Showing posts with label Edinburgh. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Edinburgh. Show all posts

Saboteur Edinburgh restaurant review - nothing malevolent could wreck this enthralling dining experience

"Saboteur's menu features a pretty extensive list of plates and bowls, to the point that despite dining at the venue twice already, JML and I are still to sample the bao buns and salads.  Yet that provides an excuse for a further visit soon, as what we did consume was really delicious."

Pho hai san, Saboteur restaurant, Edinbrugh
Pho hai san - fish is definitely the dish.
Picture of Big Brother watching Saboteur restaurant
Big Brother is watching... fab food.
It would appear I am sat in a school gym hall, albeit one dressed by one of New York’s or Berlin’s leading interior designers.  It must be exam time, because the stripped wooden floor is filled with neat rows of simple desks and chairs. Although I suspect exams are just over and the school disco about to begin, as a sound system has been installed next to the climbing bars cladding the walls, which is pumping out ‘cool as’ funk and hip-hop tunes.  I stare at an enormous picture of a man’s face on the wall opposite me.  And like Winston Smith in the closing chapter of George Orwell’s 1984 I am in love. But not with Big Brother.  For I have fallen for the food served by the restaurant I am currently occupying.  As what other explanation could there be for my visiting Edinburgh’s Saboteur twice in one week?

Nestling just a few doors down on Teviot Place from its immensely popular sister bar and restaurant, Ting Thai Caravan, Saboteur is a brand new venue – but only a couple of months old – that also focuses on Southeast Asian cuisine.  Yet in this case the menu predominantly celebrates the delights of Vietnamese, as opposed to Thai, cooking and street food.  Having last year stayed with friends in the Melbourne suburb of Footscray, which has a significant Vietnamese community, JML and I had a fantastic introduction to Vietnamese dining there so were intrigued to see how this new kid on the Edinburgh culinary block measured up.  The answer to that particular conundrum is “very well indeed.”

Ca O
Ca O tastiness.
Both times we ate at Saboteur it was early evening, so we were presented with the “sun up” menu, which is available from 11:00-18:00hrs.  This consists of a range of dishes grouped by ingredients / cooking style, in the form of: rice noodles; curry and stir fries; bao buns; and salads, as well accompanying small boxes and side dishes, some of which can also be chosen as starters. It’s a pretty extensive list of plates and bowls, to the point that despite dining at the venue twice already, JML and I are still to sample the bao buns and salads.  Yet that provides an excuse for a further visit soon, as what we did consume was really delicious.

Dishes appear to be cooked to order by Saboteur’s kitchen, as they quickly arrive thick and fast with starters being promptly followed by mains, making  for a banquet-style experience.  Ga sa te – a Vietnamese form of Indonesian satay – came contained in a what can only be described as a brown cardboard coffin, but be not deterred as the contents were in no way funeral, consisting of succulent skewered strips of chicken accompanied by peanut and ajard (a combination of sweet/sour/spicy) sauce. Simple ingredients brought together to form a great compliment of flavours. Ca O is a dish that also arrives in a cardboard box, this time encasing soft balls of grilled fish flesh, dressed in a sauce comprised of tomato, tamarind, coriander, and chilli, which really sets off the tasty seafood with subtle heat married with fruity-sourness and clean, grassy-freshness.  Really delicious.

Ca'phi le
Ca'phi le - sea bass as fresh as a spicy daisy!
"Unboxed" small/side dishes were just as good. Banh xeo - a generously crispy rice 'crepe' - was bursting with chicken coated in an earthy turmeric batter nicely complimented by crunchy bean sprouts and spicy sriracha sauce.  A perfectly prepared, soft roti - which I had always thought was a flatbread more typical of India and Malaysia - was made even more delicious by a moreish peanut dipping sauce.  Khao mok was a bit of revelation.  Much as I like jasmine rice, this was a sumptuous Vietnamese/Thai take on a biryani, yellow with turmeric and laced with spices including cardamom, cumin, and cinnamon and richly infused with coconut milk.  Mouth watering yet? Wait until I turn my attention to the mains...

Ban xeo
A crepe, but not as we know it - and all the better for that.
Southeast Asian cuisine regularly features seafood as an ingredient, and Saboteur certainly does not shy away from this, I am delighted to say.  Pho hai san transpired to be a hearty bowl of rice noodle- adorned broth, combined with tasty prawns, squid, and fish-balls, augmented with vegetables and infused with a sweet-spicy-tangy sauce known as yen ta fo, which also gives the pho a subtle pink colour.  This was a bowl as freshly flavoured as it was filling.  Ca'phi le had at its centre a beautifully fried fillet of sea bass accompanied by a fabulous fusion of sweet pineapple, sour tamarind paste, spicy chilli, fruity tomato, fragrant Thai basil, all steeped in a tangy dressing that combined umami-laden fish sauce with malty palm sugar.  Smashingly fragrant cooking that hit every taste bud.

Cari rang voi mang
Cari rang voi mang - if you think it LOOKS tasty, get your chopsticks in.
Committed carnivores will not be disappointed by main dishes, either.  Order thit lon ham and what arrives is a steaming bowl of sweet-savoury stock/soy sauce-based broth that laps around fantastically tender chunks of pork belly and crisply-fried oblongs of marinated tofu, contrasted by slices of pak choi.  Cari rang voi mang hinted at the cuisine of Vietnam's Thai neighbour in the form a luxuriantly rich and beautifully flavoursome red curry sauce, which imparted the tastes of chilli, coconut and lime to delicious portions of beef and vegetables.

Interior of Saboteur, Edinburgh
"So we just say to the headmaster, the barrels are Irn Bru in bulk, yeh?"
Saboteur's cheerfully youthful staff don't just efficiently furnish diners with fabulously tasty food however.  There are some delicious drinks to be had too, not only Vietnamese juices and iced teas, but some really decent craft beers, such as Yeastie Boys' Big Mouth IPA, and Magic Rock's Salty Kiss Gooseberry Beer.  Contemporary sups that are full of character.  And 'characterful'  is probably a perfect adjective to describe this wee gem of an eatery. 

The taste of the food really stimulates the senses, finding enticingly fresh ways to explore the spicy, sweet, salty, sour, umami flavour balance that typifies southern oriental cuisine, yet in a form that might be welcomingly unfamiliar.  Considerable thought has gone into the dining space, meaning it is trendily welcoming without being overbearing.   Given the excellent quality and generous portions of the dishes, Saboteur offers incredibly good value, too.  Overall, an utterly super place for a meal.

To quote 1984 once more, this place is really double-plus-good!

