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beer/ Spanish/ whisky

Scrumptious Snippets: Cheeky drams, paella parties, and spring rejuvenations

Scotch Malt Whisky Society Mixology.
Marvellous malt whisky mixology.

I’m not sure if it’s because more and more people appear to be reading Scrumptious Scran (apologies for any immodesty), but I seem to the recipient of a lot foodie news of late. It would be remiss to keep this to myself, so I am starting “Scrumptious Snippets” which is my way of sharing what’s capturing the culinary buzz in Edinburgh, and further afield. So here we go…

Clans and Drams – what’s your whisky “clan”?

Partial to a wee dram of “the water of life”, but bewildered by the sheer diversity of Scotch whisky that’s on offer? Well, Edinburgh’s Scotch Malt Whisky Society might just have the answer. This May – as part of Homecoming Scotland 2014‘s Whisky Month – the Society is opening its doors to the public for a series of activities that aim to help people discover which “clan” of whisky they prefer.

Clans and Drams sets out to shake up preconceptions about Scotch that centre on regions or distillery brands, instead focusing purely on taste characteristics by categorising whiskies into 12 clans that include “spicy and sweet” and “deep, rich and dried fruits”. Watch out for events throughout the coming month that will help you discover your own “Dram Clan”, including a “Clan Whisky Feast” that explores how whisky can be paired with food; and “Clan Cocktails” which will guide punters through the enchanting cocktail mixology that can be applied to uisge beatha.

A full list of the events throughout Clans & Drams month can be found at

Paella partying at La Tasca

Cooking paella at La Tasca, Edinburgh.
Seriously big paella at La Tasca, Edinburgh.

It’s no secret that I love Spanish cuisine. So I was delighted to be invited – the other week – to the re-launch of the Edinburgh branch of Spanish-themed restaurant chain, La Tasca. I must admit that I hadn’t previously eaten at this South Charlotte Street restaurant before. So I was intrigued to see what it was like.

Well I have to say I had a very pleasant evening. The sangria flowed freely, and the guests that crowded into the airy basement – where the re-launch party took place – were treated to an impressive demonstration of how to cook paella – using the largest paella pan I have seen this side of Valencia. It wasn’t all theatre, however, as the finished product also tasted very good. Having chatted to some of the Spanish and South American staff behind the restaurant, they certainly seem to be passionate about creating an authentic Spanish dining experience. I think I shall be heading back soon to sample more of what is on offer.

Brewing up with Black Wolf 

Black Wolf Brewery bosses.
Bosses behind Black Wolf Brewery.

Spring is traditionally a time for rejuvenation and welcoming the new. And so it is in the world of Scottish food and drink, as the recent transformation of Stirlingshire brewers Traditional Scottish Ales demonstrates. The producers of much admired brews that include Lomond Gold, and – a particular favourite of mine – Double Espresso have recently transformed themselves into The Black Wolf Brewery.

“Black Wolf?” I hear you ask. Well apparently the name is derived from a local legend that suggests that Stirling was saved from being sacked by Vikings thanks to the howling of a friendly black wolf. To mark the rebrand, three new beers are being launched: Florida Black stout; a premium lager billed as Coulls; and Tundra, which is a rather intriguing, elderflower-infused wheat beer. Will this change of image prove to be merely a sheep in wolf’s clothing? Well not if the quaff-ability of the beers the brewery is renowned for is maintained, even though the branding might be different. I hope to report back Black Wolf‘s new ales soon…

Bottles of Black Wolf craft beers.
Smashing new Black Wolf brews.

I recently had the pleasure of attending the official launch of the Black Wolf Brewery in Edinburgh, which provided a chance to taste some of their new craft beers. And very tasty they were, including:

Gold Digger (4.2%) – a really refreshing blond beer which is light and citrusy (probably thanks to the use of Citra hops in the brew). It strikes a really good balance between fruit and bitter flavours and will be a great beer for the summer, when it eventually arrives.

Tundra (4.8%) – a smashing wheat beer, which is dry with floral notes and hints of elderflower. Not surprising, given that the brew is actually “dry hopped” with elderflowers. If you like continental-style beers you should give this a try.

