Fat Pony

47-49 Bread Street, Edinburgh

0131 229 5770

Lunch/Dinner: £14-£22

Food rating: 4/10

THE food menu at Fat Pony in Edinburgh is much shorter than the drinks one. It offers just nine small plates, a couple of platters, with desserts (five) disproportionately represented, given the limitations of the savoury offer. Still, Fat Pony is a wine bar, food isn’t the central focus. It’s only as we try out the savoury dishes, which are either cold, room temperature, or contain a protein element that’s red in the middle with a tepid brown cooked ring around it, that we clock the cooking area: two chefs, working in area the size of broom cupboard. No range, salamander, or plancha it seems, we watch them operating the catering world’s equivalent of George Foreman grills, those gadgets with pull-down lids that heat and transform food from raw without imparting flavour or texture.

By dessert time, the absence of a kitchen porter is showing. Dirty plates stack up on the cramped surface also used for plating up food. When he gets a break in the orders, one of the chefs starts washing up the plates – by hand – drip-drying them above the sink. How shoestring is the kitchen staffing here? It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "chief cook and bottle washer".

The "kitchen" set-up strikes us only belatedly because although these are narrow, awkward, bipartite premises, the fit-out – slate grey-toned wall panelling, a slick, illuminated glass wall of glasses and bottles, those modern radiators that cost a mint – can’t have come cheaply.

Our server has the disengaged air of a house-sitter. We ask about natural and biodynamic wines – we had read that Fat Pony was serving some. Her answer to each query we pose is: "I'll have to ask." And am I being too sensitive, or do I pick up a fleeting resentment that our request makes us awkward customers? The on-site font of all wisdom can’t deliver clarity either. An inchoate story comes back to the effect that while most of the wines are "natural" they don’t say so on the label, yet any wine merchant could supply data that would support an indicative asterisk on a wine list.

Not one dish do we enjoy. They’re cool, insubstantial and unsatisfying, pretentious to boot. Duck pastrami tastes cured, but otherwise forgettable, in a ring of orange segments, a few leaves of baby chard and a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds; it’s an assembly job. Cold pork belly, not entirely un-tasty given its coating of Hoisin-like sauce, is nuked by its Asian slaw, grated pepper, carrot, and either green mango or papaya, drowned in lethal, worrisomely orange chilli sauce. No wine could stand up to this slug in the chops.

The cut of beef, tough, and with silvery sinew glinting through it, isn’t up to its "tataki" treatment. It comes with "crispy wonton". The small dumpling I expect turns out to be a fried wonton wrapper. "Seared" tuna Niçoise lazily traduces the eponymous south of France classic dish: anaemic tuna, a touch sour, faintly fishy, a mess of cress, no anchovies, crumbled black debris that tastes like bad black olives, dehydrated.

We’re still hungry, so we fill up on wonderful raw milk cheese: Scottish Lanark Blue, English Flower Marie, and Spanish Murcia al Vino. Each has a distinctive character, a mouth-filling bouquet of aromas, that suits the cubes of quince paste and struggles with the sticky, brown acetic onion jam, but the throat-catching, vinegar-soaked grapes kill these punchy players, and the wine, stone dead.

Our desserts, ricotta and mango cheesecake (furry, bland interior, gummy skin) with orange and mango sorbet, and chocolate, red wine caramel delice with tonka bean ice cream, look and taste like pre-fab jobs, putting me in mind of supermarket "deluxe" sweets, or those served at conveyor belt hotel weddings. Insipid chocolate mousse is prissily piped on the plate like the topping on Iced Gems. The tonka bean ice cream is a no-show.

It’s possible that Fat Pony might trot along nicely as a stylish-looking place to strike a pose and feel cosmopolitan. Possible, but I wouldn’t stake my money on it.