Food - 8/10
Atmosphere – 7.5/10
Service – 7.5/10
Value - 8.5/10
Ambience - expect a buzzy, yet laid back, contemporary restaurant and bar.

Côte Edinburgh review - a welcome culinary pick-me-up to mark chaning seasons

Steak and frites - Côte Edinburgh
Classic steak frittes.
The week following the final weekend of the Edinburgh festivals always has that air of the party being over, the carnival having shipped out, and summer most definitely coming to an end.  How nice then to receive a text message from JML enquiring if I wish to be treated to an early, post work dinner.

A perfect antidote to Edinburgh's annual festival hangover, when the chorus of a month of music and laughter is replaced by the rumble of tumbleweed gambolling down George Street, the thump of brick-sized bank statements landing on doormats, and the occasional, distant  popping that signifies someone else's liver finally exploding.

But where to dine to banish our post-celebratory blues? Our first choice - I will keep my powder dry on this for a later review - was catering a private party, so no luck. El Cartel, round the corner from JML's office, was full to bursting.  “Côte is also round the corner from your office" I say.  "You do realise it's part of a chain?" says JML?  Well sometimes restaurant chains can get things spot on, as a recent visit to Dishoom revealed


Salad with poached egg - Côte Edinburgh
Poached egg on a salad - yes please!
First impressions the restaurant are those of a stylishly, yet subtly decked-out brassiere; subtle grey walls, polished oak floors, marbled-topped tables.  In fact a fair bit more high-end than might have been expected from a chain.  Our friendly server had no trouble seating us - this being midweek after the Edinburgh festivals there were only a smattering of fellow diners in the surprisingly expansive space, we immediately treated ourselves to wee appetisers.  A lovely Kir Royale and superbly flavoursome French cider were sipped whilst perusing the menus.

I say 'menus' because as well as an a la carte, Côte also offers a lunch and early evening menu which represents excellent value at £10.95 for two courses / £12.95 for three.  And as we were dining at the start of the evening it was this menu we chose from.  On offer was a decent range of French and Mediterranean inspired dishes, all of which sounded pretty inviting, so much so we changed our minds several times before finally ordering.

Blogger  Scrumptious Scran - Edinburgh food bloggers' recipes, reviews and foodie thoughts - Create post.htm
Cod croquettes with roast pepper sauce.
Often, it is the seemingly most uncomplicated, straightforward dishes that can reveal how decent a kitchen is. My starter of frisée aux lardons was a case in point. A simple salad of endive, with crisped chunks of pancetta, topped off with a perfectly poached egg, this was a really nicely put together dish, although the dressing might have benefited from a smidgeon more of the promised mustard, but that's probably just my taste.  JML went a wee bit Latin for his opener, choosing a Spanish-inspired dish in the form of salt cod croquettes.  Another apparently uncomplicated dish that can be very easy to get wrong, Côte's offering was really tasty, featuring lozenges that were crisp on the outside yet satisfyingly moist on the bite thanks to smooth potato – as opposed to béchamel - filling, with the rich flavour of the bacalao being intense but not over domineering.  The accompanying roast pepper aioli also complimented the dish very nicely.

Chargrilled chicken with potato dauhpinoise - Côte Edinburgh
Grilled chicken with potato dauphinoise.
Steak and chips. I’m sorry UK, you might think it’s a key dish in our national culinary repertoire, yet with a few exceptions the French and Belgians do it so much better. So how would this French-inspired restaurant’s take on this classic fare?  Very well indeed, according to my dining partner, as he tucked into a lovely medium rare piece of beef, soused in garlic butter and perfectly complemented by beautifully crisp frites. Personally, I fancied being a bit rustically Gallic in my choice of main, so poulet grille certainly seemed to fit the bill. Now usually I prefer chicken thigh to breast, as I find the latter can be a bit dry and tough.  However, this certainly wasn’t the case for the chargrilled breast at the centre of this dish. Perfectly seasoned and coated with herbs, it was succulent and tasty.  Adorned with a veal and thyme jus, and accompanied by peppery watercress and beautifully creamy gratin potatoes, it certainly appeared that I had made a good choice of main.

Chocolate fondant - Côte Edinburgh.
Chocolate fondant and ice cream.
Based on our experience of our first two courses, Côte’s offering certainly seemed pretty decent, but could they deliver on the puddings?  Well yes and no.  JML’s dark chocolate pot turned out to be decent stab at a warm chocolate fondant, richly dark and oozing an unctuous liquid cocoa centre.  However, my experience of the sweet course was much less favourable.  My first choice of crème caramel was apologetically identified as being unavailable, which was surprising given that the restaurant bills this as its signature pud, and it was very early on in the evening.  My alternate ‘crumble aux pêches’ was so-so. The crumble was certainly crunchy and rich with butter, but what lay beneath it was more akin to the filling of a Mr Kippling apple pie in texture, and certainly wasn’t packed with peach flavour.  This, and the lack of crème caramel made me wonder if, like a number of other restaurant chains, Côte ships in desserts that are pre-prepared off premises.

Peach crumble - Côte Edinburgh
Peach crumble - or was it?
All things considered, our dining experience at this restaurant made for a suitably pleasant evening.  Accompanied by a pretty decent bottle of Viognier, the food was generally well presented and flavoursome - with the possible exception of my crumble - and nicely served in an inviting venue.   For the price, it really was difficult to crumble.  So if you are seeking a pick-me-up to mark the changing of the seasons, or cheer up a dull midweek moment, sometimes it pay not to dismiss a restaurant just because it happens to be a chain, and certainly not Côte.   


Food  7/10
Drink 7/10
Service 7/10
Value 7.5/10

Ambience – Expect a trendily relaxed bistro/brasserie. 

