Showing posts with label review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label review. Show all posts

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

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

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

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

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.

London calling - Enjoying a right culinary knees-up in the Big Smoke

Bread sticks at Borough Market
By jenga! Beautiful Borough bread.
“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life” so said Samuel Johnson. This is doubly true when it comes to food and drink. When I lived in London, half a lifetime ago, I was truly bowled over by the diversity of restaurants and food shops. The streets were not paved with gold; they were lined with dim-sum, shawarma, pie and liquor, and rice and peas. Since that time my culinary enthusiasm for the city has not diminished, as a recent trip to the Big Smoke bore testament.

A couple of weeks ago JML and I ventured “darn sarf” for a concert – the fabulous Alison Moyet, at the Royal Albert Hall, no less. Sneakily, I also engineered our trip to include a few dining and quaffing highlights. Well for the most part, but more of that to come. So what follows is an overview of some of the places we visited during our sojourn in London, together with details of what we enjoyed there.

As we were stopping a stone's throw from the Royal Albert Hall we decided to go for somewhere local and straightforward for an early dinner to proceed the concert. So "hoorah" for the internet for pointing us in the direction of the Builder's Arms, a smashing hostelry nestling in the heart of Kensington. The pub occupies the corner of a Victorian block, and has been nicely renovated to maintain original features, whilst being decked out in the shabby chic interior design that appears to be de rigueur amongst UK boozers at the moment. It also features a charming wee terrace for alfresco socialising. Best of all, however, the place boasts a great range of beers and a pretty decent menu of pub grub. JML's burger with skinny chips was delicious, and my cider & tarragon battered cod with skin-on chips, crushed peas and tartare sauce was really spot on. Oh, and the place has charming staff, which contrasts markedly with...

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.

Birmingham Restaurant Review: A yummy Brummie bistro - The Pickled Piglet

Delicous belly pork with saffron and honey.
Delicous belly pork with saffron and honey.
I’m a bit geographically off piste in terms of my latest restaurant review.  It’s not of an eatery in Edinburgh, nor even one in Glasgow.  For this week, I am dining at a place nearly 250 miles due south of “Auld Reekie”.  And it turns out to be a restaurant I liked very much indeed.   I probably should explain.

The first day of spring has always been memorable for me, not only because it marks the passing of winter, but also because 21st March is my Dad’s birthday.  So to mark his 79th year on planet Earth I thought it appropriate to arrange a wee visit back to Birmingham – the city of my birth – to celebrate this notable event.  I’m sure it’s no surprise to learn that the exact form this celebration took was to take my parents out for very pleasant meal.

Now Birmingham is a very different place from the depressed, and – to be honest – somewhat depressing, metropolis I left in the mid-1980s.  Though the “city of a thousand trades” may have well and truly had the stuffing knocked out of it during the Thatcher era, it has now become a vibrant, cultural hub.  Its centre has witnessed massive regeneration over the last two decades, particularly around its “canal quarter”, as the development of Symphony Hall and Brum’s architecturally impressive Library of Birmingham bear testament.  The waterways that were once at the heart of Birmingham’s industrial revolution are now the focus of a Bohemian collection of cultural and culinary establishments.  And as my Dad was born a stone's throw from the canal hub of Gas Street Basin, I thought it might be appropriate to find somewhere close by for a relaxed – but good quality – lunch.

Turbot with samphire and cockles.
Fab turbot with samphire and cockles.
A quick bit of searching on the internet and I had made a reservation for Friday lunch at the Pickled Piglet.  Located on Gas Street itself, this bar and bistro's website promised much of what I look for when I dine out - locally sourced ingredients, and free range, properly matured meat.  "Any chef can dress a plate, but taste is a different game" the restaurant's website sagely stated.  Occupying a compact, converted warehouse building, the Pickled Piglet’s dining and bar area is located on the upper floor.  It's bright and airy space which is tastefully furnished, whilst retaining features which nod to the building's industrial heritage.  Being Friday lunchtime in the centre of a bustling city, I'd expected the restaurant to be full.  Yet even though our reservation was for 1pm, as we were seated it quickly became apparent we were the only diners there.  Had I chosen a dud, I wondered?  Read on, and you will find the opposite to be true.

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.

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.

