Words by Jonathan Chambers
This award-winning Italian gem is, for my money, the standout fine dining option in Edinburgh today. A bold statement that the young and talented team at Mono more than justify with their exciting approach to Italian cuisine, striking the perfect balance between pushing culinary boundaries and delivering on classic flavours. An ideal place to enjoy forward-thinking, contemporary plates in an unpretentious setting.
Mono is positioned at the heart of the city on the busy South Bridge road; the modern minimalist space dressed in pine and leather is a calming and welcome escape. But there is nothing relaxed about the approach of the chefs, each dish that leaves the kitchen has been extensively crafted and refined while remaining true to Italian culinary principles.
This is cooking from your Italian nonna if Gordon Ramsay had trained her! Head chef Andrea Pruneri leads a kitchen team that brims with youthful creativity and their efforts are getting deserved recognition: receiving the title of ‘Best Emerging Italian Restaurant’ in the coveted Gambero Rosso 2021 international Italian restaurant awards.
The food at Mono changes with the seasons; taking advantage of the incredible local produce Scotland has to offer and conjuring them into fresh plates. With Italian chefs in the kitchen, you can be sure they’ve gone to every length to source only the finest ingredients.
The tasting menu (£60pp) is the best way to experience the restaurant’s ethos and approach to food. A perfectly paced culinary experience. In this instance it is totally appropriate to judge the book by the cover with the unadvertised selection of canapés that begins proceedings; each creation, a uniquely delightful experience of texture and flavour. This is epitomised by the bite-sized ‘caprese salad’: a beautiful tomato-shaped construction consisting of a miniature burrata encased in a tomato gel and doused in basil oil.
Flavour combinations are intriguing and well matched, while texture continues to be a key consideration throughout the menu. Expect moments of delicious contrast, such as crisp sweetbreads paired with a creamy, almost mousse-like saffron sauce. Next up, a crowd pleaser in the form of ravioli filled with a moreish cheesy goo, accompanied by salty bursts from anchovies and slivers of Sardinian bartega (cured mullet roe – a new one for me). A parsley foam adds the exclusive sense of occasion.
The flavours of the Italian woodland follow, with roasted pigeon breast and oyster mushrooms covered in a silky cacciatore-style sauce and asparagus. Again, what really makes the difference is the level of ingredients; every element on the menu down to the olive oil is a sensory delectation to be savoured in its own right.
After the main course you’re encouraged to explore the depth of Italian wines from the wine list, full of exciting regional varietals that you won’t find at your local. And for a change from the wine pairings, challenge the bartender to create a bespoke option to accompany any particular course (he is also more than capable of dazzling with non-alcoholic options).
Sometimes as a tasting menu marathon progresses, everything can start to blur into one (especially after a few glasses of chianti classico), but you’ll be brought sharply back into focus with the first of two dessert options: The ‘Caprino’, an immense feat of flavour and texture matching. As the Italian name might suggest, goats’ cheese is the unifying ingredient of this plate, but transformed into an airy mousse that cloaks pistachios, honey and a salted vanilla ice cream.
Tart, macerated raspberries are the perfect foil for the creaminess with a dusting of raspberry powder that provides a striking visual contrast to the pristine white. You could consider this almost as a savoury dessert with the salted elements really playing off the natural sweetness of the goats’ cheese. Mono design this as the peak of their tasting menu although apparently it has overwhelmed some customers on occasion. If you find this too challenging for your taste buds then I challenge you to further develop your palate and think again!
A more conventional dessert celebrating strawberries in myriad forms is the last stunning dish to grace the menu. Even when you think it’s all over, you’ll have to find space for the petit fours that come with your much-needed Italian coffee.
I left Mono with the feeling that I’d enjoyed something special, the kind of place you can’t wait to tell your friends about. There is very little to fault on a delicious menu that represents remarkably good value for the fine dining sector. For a more casual night, the downstairs wine bar also has an aperitivo-style menu with light bites and small plates. Find out more and book yourself a table on their website.
Tasting menu £60pp / £105pp with wine pairings.