La Petite Mort

32 Valleyfield Sreet, Edinburgh

0131 229 3693

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Lunch/Dinner: £11.95-££32

Food rating: 3/10

I OFTEN feel sorry for tourists when I see them trailing around in Edinburgh. Shoot me down in flames if you like, but it’s hard to find decent food at an affordable price in the city centre, even for natives. Of course, it’s the traveller’s burden to take your chances in places you happen to pass, or follow recommendations from assorted guides, media reviews, websites and blogs, many of which are prone to manipulation, often out of date, and frequently cannibalise each other. But at least the favourable exchange rate currently softens the blow for Eurozone tourists.

Yet when I saw two innocent French tourists sitting down to eat at the next table just as we were paying our bill at La Petite Mort, I fought the urge to warn them to turn around and walk out again, even to redirect them to several much better options within a 100 metres. I could imagine their eventual disappointment when they learned the hard way that despite the sales pitch – a theatrical heritage pub (Bennet’s) with a cosy, rather more serene restaurant section (La Petite Mort), and a chef who apparently uses seasonal, artisan ingredients, the cooking standard was pitiful. More lurid French vocabulary comes to mind, but I’ll edit that out for the sake of diplomacy. Put it this way, in Michelin language this restaurant most certainly doesn’t fit the "vaut le détour" category. It’s literally years since I’ve had such a regressive, pretentious, and unjustifiably costly meal.

Just occasionally I have found myself in situations – hospitals, planes – where I have struggled to identify a food-like substance. Having read "La Petite Mort Trifle: Plum and sherry compote, orange polenta sponge, Frangelico custard cream" – I just couldn’t square this description with the 1950s Bakelite-beige rubberised substance, bedecked with anaemic broken peanuts, maybe cashews, that topped it, other than to say that an excess of gelatine was the dominant feature in its strata. Is the cream-less trifle a signature dish in this establishment? Alas, this rubbery confection needed all the help it could get. Mind you, the "hot gingerbread pudding with treacle sauce and white chocolate fudge brownie ice cream" veered from dumbness to aggression: a belligerently gingery cake, the sort Agatha Christie killers would use to disguise the presence of poison. I can only presume that the rough fibrous bits in it were very hard oats, and you could knock me over with a feather if the ice cream was made on the premises.

Straight off, I had noticed that the curry and pumpkin seed bread was ridiculously salty, with undertones of something very like garlic powder, but I tried to remain positive. Yet I couldn’t help but be vaguely disturbed by the "assiette of mushroom: raw button, mushroom Duxelles, trompette de mort and mushroom and tarragon puree with goat’s cheese bon bon". Can you sniff the affectation in the title? The reality was inky, unexceptional, cooked mushrooms, vapid raw ones, clammy, seemingly unseasoned trompettes, and two greasy-fried goat’s cheese balls.

Mounting apprehension subsided somewhat with a passable starter of chopped razor clam, scallop, and crisped up Parma ham. Even then, two concerns popped up: an amateurish reliance on cream to create the body of sauces, and a saltiness that suggested the use of a stock powder/bouillon mix.

"Sous vide venison haunch" (£17.95) was quite clearly pan-fried or grilled, not slow-cooked. It resisted cutting, let alone chewing. Its accompanying "stovie dauphinoise" cried out for salt, its kale was old and ropey. "Orange and walnut jus" – more cognitive dissonance here: jus from nuts? – left that prickle on the tip of the tongue that alerts me to those ready-made stock bases some chefs use. "Trio of pork" – beware trios of anything, this dated language constitutes a red alert – plated up stringy cheek meat, grey and taste-challenged loin, and a hammy sausage roll-type effort.

It was only when we left that I noticed the stench of frying that seemed to emanate from the kitchen that La Petite Mort shares with the pub. If I’d picked it up earlier, I’d never have stepped through the door.