Let the festivities begin – Foodie frolics at Edinburgh’s festivals

Lobster ice cream and roasted cockroach.
Lobster ice cream and roasted cockroach, anyone? (edfoodfest).
The sound of torrential rain clattering off the roofs of Edinburgh in late July can only mean one thing.  Yes, it must nearly be Edinburgh’s festival season again…  Yet seriously, I hope we have a modicum of good weather during late July and August, because as well as the world’s greatest arts extravaganza making camp in Scotland’s capital there are also some very alluring food and drink-focused activities and events taking place during the festival period…

Culinary debates and celebrations at Edinburgh Food Festival (Assembly, George Square)

Located at the famed Edinburgh Fringe hub that is George Square, Assembly’s acclaimed (and free to enter) Edinburgh Food Festival makes a welcome return for a third year.  Unlike some other food festivals, this initiative isn’t just about tasting tempting morsels and drams, although there are plenty of those to be had too. It also features a range of engaging and thought provoking events that encourage visitors to devote some consideration to what they are consuming, and why/how they are doing this.  Highlights from amongst the varied programme include:
  • Eating insects: buzzy, buggy or grubby?  – Entomophagy - that’s the human use of insects as a food source, to you and me - has become very much in focus in recent years, as this animal group has been hailed as a cheap and readily available source of protein.  Millions of people across the globe regularly eat insects, but they barely make an appearance in western diets.  So can they really be the food of the future, or are they just too terrifying to be tasty? (Saturday the 29th of July in the Piccolo tent).
  • Hipsters and Hobos: Urban Foraging – Certain high end eateries such as Denmark’s – temporarily defunct – Noma, together with TV cooks such as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, have shone a spotlight on how gathering ingredients from the wild – as opposed to the aisles – can result in some superb dishes.  Yet you don’t necessarily need to the trek to the countryside to forage interesting and nutritious additions to your cooking, as this event demonstrates. (Saturday 29 July).
  • Jannettas Gelateria – Back in the day ice cream was, well, a little bit predictable. Sure, it’s nice to nibble on a rum and raisin cone, or spoon up a tub of raspberry ripple. But maybe you haven’t lived until you’ve tasted parmesan and Vegemite gelato, as I find out on a recent trip to Australia.  So if you favour savoury over sweet why not join these leading ice cream makers as they demonstrate how umami-laden ingredients are pushing the boundaries of frozen foodstuffs. (Thursday 27 July).
  • The Great Gin Debate: Part II  – Over the last few years artisanal Scottish gin distilleries seem to have sprung up like thistles on a sunny brae.  However, are these iconic new Scottish gin brands all they appear, and indeed are some of them even really “Scottish” at all? Find out as gin experts, brand owners, and distillers debate what makes our gin truly Caledonian (Friday 28 July).
And if all that chatter about food and drink makes you hungry and thirsty the festival offers a super array of stalls, serving the likes of “raw soda” on draft, (as well as prosecco for the more mature consumers), spicy Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes, and the best of Scottish seafood, to identify but a very few.

Checking out Checkpoint’s new cocktails (Bristo Place)


Draft prosecco van - Edinburgh Food Festival.
Draft prosecco on wheels - what's not to like?!
Here at Scrumptious Scran Villas we love a nice cocktail – innocent or alcoholic. Well, mostly alcoholic, to be quite frank.  So I was naturally intrigued to receive an email informing me that Checkpoint was putting together a special cocktail menu to mark this year’s festival happenings. Situated an ice cube’s throw from the Fringe nexus that is Bristo Square, this airy and laid back, yet trendy, restaurant and bar – think Berlin via Brooklyn – has a really nice vibe to it, which might explain why The Times has named it one of the '25 coolest restaurants in Britain'.

Whilst still featuring classics such as an Espresso Martini and Negroni (one of my personal favourites) their new menu also celebrates festival time with a batch of specially created offerings designed to provide something a bit surprising and unique in terms of flavour profile.  Notable amongst the 18 drinks featured on the list are:
  • Smoke In The Grass - Zubrowka Bison grass vodka, smoked chai syrup, yellow chartreuse, Peychaud’s bitters, lemon juice, soda
  • Red Eye - Absolut Vodka, tomato juice, beer and a whole egg
  • Grow A Pear - Tequila Blanco, pear & black pepper syrup & lemon
And if the 'Red Eye' sounds a bit too much like a hangover kill rather than cure, as part of their 'day break' menu Checkpoint also offers three inviting variations on the classic Bloody Mary, based on either vodka, gin or mescal. When hanging at the bar do say "Heavy on the smoked chai syrup in my Smoke In The Grass, thanks". Do not say "Hey, I’d love a Babycham"…

Toasted Radish – "'Come, Watson, come!' he cried. 'The game is afoot....'"

Festival time in Edinburgh is not merely about drama, music and comedy, oh no. As part of the season’s multifaceted artistic offering the city also host’s the world’s largest literary event in the form of the Edinburgh International Book Festival.  Perhaps somewhat fitting then that Toasted Radish supper club is paying homage to one of Scotland’s literary legends that is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with a Sherlock Holmes-inspired event taking place in Edinburgh New Town’s historic Arthur Conan Doyle Centre.

Hosted in such a grandiose setting, it isn’t only the architecture that seems set to impress, as the evening’s food is being billed as being "worthy of a crime fiction heavyweight".  And given Toasted Radish’s ethos of using, wherever possible, ingredients sourced within thirty miles of Edinburgh, as well as ensuring meat and vegetables are organic and fish responsibly sourced, all clues suggest this has the potential makings of a highly enjoyable culinary thriller. (Arthur Conan Doyle Centre, 12 August 2017).

If you have any other foodie or drinkie (is there even such a term?) highlights associated with the Edinburgh festival season let us know and we may let our readers know about them too.

Savour - looking forward to experiencing this new Edinburgh food festival

Savour Festival logo.
A question for all you food, and drink, lovers out there. Who amongst us doesn't love a good food festival? Glancing around the virtual room, I see all of you have your hands up. Excellent. Yet sometimes I wonder if, like me, fellow foodies can find the scale of some of the big food festivals a wee bit overwhelming, and their offerings slightly unfocused. Well, a new Edinburgh food festival might be about to change all that.

Taking place at Edinburgh's splendid Summerhall on Sunday 15 June, Savour is billed as a laid-back and convivial event, where visitors "can taste, explore, enjoy and journey around a carefully curated selection of food and drink from some of Edinburgh's finest local wine merchants, chefs, mixologists and artisan food and drink producers." Sounds marvellous. So what exactly does Savour offer?

Well, the inviting culinary attractions of Savour are set to include:

The Beer Lab - curated by students from Queen Margaret University's pioneering MSc in Gastronomy, this promises to be a multi-sensory journey through the history, culture and making of a range of different beers, culminating in a blind taste test. Maybe I need to do some revision in advance...

The Main Course - Fancy dipping into the world of the savoury flavours that Edinburgh has to offer? Well this feast of delicious small dishes - composed from produce on offer from Edinburgh's chefs, producers and retailers - allows punters to do just that. Yet it isn't merely about food, as it will be possible to pair your scran with some smashing wine, beer, cocktails and soft drinks that will also be readily available.

The Wine List - is a strand that will bring together some of Edinburgh's finest merchants - including Callistoga and Sideways Wines, Vino Wines, Bacco Wines, and Appellation Wines - to serve a fantastic range of vino from around the world. And if you sometimes struggle to decide what wine to pair with a particular food, you can experience a glass that perfectly complements some of the dishes available in The Main Course.

