I’m a huge fan of Locanda di Gusti and Pizzeria 1926, both run by energetic Neapolitan, Rosario Sartore.

Nero a Meta is the latest addition to that stable. It’s further out-of-town than the other two restaurants, inhabiting one of those quieter, quasi-suburban shopping parades, albeit in a densely populated area. When we arrive on a Tuesday evening, we almost get the feeling that we’ve taken them by surprise. The front door is open, letting a blast of cold air gust through the interior. There’s what looks to be an attempt to dress the doorway with boxes of vegetables, to create a lively market vibe. It isn’t convincing. Otherwise Nero a Meta has the air of premises hastily and superficially made over from their previous incarnation. Its most striking feature is the wall colour, a lurid turquoise, redolent of M&S swimwear. Lighting is supplied by pendants, which cast everything beneath in a sterile, surgical, utterly unforgiving white brightness. Indifferent Italian pop blasts out, more so that the staff can sing along with it, we feel, rather than for the benefit of the customers. It’s bugging us. Physically, this restaurant isn’t relaxing and it lacks, as yet, the genuine bustle of the other two. But then they aren’t about decor either. With Sartore’s restaurants, it’s all about the food.

We soon realise that the food here isn’t what we’d expected. There’s complimentary homemade ricotta bread, which is interesting- reasonable yeasted bread with a ripple of the curdy cheese and black pepper through it. My dining partner thinks it lacks salt but at this point I’m not rushing to judgement. Several regions of Italy make bread without any salt; it’s traditional. But I do agree that a little sodium chloride would improve it.

Starters proper are a mixed bag. Involtini- melting cabbage leaf rolls filled with potatoes, Italian pork sausage, and Pecorino fondue- is the best of the bunch: homely, comforting, spiked by the potency of the long-aged cheese.

The menu says that the Puglian burrata cheese comes with a baked potato timbale and sea salt-infused (a hint of pretension slipping in) olives. The potato doo-dah reminds me of my failed attempts at potato latkes; I gave up on them. The burrata is fine, not exceptional. The cold cheese/warm potato thing isn’t an instant winner, and without the salty, dry black olives, this dish would be terribly bland. We try the slow-cooked tripe with Borlotti beans, guanciale (cured pork cheek) and bay leaves. The offal is easy to eat if utterly tasteless, and the beans are, well, beans. The guanciale and bay rescue it, but at the end of the day, we’re paying £7.95 for what tastes like a sloppy cassoulet.

My patience with this meal really starts to flag, as opposed to stutter, when I try the polenta and flour gnocchi “tossed with broad bean pureé and a quenelle of Pecorino picante”. The said starchy objects are leaden: they’re sinkers. The broad beans must be the thin, snot-green substance that coats them. Like many of the dishes here, they’re tepid, even though I could throw a coin into the kitchen from where I’m sitting. Were the plates even heated? As for the Pecorino presence- a dribble of creamy stuff- it’s overbearing.

I’m suspicious of the orecchiette. I think of it as a Southern Italian pasta type, but here it’s been “tossed with oxtail and shin of Scottish beef ragù in a rich tomato and basil sauce finished with mature Pecorino cheese shavings”. Sounds like a mongrel mix of Puglia, Campania, and Emilia Romagna to me. But we’re sold on it because we’re told that the ragù has been slow cooked for five hours. It turns out that my initial instinct was correct. It’s a hotpotch, and the meat tastes as though it’s been added, last minute, to a standard issue tomato sauce.

Our waiter, seeing plates go back two-thirds full, has worked out that we’re mutinous and itching to go home. He brings us a complimentary, inoffensive, if unmemorable, creamy pannacotta-like effort with sponge, and fresh berries, in a cocktail glass. He wants us to have free shots of Amaretto. We politely but firmly decline. It’ll take more than sugar and liqueurs to sweeten our memories of this place.

Nero a Meta
39-41 Slateford Road, Edinburgh 0131 337 0326
Food: 4/10
Atmosphere: 4/10
Service: 5/10
Value for money: 4/10