The Pierre Levicky show is back in town, and what is it the French say about ‘Plus ça change . . . ?’ Donald Reid visits Chez Pierre
Sometimes we get a bit too serious about food. But then it is a serious business, it’s what keeps us upright, but like any realm of human interest some folk, among them food journalists and chefs, become just a bit too earnest about the whole subject. It’s not an accusation you could lay at the door of Pierre Levicky. Eating, to him, is an excuse to enjoy yourself, to relax, have fun. Most of life’s challenges and crises (situations not unfamiliar to Levicky) can be met with an easy smile and a Gallic shrug.
In early February this year Levicky made his heralded return to the city as chef-partner to businessman Donald Thow. In Edinburgh we fondly remember the Victoria Street original, though the rise and spectacular fall of the 100-plus chain is all part of the tale. Indeed, at the end of June, Levicky is promising a book, the self-published (naturellement) Cooking Life.
A Chez Pierre was set up in Andalucia a year or so back and, true to form, the Scottish version has simple, straightforward décor, bargain lunches, scrawled blackboard specials, a French accent to the menu and a surprising amount of bustle and buzz given its location in the lower New Town-Canonmills area.
The main menu, principally for the evenings, tries to break down the standard approach to starters and mains with over 20 ‘tiny, playful dishes’. This tapas-style approach is much in vogue, of course, though to be fair Levicky was making inroads on menu structure back in the days of Pierre Victoire and its various offshoots. ‘Tiny’ is inaccurate (most dishes are hearty, though no longer the daunting size they were in the restaurant’s early days) and ‘playful’ describes Levicky’s general approach rather than the individual dishes. In the same vein, soups aren’t soups but ‘slurpies’ and mains, mysteriously, are ‘Three Phase’.
It’s by no means all French – alongside seafood pot au feu or duck confit there’s Thai marinated chicken and lobster tajine – but the mainstays of the kitchen are classic dishes well cooked, eschewing fiddly finesse or fancy presentation. Salads are big and drowned in dressing, baked oysters are soft and crispy with fluffy scrambled egg and seafood spaghetti is straightforward and satisfying in a tasty though ultimately unmemorable way.
Enthusiastic, relaxed, cheapish, cheerful – it’s Levicky’s style and it’s clearly engaging. Folk like it, and for the most part they accept the roughness around the edges. Around these edges it can be patchy in quality, slap-dash and confused – sometimes in substantial enough doses to upset customers significantly (we’ve had the emails). Could this be the start of something big? Perhaps not this time, but Edinburgh will be content enough to have the original to enjoy.
18 Eyre Place, New Town, Edinburgh,
0131 556 0006
Strangely familiar casual French bistro.
Average two-course evening meal £23; set-price lunch
(main plus salad and coffee) £6