Edinburgh restaurant review: Gusto - A stylish take on Italian, just right for summer

Salmon tartare on a plate.
Summery Salmon tartare.
I love new things. I am probably what marketing people would refer to as an "early adopter"; the sort of person who laps up the latest technology, queueing to be first to purchase a "just released" gadget. Well, I would be, were it not for the fact that sometimes I get a bit overwhelmed by the sheer amount of choice that's available these days. Plus, I actually like to wait a wee while to see how a new arrival beds in, before I will give it a try.

This approach often applies to my choice of restaurants, as much as technology. Which probably explains why I hadn't got round to dining at Gusto, despite the Edinburgh branch of this chain of Italian restaurants being open for a few years now. However, last week I was invited by a friend of a friend - who happens to be part of Gusto Edinburgh's management team - to sample their new spring and summer menu. Try something new? Yes please!

Warm aparagus salad with a Caesar sauce.
Tasty asparagus with a Caesar sauce.
Pass through Gusto's, somewhat unassuming, George Street frontage and you enter a large, stylish dining space which is simply and tastefully decorated in black and white. Forgoing faux-rustic Italian adornments, the restaurant is decked with banks of arty monochrome photographs, stylish lighting, and furniture that has a timeless, classic-design feel. It's a look that wouldn't be out of place in a trendy Milanese eatery.

Seated in a comfy semi-circular booth towards the open kitchen (always a good sign if it's possible to see one's food being prepared) JML and I were offered an aperitif whilst we browsed the - very extensive - menu. A kir royale and a basilico (a cocktail mixing gold rum and apricot liqueur with amaretto, lemon and fresh basil) really hit the spot. So too did the tasty, warm focaccia and marinated olives that accompanied our drinks.

Now I've already mentioned that Gusto's menu is expansive, featuring antipasti, pasta and risotto, pizza, as well as Italian-inspired salads, and mains based around seafood and meat. So being there to try what was new for summer, we called on the help of our - very knowledgeable - server, who promptly directed us to over a dozen dishes.

Edinburgh Restaurant Review: Castle Terrace – truly a stellar dining experience

A dish of spring barley risotto with chicken
Stupendous spring barley risotto with chicken.
One of the great things about living in Edinburgh is that, for a relatively small city, it boasts a fantastic range of eateries, both in terms of cuisine type and level of sophistication. Within a stone's throw of the Royal Mile and Princes Street it's possible to feast on excellent yet modestly priced burgers or mezze, as well as indulge in some extremely fine dining. As someone who is obsessive about all things culinary, I appreciate good food whatever the context of its consumption. Yet every now and again it can be a real treat to push the (gravy) boat out with a meal at a gastronomically renowned restaurant.

And so it was a couple of Saturdays ago, when JML invited me to share a 40th birthday present by joining him for lunch at the Michelin-starred Castle Terrace. To be frank, there would have been tears if he hadn't have done so, such is the reputation of this sister restaurant of Leith's The Kitchin. Jointly established in 2010 by the vastly experienced Edinburgh-born chef Dominic Jack and his long time culinary pal Tom Kitchin, the quality of the food at Castle Terrace is such it took a mere 15 months for the restaurant to be awarded a Michelin star. So having experienced a superb meal courtesy of The Kitchin late last year, and knowing that both Chefs share an ethos of "from nature to plate", I have been champing at the bit to sample Jack's cooking.

Amuse bouche of three canapes
An amazing amuse bouche.
Right from entering Castle Terrace it was apparent that we were in for a classy dining experience. The interior is beautifully designed, without being over stated; the muted burnt-ochre and plum decor giving the place an immediate mellow air. Warmly greeted and immediately seated, it was also obvious that the front of house operation is a well-oiled machine set up to provide exactly the right level of attentiveness. So within just a couple of minutes of stepping through the door, glasses of sparkling water had been poured and we were already perusing the set lunch menu.

Once our order was dispatched to the kitchen, it was only a matter of moments before the culinary concerto commenced. An amuse bouche consisting of a trio of beautifully crafted canapés was so artistic it seemed almost a crime to eat them. However, the fantastically fishy salt cod tortellini, caper-filled mini burger, and liquid-centred hors d'oeuvre that immediately exploded with Caesar salad flavours, were nonetheless consumed with eagerness. A deconstructed take on a cheesy baked potato was to follow - except this was presented layered in an espresso cup and packed with umami flavour. All were extremely clever and perfectly judged to thoroughly whet our appetites for the main event.

Recipe – Zesty lemon drizzle polenta cake

A lemon polenta cake in a cake tin
Deliciously zesty lemon polenta cake.
A thought entered my head the other day.  "I really must post more recipes on the blog that involve baking" is how the thought went.  Those of you who are regular followers of Scrumptious Scran will know from my "quaking baking" post that my control-freakery makes me a bit afraid of cooking bread, cakes and tarts.  I'm generally fine mixing the ingredients together, it's when these riches have to be abandoned in the oven – a bit like a parent leaving a child on its first day at school - that I start to fret.  I mean, what if they just sit there without doing what's expected of them?

Lemon polenta cake mixture in a cake tin.
Cake mixture in lined tin, ready for the oven.
I had mixed feelings a couple of weeks ago, when one of my work colleagues - who knew I was a food blogger – suggested I might want to contribute to a charity bake sale at work, in aid of Sport Relief.  Deep down, I knew this was the sort of challenge I needed to encourage me to have another bash at a baking recipe.  But what if the dish I produced was rubbish and nobody wanted to buy any of it?  Oh, the potential shame!  In order to avert such a disaster I would have to choose my recipe carefully, deciding upon something that was relatively simple to prepare, pretty foolproof to bake, AND that looked and tasted good.  It also occurred to me that it might be nice to produce something that wasn't entirely based on flour, eggs, butter and sugar.

Edinburgh Restaurant Review: The Apiary - Make a beeline for this buzzing bistro

a pudding of chocolate brioche with ice cream and custard
Choco-brioche butter pudding loveliness. 
I'm sure I am not alone in thinking that late February can be a bit grim. Whilst spring is tantalisingly just round the corner, the second month of the year can still dampen spirits, with its short days, long nights and stormy weather. Sometimes, a pick-me-up is needed at this time of year. And what better to boost spirits than visiting a new restaurant that is generating a bit of a buzz?

