“Pudding arrived in the form of an intensely vanilla-rich, orange-blossom scented, beautifully smooth crème Catalan, adorned in a perfect caramel topcoat. This was surrounded by a quenelle of bitter orange-infused crème fraiche, a crisp, subtly spiced almond Arlette biscuit, a smear of toasted Italian meringue, and globes of citrus sorbet that danced on the plate with drips of orange jus. If JML and I could have requested seconds, we would most definitely have done so!”
Folklore proffers that whilst three is a magic number, the numeral six exhibits far more sinister connotations, it being “the number of the beast” and all. So, might dining in a restaurant with “six” in its title, that offers a set tasting menu of six dishes, which changes every six weeks prove to be a diabolical experience? Or devilish, as in a seriously good sort of way?
“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 – fish is definitely the dish.
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 Saboteurtwice 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 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 – 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…
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 – 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.
“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.
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…
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.
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.
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 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 – 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.
Ambience – Expect a trendily relaxed bistro/brasserie.
Lobster ice cream and roasted cockroach, anyone? (edfoodfest).
The sound of torrential rain clattering off the roofs of Edinburgh in late July can only mean one thing. Yes, it must nearly be Edinburgh’s festival season again… Yet seriously, I hope we have a modicum of good weather during late July and August, because as well as the world’s greatest arts extravaganza making camp in Scotland’s capital there are also some very alluring food and drink-focused activities and events taking place during the festival period…
Culinary debates and celebrations at Edinburgh Food Festival (Assembly, George Square)
Located at the famed Edinburgh Fringe hub that is George Square, Assembly’s acclaimed (and free to enter) Edinburgh Food Festival makes a welcome return for a third year. Unlike some other food festivals, this initiative isn’t just about tasting tempting morsels and drams, although there are plenty of those to be had too. It also features a range of engaging and thought provoking events that encourage visitors to devote some consideration to what they are consuming, and why/how they are doing this. Highlights from amongst the varied programme include:
Eating insects: buzzy, buggy or grubby? – Entomophagy – that’s the human use of insects as a food source, to you and me – has become very much in focus in recent years, as this animal group has been hailed as a cheap and readily available source of protein. Millions of people across the globe regularly eat insects, but they barely make an appearance in western diets. So can they really be the food of the future, or are they just too terrifying to be tasty? (Saturday the 29th of July in the Piccolo tent).
Hipsters and Hobos: Urban Foraging – Certain high end eateries such as Denmark’s – temporarily defunct – Noma, together with TV cooks such as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, have shone a spotlight on how gathering ingredients from the wild – as opposed to the aisles – can result in some superb dishes. Yet you don’t necessarily need to the trek to the countryside to forage interesting and nutritious additions to your cooking, as this event demonstrates. (Saturday 29 July).
Jannettas Gelateria – Back in the day ice cream was, well, a little bit predictable. Sure, it’s nice to nibble on a rum and raisin cone, or spoon up a tub of raspberry ripple. But maybe you haven’t lived until you’ve tasted parmesan and Vegemite gelato, as I find out on a recent trip to Australia. So if you favour savoury over sweet why not join these leading ice cream makers as they demonstrate how umami-laden ingredients are pushing the boundaries of frozen foodstuffs. (Thursday 27 July).
The Great Gin Debate: Part II – Over the last few years artisanal Scottish gin distilleries seem to have sprung up like thistles on a sunny brae. However, are these iconic new Scottish gin brands all they appear, and indeed are some of them even really “Scottish” at all? Find out as gin experts, brand owners, and distillers debate what makes our gin truly Caledonian (Friday 28 July).
And if all that chatter about food and drink makes you hungry and thirsty the festival offers a super array of stalls, serving the likes of “raw soda” on draft, (as well as prosecco for the more mature consumers), spicy Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes, and the best of Scottish seafood, to identify but a very few.
Checking out Checkpoint’s new cocktails (Bristo Place)
Draft prosecco on wheels – what’s not to like?!
Here at Scrumptious Scran Villas we love a nice cocktail – innocent or alcoholic. Well, mostly alcoholic, to be quite frank. So I was naturally intrigued to receive an email informing me that Checkpoint was putting together a special cocktail menu to mark this year’s festival happenings. Situated an ice cube’s throw from the Fringe nexus that is Bristo Square, this airy and laid back, yet trendy, restaurant and bar – think Berlin via Brooklyn – has a really nice vibe to it, which might explain why The Times has named it one of the ’25 coolest restaurants in Britain’.