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 brilliant Berlin culinary odyssey


Brilliant Berlin beer.
Things have been a bit quiet on Scrumptious Scran of late, for which I must apologise. Don’t worry; I haven’t suddenly lost my enthusiasm for food and drink – quite the reverse. It’s just that recently I have had to prioritise starting a new job and celebrating my other half’s 40th birthday, over writing culinary copy. Fortunately though, part of JML’s birthday celebrations involved a trip to Berlin. This has provided an opportunity to compose the first Scrumptious Scran Odyssey article, giving an insight into some of our favourite dining and quaffing experiences in this wonderful city.

Not having visited Berlin before I must admit that we weren’t entirely certain what to expect, in culinary terms. Like any large city, Berlin has a diverse range of restaurant cultures – with Italian appearing to be a particular favourite – but for this visit I was keen to hone in on food that was typical of Berlin or Germany.

Our base was central Berlin’s “Mitte” district, a stone’s throw away from the former Checkpoint Charlie, one of few official crossing points between the former communist East and capitalist West sectors of the city. Our hotel – Gat Point Charlie – was great and very boutique-esque, even though the surrounding area was slightly underwhelming; it’s Berlin’s commercial and government hub being mostly populated by modern multi-stories. However, wander a little and it is possible to find a Germanic culinary gem, such as Augustiner am Gendarmenmarkt – a cavernous eatery that serves traditional Bavarian fare and excellent beer. Be warned, however, so popular is this place that at peak times it is neigh on impossible to secure a dining table, meaning that we had to be content with sitting outside (it being a balmy October evening) whilst consuming a couple of glasses of “hell”.

And I should also point out that when strolling round Berlin's Mitte district, anyone with a sweet tooth should be sure to call into Fassbender & Rausch - reportedly the world's largest chocolaterie. Not only does its three floors offer 200 varieties of chocolate, it also features a chocolate volcano and a architecturally accurate model of the Bundestag - made from chocolate.



Cracking currywurst.
Checking out Berlin’s “Museum Island” and surrounding environs provided an opportunity to sample two things I love: sausages and micro-brewed beer. The former came courtesy of Oranium, located in the “Scheunenviertel” or “barn quarter”; an old neighbourhood that found itself on the eastern side of the infamous wall – here’s a hint, if you see a tram you are in former East Berlin… Having perused the menu, I just had to try the Würstchen Trilogie - Berliner Currywurst, Thüringer Rostbratwurst and Nürnberger sausages skewered with leek, onions, and capsicum, served with yellow and red curry dip. Each variety of porky morsel was delicious, even if some flavours were slightly unexpected. I’d heard that Berliners are mad for currywurst – a curry-infused banger. Maybe I was expecting a casein-coated balti, but the spice mix was more akin in its flavour to the sort of curry sauce served by Chinese takeaways – flavoursome yet unusual. For tip-top beer we ventured just south of Alexanderplatz to Brauhaus Georgbraeu. Located in the shadow of the city’s imposing Television Tower, not only are their superb pilsners brewed on the pub’s premises – try the dark lager with its great malty flavour – but these can be enjoyed on a terrace overlooking the River Spree.

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.

Edinburgh Restaurant Review: Hanging out (and on) at The Espy

Espy-Windows
View from 'The Espy'
It is possible to have too much of a good thing, Edinburgh’s annual jamboree of festivals being a case in point. Don’t get me wrong, I do love the buzz of my home city in August. But after a month packed with music, comedy and drama (which also resulted in my being floored by a thespian-vectored germ, leading to the lack of recent updates on Scrumptious Scran) the time comes to give central Edinburgh a swerve and head for the coast. Accordingly, last Saturday lunchtime JML and I treated ourselves to a wee trip to Portobello.

In terms of Porty’s eateries, you really can’t get more “on the coast” than The Espy (its name being an abbreviation for “the esplanade”). Situated on the ground floor of a grand Victorian tenement located on the corner of Bath Street and the Promenade, it’s almost possible to order a pint at the horseshoe bar whilst dangling one’s feet in the waters of the Forth. During the summer months the pub has tables set up on the prom, yet as the day was bright but a little too breezy we decided to try and secure a space in the ample dining room, but still with great views to the beach.