I had already been hearing good things – from the likes of Lunchquest and Scotland on Sunday’s Richard Bath – about The Apiary, even though the place only opened a few weeks before Christmas 2013. Occupying premises in Edinburgh’s Newington district - that previously housed the Metrople café-bar - a glance at the new restaurant’s website indicated it promised “Modern British grub to comfort or excite; pickling, smoking and preserving all done in house…” together with “Top to tail offerings dressed head to toe in tasty.” Home curing, smoking and pickling AND nose to tail grub – well that most definitely whets my appetite. So maybe The Apiary would provide the culinary lift I was looking for?

Initial portents were promising, as so busy was the restaurant on a wet winter Saturday that the only dinner reservation available was at 7pm. When we arrived, the large and airy dining area was already peppered with full tables, so we were courteously shown to one of the leather-upholstered booths that line its walls. With the combined a la carte and specials menus offering plenty to consider – including some very appetising-looking sharing platters – we ordered a couple of beers (with my Harviestoun Wild Hop IPA being notably refreshingly bitter) whilst we made our choices.

Glasgow Restaurant Review: Ad Lib - Bringing an authentic flavour of NYC to GLA

Sumptuously sticky ribs
Sumptuously sticky ribs. 
The Dear Green Place, Glasvegas, Glaschu or simply Glasgow. Whatever you prefer to call it, as an Edinburgher I have a soft spot for Scotland’s second city. Yet despite the fact that it’s only 40 miles and 50 minutes away on the train, for some reason I don’t seem to visit Scotland’s largest metropolis anywhere as often as I should, despite the fact it has some great places to eat and drink. The centre of Glasgow is architecturally stunning, and very different from Edinburgh. Like Birmingham – the city of my birth – it grew out of the industrial revolution, and similarly its city centre is still adorned with many of the grand Victorian buildings constructed from its industrial wealth. Central Glasgow is also laid out in a grid system, which – it is rumoured – inspired the one that is now such a prominent feature of New York. It has even doubled as the Big Apple on a number of film shoots.

How appropriate then that when JML and I caught up with some friends in Glasgow last weekend, one of the members of our party suggested we go for lunch at Ad Lib – a New York-inspired eatery a stone’s through away from the city’s grand Central Station (sorry!). To be honest, it wasn’t a place I had heard of before, but I do love the melting pot of influences and flavours there is to be had in a decent US diner – even one located on Scotland’s West Coast – so was most definitely keen to give it a go.

Recipe: Going for the Burns (supper) – A reconstructed take on haggis, neeps and tatties

Reconstructed Scottish classic - haggis, neeps & tatties.
This is set to be an interesting year for anyone living in Scotland – a county that has been my home for the majority of my adult life. Firstly, 2014 has been designated the year of Homecoming Scotland – a programme of events and activities showcasing all that’s great about Caledonia. Secondly, for sports fans there is golf’s Ryder Cup, and the excitement of Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games – having experienced London 2012, I personally can’t wait. Oh, and there is September’s referendum on whether Scotland should become an independent nation again, which will have repercussions, whatever the result…

It’s somewhat appropriate then, given that this is such a big Scottish year, that a Burns supper was my first celebratory meal of 2014. For those not familiar, Robert (or Rabbie) Burns is Scotland’s national bard, an 18th century poet, writer and lyricist, claimed as an inspiration to the founders of both liberalism and socialism, and author of works that include A Man's A Man For A' That and Auld Lang Syne. Burns suppers are traditionally held each 25 January to mark the poet’s birthday and celebrate his life and work.

A Burns supper may vary from formal to casual, but will almost always have three elements in common: the reciting of Burns’ poems at some point in proceedings; the partaking of a “nip” or two of Scotch whisky; and a main course that consists of haggis, neeps (bashed turnips or swedes) and tatties (mashed potatoes). This is very traditional Scottish fare, historically eaten by people of limited means. The vegetables used were cheap and plentiful, and haggis consists of lamb offal – usually liver, lungs and heart – mixed with oatmeal, onion, suet and spices, all encased in a sheep’s stomach and simmered in water.

Feature Article: A life of brine… or how I made a great bird fantastic

brine in a bucket ready for the turkey
A fine brine, ready to work its magic.
I’ve become somewhat obsessed with salt. Now before the health police bang me to rights over daring to start a food blog article with such a provocative statement, I should point out that this is a positive thing as far as my cooking is concerned. You see, I haven’t become fixated with over seasoning my meals, far from it. However, I have discovered the age-old techniques of preserving food – and potentially enhancing the way it cooks – that are salting and brining.

A wee while ago on Scrumptious Scran I mentioned how – inspired by Tim Hayward’s excellent Food DIY – I decided to attempt producing my own salt fish – salted coley, to be precise. The process was both straight forward – merely involving parcelling the soft fillets in sea salt – and fascinating, as the liquid was sucked from the flesh turning it stiff and dry. And when ready to cook with the salt fish all that is to be done is to rehydrate them in a few changes of fresh water for 24 hours or so. I can testify that when incorporated in croquetas the salt fish was delicious, with deep seafood flavour that wasn’t salty at all.

home cured salt fish on a plate
Delicious, home-made salt fish.
And that delicate, yet significant, flavour change is something key. Certainly the primary function of salting food is to preserve it, which is why the process was so popular in the days before refrigeration. But the way salt interacts with meat, fish, and even vegetables can also enhance the taste and texture of the foodstuff. I shall spare you the detailed chemistry lesson, but basically salt reacts with the proteins in the foodstuff to subtly change their structure. This can ultimately transform the tenderness and succulence of your salted food of choice, in addition to how it tastes. Treating food with salt is certainly not a dry subject though, oh no. I am talking brine.

I first became properly aware of soaking food in salty liquid – which is basically what brining involves – when I got my hands on Jane Grigson’s inspiring book, Good Things (to Eat). Although originally published in the early 1970’s the passion for great British ingredients and culinary traditions expressed in this work are still current today. And it features a whole chapter on salting meat, including Grigson’s own recipe for brine, which basically consists of equal parts of sea salt and brown sugar dissolved in water. Yet interestingly, it also features the addition of aromatics – such as bay leaves, juniper berries, and peppercorns – which impart subtle notes of flavour to the meat that is soaked and preserved in the liquid.

Now we are in the depths of January the festive season might seem just a distant memory, but the Christmas just past provided an opportunity to dip my toe into the pond of brining. Turkey is the festive bird of choice at Scrumptious Scran Towers, primarily because my father-in-law is pretty traditional when it comes to Christmas dinner. I always try and get the best quality turkey available – bronze of feather, free-range, organic, probably called Horatio or something similar – to ensure two things: that the meat actually tastes of something; and that it isn’t dry. Choosing top quality usually delivers. But having witnessed a festive TV programme where Nigella waxed lyrical about brining one’s turkey for 24 hours before cooking, I wondered if this could make an already great fowl even more tender and flavoursome, as La Lawson claims.

