Sunday, 19 April 2015

Recipe: ¡Viva Tortilla! - A scrumptious take on "Spanish omelette", to welcome the return of al fresco dining

Spanish tortilla based on a "Moro" recipe.
Spanish tortilla based on a scrumptious "Moro" recipe.
When I was a wee lad, there was an advert on TV hailing from a major food producer.  It extolled people to be exotic in their cooking by preparing a "Spanish omelette".  I can't remember exactly which non-egg ingredients said dish was meant to include to make it "Spanish" other than frozen peas. I suspect some of you are realising which major food producer was the sponsor of the advert...


Exotic eating was very much in vogue in the 1970s, which represented a time of transition in terms of the UK's culinary heritage.  Historically, British cooking had been diverse and inventive, but coinciding - and probably as a result of - the great wars of the 20th century, our relationship with food seemed to lose its way.  Wartime rationing meant that our cuisine became bland and mundane.  At least until we discovered, and took to our hearts/stomachs, food from across the world.
 
Like many people growing up in urban areas of the UK in the 70s I became aware of, and fascinated by, the increasing prevalence of restaurants serving the food of India (technically, more usually that of Pakistan or Bangladesh), China and Italy.  This growth in "exotic" new fare was no accident, but resulted from those who emigrated to the UK from across the globe during the last century expressing their culture in culinary terms, and sharing this with people already resident here.  And we Brits loved it!

Yet surprisingly, there was one culture that Britons became increasingly familiar with during the 1970s and 80s that seemed to have scant influence on our eating patterns.  With millions of us annually jetting off to Spain each year, why was it that the superb food of that country failed to become ingrained in our culinary psyches?  Maybe it was because the nature of the package holiday meant that holidaymakers from the UK had only limited exposure to authentic Spanish cooking.  Or perhaps (at least until the relatively recent economic turmoil within Europe caused significant migration) there simply wasn't a large enough Spanish community within the UK to provide a genuine Iberian dining experience for those returning from the fortnight of sunshine on the costas.

This all goes to explain why the pea-festooned "Spanish omelette" of my youth bore little resemblance to the "tortilla española/de patatas" I first sampled in Barcelonan tapas bar in the mid-1990s.  It is a dish that exemplifies the, often, uncomplicated nature of Spanish cuisine (although Ferran Adrià might dispute that assertion). Fundamentally it comprises merely three ingredients; onion, potato and eggs - plus seasoning.  Yet it is also a dish the flavour of which is substantially greater than the sum of its parts, simultaneously being sweet, earthy and rich, but also fresh tasting.

In an ideal world, tortilla de patatas should be enjoyed on a sunny Spanish terrace, accompanied by a cool glass of beer.  But as balmy spring weather starts to make its presence felt in the UK why not rustle up this simple and delicious dish to be enjoyed - hot or cold - as part of some home-based al fresco dining?  The recipe below is pretty authentic, being my evolution of one contained within the truly splendid Moro - The Cookbook.  Rather than deep-fry the potatoes (as the original recipe requires) I prefer to parboil them until they are just cooked, drain them and allow any excess moisture to steam away.  I have also been known to add a small green pepper to the onion, to give an even greater sweet-earthy, grassy accent.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Edinburgh Restaurant Review: The Ox - A fresh take on the gastro-pub arrives in Broughton Street

Roast rib of beef with Yorshire pudding.
Lucious Sunday roast at Edinburgh's "The Ox".
I don't dislike winter - quite the reverse.  A crisp, clear winter's day - especially in Scotland, where the light in such conditions can be truly amazing - is a pleasure to experience.  However, come early March I begin to tire of winter days being, well, more night than day.  Combine this with frequent harsh winds and driving rain (or worse still, sleet)  and I long for the bright green shoots of spring to appear.  Not only do things seem warmer and brighter, but this change in the seasons heralds the arrival of the first crops of the year.

Whitebait with smoked paprika mayo.
Whitebait with smoked paprika mayo.
Refreshment - in every sense of the term - isn't a characteristic that is only to be welcomed as part of the transition from winter to spring.  Every now and again even once great eateries can become tired, jaded and in need of a freshen-up, or even a total reinvention.  A case in point is the hostelry located on the corner of Edinburgh's Broughton Street and London Street. It's a quirky venue that has encountered several incarnations over the years. I first knew it during my student days as the "spit and sawdust" boozer that was The Bellevue.  It then was transformed into the wannabe trendy Mezz - which catered a decent brunch - and then returned to being The Bellevue, another wannabe hipster-esque joint - that did OK burgers.

