When this year’s Michelin Guide was released there were two names joining the ranks of Scotland’s top-rated restaurants – those rewarded with a coveted Michelin star. One of those, Isle of Eriska, we’ve recommended in our Hogmanay feature. The other, Condita, I was lucky enough to visit on a bitter winter night last month.
Set in an unassuming row of shops, Condita’s clean, low-lit exterior gives little away of the wonders being created inside. Arriving a little later than my dining partner I’m ushered through the generously-sized vintage McIntosh of Kirkcaldy tables, acquired individually over the span of months by owner Mark Slaney, to the table nearest the pass where we can observe the team finishing the carefully-constructed dishes that we will be served. Attention to detail here is everything.
Slaney himself, a wine writer as well as restaurateur, buzzes between tables welcoming diners, making recommendations and offering insight into the menu, which is designed to unfold as a series of delightful surprises, a foodie Christmas stocking, if you will. As I’m not drinking wine, I start with a glass of Copenhagen sparkling tea on Mark’s recommendation while we try to puzzle out the menu, an illustrated bookmark that offers only drawings of ingredients as clues.
My tea, served chilled and fresh from the bottle, is delightful, giving the satisfaction of wine with a rich, dry, complex flavour, without attempting to replicate its flavour as so many non-alcoholic alternatives tend to do. My dining partner is less inclined to hold back and begins happily exploring the fascinating wine list, on which more or less everything is available by the glass or bottle.
We opt for the five-course option as opposed to the eight-course on offer, but this simply gives us more opportunity to appreciate each dish as it arrives, accompanied by a member of staff, whether server or chef, who explains more about what we’re experiencing. And it truly is an experience every time. We are even treated to a visit from head chef Conor Toomey, formerly of Isle of Eriska, as the evening wends on.
I was asked not to give too much away about the menu, as the Condita team likes diners to be surprised throughout, but the first course, partly comprising a seaweed-poached mussel sitting in a reconstructed edible shell, has been mentioned elsewhere so I’m happy to offer it as an example. The deceptively simple-looking dish demonstrates amply the level of skill on show as well as the sense of fun here, while retaining a strict devotion to flavour and provenance.
With its relaxed ambiance, welcoming team and lack of pretense, Condita offers a gentle, guiding hand into the world of fine dining that many other Michelin-starred restaurants can’t match. For aspiring and experienced foodies alike, a visit to Condita should be top of your wishlist this Christmas.
15 Salisbury Pl, Edinburgh EH9 1SL