Edinburgh Restaurant Review: The Doric – An old haunt that’s maybe in need of a new approach…


Goats' cheese tart, with a rocket bonnet.
Edinburgh is blessed with a plethora of great places to eat. Not only that, but – like pretty weeds poking through cracks in a garden path – new gastro-pubs, bistros and restaurants seem to appear in my home town on a monthly basis. With this constantly emerging choice it’s perhaps unsurprising that favoured old haunts sometimes fall by the wayside.

I must admit that I do feel a wee bit regretful when circumstances change, and visits to oft-frequented stomping grounds begin to tail off. On the flip side, re-acquaintance with a now neglected eatery or hostelry can be joyous, when their present offerings live up to rose-tinted memories of meals past (see my review of The Shore, as a case in point). With this in mind, when JML and I met a couple of friends for lunch the other weekend, I was both intrigued and a little trepidations when one of them suggested dining at The Doric.

Lovely lamb & Madeira sauce. As for the veg...
Situated just behind Edinburgh’s Waverley railway station (in Market Street), The Doric is housed in an architecturally-impressive 17th century tenement building, and bills itself as “Edinburgh’s oldest gastro-pub”. The bistro section of the establishment, located above a separate bar, is accessed via stairs that would not be out of place in an instalment of Harry Potter. Walking into the restaurant it seemed little had changed from the last time I dined there over four years ago – still the same primrose yellow walls punctuated with an eclectic array of prints, and dark wood floors and furniture. Except, maybe things looked a bit more down at heel than I remembered.

We joined one of our – already ensconced – lunching partners and placed our drinks order with the Maitre d’, just as the final member of our party arrived. Service was friendly and courteous. But when we were handed the menus, my immediate thought was these had seen better days – both physically and in terms of contents. And while we perused the, somewhat dog-eared and grubby, menu cards the bottles of wine and water we had ordered were literally plonked – unopened and unannounced – on our table by another member of waiting staff. The portents, to be frank, were not good…

Now I must admit, I sometimes struggle to do a review justice when there are more than two of us dining, as there are maybe too many viewpoints to take into consideration – tastes and preferences often seem to get a bit complicated. This restaurant’s menu is not short on choice either, even if many of the dishes might be considered “pub grub stalwarts”. Add to this mix the fact that one of our party was gluten intolerant – which, to give The Doric its due, it did its utmost to accommodate –I thought we might be in for some mixed opinions. However, by the time it came to don our coats, consensus reigned amongst our party that our dining experience was a bit hit and miss.

Recipe: A brunch that's "muy bien" - Huevos rancheros (rancher's eggs)

Tasty huevos!
I like cooking. I wouldn’t be writing a food blog if I didn’t. Yet sometimes, no matter how well developed someone’s culinary skills might be, a hankering develops for a dish that is tasty whilst simultaneously requiring only the minimum of effort in the kitchen.

Breakfast is always one meal that I prefer to be flavoursome and simple, even at weekends, when I have a bit more time to prepare food. Saturday and Sunday morning staples at Scrumptious Scran Towers tend to consist of the likes of a decent bacon buttie (dry cure on sourdough, preferably), maybe scrambled eggs with sautéed mushrooms, or if I have the ingredients to hand, a ham and cheese omelette. Yet now and again I yearn for something a bit more adventurous that’s still easy to prepare and speedy to cook.

Bring on the toms & eggs...
So this Saturday I decided to rustle up a breakfast dish that certainly packs a flavour punch, is relatively healthy and, most importantly, is a cinch to prepare - my own particular take on huevos rancheros. A staple of rural Mexico, the literal translation of this delicacy is “rancher’s eggs”, as it was staple breakfast fare for those working the fields or tending livestock.

Traditionally, huevos rancheros combines a spicy, tomato-based sauce with fried eggs, maize tortillas, with a side of refried beans. But to be honest, this is a wee bit elaborate for me, especially if I’m cooking on a Sunday morning following a somewhat ‘lively’ Saturday night. So my recipe concentrates on an adapted version of the spicy sauce, which – when ready – is used to poach a couple of fresh eggs. This is all served with ample slices of crusty bread.

The recipe below serves two people generously, and I leave it entirely up to taste as to how spicy or otherwise the sauce is made (think of it as a sort of edible Bloody Mary mixture, but without the vodka). Of course, if you have house guests for breakfast it’s very straightforward to just double or triple the ingredients to ensure everyone is properly fed.

 ¡Buen provecho!

Bite Magazine Review: A Room in the West End – Make room for fine Scottish flavours


A plate of venison salami and beetroot salad.
Delicious venison salami & beetroot salad.
In my latest review for Bite Magazine I sample some tasty Scottish fare on a balmy October evening, when dining at A Room in the West End (26 William St, EH3 7NH).  The following exert from provides a taster of what was sample, and the full version of the article is available is available in the November edition of Bite.

It's not typical to experience high teens of an autumnal Scottish evening. How pleasant then to escape such mugginess for the cool, airy basement that houses A Room in the West End. Nestling below Teuchters’ pub, this long established eatery has a reputation for serving inviting bistro food based on quality Scottish ingredients. It did not disappoint. After being warmly greeted and efficiently seated, we decided to quaff a couple of cool beers whilst we chose our food. Thanks to its proximity to its sister hostelry, the restaurant stocks a fine selection of Scots ales and a pint of Perthshire-brewed Sunburst Pilsner (£4.00) proved most refreshing. 

Smoked haddock, with a mush pea puree.
Haddie, sporting a lucious mushy pea puree.
The bistro’s menu rightly makes mention of its use of Scottish produce, so it was unsurprising that JML decided on a classic Cullen Skink (£5.95) to start. Accompanied by a fennel seed scone, the soup struck a really great balance between smokey-sweet fish and creamy sauce, without being overly rich. My venison and green peppercorn salami with warm beetroot, cornichon and pear salad (£5.95) was also a class balancing act. The charcuterie was deliciously spicily-meaty, really complementing the earthy/sweet/sour salad combo.
 


Cheesecake with a blackberry sauce.
Fabulous cheesecake with bramble compote.
Possibly taking my queue from JML's smokey starter, for my main I plumped for roast Finnan Haddie, toasted Stornoway black pudding, mushy peas and dill cream (£14.95). The muckle fish that arrived had tender-peaty flesh that really benefited from its match with the intense blood sausage and minty pea puree flavours, but the combination maybe left the accompanying dill sauce a little overwhelmed. My dining partner’s main of chargrilled chicken breast (£14.45) might have seemed unadventurous. Yet when this beautifully cooked poultry portion was accompanied by toasted venison haggis, confit garlic creamed cabbage and a sun blushed tomato tapenade, the resultant dish was deliciously satisfying.


