My heart skipped a beat when I heard that a restaurant called Noto had opened in Edinburgh.

Sicilian food I thought, homage to the titular town renowned for its baroque architecture, and no less important on a hot day, its celebrated gelato bars. I felt a bit let down when Noto turned out to be ‘A New York inspired restaurant with a love for Asian cuisine’, which sounds somewhat idiosyncratic, but then my spirits lifted again when I learnt that it was headed up by Stuart Ralston, who runs Aizle, one of the capital’s more seasonally-inspired restaurants.

Now Aizle, just like Condita, which is in the same general neck of the woods, and recently awarded a Michelin star, serves one of those set menus consisting of multiple mini-courses, I was quite relieved that Noto was a free-flowing establishment, more of a mix-and-match, small and middle-sized plates establishment. You don’t always want to have someone else deciding what you’ll eat, even if that person is in a pole position to know what’s best on the day, and the small plates thing, untrammelled by cultural guiding principles, can be discordantly random. The more I encounter such menus, the more I hanker for the balanced simplicity of the classic starter, main course, dessert or cheese structure.

And Noto is evidently all about the food. We have to shake off the feeling that we’re walking into someone’s flat. Decor, if you can call it that, is minimal, a few ornamental branches of coppiced wood away from being barren. In keeping with the no-bullshit ethos, Aisle serves ‘natural’ wines, funky and full of personality, not vinified to produce a mass-market taste.

The special is various shades of beetroot- roasted, we guess, in a way that intensifies their earthiness- with kale fried crisp to a point that emphasises its powerful brassica whiff, peppery nasturtium leaves, with home-made Japanese togarashi seasoning on top. A defining feature of the cooking here is that ingredients end up tasting like the very best versions of themselves. And Ralston also has a feel for bringing out underlying themes that unite disparate ingredients. Take these warm Jerusalem artichokes, split lengthways, skin on, stuffed with truffled cheddar, dusted with walnut, they look like gnarled woody fingers but their unifying taste and texture is nuttiness.

I have a philosophical bone to pick with the gem lettuce, chicken skin, parmesan, and herb salad, a riff on the classic Caesar: in this set-up, traditional brown anchovies packed in oil would work so much better (in my book) than these domineeringly vinegary silver-white ones. But anyway in this setting it’s the wafers of brittle chicken skin that steal the show; the ‘turf’ element outshines the ‘surf’. And this entire dish, although pleasing, is eclipsed by the breezy excellence of the partridge sausage roll with its juicy, faintly gamey forcemeat, the faultless laminations in its bronzed, nigella seed-dusted flaky pastry, and the appropriateness of its accompaniments: a tamarind-like, subtle ‘brown’ sauce and a refreshing creamy slaw.

We’re blown away by the technical precision that served up this fried buttermilk chicken; its batter cracks, testament to extreme high temperature cooking, yet the thigh meat is still juicy. It sits on salty potato waffles made from scratch, topped with blobs of soured cream and a smidgen of black caviar. Over this we pour the maple butter and chicken jus, a finely judged union of savoury and sweet.

For all the casualness of these premises, desserts show a level of pastry training I associate with top-class formal establishments. A helter-skelter of golden-capped soft Italian meringue tops a silky emulsion made from Michel Cluizel’s fabled dark chocolate. And despite its current ubiquitous trendiness, I have to admit that the introduction of a judicious amount of salty miso is pointing up the whole dish cleverly. As for this dainty tart of autumnal raspberries with its daringly thin pastry that’s filled with the highest standard imaginable of custardy pastry cream, well, its’ at a level that gets you a Star A from the most rigorous pastry chef examiner.

Noto teaches us an important lesson: informal decor needn’t mean slackness in the kitchen.

Noto, 47a Thistle Street, Edinburgh 0131 241 8518

Food: 9 and a half/10
Service: 8/10
Atmosphere: 7/10
Value for money: 9/10

Joanna Blythman, Guild of Food Writers Food Writer of the Year 2018