Honeycomb & Co

1 Merchiston Place, Edinburgh

0131 228 4641

Lunch: £11-£22

Food rating: 6/10

THEY say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and at Honeycomb & Co in Edinburgh, the clue is in the title: a minimal play on Honey & Co in London, famed for its abundant salads, cake-clad counters and Middle Eastern delights. Tracing the lineage back, remember that Sarit Packer, who set the business up with her husband Itamar Srulovich, came from the Yotam Ottolenghi stable, the man who deserves a medal for his services to food in Britain, vegetables in particular.

Perhaps it’s sheer chance that the decor at Honeycomb & Co – clean white, opulent Levantine gold – is curiously similar to Ottolenghi’s decorative style: so close, in fact, to the look of his most soignée restaurant, Nopi. Honeycomb & Co also has an Ottolenghi (Honey & Co)-like cake display, and the salads displayed on amply proportioned platters. From a distance they look promising, although – and here’s the first wrong note – they sit in a chiller, alongside frigid smoked salmon bruschetta. Refrigerated toast anyone?

Now, a preliminary to replicating the Ottolenghi style is appreciating that salads and dips taste best at room temperature, that most Middle Eastern "hot" dishes should be sampled when they have cooled down to warm. But at Honeycomb & Co, we seem to be in the temperature-controlled hands of a martinet environmental health officer obsessed with sterility, or mass caterers whose logistical mindset is "getting ahead" to reduce last-minute kitchen effort.

So our salads look Ottolenghi (Honey & Co)-like, but they’re off-puttingly cold, and the ratio of ingredients has been re-calibrated in a dull British way. There’s way too much cracked wheat and not enough green herbs in the grainy one, along with crudely cubed cucumber and far too much spring onion. Ottolenghi lesson number one: use herbs as a bulk ingredient, not a garnish. There’s insufficient Chimichurri dressing or asparagus in the new potato salad to give it oomph. Thanks to smoky paprika, the cauliflower and chickpea one has a distinctive flavour. A creditable version of Yotam’s saffron yoghurt, served in a parsimonious quantity, graces under-cooked aubergines and under-roasted peppers. It’s as if herbs, pomegranate seeds, enlivening condiments, all the characteristic Ottolenghi larder of generosity, is being rationed by an accountant. Perhaps that’s also why the focaccia is crying out for more olive oil. The home-baked flatbreads are infinitely superior and the dukkah spice and seed mix with its salty, sesame, coriander body must have escaped the accountant’s attention – there are lots of nuts in it – but unfortunately the oil for dunking is the increasingly ubiquitous rapeseed (give me extra virgin olive any day), though it fits the opulent golden theme.

Rice in the kedgeree is nicely cooked, pleasantly spiced, but I have to hunt down the sparse haddock flakes in amongst all that firmly boiled egg white, a further cold, hard boiled egg half, and a heap of brazenly vinegary, pungent red onion that Ottolenghi would never consider to be a pickle.

A creditable attempt at something approximating to shawarma – more of the homemade flat bread, a competently smoky baba ganoush (once again too cold), shavings of lamb – looks the part until we bite into the brown meat with its pre-cooked, reheated taste. There’s plenty of mint and coriander on this dish, and given the paucity of pomegranate molasses, and the stickiness of the crumbled, workaday goat cheese, we’re grateful for their decisive contribution.

A toothsome cake lineup – carrot, raspberry polenta, courgette, "Persian love cake", are a frenzy of icing and Cath Kidston-esque pastel prettiness. I prefer what’s on offer at the deli across the road, 181. Honeycomb & Co makes a big deal of its gelato. Ours don’t thrill. The mascarpone one is cloying; that desirable scalded cream flavour of mascarpone proves elusive. Sea buckthorn and Prosecco sorbet tastes like jelly babies and misses the brisk, fruity slap that this uncompromisingly tart seaside berry delivers. Its crystalline structure dotted with ice granules is amateurish.

Still, I think Honeycomb & Co will flourish in Bruntsfield, the Hampstead of Edinburgh. For people who don’t look outside Scotland much it might even pass as imaginative and original.