Even though we were relatively late for lunch – arriving at 2pm – the pub was packed and we were only able to bag our spot on condition that we vacated within an hour and a half. JML and I were ravenous, so this would not a problem, well at least I thought not…

Dips-&-Bread-2
Dips and flatbread
Waiting for our beers to arrive, I reacquainted myself with The Espy’s interior. The place has that shabby chic vibe that now seems to be common to a number of Edinburgh’s more popular boozers, such as Boda and The Roseleaf, except that The Espy compliments this with surfing paraphernalia and Australian iconography. Altogether, the place has a welcoming, family-friendly feel.

Two chilled pints of San Miguel promptly arrived, together with a jug of iced water – a nice touch to get the latter both free and without request – and the waiter took our food order. Now we have dined at The Espy a few times before, and the place’s regular menu provides a very decent range of burgers and less standard pub-grub, such as plates of mezze to share. Yet on this occasion we both chose from the comprehensive menu of daily specials; JML combining a trio of Mediterranean dips and warm flatbread, together with another, intriguing, starter of pork and prawn cakes; and yours truly deciding upon the slow-roast pork loin, black pudding, apple and leek mash, with a cider gravy.

Our order duly dispatched to the kitchen, we quaffed our drinks, perused the papers, and waited for our food to appear. Then oddly, five minutes later, another member of waiting staff appeared to take our order, only to be informed this had already been done. Further sipping of drinks, reading of newspapers and waiting followed. Then even more waiting, until after some 30 minutes it became apparent that tables seated after ours were now being served their food. When I tried to attract someone’s attention to question this there was a mysterious dearth of front-of-house staff in our section of the dining area, resulting in my having to get up and accost the Maître d’ to find out if our order had indeed reached the kitchen.

Pork-&-Prawn-Cakes-2
Pork & prawn cakes
Thankfully, our grub landed on our table a few minutes later, accompanied by apologies for its tardiness. And as to the food itself, well this ranged from “very good” to “not bad”. JML’s pork and prawn cakes were delicious, with the meat and seafood flavours running in harmony with those of lemongrass, chili, coriander and a smidgeon of peanut. The salad that accompanied these Asian-inspired morsels was decently put together and well dressed. The Mediterranean dips were also very tasty, with a creamy harissa being a particular stand out, and the mountain of flatbread that came with these was warm, fresh and moist. My slow roast pork and black pudding was succulent and tasty, and was well balanced by the cider sauce and chunks of caramelised apple. The bed of mash on which this lay was a wee bit of a let-down, however, as it could have done with fewer lumps and a bit more butter through it.


Festival review: Crowded culinary capers at the Edinburgh Foodies Festival

A seriously large paella.
A seriously large paella.
Maybe the people of Edinburgh and the rest of Scotland are much keener “foodies” than I had imagined. Or perhaps it was down to very good marketing. Probably a combination of the two, but by two o’clock last Saturday afternoon, Edinburgh’s Foodies Festival was bursting at the seams.

Whatever the reason for its popularity, it was certainly good to see so many people enjoying the assorted culinary delights that the Foodies Festival had on offer. Being my first time at this particular event, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. It certainly made for an agreeable few hours, and provided me with an opportunity to meet face to face with some interesting food and drink suppliers, which is always a good thing.

Comparing it the Taste festival which used to visit Edinburgh during the summer months, the Foodies Festival seemed to be less corporately focused. The “market” area, for example, was packed with an alluring array of different producers and suppliers, and it was great to be able to chat with people to learn how their businesses had come about and what they had on offer. I managed to catch up with some folk in the food business who I've encountered on Twitter, including the smashing Summer Harvest Oils. This business not only produces excellent cold-pressed rapeseed oil grown on the family’s Perthshire farm, it now also provides a delicious range of dressings, marinades and vinegars. I also enjoyed some good banter with the folks on the Enterprise Foods Truly Local stall – an initiative that supports smaller suppliers throughout Scotland in bringing their products to market, and also backs sustainable food production. I must get hold of a jar of the Bloody Mary chutney, from Trotters Independent Condiments, which I sampled there.