Haddock tempura, curried parsnip, pickled carrot & pea shoots.
Haddock tempura, curried parsnip, pickled carrot & pea shoots.
Just before Christmas last year, I leant that friends of friends were part of the team that had taken over The Bellevue, transforming it into The Ox.  Apparently, the brainchild of three renegades from Leith Shore, this reinvented establishment constitutes one of my favourite, if slightly clichéd, type of eateries - a gastro-pub. From the first time (in the 1990s) I dined in Farringdon's The Eagle, with its open kitchen and stupendous cuisine, I have been a big fan of a pint and a posh pie.  Or posh fish and chips. Or mezze. Or tapas.  I think you get the idea. 

Walking through the entrance to The Ox it was apparent that changes to the venue had been subtle.   Its position on the corner of the road at the bottom of a hill mean it has an interesting layout; a wedge-shaped, but still spacious, bar area leading to stairs that link to a mezzanine dining area.  Scanning the surroundings, they appear well thought out encompassing a mix of traditional and modern decor, and some nice, bovine-themed artwork. It is called The Ox, after all...

Saturday, 21 March 2015

A "scrumptious" new beginning - here's to growing, cooking and blogging (again)...

Land to be developed into vegetable plot
My plot for a veggie plot.
"And so you're back, from outer space. I just walked in to find you here, with that same look upon your face...". I think the words of Gloria Gaynor's eponymous disco torch song are entirely appropriate for what many (formerly) regular readers of Scrumptious Scran must be thinking. After all, everything on the blog was chugging along quite nicely for nearly a year and half, with weekly updates on all things food-related. Then last July - puff! Posts came to an abrupt end, with not so much as a "I'm just popping down the petrol station for a pint of milk, back in five minutes". And now, several months down the line, I just parachute myself back into your foodie lives, as if nothing had happened... I most certainly owe you an explanation.

Last July, JML and I decided that - after many happy years there - it was time to move on from Scrumptious Scran Towers. Our Edwardian tenement was a smashing home, and we had really worked hard to make it our own. But... Being that wee bit more "mature" these days, we realised we wanted somewhere with dedicated outside space, and located nearer - if not actually in the centre of - the "Riviera of Edinburgh" that is Portobello. Time to hoist the "for sale" sign and set course for pastures new. The flat looked great, so all that would be required was the odd lick of emulsion to freshen things up. A week's work during our summer holidays, on the market by September, sat in front of the wood burner in the new place whilst the festive turkey was a-roasting, yes? Oh, the naivety!

As soon as the first drop of Farrow and Ball paint - well technically Leyland paint, but they match the former's colours perfectly and it's half the price - oozed off the roller, it was obvious that every wall and ceiling in the place was going to need to be refreshed. And that made some of the stripped floorboards look pretty tired, so in with the floor sander. Then the faff that is the photo-shoot for the marketing brochure; the alien concept of maintaining the place in a state of cryogenic spotlessness for viewings - a task that, to my horror, involved minimal cooking; the frantic running around trying to view places we wanted to buy, when people weren't also round viewing our gaff. Oh, then completing all the legal gubbins that goes with the sale and subsequent purchase - a real "edge of the seat" experience under the Scottish system. The packing. The moving. The unpacking. You get the picture!

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Edinburgh Restaurant Review: Clouds and Soil - Grandiose surroundings, fairly decent food

Samosas with raita.
Pulled pork samosas with saffron raita.
If there is one part of Edinburgh where visitors will never struggle to find somewhere to eat or drink it has to be the area that encompasses the top of Leith Walk, Picardy Place, and Broughton Street. This is a region of the capital that is chock-a-block with bars and restaurants of varied styles and cuisines. However, such is the competition in this culinary hotspot that every now and again a venue will pull down the shutters, only to be quickly transformed into a new food or drink-based enterprise.

One of the area's venues that appears to be in a constant state of reincarnation is the impressive Georgian townhouse at 4 Picardy Place. Since being converted from a TV production studio a few years back, this place has hosted: (the appallingly named) Thai Me Up restaurant; the GHQ bar/club/boutique hotel complex; and the Fiddler's Elbow pub. All these enterprises have now gone by-the-by. My interest was pricked, therefore, when I discovered that the team behind Leith Shore's trendy Bond No 9 had taken over the place, transforming it into "... a cocktail and wine bar, restaurant and four rooms" under the intriguing moniker of Clouds and Soil. Might this venture prove more successful than its predecessors, I wondered?

Queen scallops in lemon butter.
Queen scallops in lemon butter.
So a couple of Friday's ago, JML and I decided to give Clouds and Soil's restaurant a test drive. Crossing the venue's threshold we were greeted by... an empty hallway. So we popped our heads into the ground floor bar - which was certainly stylish, if not exactly bursting with punters - to be directed up the staircase to the first floor. The restaurant occupies two conjoined, grandiose Georgian rooms which have been tastefully decorated in sage green and decked out with oak flooring. An equally stylish bar area is nestled at one end of this space, with the majority of the covers occupying the larger area which boasts stunning views from its huge sash windows. Initially impressive. Yet did the food match the decor?