Showing posts with label Featured. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Featured. Show all posts

The Finnieston, Glasgow restaurant review – decent dining that’s maybe just missing a wee spark

Salt-baked sea bass, The Finnieston, Glasgow
Succulent, salt-baked sea bass.
"Though also sorely tempted by the halibut, I instead chose the salt-baked sea bass with salsa verde and charred lemon. The sea bass itself was superb, simultaneously firm yet silky, moist, flavoursome and beautifully seasoned by its – now removed – saline overcoat.  The salsa verde was good, but maybe as was the case in the accompaniments to Tina’s sea trout, it just lacked a certain something, and charring the lemon didn’t discernibly alter the citrus tone of the dressing."

I'm not sure whether it's the done thing to quote the recent dining assessments of such revered gourmands as The Observer's Jay Rayner when one is just a jobbing food blogger.  Yet as I sat in our chosen eatery, once again observing the prone form of one of our servers, I was reminded of Jay’s recent review of Edinburgh's Fishers in the City.  This emphasised that in any restaurant experience it's frequently the little things diners remember. Be they good, or more usually, not so good.

In this particular instance, these wee incidents in question were being observed in a renowned seafood bar and restaurant in Glasgow, as opposed to Edinburgh, as JML, Tina and I dined at The Finnieston.  Set in the increasingly fashionable area to the west of the city centre, it's a venue with a lovely ambience full of dark carved wood and flickering candles perched upon the dining tables that flow from the busy bar.  Oh, and roaring open fires. Fuelled by gas. That refused to stay alight on a chilly, blustery autumn evening, resulting in the frequent, on all fours, attention of the front-of-house staff, as our party intermittently shivered on an adjacent table.

Sea trout, with fennel and orange salad, The Finnieston, Glasgow
Sumptuous sea trout, yet did the salad need an extra 'spark'?
And this is probably a suitable metaphor for the overall dining experience at The Finnieston. Really pleasant, but on occasion lacking a necessary spark needed to ignite the roaring gastronmic flame that would make it something exceptional.  Proceedings commenced very well indeed, with the provision of some knock-out Bloody Marys, prepared exactly to the customers’ preference in terms of chilli hit.  Exactly what was needed to kick off a late Sunday afternoon of dining and concert going. Hot on the heels of our excellently spiced, tomatoey cocktails came a mixed bag in terms of starters, however.
Tina’s gin-cured sea trout featured luxuriously, velvety pink fish – massively superior in taste and texture to farmed salmon – subtly enhanced with the flavour of gin-infused botanicals.  Yet, pleasant as the accompanying raw salad of shallot, fennel and orange was it just lacked the necessary punch to counterpoint the richness of the sea trout, even with the addition of chive crème fraiche dressing. 

Grilled sardines with Scotch Bonnet yoghurt, The Finnieston, Glasgow
Splendid sardines, not so sure about the 'Jackson Pollock' habanero yoghurt dressing.
Despite the fact we were dining in a venue specialising in marine fare, JML passed on the seafood soup option choosing instead a hearty cabbage-based alternative, possibly enhanced with lentils and potato.  Just the ticket on a cold Glasgow evening, not least because the roaring fire was yet again roaring no more at this point.

My sardines with scotch bonnet yoghurt and day old bread sounded intriguing.  The fish were certainly really fresh and flavoursome and cooked to perfection, but I’m not sure the croutons added much to the dish whatsoever, and despite the fruity warmth of the chilli in the yoghurt – ‘trendily’ served as if someone had dropped a pot of paint on the plate -  a dairy-based accompaniment to such oily flesh just didn’t seem to cut it, as the sardines begged for a more acidic dressing.

Halibut, puy lentils, celeriac puree, clams, The Finnieston, Glasgow.
Hoorah for the halibut - and lentils, celeriac, and clams too!
The sound of roast halibut was so alluring both Tina and JML opted for it as their main course.  Two superbly cooked, plump fillets of snowy-white flatfish, covered in beautifully crisp skin were served. Each rested on a bed of earthy-flavoured puy lentils, augmented by a silky-smooth celeriac puree and bejewelled with sweet clams in their shells. This was a really good dish.
Though also sorely tempted by the halibut, I instead chose the salt-baked sea bass with salsa verde and charred lemon. The sea bass itself was superb, simultaneously firm yet silky, moist, flavoursome and beautifully seasoned by its – now removed – saline overcoat.  The salsa verde was good, but maybe as was the case in the accompaniments to Tina’s sea trout, it just lacked a certain something, and charring the lemon didn’t discernibly alter the citrus tone of the dressing.  I feel slightly mean being picky, as the fish itself was so good, but the plate just needed an extra something, a further garnish or accompaniment to really make things work.

