Locanda de Gusti
102 Dalry Road, Edinburgh EH11 2DW
0131 346 8800 www.locandadegusti.com
A la carte
Starters £7.95 - £10.95 | Pasta £12.95 - £28.95
Mains £14.50 - £30.95 | Desserts £6.95
Cooking 5.5/10 | Service 4/5
Flavour 4/5 | Value 3.5/5
In 1940 You Can't Go Home Again, Thomas Wolfe's last novel, was published posthumously. (Don't confuse him with Tom Wolfe of Bonfire of the Vanities fame.) It concerns fledgling author, George Webber. Webber's first novel portrayed his home town, the fictional Libya Hill. After its publication, it is made difficult for him to return.
Now, while I don't think there is any restaurant to which I would be refused entry because of something I wrote, (well, maybe one or two), there is in the title a lesson for any reviewer. That's why there are very few places to which I have returned. Locanda de Gusti was one of the few exceptions.
When I first wrote about it, the old website had a readership of about three, so you probably missed it. But it became one of those places to go back to for fun, for the Italian (sorry, Neapolitan) bustle, for Rosario Sartore's outrageous trousers, and for the great food. Locanda is situated on The Street Near You, which we have been featuring. Until recently, it would have been crowned King of the Street, with no competition. But things change, for a variety of reasons.
Family, for example. They stopped doing their wonderful pizzas when Pizza 1926 opened across the road, run by Signor Sartore, jr. Lunch is now served only on Fridays and Saturdays - I'm guessing that's down to staff issues. And the menu is now much restricted, as is happening in most sensible small places, for simple reasons of economics. That's no impediment to greatness, so the Retired Captain of Industry and I decided to make a dinner date with our lovely spouses, L & L.
We braved a chilly evening and the ravening hordes going to nearby Tynecastle, and were squeezed into a cosy corner of a place which was choc a bloc and quite bustling on a Wednesday. A couple of starters were ordered by the hungry ones. I enjoy pasta as a starter - would never have the Italian appetite to take me through antipasti (literally, the course before the pasta), then pasta itself, then a main course. Fortunately a starter portion is available with some (not all) of their pasta dishes, but you do have to ask.
Looking at the plate of Genovese, I made a schoolboy error, confusing my handkerchieves (fazzoletti) with my priest stranglers (strozzapreti). The latter, looking like pieces of twisted rope, date from the 17th century, during one of the phases when Papal rule was perhaps less devout than it ought to be. It is said that local housewives, seeking vengeance against priests for their infamous gluttony, cursed the pasta as they made it, hoping to punish the priests by choking them. The other surprise of this dish was the sauce. From Genoa, most of us would be expecting pesto and possibly green beans; but remember this is a Neapolitan restaurant. In Naples pasta Genovese features a beef and onion ragù.
The dish which I was served, while a cut above high street Italians, was less interesting than the story. FRCI was presented with a large portion of polpette (meatballs), (not to be confused with polpo (octopus)). Neither of us was terribly impressed.
Mains saw two more plates of pasta. A full size Genovese for L2 and orecchiette with ragù (lamb this time) for L1. Another decent plate, the latter, though L1 professed she was getting bored by the end. A pork daube was all right. I thought it was shoulder meat but RFCI tells me it was pork cheek. Just a touch on the tough side but tasty enough.
Fish has been a specialty here for a long time and no one could fault the generosity of the Grigliata di Pesce with tuna and swordfish and seabass and scallops and prawns. If I'm being picky (and I am today) these weren't slices served sizzling straight from the grill. They had been kept warm for a while. Good, but no cigar. The accompanying veg with the two non pasta mains were OK.
So how does this shape up? No theatre, and no sign of the boss man, which used to be a daily delight. Service - amiable enough and efficient, but no more. And the food? To be frank the impression is of a place that's lost its mojo, one that's going through the motions. One fears that all may not be well in the house of Sartore. Pizza 1926 closed recently, with rumours of a family schism. That leaves nearby Wine and Peach, also part of the empire. I've never visited, but expect another helping soon from A Street Near You.
And this place? Well, you have my report. Truly, You Can't Go Home Again.