"Goucho" beef being char-grille
Fantastic "Goucho" beef being char-grilled.
Another section of the Foodies Festival that really appealed was the “Street Food Avenue”. The smells from this celebration of mobile cooking from across the globe were one of the first things to assail the senses (in a good way) when walking into the event. There were certainly some of the biggest paellas I have ever encountered, bubbling away on one stall, which I was sorely tempted to sample. However, the spectacle of the barbecued lamb and beef – a staple of South American cuisine – was what finally won me over, resulting in my partaking of possibly the best steak sandwich I have tasted. The meat was coated in a herb and salt rub, then perfectly chargrilled to produce thick slices which were full of flavour and beautifully tender.

Foodies Festival at Edinburgh also provided an opportunity to try products from larger suppliers, which might not be immediately familiar. Discover the Origin – an EU funded initiative – offered some quality food and drink from across Europe. The wonderful Edinburgh Gin company had some of its fantastically refreshing elderflower gin to taste and purchase, and there was also a fine gin, containing African-sourced botanicals – available from Whitley Neil, which is distilled in Birmingham. I had no idea the place of my birth even possessed a distillery! Monkey Shoulder is an excellent blended Scottish whisky that I was aware of, but had previously not tried, so it was a pleasure to be offered a wee dram. And as someone who loves Spanish cuisine, I was delighted to be introduced to Inedit – a new “white” beer from Barcelona’s Estrella brewery, developed by Ferran Adria of El Bulli fame.

I wish I could report back on the chefs’ and drink theatre demonstrations. But the queues to obtain tickets for these were so long, the events I wanted to attend had sold out by the time I got to the box office. I suppose the acid test of what I thought of Edinburgh’s Foodies Festival – as someone attending for the first time – would be to ask if I would return next year. Probably, but I think the event would benefit from a few refinements to seriously tempt me back…

Edinburgh Restaurant Review: Prayers answered at The Safari Lounge

Safari Lounge entrance.
A wildly great pub lies inside.
If I were religious, I would swear my prayers had recently been answered. For years I have been chanting the mantra “please might someone open a decent pub, with really good food, somewhere between Jock’s Lodge and Leith Walk”. But Edinburgh’s equivalents of the goddesses Edesia and Bibesia must have been sat atop Arthur’s Seat with their fingers in their ears – until now!

For the last few weeks, as I trudged back and forth between Scrumptious Scran Towers and my place of work in central Edinburgh, I noted that the old Station Bar on Abbeyhill’s Cadzow Place – a very traditional Scottish boozer – had been shut for a bit of a repaint. Then the posters appeared in its picture windows, announcing the arrival of The Safari Lounge. Might this be, at last, a decent new boozer in Edinburgh’s East End? Praise the lord! Or lady, or whatever be your deity of choice.

So this Friday, JML and I dropped by to see what pleasures this revamped Victorian bar might hold. Oh my! Walking into the place it doesn’t immediately look like a lot has changed. There is still much of the dark brown tongue and groove and ornate plaster work in evidence, except the walls are painted a subtle tangerine and white - taken together all vaguely reminiscent of a liquorice allsort. The original wooden bar has gone (despatched to another venue, to allow the nine rotten joists that lay beneath it to be replaced, apparently). And at the end of its subtly trendy replacement is a small kitchen – but what a kitchen…

A busy bar and kitchen at the Safari Lounge.
A busy bar and kitchen.
As we ordered drinks at the bar and scouted round for a table, it became apparent that the place is much bigger than I had realised, with a comfy, offset area to the rear of the bar, and a separate “Tiger Room” beyond that. Our drinks arrived – chosen from a great range of lagers and craft beers – together with a couple of menus. And that is when I realised why this place is confident enough to site an open kitchen at the end of the bar. At first glance it may appear a typical pub menu of salads, mezze, ‘lite bites’ hotdogs and burgers. Yet read on, and it isn’t just your standard bar food at all. It’s a menu put together with real care and thought.

So, we ordered a main each of a “Safari Dog” and a “Momo Fuku” Pork Bun, accompanied by a side of skinny fries and the intriguing “popcorn mussels” and watched mesmerically as the two chefs in the open kitchen grabbed ingredients and cooked and assembled the dishes before our eyes. Within ten minutes of ordering, the food arrived. JML had chosen what transpired to be very posh hotdog – a meaty, flavoursome sausage nestling in a brioche roll, drizzled in a mustard dressing and surrounded by a tangy onion and cider chutney. It was simply smashing. My shredded pork belly buns – there were two – consisted of beautifully succulent meat with vinaigrette coleslaw, all encased in ghostly white rice baps. Intriguing in how they looked, delicious in how they tasted. Both mains were served with a generous accompaniment of freshly prepared, perfectly dressed salad.