Florida Black (4.5%) – this excellent stout combines the sweetness of a porter with really satisfying smoky and bitter notes. Dark and smooth, this brew is enhanced through the addition of toasted wild oats to the mash. If pushed, I would say this just has the edge as my favourite amongst Black Wolf‘s excellent new offerings. 

beef/ beer/ Belgium/ Carbonade Flamande/ casserole/ recipe

Recipe: Bravo Belgium! – Carbonade flamande, or Belgian-style beef and beer casserole

A pot of carbonade flamanade - Belgian beef and beer casserole.
Flaming tasty – Carbonade flamanade ready to eat.

It’s nearly the middle of March, so as a “foodie” I suppose I really should be clambering to the likes of Edinburgh Farmer’s Market to fill my bags with early spring vegetables in order to cook a recipe that’s both fresh and tasty. Well that’s all well and good in theory, but whilst southern England may have been basking in double digit temperatures last Saturday, in Scotland it certainly didn’t feel very spring-like. Consequently my yearning for comfort food continues, meaning that last weekend I decided to draw inspiration for dinner from the Low Countries – Belgium to be precise.

Softening carrot, onion and celery by frying.
Sweating the veg until soft.

Belgium has a surprisingly varied and rich cuisine, featuring really great meat, fish and vegetable dishes that often have overtones of influence from neighbouring cultures and countries. I’ve heard it joked that Belgium food combines the straightforwardness of the Dutch, the portion control of the Germans, and the cooking skill of the French. We all know that, in terms of food and drink, Belgium is particularly famous for three things: fries (frieten/frites); chocolate; and beer. What might not be so obvious however it that the Belgians have not only mastered the art of producing a fantastic range of excellent beers, but also cooking with beer as well.

Chunks of beef shin coated in seasoned flour.
Chunks of beef shin coated in seasoned flour.

Ample chunks of shin of beef, combined with complementary vegetables and a few herbs and spices, and simmered slow and long in a bitter-sour-malty beer. This is basically carbonade flamande (or in Flemish, stoverij or stoofvlees, which sounds pretty close to the Scottish “stovies”), often described as Belgium’s “true national dish”. It is a sumptuous casserole where a tough cut of meat softens superbly – through slow cooking – and melds its flavours with the acidic-sweetness of the hoppy beer and aromatic vegetables to produce a rich gravy. It’s both splendid and really simple to prepare.

Chunks of beef frying in a pan.
Beautifully browned beef shin chunks.

Over the last few decades in the UK we have become pretty well accustomed with using wine as an ingredient in our cooking, and there is nothing wrong with that. Yet such culinary influence comes from Southern Europe, and we – like the Belgians, Dutch and Scandinavians – are historically northern European in cultural terms. We share the fact that beer has long been our alcoholic tipple of choice. So why not go a bit Flemish and cook, as well as sup, with this smashing malty-hoppy ingredient?

Serve carbonade flamande with mashed potato, or even better, just-fried frites. Thank you Belgium!

Bubbling beef and beer casserole.
Bubbling beef and beer casserole.
Together with sides, this dish should easily serve four people.


  • 800g of stewing steak – preferably shin of beef – with any excess fat and sinew removed, and cut into 2-3cm chunks.
  • 1 large onion, peeled and medium sliced.
  • 2 large sticks of celery – medium sliced.
  • 1 medium-large carrot, scrubbed and cut in large-ish chunks.
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed.
  • Olive oil for frying.
  • 2 bay leaves, fresh if available.
  • 2 large sprigs of thyme, leaves removed from stalks.
  • 2 tablespoons, or so, of plain flour (enough to coat the beef).
  • 1 teaspoon of hot, smoked paprika.
  • 1 teaspoon of redcurrant or cranberry jelly.
  • Around 500 ml of brown Belgian beer (such as Leffe Brune) or a good quality, local, dark, hoppy ale.
  • Salt and pepper.
Preparation and cooking

