It’s been a few years since I last reviewed this branch of Café Marlayne (its sister is located on Thistle Street) and I was relieved to see the solid standard of bistro fare was not only up to scratch, but had evolved a little too.
The stark white walls of yore are warmer, welcome in what is quite a cavernous place, and the new décor (striped wallpaper, mix-match furniture) are fairly symbolic of the menu’s new direction. No longer ‘simply’ French in its remit, the menu has gone on a mini-world tour and has arrived back with fresh ideas and flavours.
To start, a basket of mixed breads dunked in oil & vinegar, a bone-dry Breton cider for mum and a bottle of Stewart Brewing Hefe for me. My starter (£4.50) of caramelised figs & oranges, fennel seed, rocket and creamy goats cheese contrasting with the honeyed fruit was a summery tour of the Med on a plate. Quite welcome on a bleak January night. Mum went for the charcuterie option (£5.90), featuring sweetly salty Serrano ham, and drily savoury venison salami. Built around the meats was a wintery salad of earthy roasted red beets, pumpkin seeds and leaves. Boldly-satisfying flavours all round.
Mains were successful riffs on bistro favourites. Pan-seared duck breast (£13.70) was juicy, pink with an edge of fat just-so. Drizzled atop was a rich jus of cherry beer, studded with salty smoked bacon, served with sautéed potatoes and soy and chili-spiked kale bringing a bit of zing to the dish.
Mum’s rib-eye steak (£14.50) was a left-field variation on the familiar steak & chips, the garnish elements a little over enthusiastic in their quantities plonked atop the steak. The mature well-flavoured beef was cooked medium as requested, but served under a blanket of braised onions & sultanas making the overall impression more of a stew than steak frites. A home-made horseradish sauce was well balanced between cream and tang. Fries, crisp and golden were tasty however the salt-baked walnuts mentioned on the menu sadly didn’t make an appearance.
As befits a place that does a roaring trade during the daytime as a café, the selection of teas and coffees is superb. A cup of jasmine green tea accompanied by a slice of their ever-popular lemon polenta cake – zesty, toasty and light – was a classy finish to an altogether enjoyable meal.