Full review available here.

Feature Article: A cure for cod - I hope...

Coley, awaiting more cure.
Hopefully, alchemy is currently occurring in the kitchen of Scrumptious Scran Towers. Fret not – no work units have been sacrificed in order to install a smelter that converts base metal to gold. The transformation occurring in the fridge is more subtle, but no less remarkable. It’s all because I have discovered a cure. And it’s for cod. Well for coley, if I am honest - it’s a more sustainable seafish.

I fear a little bit more contextualisation is called for. Back in July, a dear friend bought me a great cookbook as a birthday present. This was Tim Hayward’s Food DIY. His book is a veritable encyclopaedia of how to prepare food and drink many of us love, but few now make themselves. From corned beef and bacon, to smoked salmon and even gin – with no distilling required – it re-acquaints people with the techniques that enable such culinary staples and delights to be prepared at home.

Given my love of Spanish cuisine my attention was immediately drawn to salt cod – or bacalao. This preserved white fish is ubiquitous across the Iberian Peninsula, having originated as the favoured means of preserving the abundant catch captured in the Atlantic, in the days when refrigeration was not an option. Unlike Spain and Portugal, in Edinburgh there isn’t a market just round the corner offering this cured delicacy. I suppose I could buy some online, but how to guarantee the quality?

Well thanks to Food DIY I have no need to worry. I am making my own salt cod (coley), with three simple ingredients. Fish, sea salt and Prague powder #1. “Prague what?” you may ask. Well it’s an additive – to be used sparingly – that ensures that the curing process sees off even those bacteria that cause botulism, and with good reason. Trust me, I have no desire for my laughter lines to be static, let alone those muscles that keep my lungs bellowing, and blood circulating. And neither should you.

Cured, wrapped, now dry...
I am cooking for an smashing dinner party soon – watch out for further news on “lamb wars” – and have a dish in mind featuring salt cod. So, sprinkled in a kilo of cure, wrapped in cheesecloth, tied in string, two lovely fillets of white fish are now sat in my fridge having all their liquid content pulled from them. And there is some major osmosis going on. Hayward describes it as a “fierce cure”. Judging by how dry my hands feel merely rubbing the salt into the fish, he is not wrong.

Wrapped in their shrouds, and exuding inherent moisture, I want to keep peaking at the alchemy occurring to the fish in my fridge. I know I must just leave them to dehydrate – bar turning them over twice a day. If all goes well, soon the fillets will be as dry as biscuits and then I can rehydrate them again, in order to cook with my salt fish. Why go to this trouble, some of you might ask? You really just have to taste salt cod, to discover the answer…

Be sure to check back soon to see exactly what I cook with my salted fish.

Feature Article: On a trail of discovery at the BBC Good Food Show Scotland


A busy East Lothian stand.
In my last post on the blog I indicated just how much I was looking forward to my first experience of the BBC Good Food Show Scotland (GFSS). Well, I am pleased to report that my anticipation was duly rewarded by, what turned out to be, a really informative and highly enjoyable Friday at the SECC.

The scene was set upon arrival, when immediately after picking up my blogger accreditation I was invited to attend a demonstration on the merits of a new, craft-distilled gin. I should point out that it was after midday (just) and given the fact that I am a big fan of small scale food and drink producers it would have been rude to have refused – ahem… The gin in question is produced with an obvious passion by the Warner Edwards Distillery, based in the English Midlands. Sniffing, then sipping, a neat shot of the award-winning spirit left no doubt that this was a stunningly-good nip of “mothers’ ruin” – ripe with juniper berries of course, but having a distinctive nose of black pepper and citrus peel and a great hint of cardamom in the mouth. I can safely say that the Harrington Dry Gin truly holds its own amongst the other – often Scottish distilled – small batch gins I have sampled, and I plan on getting my hands on a bottle forthwith.

Moving into the main exhibition space I was suddenly taken with exactly how big an event this was. The SECC plays host to some major gigs, and the GFFS more than filled this cavernous container. The Supertheatre was exactly as billed – a huge space where The Great British Bake Off judges Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood provided expertly witty demonstrations of, well, baking. It was rightly packed. The Interview Stage served punters with the opportunity to learn what makes their favourite chefs’ and foodies’ culinary hearts go aflutter. Yet the real “grab” for me was the main exhibition space, where stand upon stand was populated by producers showcasing a fantastic array of food, drink and culinary paraphernalia. I wish I could summarise all of these, but that would be infeasible. Instead, please find below some of my highlights. Frankly, I can’t wait until next October when I have another opportunity to visit the GFSS. If you live in Scotland and like food it’s an event not to be missed.

Bite Magazine Review: Calistoga – Raise a glass to Californian cuisine

Delicious Californian wine.
Tasting delicious Californian wine.
My latest review for Bite Magazine is now available in the publication’s October edition (both online and in print). Under the spotlight this month is a great wine tasting and dining experience with a Californian theme, thanks to a visit to Calistoga (70 Rose Street Lane North, EH2 3DX). A taster of the review can be read below, with the full article being available for download from Bite’s website.

Calistoga – Raise a glass to Californian cuisine

Preconceptions aren't good things. Take American cuisine and wine. It’s basically burgers, hot-dogs and sickly-sweet pink Zinfandel, isn't it? A recent wine-tasting / dining experience at Calistoga – Edinburgh’s Californian-inspired restaurant – certainly exploded this myth.

Our evening started in the restaurant’s tasting room, where sommelier Alastair Henderson took us through the “Congressional” sampling of two red and white wines (£32pp including a 3 course dinner). Previously working in California’s viticulture industry, Henderson’s experience gives Calistoga exclusive access to some impressive wines, and he imparts real insight into how the Napa Valley’s geography and history influences these.

The 2011 vintage wines sampled were: Freemark Abbey Viognier – lightly scented and dry, but bursting with peach and vanilla flavours; Scott Family Estate Chardonnay – tastes of smokey pineapple and mango; Napa Cellars Pinot Noir – a cherry burst on the nose, luscious soft red berries in the mouth; and Gnarly Head Petite Sirah – scented with nuts and richly flavoured with coffee and raisins.