Guinness sponge and ice cream, the Finnieston, Glasgow.
Guinness-based sponge and ice cream, that possibly needed more of the dark stuff.
And speaking of extra accompaniments, gluttony somewhat got the best of us, as we did slightly go to town on the available sides.  Parmesan truffle fries were exactly as advertised, crisp lengths of simultaneously crisp and fluffy spud covered in umami-invoking melting cheese with just the right adornment of “walk in the autumn woods” truffleness.  Buttered greens provided a vibrantly rich vegetable side, nicely augmented by a squeeze of lemon and crunch provided by toasted pine nuts.  The mac and cheese was fine, but maybe needed a bit more of a cheese punch in the sauce bathing the pasta.  Unfortunately, whilst it was smooth and creamy the smoked garlic mash exhibited little evidence of either smokiness or garlic, and calling it tepid would be generous.  Another wee unnecessary niggle that shouldn’t come to light in an establishment that bills itself as a high end gastro pub/bistro.

Pudding was a slightly rushed affair, as it took a while to appear, we had a gig to get to, and the restaurant needed the table vacated by half seven. To be fair, the lovely front of house staff did shoogle subsequent reservations around to accommodate our slightly overstaying our welcome, and again provided a cabaret whilst they tried to relight the not-so-living flames of the gas fire once again. JML’s selection of semifreddo was a hit by all accounts, and somewhat unusually presented as wedges rather than scoops.

Semifreddo, The Finnieston, Glasgow.
Semifreddo a go-go,
Tina’s selection of cheeses were initially a bit of a magical mystery tour – nicely presented, but without any explanation as to what was on the board until some gentle prompting of our server revealed what exactly the selection consisted of. And it also transpired that the accompanying oatcakes contained wheat, despite the venue being forewarned that one of our party was gluten intolerant. Some rapid scrambling replaced these with gluten free bread, but that’s not the point.  The Comté was delicious, though.
My Guinness-infused sponge pudding with a Guinness ice cream looked delicious, topped with a piping of toasted Italian meringue and served with a fruit coulis.  It tasted nice enough, but the flavour was more akin to that of a cup of malty Ovaltine than the smoky-bitter bite usually associated with Ireland’s favourite stout. This was a shame because visually the dish promised so much, only to not quite deliver the anticipated hit on the palette.

And before concluding, I should mention that if our starting cocktails were excellent, so too was the bottle – OK, two bottles, but it was a celebration – of Rioja that accompanied our meal.  The Finnieston certainly does run a flaming good bar and cellar.  It’s therefore a shame that the kitchen just fell a wee bit short of the mark on the occasion of this visit.  I would certainly return on a future trip to Glasgow however, as even if the restaurant’s hearths temperamentally sometimes fall cold, I think with just a little more spark, this is an eatery that could really be ‘cooking on gas’.

Food – 7/10
Atmosphere –7.5/10
Service – 7.5/10
Value – 7/10

Ambience - expect a pleasant bar/bistro, specialising in seafood, and serving pretty decent gastro-pub fare.

The Finnieston Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Scrumptious Scran’s November 2017 Monthly Foodie Update

Vintage Vibes Cosy Cupcake
Delicious Vintage Vibes Cosy Cupcakes, raising funds for a good cause.
Late autumn is always a busy time of the year for food and drink-related activity, as we zip towards the festive season, and there's been a lot going on in Edinburgh of late.  So here's a wee monthly update of what's new and what's happening that might be of interest to foodies in and around Scotland's capital.

Edinburgh Craft Beer Revolution Festival returns

There is no denying that there has been a revolution - see what I did there?! - or some might even say an explosion in craft beer production and consumption in the UK over the past decade.  Reversing years of brewery consolidation, in 2016 alone some 300 new breweries opened, taking the total to over 2000.

