La Lanterna restaurant has been around for decades, with word of mouth largely responsible for its success. It would be quite easy to miss if you were just walking by on the street – with an unassuming sign and a small flight of stairs down to the basement level, the institution quite easily blends into the background of the big bright lights of the city centre.
It was a little harder to walk by on my last visit though, with beautiful fairy lights wrapped around the railings for the festive season. La Lanterna looked lovely and welcoming on this particular winter’s evening, so we decided to pop in for a spontaneous Italian treat!
We walked in and, as probably should have been expected at 7pm on a Friday night, the place was completely full. Nevertheless, we were spotted quickly by one of the very attentive waiters who told us there would be a table ready in twenty minutes, and we could pop to the bar upstairs for a drink in the meantime. We did just that, and when we returned our table was ready and waiting for us.
The interior initially strikes you as fairly grand. With large chandeliers hanging from high ceilings and huge mirrors with ornate frames, this would be an ideal venue for a fancy meal out. However, the place does have a homely quality as well, with warm wooden walls and a lovely laid back atmosphere.
We ordered a couple of cocktails to start, which were £5.50 each, not bad for Edinburgh prices. I was happy with my cosmopolitan, however my dining companion sent back her mojito, which was a little on the warm side. The waiting staff had no problem with this though, and her drink was replaced swiftly and without fuss.
We both ordered the bruschetta to start, which came really quickly, considering the place was bursting at the seams. My friend maintains that this classic starter is always a good test of an Italian restaurant’s wider food offering – if the bruschetta is good, you’re normally on to a safe bet.
As expected, La Lanterna’s bruschetta didn’t disappoint. It was delicious, with a generous slice of toasted bread and juicy tomato topping. Safe to say both portions were well and truly polished off both plates!
My friend ordered the lasagne for her main, which once again came to our table promptly and looked absolutely mouth-watering. Served warm in a large oven dish, the portion itself didn’t look too overwhelming and I was told that it was pretty tasty. Priced at only £7.50, the lasagna is fantastic value for money.
I, on the other hand, fancied something a little different, so I ordered the chicken cordon bleu. It doesn’t say on the menu, but if you order a chicken dish, you get a choice of mixed vegetables, salad or chips on the side. I opted for the mixed veg, which was a lovely selection of broccoli, carrots, onion and potatoes. It was so lovely, in fact, that I had already tucked in before I remembered to take a picture – oops!
Served with a hearty serving of gravy, the chicken made for a pleasant and satisfying meal that reminded me of the home cooked feasts my Gran used to make. However, be prepared to fork out a little more for this dish – mine came in at just over £15. Still, given the restaurant’s reputation and location, it was excellent value for money.
The food was great, but the highlight of our evening at La Lanterna was definitely the hardworking waiting staff. There was a queue out of the door for almost our entire visit, but the staff did a fantastic job of making sure all tables were served quickly and attentively.
La Lanterna certainly is a hidden gem of Edinburgh’s city centre, and a great place to pop in for an Italian feast in a warm and friendly atmosphere. Be prepared to queue on weekends, but trust me – it’s worth the wait.
La Lanterna can be found at 83 Hanover Street, EH2 1EE. You can get there directly on the 23 or 27, or alternatively take any city centre bus to Princes Street and walk up from there.