Whilst still featuring classics such as an Espresso Martini and Negroni (one of my personal favourites) their new menu also celebrates festival time with a batch of specially created offerings designed to provide something a bit surprising and unique in terms of flavour profile. Notable amongst the 18 drinks featured on the list are:
Smoke In The Grass – Zubrowka Bison grass vodka, smoked chai syrup, yellow chartreuse, Peychaud’s bitters, lemon juice, soda
Red Eye – Absolut Vodka, tomato juice, beer and a whole egg
Grow A Pear – Tequila Blanco, pear & black pepper syrup & lemon
And if the ‘Red Eye’ sounds a bit too much like a hangover kill rather than cure, as part of their ‘day break’ menu Checkpoint also offers three inviting variations on the classic Bloody Mary, based on either vodka, gin or mescal. When hanging at the bar do say “Heavy on the smoked chai syrup in my Smoke In The Grass, thanks”. Do not say “Hey, I’d love a Babycham”…
Toasted Radish – “‘Come, Watson, come!’ he cried. ‘The game is afoot….'”
Festival time in Edinburgh is not merely about drama, music and comedy, oh no. As part of the season’s multifaceted artistic offering the city also host’s the world’s largest literary event in the form of the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Perhaps somewhat fitting then that Toasted Radish supper club is paying homage to one of Scotland’s literary legends that is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with a Sherlock Holmes-inspired event taking place in Edinburgh New Town’s historic Arthur Conan Doyle Centre.
Hosted in such a grandiose setting, it isn’t only the architecture that seems set to impress, as the evening’s food is being billed as being “worthy of a crime fiction heavyweight”. And given Toasted Radish’s ethos of using, wherever possible, ingredients sourced within thirty miles of Edinburgh, as well as ensuring meat and vegetables are organic and fish responsibly sourced, all clues suggest this has the potential makings of a highly enjoyable culinary thriller. (Arthur Conan Doyle Centre, 12 August 2017).
If you have any other foodie or drinkie (is there even such a term?) highlights associated with the Edinburgh festival season let us know and we may let our readers know about them too.
A question for all you food, and drink, lovers out there. Who amongst us doesn’t love a good food festival? Glancing around the virtual room, I see all of you have your hands up. Excellent. Yet sometimes I wonder if, like me, fellow foodies can find the scale of some of the big food festivals a wee bit overwhelming, and their offerings slightly unfocused. Well, a new Edinburgh food festival might be about to change all that.
Taking place at Edinburgh’s splendid Summerhall on Sunday 15 June, Savour is billed as a laid-back and convivial event, where visitors “can taste, explore, enjoy and journey around a carefully curated selection of food and drink from some of Edinburgh’s finest local wine merchants, chefs, mixologists and artisan food and drink producers.” Sounds marvellous. So what exactly does Savour offer?
Well, the inviting culinary attractions of Savour are set to include:
The Beer Lab – curated by students from Queen Margaret University’s pioneering MSc in Gastronomy, this promises to be a multi-sensory journey through the history, culture and making of a range of different beers, culminating in a blind taste test. Maybe I need to do some revision in advance…
The Main Course – Fancy dipping into the world of the savoury flavours that Edinburgh has to offer? Well this feast of delicious small dishes – composed from produce on offer from Edinburgh’s chefs, producers and retailers – allows punters to do just that. Yet it isn’t merely about food, as it will be possible to pair your scran with some smashing wine, beer, cocktails and soft drinks that will also be readily available.
The Wine List – is a strand that will bring together some of Edinburgh’s finest merchants – including Callistoga and Sideways Wines, Vino Wines, Bacco Wines, and Appellation Wines – to serve a fantastic range of vino from around the world. And if you sometimes struggle to decide what wine to pair with a particular food, you can experience a glass that perfectly complements some of the dishes available in The Main Course. As if the above attractions were not enough to have foodies flocking to Savour, the festival will also feature: a soft drinks bar, for those not partaking of the beer and wine on offer; a celebration of desserts and pastries; a cheese lounge and larder, dedicated not only to cheese but also offering chutneys, pickles and cordials; and a cider shed offering a range of mouth-watering apple-based alcoholic beverages.
I am very much looking forward to savouring Savour this coming Sunday, so watch out for a detailed review of the event appearing on Scrumptious Scran in the near future.
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!
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.
Chicken perfection with summer veg & lemon butter.
Deliberations complete, we conveyed our food choices, and ordered a bottle of northern Italian Trebbiano/Chardonnay to accompany them. But we were both out of, and in, luck with the wine. A rotation of what was stocked in the cellar meant our first choice wasn’t currently available, yet an alternate, comparable crisp white was immediately suggested. Plainly, the front of house really knows its way round the menu and wine list. In fact, all the front of house staff we encountered – and our server, Emma, in particular – were really knowledgeable and engaging.