Personally speaking, I think this is thing of wonder.  So if, like me, you are a lover of craft beer too you will certainly be delighted to hear that Edinburgh's celebration of artisan ales that is the Craft Beer Revolution festival is returning for another year.  Taking over the Assembly Roxy from 23 to 25 November, the festival features 60 beers on tap originating not only from Scotland - such as the lovely ales produced by the likes of Alchemy, Pilot, and Fierce Beer - but brews from Wales, Ireland and across Europe, such as the terrific, Berlin-based Stone Brewing.
For those not keen on beer - I mean, really! - there is also a range of ciders, wines and cocktails to sample, as well as scrumptious selection of street food to ensure the stomachs of those supping are thoroughly lined. What's not to like, frankly?

Loco Diablo’s new arrival and changing menus at La Favorita

Sometimes the changing seasons are mirrored by a revision in the culinary landscape.  This is certainly true of Edinburgh at present.  As the weather turns chilly, chilli also arrives on the menu in the capital's Southside.  For what used to be the real ale combined with BBQ - though not in the same glass, obviously - joint that was Clerk's Bar has metamorphosed into a tequileria that is now Diablo Loco.
Mexican food and drink seems to be very much in vogue at the moment, and according to the publicity it would seem that Diablo Loco doesn't disappoint in this respect, boasting a myriad of tequilas and mezcals.  These assumingly get incorporated into the intriguing selection of Margaritas on offer, ranging from those flavoured with smoked paprika to ones featuring pineapple and cardamom, which sounds delicious.  A concise menu of traditional classic Mexican dishes and street food is also on offer, to ensure all that tequila doesn't result in punters becoming too 'loco'.  I hope to visit soon!

All too often Friday nights in Scrumptious Scran Villas follow a familiar script.  Me: "I know I said I would cook tonight, but it's been a frenetic week at work, and all the ingredients will keep until tomorrow night."  JML: "You want a La Favorita, don't you?"  Me: "Am I that transparent?"  JML: "Yes… do you want your usual?"

Except, things have become a bit 'unusual' when it comes to our favourite purveyors of Italian scran - whether takeaway or dining at La Favortia's smashing sit in restaurant on Leith Walk. So I was gutted to have recently been invited to the launch of the restaurant's new menu, only to be unable to attend as a result of work commitments.  La Favorita’s new offering focuses on 'the best pizza in Scotland' as well as including a new range of pasta and vegan dishes.  Fear not if you want to learn more however, as even if I wasn't able to try the new menu in person, top notch Scottish food bloggers Boys Eat Scotland were, and you can read their excellent assessment of the new menu here.

Cupcakes supporting a festive Vintage Vibe

The festive season is nearly upon us once again. Yet did you know at this time of supposed coming together Edinburgh is the loneliest city in the UK for people over 60, with 11,000 being always alone and two in five only having their TV for company this Christmas period?

Vintage Vibes is a city-wide Edinburgh project that sets out to tackle such loneliness amongst senior members of our society by inviting folk to reconnect VIPs (lonely over 60s) who are isolated with their communities by sending them Vintage Vibes Christmas cards.  This smashing initiative is being supported by Cuckoo’s Bakery not only through stocking said cards in their Dundas Street and Bruntsfield Place branches, but through also producing a dedicated 'Vintage Vibes Cosy Cupcake', which will directly raise funds for the charity.  Scoff a cupcake, send a card, help re-connect our communities. Food, friendship, festivities. It’s good to share!

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. 

Courgette, broad bean, beetroot and feta salad – home-grown cooking

Courgette, broad bean, beetroot, and feta salad
A terrific salad featuring home-grown beans and courgettes.

One of the key reasons for relocating to Scrumptious Scran Villas some two and a half years ago was the garden. It’s on a big slope, as we live opposite a burn (brook, to those of you in England- shire), but pretty much south-facing. This probably won’t mean much to those of you who are not green fingered, yet the main thing to consider is that this means it has great potential for growing fruit and vegetables.

A couple of years of renovating said villas – well more a modern-ish Dutch town house, but this isn’t an interior design blog  – has meant that to date the garden has been maintained rather than developed, and things are about to get worse before they get better in terms of landscaping. The final piece of the building renovation jigsaw involves an extension that will result in a kitchen-diner. This development will provide a great cooking and entertaining space but of course will also cause havoc in the garden too.

