Maki & Ramen

97-101 Fountainbridge, Edinburgh

0131 228 5069

Lunch/Dinner: £15-£58

Food rating: 4/10

THE premises at 97-101 Fountainbridge have changed their gastronomic identity over the years. The first I remember was old school Italian trattoria, with a wall given over to a giant picture of the Bay of Naples. Then a Malaysian outfit, Kampung Ali, moved in, serving pretty good food but with a make do and mend attitude to decor. Its red and yellow colour scheme and brightly lit windows shone out, a cheery beacon in the area, which at that point, was shifting from down-at-heel to concrete corporate blandness. Kampung Ali retained the faux Baroque frescoes of its Italian predecessors but customised the place with Malaysian tourist board posters and strategically-placed plastic models of Kuala Lumpur’s landmark, the Petronas Towers. I quite liked its scruffy authenticity.

The "regeneration" of the Fountainbridge area has moved on apace; a steady infill of student halls of residence and offices has brought life and enterprise to the environs, connecting it with the hubbub of Lothian Road. An area that was dead is animated, not perhaps as animated as it was back in the day when Fountainbridge was a high-density tenement community, but progress from those intervening twilight years.

And these premises have changed along with it. Now they house Maki & Ramen, one of a mini-chain of three Japanese restaurants in the city. This one sells itself as "an authentic Japanese experience", as Scotland’s "first okomase Edomai sushi restaurant". Okomase means entrusting you choice to the chef. The Edomai bit flags up sushi, prepared in the trad Tokyo style. If you go to a proper okomase restaurant in Japan, you’ll need a plump wallet. You’re there to watch as chefs prepare one exquisite mouthful at a time, to marvel at their precision, their technique, their concentration.

Maki & Ramen boasts that its executive chef is certified by the Shinjuku Sushi Academy in Tokyo and can "ensure a memorable sushi experience as each dish ties the freshest ingredients with incomparable creativity". Our food though falls way short of its billing. The ingredients are standard – a preponderance of easy to source salmon, other fish and shellfish that if not frozen, are most decidedly not the discerning pick of the day that a choosy Japanese okomase chef would expect. Ingredients aren’t exceptional, and neither is the cooking. Tonkotsu Ramen broth is half as rich and potent as that served at Ramen Dayo in Glasgow, which is the best I’ve had in the UK. Its braised pork belly has more of a Chinese five-spice, char sui taste. Other elements include noodles, soft-boiled egg and tin corn, all of them thoroughly unexceptional. The "Master chef burnt soyu ramen" sounds more decisive, but it’s as wishy-washy as the plainer version, the main difference being that the meat in this one is minced.

Soft shell crab rolls are a mess to eat: the rice is ineptly rolled so it disintegrates inside its elastic seaweed wrapper. These must be the slightest crabs in the sea, they’re so lost in their deep-fried batter, we can’t taste them. I’m not desperately hungry enough to force myself to eat the octopus salad. Served in a cocktail glass under watery shredded white radish and with cucumber, it tastes like cubes of rubber marinated in sugared vinegar. I might be more impressed with the "beef tataki with black truffle butter", which is theatrically blowtorched at the table, if it didn’t taste of lighter fuel.

Everything at Maki & Ramen costs £1-£3 more than other unremarkable sushi places. I guess you’re now paying for the decor, a streamlined Japanese aesthetic, smooth parallel slats of wood used to clad walls and ceiling, the sleek sophisticated bar if you want to watch the chefs, a raised platform for dining on, slippers to wear as you sling off your outdoor shoes. Reincarnated as Maki & Ramen, 97-101 Fountainbridge is now one good-looking restaurant. It certainly looks the part and its novelty value may well appeal to those who are more comfortable eating food out than cooking it in. For me, there’s just too much emperor's new clothes about the place, or should that be the emperor’s new slippers?