Our antipasti arrived promptly, and looked very appetising. It tasted just as good. JML’s asparagus and baby leaf salad with Caesar dressing featured half a dozen perfectly cooked spears adorned by a rich (but not heavy) sauce laden with savoury Parmesan and anchovy flavours, which was a perfect partner to the fresh grassiness of the asparagus. The accompanying chunky hearts of baby little gem lettuce, however, seemed a bit lost amongst the intense flavours provided by the other ingredients – maybe lightly braising them might have been the tweak they needed.
Luxurious lobster and prawn spaghetti.
I rarely order salmon when dining out, but was intrigued by the home cured salmon tatare and quail’s egg with crème fraiche and green gazpacho. It was an excellent choice. Served up was a sumptuous disk of finely chopped salmon, not only bursting with fish flavour, but also citrus and dill from the cure. Add to this the creaminess of the crème fraiche with the soft-centred egg, and the spring-fresh taste of the gazpacho, the overall combination proved to be a delightfully accomplished starter.
Seafood was also at the centre of JML’s main, in the form of a luxurious-sounding lobster and prawn spaghetti in tomato sauce. I wondered if the shellfish might be a bit overwhelmed by the rest of the ingredients, but this wasn’t the case at all. The pasta was fresh and really well cooked, the tomato sauce was light and well flavoured with a touch of chili and garlic, all of which allowed the sweet seafood flavours provided by the lobster and prawns to really shine through.The combination was simply clever and delicious.
“Gusto Bellini” – bravissimo!
My roast chicken breast with summer vegetables and a lemon butter was chosen for two reasons. Firstly, I really liked the sound of the summery flavours; and secondly, chicken breast can be a litmus test for the competence of a kitchen, as it can be very easy to over-cook. Well, Gusto‘s kitchen certainly passed the test with flying colours. The chicken had a lovely crisp skin and beautifully succulent flesh. The batons of vegetables it sat atop were tasty and cooked to slightly al dente, which I really liked. The lemon butter sauce was luxuriant and citrusy, without overwhelming the dish. Perfect summer flavours, especially when combined with the sweet-earthy-saltiness of my side of sautéed fagioli beans with pancetta and balsamic glaze.
I have to say that I wasn’t surprised when JML declared that, in terms of pudding, he was going to choose the chocolate mousse with salted caramel and cappuccino cream. Served in a cup to cleverly mimic a frothy coffee, this was lovely and rich, with deep chocolate being really well accented by the saltiness of the caramel and the creamy java hit. My Gusto Bellini was really a melding of both a sweet and a cocktail, consisting of peach and Prosecco jelly served in a champagne saucer and topped with a Prosecco foam. It was simultaneously light, fruity and fizzy; a really elegantly splendid way to conclude the meal.
Chocolate-caramel mousse disguised as a cappuccino.
So, having now test-driven Gusto‘s summer menu I suppose the question that is going begging is “would I return as a paying customer?” The answer to that is “most definitely.” I was impressed not only with what we sampled, but also the look of the other dishes as they flew from the kitchen to be served to the ladies who lunch, thirty-something couples, and groups of trendy young students that were our fellow diners.
I have eaten at another Italian-inspired restaurant on George Street, one that has “celebrity” associations and is a bit brassy and brash in emphasising its “Italian” credentials. Frankly, I was a somewhat underwhelmed by my whole experience there. By contrast, Gusto certainly hits the spot in terms of its stylishly-relaxed continental vibe, and serves a really well put together Italian menu that is reasonably priced for what is on offer. So, if you are seeking a Mediterranean-influenced meal that is “bravissimo” do consider giving Gusto a go.
Food 8/10 Drink 8/10 Service 8/10 Value 7.5/10
Ambience – Expect a stylish, yet relaxed Italian bistro.
For this review, we dined at the invitation of Gusto.
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.
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.
A beautiful ballotine of ox tongue with beetroot & balsamic.
Now it might be pertinent to point out that the menu at Castle Terrace is an accomplished piece of minimalist prose. Each dish is introduced by its main ingredient, followed by a concise description of how this is prepared and the other constituents accompanying it. Thus JML’s starter of “salmon” transpired to be a generously plump and glossy raviolo that concealed a superbly moist morsel of Loch Duart salmon. This was all bathed – by the waiter at the table no less – in refreshingly light consommé that brilliantly combined the piscine and pasta flavours with undertones of lemon, tarragon and cucumber. It was a dish that was both superbly simple and satisfyingly theatrical in equal measure.