  1. Preheat your oven to 140 degrees Celsius.
  2. In a medium to large, lidded casserole dish heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over a medium heat. Add a pinch of salt (this helps stop the onion catching). Add the chopped onion, carrot and celery, stir and fry for five minutes, then add the crushed garlic and cook until the vegetables begin to soften, stirring occasionally.
  3. Add the flour, smoked paprika and a good pinch of salt and pepper to a lidded plastic storage container, big enough to hold the beef chunks, and mix together. Add the beef to the container, securely attach the lid and give a good shake to thoroughly coat the beef with the flour mixture.
  4. Heat a large frying pan over a medium-high heat and add a good glug of olive oil – about a couple of tablespoons. When the oil is hot, add the floured chunks of beef and brown on all sides. You may need to do this in batches to avoid overfilling the frying pan, in which case the meat will steam instead of sear.
  5. When browned, add the beef to the casserole dish containing the softening vegetables, and stir. Turn up the heat to high and throw in the bay leaves and thyme and then carefully pour in the beer – BE CAREFUL, it will bubble and steam fiercely at first.
  6. Stir in the redcurrant jelly, and allow the ingredients to come to the boil and then simmer for about five minutes to let most of the alcohol from the beer to evaporate.
  7. Cover the casserole dish with its lid then place in the oven for at least three hours, until the meat is so tender it is possible to break up a chunk of the beef with a fork. 
  8. The slow cooking, together with the flour coating on the beef, such have produced a thick beer gravy. However, if you prefer a thicker sauce remove the meat and vegetables with a slotted spoon and place in warmed dish in a low oven, whilst rapidly simmering the gravy until it reaches the desired consistency. Return the beef and vegetables to the gravy, check and adjust the seasoning and serve.
beer/ burger/ Edinburgh/ pub/ review/ Simon Howie

Review: Holyrood 9a – Great Beer & Burgers in the ‘Burgh

Holyrood 9a bar.
Trad meets mod at the bar.

Located just a stone’s throw from Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, Holyrood 9a is a “must visit” if you like decent, reasonably priced pub food, and you are also partial real ale. Combining dark wood panelling, period ceilings and wood-burning stoves with an “industrial chic” bar and lighting, this is most definitely a welcoming establishment that is rarely quiet. A Staff that is friendly and knowledgeable also adds to the pub’s positive ambience.

First time visitors will be struck by the choice of craft beers – hailing from across the UK and even further afield – that are, somewhat unusually, served from the back of the imposing stainless steel and glass bar. A full menu of guest keg and cask ales is displayed on the blackboard at the pub’s entrance, and it’s possible to partake of a 1/3 pint taster before purchasing a full pint of any unfamiliar brew. Decent lagers are in abundance too, with Peroni, Pilsner Urquell, Cobra and Kozel amongst those available on draft, and as if this weren’t enough the pub also stocks nearly 30 bottled ciders and beers.  Holyrood 9a also holds a very decent range of wines and spirits for those not so keen on beer.

Burger, fries & 'slaw.
Burger, fries & ‘slaw – resistance is futile…

However, a fine selection of drinks is only half of Holyrood 9a’s appeal, as the venue also offers a great menu of decent pub food, ensuring its shoe-box sized kitchen is always busy. Dominating a pretty extensive menu are the pub’s ‘Gourmet’ burgers which come in a substantial range of variations – from traditional beef through to lamb, pork and chorizo, and even including four vegetarian options. The menu indicates that the meat patties are sourced from leading Scottish butcher, Simon Howie and whatever the base of the burger you decide upon this will be augmented by a substantial array of accompanying sauces and toppings. Your burger of choice lands at your table encased by a toasted sourdough bun and served with sides of fries and home-made coleslaw, all rather trendily arranged on a wooden chopping board.

Holyrood 9a pudding menu.
And for pudding?

But if you don’t fancy a burger, the menu also offers a smaller range of other choices – such as salads, grills and sharing boards – to tickle your fancy, as well as some tasty, rib-sticking desserts. And what makes the menu even more appetising is the fact that – with the exception of the grill options – all dishes come in at under £10 each. For any early risers – or those looking to aid their recovery from the excesses of the night before – the menu also has an excellent breakfast section which is served each day until noon.

Holyrood 9a certainly does seem to have got the formula spot on in terms of what makes an alluring and reasonably priced “pub that does good grub”, so-much-so that if you are planning on visiting as a group it’s worthwhile booking ahead as the place can be mobbed, especially at weekends. So if you find yourself in central Edinburgh and in need of a nice craft-brewed pint and a fantastically tasty burger, do be sure to call in at 9a Holyrood Road.

Food – 7.5/10

Atmosphere -7.5/10 
Service -7.5/10 
Value – 7/10
Ambience – Expect a laid-back – yet busy, high-end pub experience. 
Bar photo courtesy of the Holyrood 9a website.

Holyrood 9a on Urbanspoon

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