Courgette in garden.
There's no hiding, my lovely courgette!
Ultimately however, I imagine that I shall stroll out of the French doors of the kitchen, in a style akin to Nigel Slater, to gather herbs and vegetables from the terraced raised beds (any tips on these greatly appreciated) but for now I have to make do with a relatively compact veg patch.  And for a number of reasons, this hasn't been at its most productive this year.  The French beans have been disappointing, and the beetroot and spinach seedlings all succumbed to slugs and snails (if only I could find an organic control method for these that really worked).

However, all is not doom and gloom, because growing conditions in south-east Scotland this year have been ideal for two crops; broad beans and courgettes. And it just so happens these rate as two of my favourite ingredients.  There is something delightful in gathering these from the garden knowing that I have tended to them, that they are organically produced and, whilst it might be purely psychological, that they taste all the better for it.  So what to cook with my vegetable harvest?

Well certainly I wanted the flavour of the courgettes and broad beans to shine through, so it couldn't be a dish that featured anything else that might be overpowering.  Also, gathering summer crops is, well, indicative of summer so something a bit lighter would be appropriate, even if the weather in Scotland hasn't exactly been continuously scorching.

Broad beans and courgette from the veg patch.
Just some of my home-grown haul.
So a sumptuous salad seemed to fit the bill, where blanched beans and char-grilled courgettes are centrepiece, but complimented with deep sweet-earthy flavour provided by beetroot (preferably roasted) and salty sharpness added by a smattering of feta cheese.  Add a fresh grassy-aniseed note from dill, piquancy from green spring onion, and bring it all together with a good quality dressing, and the result is a tasty, satisfying and fresh summer dish, that can be served warm or cold.

The recipe is makes enough to amply serve two as a tasty supper, or could feed more as a great accompaniment to likes of grilled pork chops or some chunky, roast fish steaks, should you wish not to stick to being vegetarian.  And of course, the vegetables don't have to be home grown.  But eating this dish would undoubtedly bring a smile to your face if they are.

Serves two as a decent supper.


For the salad
  • 1-2 courgettes (depending on size) around 200-250g, plus a couple of tablespoons of oil for brushing
  • 200-250g broad beans - post podded.  You can double pod them if you want, but I like the outer skins and life is too short
  • A couple of medium sized beetroot, either bought ready cooked (absolutely fine, if not in vinegar) or peeled and roast until tender in the oven (about 30 minutes)
  • 100g of decent feta cheese - use a reduced fat variety if desired
  • A couple of small spring onions, chopped
  • A tablespoon of chopped dill.
For the dressing
  • 1 tablespoon of decent vinegar – good quality cider or sherry vinegar would be ideal
  • 3 tablespoons of decent oil – I used cold-pressed UK rapeseed oil
  • Half clove of garlic, very slightly crushed
  • Sea salt and black pepper to season.
 Preparation and cooking
  1. Put a griddle on a medium heat, and whilst it comes up to temperature, slice the courgette into medium rounds no more than a centimetre thick.  Brush each of the courgette disks on both sides with a little oil.
  2. Place the courgette disks on the griddle (you may need to do this in batches) and grill until they begin to soften and exhibit lovely charred lines, then turn over and repeat on the other side. Set aside.
  3. Whilst cooking the courgettes bring an appropriately sized pan of salted water to the boil.  Drop in the broad beans and return to the boil, then cook for around 3-5 minutes (depending on how chunky the beans are) until just tender.  Drain the beans from the hot water and then immediately transfer to an appropriately sized bowl filled with cold – ideally iced – water to stop the beans overcooking.
  4. Cut the beetroot – which is either pre-bought (but not preserved in vinegar) or previously roasted – into 1cm or so cubes.
  5. Break the feta cheese into chunks which are also around 1cm cubes.
  6. Place the garlic clove in the bottom of a small bowl.  Pour in the vinegar and oil, season with salt and pepper, and then lightly whisk for a few seconds. Rest for a couple of minutes for the garlic to infuse the dressing, then whisk again until the dressing begins to emulsify. Leave to rest again whilst the salad is assembled.
  7. In a roasting dish, layer the courgettes, beans, beetroot, feta and onion, sprinkling a little dill on each layer. Remove the garlic from the dressing, and whisk again until smooth before pouring over the assembled salad.
  8. Gently toss the salad as it is served to distribute the dressing evenly around the salad ingredients.

