinburgh and Scottish press.

restaurant is the creation of chef/owner Campbell Mickel, who already had a
thriving high end corporate catering firm. After major heart surgery, from
which he was given a 3% chance of survival, he remained a live wire – forgive
the pun – seeing the cathartic experience as the trigger to open his first
restaurant after 35 years of cooking.

Not that
a Merienda represents a major slowing down of pace. Open for lunch and dinner
five days a week, and with a monthly changing menu of up to 30 dishes, the pressure
on cooking, coupled with the need to be creative, is ever present. With the aim
of showcasing the finest Scottish produce, their availability dictates the menu

quality ingredients, including cheese, charcuterie, smoked products, poultry
and meats are sourced from small artisan producers around Scotland and the Islands.
Similarly, wine comes from small producers around the Mediterranean, selected
to match the changing menus. Scottish craft beers, high end Scottish spirits and
Scottish soft drinks complete the drinks offering.

Merienda Dining and Bar

Housed in
what was once a farmhouse dating back to 1650, the bright, tall ceilinged room
contains the dining area, bar and semi open kitchen. Designed by the owner, the
décor has a panelled “soft” effect on one side, and an “industrial, hard” brick
like effect on the bar and kitchen side. Tables and chairs in white are well

up with Robbie Probert, formerly of the Michelin starred 21212, the influence
of which is seen in the presentation of some of the dishes, Campbell has
created an attractive formula in which guests can create their own tasting

Merienda chefs

[Chef Robbie Probert and Chef/Owner Campbell Mickel]

For a
small kitchen with two chefs, the number of dishes on the monthly changing menu
is impressive: the November menu is divided into seven “Staples” (£3 to £9.50);
five “Fields and Gardens” (£4 to £7.50); five “Rivers and Seas” (£8.20 to £8.50);

and Pastures” (£7.90 to £8.50); and three “Sweetness” (all at £7)

Merienda Sample Menu

[Merienda Sample Menu]

Given the
quality of the ingredients, and the skill in cooking, prices are realistic.
They compare favourably with other small plate restaurants, as The Bib Gourmand
confirms.  Whilst the dishes on the Staples
section are large enough to share, it is advisable to order one’s own meat and
fish courses as they tend to be smaller and likely to cause food envy if not

priced from £3 to £9.50 varied in flavour and texture, some being more
successful than others.

Bravas (£5.90), satisfied the most: freshly cooked with a crisp, spiced crust
and soft fluffy centre, a generous bowlful was served with a strong garlicy
aioli. Pickled Lombardi peppers, served with herbs of Provence olives, (£3), were
crisp with a more rounded, sweet flavour that offset their natural fiery heat.
Padron peppers (£6.50) roasted in olive oil with smoked sea salt were suitably
charred with good flavour. Serrano ham was rich and salty, being well matched
with slices of nutty, mild lightly sweet Manchego cheese. (£7).

Other staples
had strengths and weaknesses. Focaccia (£3) had an airy texture and good salt
crust but the advertised rosemary flavour was rather muted. An olive oil dip
would also have helped. Hummus blended with Bull’s blood beetroot (£6.50) had
vibrant colour but was  requiring an
acidic lift. The accompanying toasted Pitta bread was crisp but lacked garlic
flavour. These are relatively minor hiccups which need little to rectify.

better were the fish and meat courses, showing imagination, creativity and
accuracy in cooking. Both fish dishes employed well sourced Mediterranean
produce but reflected Japanese influence in presentation.

Merienda Octopus

Octopus, (£8.50) featured small, meaty slices of perfectly cooked tentacle –
soft, delicate and well flavoured. It worked well with a rich, nutty and
slightly sweet pistachio puree, fragrant basil oil and micro herbs. Finished
with dots of red cabbage puree, this was a well-conceived and visually stunning

Merienda Tuna

Equally accomplished
was a dish of Tuna carpaccio (£8.50). The ultra-thin, almost transparent,
slices of stunningly fresh raw fish melted in the mouth. Grated radish gave a
contrasting texture which complemented the delicate fish. Blue Spirulina, a
non-fishy tasting algae, added a blaze of colour if not flavour. Lobster
vinaigrette provided the necessary acidity to this attractively plated course. 

Merienda Pheasant

Game, so
easily overcooked to become tough and dry, was cooked well here. A breast of pheasant
(£8.50) was accurately timed to retain its moistness and soft texture. Puy
lentils cooked al dente added a peppery note which complemented the gentle
gaminess of the pheasant. A deeply flavoured Grand Veneur sauce brought the
elements together well.

Merienda Prok Belly

still was the pork belly dish (£7.90). Slow cooked and glazed with honey and
garlic, resulting in meat that was meltingly soft and full of flavour, this was
a porcine treat. Apple chutney gave a spicy, sweet and sour note, working well
with the rich, succulent pork. Despite the monthly changing menu, this is
likely to be a popular dish that would be difficult to take off.

finish, Panna Cotta (£7) proved a light, refreshing dessert. Set to a gentle
wobble, it was dressed with mango gel which added a fruity note, organic cocoa
nibs and toasted flaked almonds which gave contrasting texture and flavour.
Visually, this was yet another beautifully presented dish.

other small plate restaurants, service at Merienda is not hurried. Bookings are
staggered to encourage a leisurely enjoyment of food and wine. It also allows
the staff to get t give more individual attention in a welcoming, informal and
relaxed manner. Fine Dining Guide enjoyed chatting with owner Campbell over
lunch, wishes it the continued success it deserves, and will follow its
progress with interest.

from Fine Dining Guide