It was a quiet Monday night as we rolled up to Al Dente on Easter Road, a tiny Italian restaurant that sits unassumingly half-way down Easter Road. You’re instantly drawn to the Ospitalia Italiana gold award proudly stamped into its façade; in my experience, these less glamourous eateries always turn out to be a winner.
There’s an open kitchen, and chef/owner Graziano is gabbing away in his native tongue to a friend. On entering, he is swiftly out to greet us, alongside our waitress for the evening. The Italian excitedly takes us through today’s specials and retreats back behind the stove.
My starter tonight is warm-baked Apulian potato tart with cured meat and mozzarella (£5.30), with Sarah going for ‘Sautee de pesce’ priced at £6.80. The dining room is immediately awash with the wonderful aromas of garlic and white wine, and with one large breath drawn in, Sarah boldly states “Mmmm, it doesn’t get better than that”. She might be right.
Her dish comes out first and I was glad to see just a simple plate of mussels, calamari, prawns, clams, and a decent chunk of good bread to soak us those juices. The last time we ordered this in a restaurant the shellfish were full of grit; thankfully, this chef has given his produce the respect it deserves, and that respect extends to the cooking of it – simple, but effective, the way it should be. My dish was equally as good: quality ham, gooey cheese, crunchy top and potatoes with a slight bite to them – a dish most suited to this cold winter evening.
Another couple of Italian gentlemen entered the restaurant and the banter between chef and customer flowed. It’s a definite indicator of authenticity when fellow countrymen dine in such restaurants, and a far cry from the more generic offerings that lie over on Leith Walk.
I opted for one of the specials in the form of pork loin with gorgonzola, honey, and roasted vegetables (£14.80). This plate is never going to win any awards for presentation, but its rusticity wasn’t without its charm.
Anyway, the pig was moist and tender and that gratinated gorgonzola was a real revelation. Textbook cooking would suggest the potatoes needed a little more caramelisation, but they were well-cooked and very tasty, if lacking a pinch of salt. The aubergine was expertly chargrilled and not transformed into a pile of grey mush, as can often be the case. The syrupy, slight sweetness to balsamic vinegar suggests it was a quality one, and it just brought an acidic tinge that enhanced the dish. My only quibble was that maybe a drizzle of olive oil was needed to tighten the dish up slightly.
Sarah’s main was the old classic, lasagne al forno (£10.50). The sheets of pasta were perfectly executed to an ‘Al Dente’ texture and the béchamel was creamy. However, although she enjoyed the dish, Sarah would have liked a tad more of the ragu to cut through that white sauce.
Al Dente serves up unpretentious, honest cooking at excellent prices. The staff clearly put a great deal of pride into their work and that shines through in the food and the service. It won’t be long before we visit again. Bellissimo!
Phone: (0131) 6521 932
Address: 139 Easter Road, Edinburgh, EH7 5QA
Open: Mon: 17:30 - 22:00
Tues to Sat: 12:00 - 14:00, 17:30 - 22:00
Al Dente offers an Early Bird menu (until 18:30, Mon-Fri) with two courses on offer for £10.50 or three for £13.50, with BYOB on Wednesdays.