¡Viva Barcelona! - A foodie homage to Catalonia's capital

Tomatoes in a market in Barcelona
Terrific tomatoes - Mercat Santa Caterina.
Oh Barcelona, how I have missed you!  It's been over ten years since we last experienced your cultural, architectural, and − possibly most importantly  − culinary delights.  As I have previously eluded to on Scrumptious Scran, it was Barcelona that ignited my love of Spanish cuisine, and probably made me realise how it was possible to cook really good food with simple ingredients purchased from a market just hours previously.

So visiting once again over a decade on, would Catalunya's capital still be so alluring?  And what new food and drink-related experiences might be awaiting discovery?  Here's what I found...

Tapas, cava, and vermut

Pa amb tomaquet, fried fish, Bormuth, Barcelona.
Pa amb tomaquet, fried fish, Bormuth, Barcelona.
Like everywhere else in Spain, Catalunya seems to have an obsession with the myriad of bite-size morsels that constitute tapas, and this possibly reaches an azimuth in Barcelona.  Even when wandering down the most insignificant back street it would be almost improbable not to encounter a diminutive neighbourhood bar offering at least five or six choices of tapas to accompany a cold glass of caña (draft beer).  Yet the city abounds with numerous venues that succeed in turning simple small plates of food into a culinary art form, whilst still maintaining an air of unpretentiousness.

A case in point is Bormuth in the now achingly trendy, but still utterly charming, El Born/La Ribera district. Seemingly always bustling, it’s little wonder that punters frequently crowd outside this compact bar/restaurant to feast on tapa stalwarts such as the utterly moreish croquetas laced with Ibérico ham, and the oh-so-simple, but totally delicious pescadito frito – literally little fish fried – which is a superb Iberian take on whitebait.  They also turn out a splendid version of the Catalan staple of pa amb tomatoquete (more of that later).  But also available are new twists on what might be thought of as a tapa, such as char-grilled peppers combined with goat cheese in a mini gratin.

Salmorejo, La Mar Salada, Barcelona.
Salmorejo, La Mar Salada, Barcelona.
Yet the food is not the only attraction of Bormuth, as a wee tangential consideration of the name might suggest. For this is a fantastic place to enjoy a glass or two of the traditional, now voguish, tipple that is vermouth.  Mention vermut (as it is referred to in Catalan) to Brits of a certain age, and memories of Great Aunt Maud's sickly-sweet festive tipple are often invoked.  We are not talking about mass-produced, Italian brands here, however.  Whilst Sherry may be king in southern Spain, it’s maybe surprising to learn that northern Spain has a long-standing tradition of producing fortified wine infused with herbs and other aromatics.

Traditionally, vermut was consumed as an aperitif, especially before Sunday lunch. Thankfully, these days, locally-produced varieties of the drink can now be enjoyed at any time across Barcelona with glasses often being theatrically poured from large oak barrels nestling behind the bar.  At Bormuth I enjoyed a couple of glasses of the superbly aromatic Vermut de Falset (produced close to Tarragona, in southern Catalunya) which combined honeyed sweetness with lovely herby notes and a great balance of earthy-bitterness. Fantastic with tapas and a bargain at just €2.60 for a generous glass.

Confit of cod on a bed of samfaina, La Mar Salada, Barcelona.
Confit of cod on a bed of samfaina, La Mar Salada, Barcelona.
And whilst speaking of drinks that are natural companions for tapas – or indeed the reverse – no visit to Barcelona should be complete without a ‘copa’ (bowl like champagne glass) of cava. This superb sparkling wine – whether in white or rosé form – probably needs little introduction, given its massive popularity in the UK, but nothing can compare to consuming a really good vintage in the region it was produced.  And if you get the chance, do try and sample cava in one of the bars that specialises in serving it in combination with a delightful tapa or two.