Edinburgh Restaurant Review: Brew Lab - Great coffee, good food, but trouble is a-brewing…

Brew Lab coffee machine.
Coffee syphon action (courtesy of Brew Lab website).
It’s a horribly wet Wednesday morning. I am en route to a training course, so my normal morning work routine – coffee from my usual supplier, and maybe a pastry – is totally out of the window. I need caffeine before I am imparted with the secrets of writing a killer CV. And I need it NOW!

Fortunately, I’m in the very centre of Edinburgh’s university quarter. This means I have time to swing by the achingly cool speciality coffee shop that is Brew Lab (6-8 College Street, EH8 9AA) to pick up a latte, prior to the commencement of my morning’s instruction. This would be my second visit to Brew Lab this week. Later in the day, a lunchtime meeting there with a colleague will be my third. As you will find, like a decaying radioactive element (well it is called Brew “Lab”), each visit will have diminishing returns.

Located in a two conjoined, traditional former shops, Brew Lab serves a fantastic range of artisan coffees. And I really emphasise that they are fantastic. The bar brews two rotating single origin coffees every day, as well as its own custom espresso blend. As you enter the venue the “business” area has an intentional scientific influence. There is a coffee menu on the wall behind the baristas that resembles the periodic table. As well as a very high-end espresso machine – located on a facsimile of a lab bench – punters have options to have their java delivered by intriguing methods of distillation. It gave me flashbacks to biochemistry 101. Beyond the ordering section, the seating area takes distressed to the extreme. There is stripped back chic and then there is “are the builders still here?” chic. Not unpleasant, though.

My first visit to Brew Lab on Monday this week was great. A beautiful flat white accompanied great banter with a food-writing colleague.  The coffee was some of the best I have tasted.  This morning, I was in a rush for a takeaway. No real queue at the “lab”, just a chap in front buying a dozen pastries. But whilst waiting to be served, witnessing an ongoing chat between baristas about how sweet the coffee is, before my order is taken, is not a great start. Neither is being informed that the coffee is “so sweet, it doesn’t need sugar”. That’s my choice. I do not wish to enter a debate about it.  It did have a natural sweetness, but after a couple of sips - once I left the shop - it became apparent that a wee pinch of sugar was needed to meet my personal taste.

Bite Magazine review: A delicious date with The Edinburgh Larder Bistro

Chocolate & lavender torte with coffee jelly.
Chocolate & lavender torte with coffee jelly.
My third review for Bite Magazine is now published on Bite's website and in the September print edition of the magazine.  This month, JML and I paid a second visit to The Edinburgh Larder Bistro, to find out if a recent refurbishment and appointment of a new head chef had made a difference to this classy Scottish eatery.  A taster of the article is printed below, and you can read the full version on Bite Magazine's website.

A delicious date with The Edinburgh Larder Bistro

Second dates can be intriguing; a chance to confirm or dispel first impressions. So a couple of months on from a great first visit to The Edinburgh Larder Bistro I was keen to dine there again, not least because it has recently had a refurbishment and change of head chef.

This West End basement restaurant now has a more “nouveau rustic” feel, combining white-washed walls with tastefully weathered furniture, and trendy wicker fittings. Seated in the airy conservatory space beyond the main dining area, we were, however, pleased to see that the menu remained packed with the seasonal, locally-sourced, sometimes foraged ingredients that are the bistro’s trademark.

JML chose to open with squid with black pudding, gooseberry syrup, pickled carrots and Arran leaves (£5.95) – a great combination of seafood and meaty flavours, well balanced by acid gooseberry and sour/sharp pickle. My rabbit loin, potato purée, barley, green leaf sauce and cider butter (£6.50) comprised two moist chunks of tasty meat atop an invitingly creamy base, surrounded by pools of tangy sauce and pearls of verdant pesto. Both starters were very well composed and beautifully presented, though somewhat tepid. The wine choice of a bottle of dry, grapefruity picpoul de pinet (£20) matched them well.

Read the full review at: http://bit.ly/17Wt5R3

Edinburgh Restaurant Review: The spice is right – Mother India’s Café

Mother India's Cafe montage.
Mother India's fare (courtesy of their website). 
I suppose I am what might be termed as a ‘honourary’ Scot. I’ve lived the majority of my life north of the border, and am hitched to a “Weegie”. My vocabulary is now littered with Scots phrases – an overcast morning isn’t “dull”, but rather “gey dreich”. Yet listen carefully and there is sometimes still a wee hint in my voice betraying that I originally hail from the UK’s Curry Capital. Not Glasgow (obviously), nor Bradford, Manchester or London’s Brick Lane. For by birth, I am a Brummie.

I adore Asian food, and I think my growing up in a city where a substantial proportion of the population can trace its heritage to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh has much to do with this. I went to school in a part of Birmingham that was blessed with a plethora of Asian-run shops and eateries. I still have vivid memories of walking past these, taking in the sights of the (then) weird, yet wonderful-looking, fruit and vegetables displayed outside grocers’ shops and the amazing smells of cooking spices as they emanated from restaurants.

Last weekend, with my parents visiting from Birmingham, I was keen to show them that great Indian cooking isn’t only the preserve of the city of my birth. And in Edinburgh there is no finer place to demonstrate this than Mother India’s Café. Located just off “The Bridges” on Infirmary Street (EH1 1LT) this has been an incredibly popular restaurant since its opening five years ago. Even at 6.30pm on a Friday the main dining area was packed, so we were shown to our table in the restaurant’s basement, which was thankfully was not dark and dingy as some subterranean eateries can be. No clichéd flock wallpaper or piped sitar music to be found here though, oh no - just modern, minimalist furniture complementing the white-washed walls, which are adorned with arty photos portraying life across the Indian sub-continent.

Equally refreshing is the restaurant’s menu. Mother India’s Café serves an Indian take on tapas – sometimes also referred to as tiffin. Their a la carte menu features a staggering 42 dishes, as well as daily specials and accompaniments such as various forms of bread and rice. Non-meat eaters are very well served, as nearly half the dishes available are either vegetarian or vegan. As recommended by the restaurant, we decided to order five or six dishes between us, accompanied by a couple of portions of naan bread and basmati rice. The very courteous waiting staff obviously know the menu inside out, as they were immediately able to suggest something suitable for my Mother, who doesn’t have a particular soft spot for dishes heavy on chilli.

Whilst our mains were being cooked, we were served the ubiquitous poppadums accompanied by some very tasty (and I suspect home-made) pickles and chutneys, variously washed down with warm, cinnamon-infused chai and cool Kingfisher larger. Our curry “tapas” duly arrived in short order, together with substantial naans and steaming fluffy rice. All dishes looked vibrant, being presented in their miniature balti dishes and casserole pots.