Restaurant review: Victor & Carina Contini Caffè & Cannonball
Italian-Scots food hub on the Royal Mile brings quality food to tourist trail
Carina and Victor Contini’s latest project beside Edinburgh Castle brings their distinctive blend of Italian heritage and quality Scottish produce to the prime tourist market, as Donald Reid reports
Carina and Victor Contini do projects like ducks do water. Or maybe, in fact, swans: a slightly confusing identity at first, plenty of paddling beneath the surface, but ultimately graceful and distinguished. Since decoupling from Valvona & Crolla ten years ago, they converted a former banking hall into Centotre (now simply – or not so simply – Victor & Carina Contini Ristorante); created a café-restaurant beneath the National Gallery that showcases Scottish produce in the same manner that the walls above do for homegrown art; and established a productive market garden to emphasise that their commitment to local had earth under its fingernails.
Next (though in fact three years in gestation) is the establishment of an Italian-Scots food hub right at the entrance to the Castle Esplanade. Cannonball House, named for the cannonball embedded high on the wall of the old stone tenement – it either dates to Bonnie Prince Charlie’s time, or plays an unexplained role in the Old Town’s former water supply system – has been patiently converted by the Continis in partnership with the building’s owners, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.
The point is thick with tourists – two million pass by every year – and despite the assumption that menus touristico will be significantly higher in price than quality, there’s no sense that the fodder at Cannonball dilutes the integrity and high standards of the Contini brand. In the basement is a gelateria and porridge bar (surely a world first), both items being made on site. Street level has a caffè offering impressively constructed panino, salads and antipasto plates, while the old-school theme of the building (it was a primary school for much of the 20th century) is clearest in the white-tiled staircase that leads up two floors to the striking but not overly showy Cannonball restaurant with its arresting glimpses out of various windows to the historic views all around, including the neighbouring castle.
The family’s sepia-tinged Italian-Scots heritage is as prominent around the place as the building’s history, and what shines through is the dearly held respect for good food, family and community. Neither poshed-up or dumbed-down, it’s smoking-gun evidence that good food is muscling its way into the standard tourist experience in Scotland.
+ A respect for quality ingredients amid the tourist hustle
- Probably more for locals to recommend to visitors than personal use