El Xampanyet located in the El Born barrio looks as though it has scarcely changed since before George Orwell was paying homage to Catalonia in the 1930s.  Even the house cava served here is excellent, especially when combined with a plate of delicious boquerones – anchovies in vinegar – or pintxo of tuna loin with padron pepper – a word of warning, the ‘picante’ version is ‘muy picante’!  Authentic though El Xampanyet is, given the popularity with tourists of the area in which it is located you may struggle at times to hear a word of Catalan or even Spanish being spoken amongst the clientèle.  So for possibly a more authentic experience seek out Can Paixano secreted in a lane heading towards Barceloneta.  Reminiscent of the neighbourhood bars that used to abound around the old port area, this is frequently a standing room only venue - albeit you'll be standing under a forest of hanging Serrano hams - thanks to its excellent rosé cava and selection of tasty plates of charcuterie, cheeses and tinned (yes that’s right) produce tapas.

Flam (flan), La Mar Salada, Barcelona.
Flam (flan), La Mar Salada, Barcelona.
A final mention in terms of tapas has to go to a great bar located in the Eixample district that, despite being round the corner from our hotel, we only discovered on our final evening. Kserol is a trendily-relaxed neighbourhood venue with a tapas menu that's a wee cut above - this is the Eixample, after all! Salt-cod (bacalao) croquetas are sublime, the stalwart that is patas bravas is creatively flavoured with rosemary and paired with a sophisticated spicy sauce. However, the simplest of Catalan tapas that is pa amb tomaquet - quite literally bread and tomato - is simply superb at this place. Beautiful sour-dough lightly toasted and rubbed with a garlic clove, then rubbed again with acid-sweet tomatoes, drizzled with olive oil, and sprinkled with sea salt. So straightforward, just so delicious.

Menu del dia

Curd cheese mousse, rosemary ice cream, honey, La Mar Salada, Barcelona.
Curdcheese mousse, rosemary ice cream, honey, La Mar Salada.
For those not familiar with the idiosyncrasies of dining in Barcelona – or even more widely in Spain – the menu del dia (literally ‘menu of the day’) may be a neglected culinary delight.  For lunchtime has customarily always been when the main meal of the day is consumed, thanks in part to the continuing – and extremely civilised – tradition of a one and a half to two hour lunch break (the Spanish working day does extend into the evening to compensate).  In order to attract hungry workers seeking lunch, historically restaurants began offering a pared down, three course menu which changed daily depending on what ingredients were available.  Accompanied by bread and often a drink, the menu del dia frequently offers excellent cooking at an extremely reasonable price.

A case in point is La Mar Salada (roughly translating as 'to sprinkle with sea salt') which is a jewel that stands out amongst the throng of - not so cheap and sometimes less than cheerful - tourist-orientated  restaurants located along Barceloneta's  Passeig Joan de Borbó.  As the name eludes to, the place specialises in serving seafood dishes that wouldn't be out of place in a Michelin-listed establishment, so at €18 for a three course lunch their menu del dia represents incredibly good value.

I absolutely love the classic cold tomato, garlic and bread soup that is salmorejo, but at La Mar Salada this simple entrée was inventively enhanced by the addition of white shrimps and a quenelle of goat cheese ice cream, taking it up a couple of notches. Equally superb was JML's starter of fresh fusilli pasta with baby broad beans, asparagus, roast cherry tomatoes, and courgette and rock squid tagliatelle.

Empadrat, Casa Amalia, Barcelona.
Empadrat, Casa Amalia, Barcelona.
Fish and vegetables were excellently paired in the 'segonds' (mains courses), consisting of confit of cod served on a bed of samfaina - a sort of Catalan ratatouille - infused with Ibérico ham; and megrim (a type of flatfish) deep fried and set atop artichokes bathed in suquet - Catalan fish stew - and shrimp broth.  Pudding (postres) may have been deceptively simple-sounding, but a mousse of cottage cheese paired with fragrant honey (and I am usually not of fan) and rosemary ice cream was subliminally excellent.  Flam (flan, or crème caramel) was sumptuously gelatinous and creamy, all bathed in a dark, bitter-sweet caramel sauce. An excellent example of, what is possibly, Spain's national dessert.

There actually wasn't a day during our trip when JML and I didn't avail ourselves of the menu del dia, not least because it is often an excellent way to discover local dishes.  I have Casa Amalia - a bistro that nestles in the shadow of the Eixample's Mercat de la Concepcio and is renowned for offering uncomplicated and tasty Catalan cuisine - for introducing me to 'empedrat'.  A quick search on Google translate indicates this equates to "pavement" in English! Fear not, as there is not a flagstone in sight with this delicious, and deceptively simple combination of tender haricot beans, bacalao (salt cod), tomato, olives, and onion, all beautifully dressed to form a starter ideal for al fresco dining.  And then there is 'arroz a la Cubana'.  Eaten in many Spanish speaking countries it's a combination of rice (as the name suggests) with a rich tomato sauce, plantain, and topped with a fried egg.  Uncomplicated, certainly, but definitely tasty.

