I J Mellis, Cheese Lounge, Edinburgh
"I'm just crackers about cheese."
Wallace & Gromit
Like Wallace from the Aardman Animations movies, I’m just crackers about cheese. So I’m delighted to sample the stuff of my dreams at this eatery whose name conjures up images of a hip jazz club, but is actually the modest back room of IJ Mellis’s shop. Its food philosophy is simple. You don’t have to over-complicate things – people appreciate good food, simply prepared, accompanied by a glass of wine or beer.
The whiff of le fromage has our nostrils flaring before we set foot in the place. The fella and I hit cheddar paradise with our olfactory areas bursting into overdrive. To avoid distraction we close our eyes to the tempting produce covering the groaning counter. Iain Mellis has been mongering cheese for more than 25 years, initially opening a shop on Edinburgh’s Victoria Street. Since then he has collated a staggering array of fine artisanal delights for his loyal customers in his stores in Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews. www.mellischeese.net
The lounge itself is located behind a glass door. Enter, and you could be in a bar in rural France. The bijou room has tiled walls and floors, marble-topped café tables and dark mismatched chairs. We order a jewel box of olives, divine salty brine-soaked orbs of all sizes and colours, nestling in the dish with whole garlic cloves. The waiter must have read my mind, as they arrive accompanied by a bottle of tap water and two tumblers.
I must have the luck of the Irish. The fella orders a scotch egg, and as only the vegetarian version is left, we both have a chance to sample this layered treasure, cut in half to reveal its innards with two wedges of Cashel blue on the side.
We select both the red pepper goat’s curd and the French onion soup, which arrive piping hot. The pepper soup du jour is a gorgeous fiery red shade but hidden under the surface are spoonfuls of smooth-tasting, velvet-like milk paleness, simply a marriage made in heaven. The classic French onion is declared “spot on”, a perfect balance between sweet caramelised onions and wonderful salty broth. Three slices of roasted cheesy sourdough toast are more than enough to mop up every last drop.
My fella goes off script with a flavour-packed plateful of sardines on toast, while I experience a new taste sensation.
I am a big fan of salted feta in a salad, however, I would never have envisaged roasting an entire slab of feta drizzled with oil and cherry tomatoes. The heat changes the texture of the cheese, making it softly yielding and even more delicious. This is a dish that I would return for. Other options are baked Camembert or raclette, potatoes and finocchiona, but, readers, I do know my limits.
Joyful little pastel de nata
Instead, to end my meal, I opted for a sweet custard-filled pastel de nata. This Portuguese pastry was a flaky, buttery delight, which I paired with a bitter Americano coffee. With no cheese in the fridge at home we take advantage of local advice from a Morningside regular who suggests purchasing some Morbier. This is an ivory-coloured, semi-soft fromage from the Franche-Comté region which has a dark vein of ash in the middle. An impeccable choice Cheese Lounge by IJ Mellis Edinburgh 330 Morningside Road, Edinburgh EH10 4QJ (0131-447 8889, www.mellischeese.net)
Five Scottish artisan cheesemakers have launched an urgent crowdfunding campaign, to help fund a judicial review into the new raw milk regulations which threaten their livelihood. I respect and understand the complexities of both sides of the milky debate and believe ultimately it comes down to personal dietary decisions. Therefore I know this review will not appeal to everyone. However, if dairy is your thing, you must get along to Morningside for a slice of the good stuff.