Great Places to Eat in Scotland
- VinCaffé, Multrees Walk, Edinburgh

The Location
Harvey Nichols The attractive shop-lined passageway between St. Andrews Square and the St. James Shopping Centre is called Multrees Walk. On the Square you'll find two exceptionally fine stores - Harvey Nichols (pictured here) and Louis Vuitton. It's one of the most significant shopping developments in many decades bringing a collection of international retailers - Calvin Klein, Vidal Sassoon and Armani. Multrees Walk is the first new street created in the heart of Edinburgh's New Town since the eighteenth century. A few steps along the Walk from Harvey Nichols is VinCaffé, a new café/restaurant venture for Edinburgh's long established Italian food and wine emporium, Valvona & Crolla.

The Restaurant
The family history is fascinating. In the late 1890s, Benedetto Valvona, an Italian immigrant, began selling Italian food and wine in the Grassmarket area of the city. His son, Raffaele carried on the business in the early 20th century. After some years he decided to expand and go into partnership with fellow Italian, Alfonso Crolla. Their Italian grocery store business was formed in 1934, moving soon after to premises on Elm Row at the top of Leith Walk. This quality delicatessen continues to thrive 70 years on, still run by the descendents of the original founders, Philip and Mary Contini. It's also wonderful to hear that Alfonso's brother, Victor Crolla, is in his 90th year.

VinCaffé Following the success of the small cafe above the Elm Row shop, it was a wise move to open a larger city centre restaurant and coffee house. Surrounded by cool and chic designer stores - and hundreds of daily shoppers and office workers in need of sustenance - this new concept comprises a wine bar, espresso café, restaurant and shop. Designed by architects Reaich and Hall, the bright and spacious building covers two floors with huge, impressive windows. Upstairs is the restaurant and private dining rooms, furnished in rich materials notably walnut floors, dark polished wood, round pillars and a magnificent long bar counter. Splashes of colour brighten the dark brown look with tall vases of fresh flowers, decorative paintings and prints. Comfy banquette seating runs along one wall with other tables dotted across the space, divided into separate sections and annexe. The ground floor is a glamorised "shop" selling quality Italian food and wine combined with a stylish café described as " a place to drop in and converse."

In keeping with the Valvona & Crolla family tradition, the new restaurant is managed by Philip and Mary's daughter, Francesca.

The Food

"This is the best lunch I've eaten in years"
Gillian Glover, The Scotsman, 4 December, 2004.

Gillian Glover does not praise lightly and is a highly experienced food critic who 'knows her onions'. She was highly impressed by the quality of food at VinCaffe.

VinCaffé First and foremost, you can be assured that all the produce - cheese, vegetables, fruit, oil, salami, wine, water - is authentically Italian and shipped in weekly from top Milan markets. Bread, pasta and pizzas are home baked using organic flour and their own brand Fior' Fiore extra virgin olive oil is the backbone of all cooking and salad preparation.

The menu looks fairly simple and straightforward on first appearance but read closely. There is a lengthy list of antipasto dishes, specialising in classics such as Prosciutto e Melone, featuring the best quality Parma ham. If you like Mozzarella cheese, I am pretty sure you will have never tasted such exquisitely soft, melt in the mouth, fresh mozzarella di bufala as served here. Enjoy this on its own, drizzled in oil, or with a roasted mixed vegetable salad - aubergine, peppers, tomatoes, onions and fresh herbs with a slice of bruschetta. A culinary feast in itself. Try the platter of Italian cured meats and salami sausage, or the speciality signature dish, handmade pork and beef mince meatballs in a tomato sugo. All these antipasto dishes are generous portions and would make a perfectly acceptable one-course meal.

VinCaffé For heartier appetites over a leisurely lunch or dinner the menu also offers a range of pasta, pizza and secondo piatto (main course) dishes. Who could resist hand-made ravioli filled with ricotta and spinach served with sage butter? Otherwise a whole roasted free-range chicken with potatoes, pancetta, fennel, herbs and olives served with a salad, or chargrilled skewers of Tiger prawns with garlic, chilli and parsley butter. For the traditional eater in the party, not too fond of vegetarian pizza, there's always an Aberdeen Angus Rib Eye steak served in the healthy Italian manner, sprinkled with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese shavings and a rocket salad.

And you cannot leave VinCaffe without sampling delicious dolci. Classic lemon tart made from Amalfi lemons, absolutely fabulous authentic ice-cream from Milan, or indulge in a slice of Zuccotto, sponge cake, cream, mascarpone, chocolate, strega and rum! Then a strong coffee as you relax to digest the meal.

The bar stocks an extensive list of wine from Valvona & Crolla's own award-winning range, most of which are available by the glass. V&C has won the Scottish Wine Merchant of the year for the past five years. Share a bottle of ice cold Prosecco to get into the Italian mood. Also excellent and well-priced V&C own label wines such as a Pinot Grigio and Garda Merlot.

The Bill
Contact VinCaffe Web site for current menu and prices.

Simple, fresh ingredients - quality tomatoes, cheese, oils, salami - classic Italian food with taste and texture which creates a superb fine eating and drinking experience. Now in the heart of Edinburgh, you can imagine yourself sitting in a Milan café. An excellent flexible menu from superb home-made Spaghettini and glass of wine or take time out from shopping with a good strong coffee and slice of torta di pistachio.

Vivien Devlin

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