Book Review: 'Spanish Flavours' to savour

Jose Pizarro - Spanish Flavours.
An abundance of Spanish flavours under the cover.
Squinting through my sunglasses in Edinburgh this past weekend it was almost possible to imagine I was in the Mediterranean, as opposed to Scotland. Clear blue skies, glorious sunshine and – best of all – alfresco dining. Eating outside on a balmy summer’s day or evening is one of my favourite culinary pastimes – whether in the UK or somewhere more exotic, such as Italy or Spain. How appropriate then that I found myself sat in the green behind Scrumptious Scran Towers snacking on tapas whilst thumbing through Spanish Flavours, the latest book by Spanish-born and UK-based Chef, José Pizarro.

Growing up on a farm in the western Spanish region of Extremadura, it was whilst he was studying as a dental technician that Pizarro discovered his love for cooking. This lead to him attending cookery school, and ultimately a stint at Madrid’s award-winning restaurant Meson de Doña Filo where he cooked nuevacocina - the deconstructed approach to Spanish cuisine made famous by Ferran Adrià of El Bulli. Fourteen years ago Pizarro relocated to London in order to “try something different”. After achieving this as a key player behind London’s new wave of Spanish eateries such as Eyre Brothers, Gaudí and Brindisa he chose to open his own sherry and tapas bar José, closely followed by his restaurant Pizzaro. So much for the biography…

Regular readers will know that I love Spanish food, and in Spanish Flavours Pizarro demonstrates how well he knows his way around the mosaic-like cuisine which stem from what sometimes appears to be “…seventeen countries all rolled into one”. Identifying links between history and culture, climatic influences, and the use of common ingredients, the book examines in turn the recipes of Spain’s North, East, Centre, South and its Islands. And in doing so, in each chapter Pizarro provides a lyrical snapshot of the flavours, bars and restaurants, and dishes that make these regions so memorable.

As might be expected from an author grounded in nuevacocina, the recipes are not without a twist and turn, an invention that develops Spanish cooking in a slightly different direction. It’s subtle; the sort of tweaking that might traditionally have allowed one village to steal an edge over its neighbour when it came to claiming the best paella. Yet it’s an alchemy grounded in a mastery of really knowing how those ingredients exemplifying Spanish cooking truly work together.

Bite Magazine review: A happy return to The Shore

Beautiful hake on courgettes, Puy lentils & pancetta.
Beautiful hake on courgettes, Puy lentils & pancetta.
My second review for Bite Magazine has just appeared on the publication's website, and will hopefully also feature in the August print edition of the magazine.  This time JML and I had the pleasure to return to one of our old stomping grounds, The Shore Bar and Restaurant located, appropriately enough, in Leith's Shore district. You can read a wee taster of the review below, and the full article can be found on Bite Magazine's website. 

A happy return to The Shore

Re-acquaintance with a lost friend can be a marvellous thing. And such was the case when I recently revisited The Shore. Previously a regular haunt of mine, walking into the elegant oak-panelled and mirror-adorned bar that adjoins the restaurant, the welcome was as warm as I remembered.

Heavenly chocolate brownie & caramelised banana.
Heavenly chocolate brownie & caramelised banana.
Looking over the menu, we enjoyed an aperitif whilst awaiting our table – nice to see a place buzzing on a dreich Tuesday. The restaurant (now part of the Fishers group) offers inventive fare featuring Scottish ingredients, with seafood at the centre of a number of dishes.

Seated beside the restaurant’s huge windows, my dining partner and I had high hopes for our starters. We were not disappointed. My squid with chorizo, chickpeas and roast peppers (£6) had a great balance of flavours. Tender seafood, moist pimentón sausage and earthy pulses worked beautifully with a fruity tang and chilli heat. Across the table was a hockey-puck of ham and potato hash cake (£5.75), crisped in breadcrumbs, and generously adorned with hollandaise and poached egg. Real comfort food!