Pubs, unlike coffee bars and microbreweries, are an endangered life form these days, albeit – a glimmer of hope – the rate of closure is slowing. So what do you do with an old one, other than watch it become another sad statistic?

Damm 27, which is in the capital’s densely populated, yet outwardly quiet Causewayside, is on the case. It’s a veteran pub, a living museum to the traditional snug pub culture.

Herringbone parquet, exposed sandstone walls, seats and banquettes in bulls blood red and tan leather, soft lighting, a wall of glowing turquoise tiles, the solidity of building standards that mops up ambient noise and enables conspiratorial conversation. So although Damm 27 describes itself as a bar bistro, which it indeed is, a flexible one at that serving breakfast, brunch, lunch, ‘le gouter’ (afternoon tea subverted by the French) and dinner, its darkly intimate decor shows a single-minded focus on cherishing all the fine features of this old establishment.

Damm 27 builds on its dark atmosphere by serving many of its dishes in black cast iron cocottes, an idea fraught with practical difficulties. You can’t cut up food in them; they’re hard to eat out of.

So here’s my bouillabaisse. It tastes like French fish soup from a glass jar, which isn’t a bad thing because they’re quite good, especially if you’re not in a position to pulverise your medley of Mediterranean seafood by hand, but there’s not that much of it, in fact there’s more of the croutons spread with vinegary rouille and grated Gruyère than there is soup liquor.

The bread isn’t much cop, with dried tomato, or some similar addition running through it. A pan-fried fillet of fish – bream or bass, I’d say – is propped up on the edge of the cocotte, along with a prawn that’s on its way to becoming a langoustine, and a handful of mussels.

As for our squid tempura, just don’t attempt it unless you’ve got great fresh squid and can make your batter crackle. This one doesn’t cut the mustard: vapid squid, soft batter.

With the arrival of the ‘short rib of beef Bourguignon with pancetta, wild mushrooms, and rustic bread’, my exasperation with black cocottes sharpens. This meat has a good flavour, although it’s amateurishly cooked – its fat still too firm, the meat still too stringy, and so by no stretch of the imagination tender. And have you ever tried to cut meat in a receptacle with edges? There’s more of the redundant (well, for me at least) bread, and I can think of other less flattering epithets than rustic to describe it.

A rhapsody in brown and black, nothing about this lumpen, saturnine presentation, with a last-minute addition of hulking great bacon lardons and what looks to be wet shiitake mushrooms, entices.

If I’d arrived starving after a vigorous morning of hillwalking I’d doubtless polish off the bone marrow macaroni cheese, overlooking the fact that I’d be taking Damm 27’s word about the marrow because we can’t taste it, and the cheese, which has softened into a combination of rubber and oil. For once, though, the dish sort of suits its cocotte, although the clean beauty of white porcelain floats into my mind.

If I were behind the stove here, I might get an engineer to check the oven temperature, there’s a tendency towards crusty carbonisation, as witnessed by our Napoleon burger, a dry chew in its mediocre bun, with bacon that’s close to incinerated. The truffle mayo that comes with it is blousy and cloying; the chips are uniformly poor.

Dutifully we dip our spoons into pear sticky toffee pudding, the poached fruit submerged in near caramelised sponge, and dry-crusted, thanks again to the fierce oven heat and clunky cocotte.

It comes with pistachio ice cream that tastes strongly similar to almond or pistachio flavouring. Mind you, most of the UK catering trade has no idea about what the real thing looks or tastes like. Clue: light khaki not green in colour, mellow and nutty. So Damm 27 is not unique in traducing it.

My memory of Damm 27? A brown-black meal. I’ve had much worse but I’d hoped this worthwhile pub could do better.

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

Damm 27, 27 Causewayside, Edinburgh 0131 667 6693

Food: 5/10
Service: 5/10
Atmosphere: 8/10
Value for money: 6/10