30 North West Circus Place, Edinburgh EH3 6TP
0131 220 2020 www.eat-merienda.com
For anyone reading this, it’s a fairly safe bet that one of the best things about going on holiday is the food. There is endless joy and pleasure in thinking about regional cuisine as part of choosing the destination, researching other travellers’ top tips in the run up to departure, working out which are the best restaurants closest to where you’re staying etc, with it all - in an ideal world – ultimately crowned by local expert knowledge on the choicest wines within trampling distance of the table in front of you. But what when there is no holiday? Flights and accommodation are booked, the guidebook with the longest restaurant listings and most comprehensive guidance on organic food markets has been bought and the psychological challenge of drinking alcohol at the airport before the sun is over the yardarm has been conquered. But, there’s still no holiday. It’s lockdown.
Instead of choir tour to Malta last month, it was a week of gardening in solo social isolation. Trying at least to savour a bit of a holiday treat, the online listings for restaurant delivery were scoured more thoroughly than any guidebook. Just like being away, all research roads eventually lead to ‘the one’. Got to be nearby (eat local, eat sustainable), got to be high quality, got to deliver on a day that suits, got to not cost more than the Ryanair flight for which there may be no cash refund, and, above all, got to be special. For me, Merienda in Stockbridge hit the spot. Same as in the restaurant itself, which boasts the honour of bearing its first Bib Gourmand label in the 2020 Michelin Guide, choosing what to have from its top-notch dishes was tricky. Small plates if in situ mean that lots of different styles of cooking and combinations of Merienda’s artisan Scottish focussed ingredients inspired by Mediterranean kitchens are de rigueur. But, of course, by necessity, the menu drawn up for COVID-19 has fewer dishes, and follows more of the traditional standard starter, main course and pudding format. It would have been easy enough to have ordered home delivery of manchego and Serrano ham from nearby neighbour, Herbie, but that would have required domestic manual labour which isn’t allowed on holiday. Anyway, homemade assembly would have been hit and miss on the skilful balance of Merienda’s version and, even in the deepest - albeit freshly explored - recesses of the pantry, no way would I have found the perfect finish of sliced dried figs to complement this simple combination of taste and texture. From the other starters, including veggie, smoked salmon and pheasant terrine, a 1 litre tub of shellfish chowder, luscious and unstinting on the seafood, did one portion the next day, still leaving two generous helpings to pop in the freezer for later.
From the choice of six main courses, there needed to be a deciding factor. Calorie counting quickly cast aside, it came down to what I wouldn’t cook for myself. That meant no salmon, perhaps a pity, but, on the other hand, who can be bothered with the faff of moussaka? A big tick there was well rewarded with layers of flavoursome, gently spiced minced lamb, aubergine and creamy béchamel sauce in just the right portion size for one. Although I cook, here were two main course core ingredients as yet untested on the home front, namely chicken thighs and pork belly. Both seem like they are cheaper cuts that you have to be very clever to succeed with and I’ve never felt that clever. But I knew that Campbell Mickel of Merienda, working in partnership with Exec Chef Cuisine, wouldn’t have that problem and my holiday taste buds were primed to take advantage of his expertise. Both cuts were surprisingly meaty, especially the pork where the fat obligingly fell away with ease, and both had all sorts of accompanying deliciousness with them, whether baby carrots, baby potatoes and the various greens of Chinese leaves, peas and lettuce.
Economy of scale for small household lockdown came into its own with berry pavlova. Its more usual haunt of dinner party territory made it all the more welcome on a Wednesday evening at home, with a selection of raspberries, blueberries and strawberries on feather light meringue another winning recipe for dispelling the staycation blues. In common with its alternative, tiramisu, the serving provides two portions.
In terms of practicalities, the dishes come in foil or reusable plastic containers, last for a few days in the fridge, instructions are clear for heating up in oven or microwave and some can go in the freezer. Delivery is no-contact curbside. Minimum order is £50, representing excellent value for money. Wines can be ordered too, but that particular holiday delectation was one I was able to provide for myself on this occasion.
Carol Main is Director of Live Music Now Scotland, as well as LMN Co-ordinator for Europe. LMN provides professional development for musicians of all genres through performances and workshops. Her distinguished CV is too vast to list in full. Current appointments include being a member of the Board of Governors of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, and Vice-Chair of the Traditional Music Forum. A celebrated buongustaio, Carol is a regular contributor to The List Eating and Drinking Guide. She was awarded an MBE for services to music in 2015.
The photographs are of typical Merienda plates pre lockdown