Italian restaurants are not hard to find in Edinburgh but one that is worth going out of your way to visit is Strada. It’s located on Castle Street and offers cosmopolitan outdoor seating (often with a street market of some kind going on) or classy indoor seating, with an ambiance that works for business lunches, family meals or cosy tÃªte a tÃªtes.
The GM Neal Davies has worked in the Edinburgh foodie world for ages and reckons he has a good idea of how to make a chain look and behave like an independent. HisÂ new menu is certainly worth a try.
Whatever you start with, you have to go for the Sicilian Castelvetrano olives and one of the flatbreads. I liked the Aglio, which is finished with garlic oil and fresh rosemary. You could go for a range of starters to share, in which case try the funghi al forno â€“ sliced mushrooms, baby onions, charred baby tomatoes and and a drizzle of lemon juice with a genius touch of walnut pesto, or, if you feel like something a bit spicy, the mozzarella di bufala, with salsa verde and fresh red chilli.
The range of pizzas is above average, not in quantity but in tastebud temptingness and if you can’t choose there are pizzettas which may have been designed for children but actually allow anyone to enjoy the full taste experience of Strada without missing a course. Here, perhaps, is the place to mention that every pizza is hand stretched and oven baked to order. The dough is bought in but then hand stretched with semolina to produce a light but crisp pizza base. And if your imagination goes beyond the printed menu, just ask and you can choose your own mix of toppings.
The Pastas and Risottos also offer a fine choice from the simple penne pomodoro to linguine alla pescatora, featuring sautÃ©ed king prawns, squid and mussels in a tomato white wine and garlic sauce. There’s good old spag bol and a range of risottos, again vegetarian, fishy and meaty. If you’re a vegetarian, again, the chef will be happy to replace meat with vegetables if you spot a tempting sauce.
Mains include chicken in mouth-watering sauces, sea bass or salmon, pork or rib-eye steak and some delicious light salads, perfect for this hot weather. Do spend time examining the menu because the devil’s in the details â€“Â the sauces are rather special.
But make sure you also leave time and room for the deserts. Choose from cherry and ricotta cheesecake, the limoncello trifle with blueberries and topped with amaretti biscuits, whipped cream and mint, served in a glass, a tipsy version of affogato, served with a shot of amaretto and espresso and 6 ice creams and sorbets. (Ever tried peach and yoghurt, Pistachio from Sicily or Hazelnut from Piemente?) Or don’t choose and go with a large enough group to mix and try everything!
The wines start at Â£15.95 and the menu offers suggestions to accompany your meal. Failing that, the charming and knowledgeable barman can guide you through his recommendations.
You do pay for your bread and olives but there are plenty of starters around a fiver and enough pizzas and pastas around a tenner, with the steak coming in at Â£17.95. Â Desserts are generally just over a fiver. You might find another pizza chain that is cheaper but Strada really does offer an interesting and tempting menu as well as more of a restaurant experience, with candles at night and gentle music in the background. Castle Street is the first Strada in Scotland but one hopes that it will appear elsewhere too.