“ 62 Commercial Street Edinburgh EH6. Tel: 0131 555 2546. „
How many times have you 'oohed!' and 'aahed!' over a menu in a restaurant, trying to decide between two or three dishes, knowing you can only have one of them? And how often do you find yourself wishing you'd picked what someone else has when it arrives and you see how good it looks? All too often in my case. Sometimes I manage to convince my dining partner to split-n-share with me, but that isn't always possible, depending on the restaurant, and on the dining partner! All that is now behind me: I've found International Starters. As the name suggests, this is a restaurant where you eat nothing but starters. Lots of them, from around the world. The menu is split into five main foody sections: Mexican, Asian, Scottish, American and Mediterranean. You choose 2-3 starters per person at your table, and then share what arrives. Which means you get to sample all sorts of tastes in one sitting. It also means you aren't faced with a huge plate of something which can be quite daunting for dainty eaters. I'm by no means a dainty eater, but not to worry: lots of little plates are just as filling as one big one! They also do large mixed platters for around the £20 mark which might help bad decision-makers! We picked six starters between three of us: we had haggis parcels with a whisky and mustard dip, thai fishcakes with lime and chilli marmalade, vegetable samosas, tiger prawn kebabs, loaded potato skins with cheese and sour cream, and deep fried brie with cranberry sauce, as well as side orders of garlic bread and fries. Dishes ranged from around £4 to £7 each. Other starters I am saving for next time include Mezzo Salad (Greek stuff with pitta breads), Angus Steak Skewers, and Buffalo Bills' Spiced Chicken Wings. Everything was nothing less than divine. We all tried everything, and loved all of it, which you can't say all that often. The fish dishes especially were fr
esh and tasty and although I'm not a big fish-eater (never had a shark, ha ha) I could happily have eaten nothing but seafood all night. I went with one pregnant friend and one vegetarian, and there were ample dishes to suit everyone! In fact my pregnant friend commented on how great it was to be able to pick at things instead of having to consume one big plateful of something! I'm sure the same would apply to children, and I'm equally sure they would get a warm welcome. The staff were all really friendly and the service was excellent. International Starters is situated on Commercial Quay, one of the regenerated and rather trendy parts of Leith. The inside of the restaurant is a bit like being in an old railway tunnel, with a brick ceiling and big stone pillars holding the roof up. The entrance is a glass frontage: very trendy, and you can sit in the bar at the front of the restaurant and look out on the almost-docks (water feature, but no Water of Leith to be seen from here…) Outside, everything was very quiet no the streets: it was almost like finding an Aladdin’s cave once inside. The layout was fantastic: lots of big (really big) round tables, with ample space to stretch out – our table was between two stone pillars, meaning we had an element of privacy, and the place was so spacious there were no instances of having to move your chair to let people past or worrying if your bags were in the way. Better, the tables had those spinny things: ideal for parties or larger groups for passing things around! What I really liked was the way the starters we ordered arrived bit by bit: everything was staggered so that we didn't feel guilty about eating so much as plates appeared and disappeared throughout the evening. There was also a nice element of surprise when we thought we had finished and our last dish then arrived! It really was ideal for picking without being overloaded. Quite dangerous though:
I did eat just as much as I normally would, only it happened without me really noticing it. The wine list is fairly extensive, and there was a good-sized bar. I'm often shocked at prices for alcoholic drinks when out and about in Edinburgh but the prices were no more than average. We skipped dessert: there were 6 or 7 choices, nothing too spectacular sounding- the usual suspects – sticky toffee, choc fudge cake and so on. I did have a coffee, which thankfully didn't let me down. And the bill? All this for £13 a head. We had had two (soft) drinks each as well as a veritable foody feast. I was pretty impressed! So much so, I've booked my next visit already ...