Squid and potato salad, Rosa Pinky, Barcelona.
Squid and potato salad, Rosa Pinky, Barcelona.
Heading to the quaint and character-full Gracia district we happened across a delightful restaurant Rosa Pinky, nestled down an unremarkable side street, and (bar ourselves) seemingly entirely populated by Barcelonans.  This provided another menu del dia insight into how reasonably-priced food, composed of a few simple ingredients, can be really flavoursome.  Combine steamed potatoes with parsley, garlic, paprika, olive oil and octopus and the outcome is a super salad which is certainly greater than the sum of its constituent parts.  Similarly the simplicity of perfectly baked dorrada (a fish not often found on menus in the UK), confit potatoes, and red peppers roasted until soft and sweet was uncomplicated but a really great dish as a result.  So the moral of the story is, if you are in Catalunya  - or even elsewhere in Spain - eat like a local and make lunch your main meal, reserving the evening for grazing on tapas.  You certainly won't regret it.

Mercats (markets)

Jamon, Mercat Santa Caterina, Barcelona.
Jamon, Mercat Santa Caterina, Barcelona.
If you love food, you will find the markets in Barcelona utterly wondrous.  When I last wrote about the city I made mention of the place's biggest and most renowned 'mercat' - La Boqueria located halfway down Las Ramblas.  It offers food retail on an almost industrial scale, and the range of produce to be found there is unimaginably diverse.  There are, however, some mumblings that - like a lot of places in central Barcelona - it is becoming overrun with tourists, who food gawk rather than buy something for dinner.  So for a somewhat less crowded experience - especially if you are looking to fill your shopping basket - there are a number of smaller, yet equally impressive, market venues that are certainly worth checking out.

At the heart of the El Born / La Ribera / Sant Pere district is the beautifully stylish Mercat Santa Caterina.  The original market building was inventively renovated a decade or so ago by the architectural team behind the Scottish Parliament building and the sinuous roof-line and slatted timber façade they bestowed upon the building is just as striking as many of the city's Modernista structures.  Or head to the Dreta de l'Eixample to find the beautiful, 19th century, wrought iron structure that houses the Mercat de la Concepcio, ornately fronted by picturesque flower-vending establishments.

Take time to wander around either of the above markets and you will find pretty much any type of foodstuff you might wish to cook with and consume.  Stalls piled high with great Spanish and international cheeses, a bewildering array of fish and seafood, tubs full to bursting with a multitude of different olives, the freshest fruit and vegetables, including a dazzling range of tomato varieties. I could go on and on...

Bacalao, Mercat Santa Caterina, Barcelona.
Bacalao, Mercat Santa Caterina, Barcelona.
Yet in any market in Barcelona there are two types of vendor I always seem magnetically pulled towards, because what they have on offer is so typical of Catalonia, and indeed Spain.  I'm always mesmerised by stalls serving a plethora of Ibérico, air-dried hams of various origins and appellations.  And I love the ghostly-white produce on offer at those stalls that specialise in bacalao - or salt cod, to give it it's much less glamorous Anglicised moniker - both as bone-dry fillets, or re-hydrated portions that are ready to cook with.  Both are ingredients that lend themselves to inclusion in a plethora of dishes, especially crisply coated, silkily smooth-filled croquetas.

So a decade since my last visit, is Barcelona still a 'must visit' location for anyone who is a lover of food and drink?  The simple answer to that question is 'absolutely!'  So if you have never ventured to the city before, or even if it's a while since you have, do think about spending at least a long weekend there.  Wander round the wonderful architecture, lose an hour or two in one of the city's superb markets, discover an unfamiliar dish courtesy of a menu del dia, and graze on excellent tapas accompanied by a chilled glass of vermouth or cava.  For it is true to say that for food lovers everywhere, Barcelona never ceases to be one of the best culinary destinations in the world.

This post is dedicated to families of all types, everywhere. Treat them with love, and never take them for granted.