There are not many things in life that can be relied upon one hundred percent… but here is something that *always* happens: You sit down in a restaurant. You get comfy. The waiter hands you the menu. You peer at it for about ten seconds and then somebody always asks that age old question… ‘are you having a starter?’ Sure as eggs are eggs. Then, if you are in my family, there is much humming and hawing, lots of ‘are you?’ and ‘I will if you will’ etc, and then of course it’s bloody bruschetta all round. In terms of restaurant predictability, it’s up there with your girlfriend refusing to order chips – and then eating all of yours. However! That question is never asked in one restaurant I know – International Starters. International Starters is a relatively new place that has opened down at the renovated Commercial Quay in Leith, here in Edinburgh. The whole area has been so yuppified and re-generated in such a short space of time, there are still old folks wandering about in a daze down there, wondering what on earth a cappuccino is. Think Albert Docks on Richard and Judy (gone but never forgotten) and you’re about right. Where once was a slummy danger zone that nobody would dare enter without full complement of armoury, now stand trendy shops, bars and restaurants. And modern sculpture too - in fact there’s even a water feature. Which makes the prospect of a night out ‘down the docks’ so much more appealing than it used to be. Ok, so you don’t exactly need to be a roquette scientist to work out that International Starters is a restaurant which specialises in… appetisers from around the world! There are no main courses here. Only starters. BUT… what you do (and the staff will advise on this) is you order LOTS OF THEM, and then your party all tuck in and share each others food! Hurrah! But not
a very great concept for those of you who get the raging heebee jeebees when asked to share plates of food, and I know from experience there are a lot of you out there. The restaurant itself looks fantastic, and has a vaulted brick ceiling and a plate glass frontage - very New Leith. The staff – who appear to all be teenagers – are very welcoming and helpful, and will show you to your prebooked table. Tip – don’t even think of turning up here without booking in advance – you’ve no chance. Everybody else is after those deep fried chicken wings too! Gives me a nice opportunity to mention that other famous restaurant quip – ‘do you have reservations?’ – ‘yes, but we came anyway’. Boom Boom! The table we sat at (there were eight in our group) was round, and had two ‘lazy susan’ type wheely things in the middle for ease of pigging, I mean sharing. We were handed our menus and not one person needed to ask the starter question. The menu is divided up by country – obviously, not every country in the world is represented, just those whose national cuisine can easily be battered and deep fried. Like Scotland, for example! Those of you who haven’t yet partaken of deep fried haggis balls – can I just say, you guys are missing out! Especially as they come served with a tasty salad garnish and a mustard and whisky dip. YUM! There are strong seafood elements – mostly of the small, battered, deep fried variety but yummy and fresh anyway. We ordered the seafood platter, which cost a whopping 22 quid, but was actually well worth it as five of us stuffed our faces from it. We got: prawn kabab thingies, deep fried battered prawns in a Chinese style, a bowl of mussels in white wine, and a humungous portion of chips. I think I’ve forgotten some crucial item there. Anyway – great value, tasty food. Elsewhere on our overloaded table I
spied: deep fried chicken wings, (you’ve guessed it – America) mixed mezze (greek style dips and pitta), chicken served with coconut dip, etc etc. At around 4 to 6 quid a portion it’s not dirt cheap, but you do get huge portions. Which leads me to my next point – this would be an ideal restaurant to bring your kids to. They will love the novelty of it, and the portions are just right to feed little ones (or anybody with anything less than a gargantuan appetite for that matter). If two girlfriends want a wee mid-shopping lunch, for example, it would be great to have a starter each with a salad or chips (well it would be chips if we’re honest, wouldn’t it). Blokes will probably want a selection though, and this is actively encouraged! The atmosphere is great – the Saturday we went there seemed to be about five birthdays being celebrated, each with the requisite cake and singing. The staff were more than happy to take custody of our Bart Simpson iced job (from M&S, great cake!) and put it on a big presentation dish and stick candles in it for us. This saved us from the degradation of admitting we wanted dessert, but if we had, it’s very much the choccy fudge cake, banoffee pie kind of fare to be found here. Nothing too fancy, and everything loaded with a gazillion calories. When the final bill came, there was a hush as I read out the damage. And then an exhale of relief – we had stuffed ourselves silly, and had two alcoholic drinks each, for seventeen quid a head (including a tip). Not too bad for Leith on a Saturday I feel! I would definitely recommend International Starters to any group of friends looking to have a filling, tasty nosh up in trendy surroundings. Gourmet it ain’t, subtle it certainly ain’t, but for the novelty factor alone it’s well worth a visit. And at least you know you’ll never have to ask… ‘are you having a