My first course of “ox” presented an alluring pink disk of ballotine of Blackford Estate ox tongue surrounded by shards of heritage beetroot and tiny jewels of aged balsamic reduction. It looked like a gastronomic reproduction of an ancient Greek sunburst motif. It tasted heavenly, with the rich gaminess of the tongue being in complete harmony with a light touch of horseradish heat, earthy beet flavours, and a sweet acidic accent provided by the vinegar jus.
Succulent hake on a bed of squid, peppers & olives.
For my main dish I went for fish, or “hake” to be precise. This was a chunky fillet from the North Sea, placed on a bed of sautéed North Sea squid, peppers, black olives and garlic. From the menu’s description, this was to be an uncomplicated plate with “gently cooked” fish. Delivered to our table was something truly memorable. The hake had an incredible succulence and depth of flavour that suggested it had been cooked a la confit. Combined with sweet-savouriness from the peppers and olives, and the subtle seafood overtones contributed by the tender squid, this was a really accomplished and massively enjoyable dish.
Across the table, JML’s modestly described main of “chicken from Burnside Farm served on spring pearl barley risotto” was a feast for the eyes, as well as the mouth. The intensely pea-green barley risotto burst with complex spring-vegetable flavours. The chicken atop this displayed a crisply golden exterior that concealed tender flesh that packed a really meaty, but perfectly judged, punch on reaching the taste buds. Altogether, this was another top-rate plate.
Zesty lemon cheese cake with ginger ice cream.
Now I don’t know if it was because our first two courses had been so outstanding in terms of their visuals and flavours, but our puddings seemed a little more straightforward by comparison. JML certainly tucked into his creamy, vanilla-infused, caramel crusted crème brûlée with gusto. Equally, I really enjoyed the citrus tang of my lemon cheesecake, together with the ginger kick provided by the accompanying quenelle of ice-cream, which was also another beautifully presented dish.
They were both very nice sweets, but maybe by this point in the meal we had come to expect fireworks. The white desert wines that accompanied our final course were smashing, as were the other glasses of white from France, Spain and New Zealand specifically chosen to match each of our other dishes. All were excellently paired with our food.
In anyone’s terms, our visit to Castle Terrace turned out to be a truly terrific dining experience. But when you consider we were treated to a three course lunch from a Michelin-starred chef, accompanied by matching wines, for less than £55 per diner, what we sampled was incredible.
It most certainly won’t be long before I pay a return visit to the restaurant, maybe this time to sample the more expansive à la carte offering. With a venue that pays so much attention to what they serve, and how they serve it, surely it won’t be too long before Castle Terrace is displaying two Michelin stars above its door.
Food – 9/10 Atmosphere – 8/10 Service – 8.5/10 Value – 9/10
Ambience – Expect a welcoming, high class restaurant ambience.
A thought entered my head the other day. “I really must post more recipes on the blog that involve baking” is how the thought went. Those of you who are regular followers of Scrumptious Scran will know from my “quaking baking” post that my control-freakery makes me a bit afraid of cooking bread, cakes and tarts. I’m generally fine mixing the ingredients together, it’s when these riches have to be abandoned in the oven – a bit like a parent leaving a child on its first day at school – that I start to fret. I mean, what if they just sit there without doing what’s expected of them?
Cake mixture in lined tin, ready for the oven.
I had mixed feelings a couple of weeks ago, when one of my work colleagues – who knew I was a food blogger – suggested I might want to contribute to a charity bake sale at work, in aid of Sport Relief. Deep down, I knew this was the sort of challenge I needed to encourage me to have another bash at a baking recipe. But what if the dish I produced was rubbish and nobody wanted to buy any of it? Oh, the potential shame! In order to avert such a disaster I would have to choose my recipe carefully, deciding upon something that was relatively simple to prepare, pretty foolproof to bake, AND that looked and tasted good. It also occurred to me that it might be nice to produce something that wasn’t entirely based on flour, eggs, butter and sugar.
So, following a bit of anxious preparation and cooking last night, today I arrived at my work’s Sport Relief bake sale proudly clutching, what I at least thought, a pretty good looking lemon drizzle polenta cake. A deep yellow disc made shiny by the addition of lemon syrup, not only did it look pleasing, it actually tasted pretty good – and that isn’t just my immodest opinion. A number of my colleagues who purchased a slice of this unusual take on a sponge also pronounced it to be very tasty indeed.
By substituting polenta and almonds for flour, this cake has a firmer texture than traditional sponge, but is still light and moist. The addition of the juice and zest of four lemons give it an intense citrus kick, which provides a great contrast to the nutty sweetness provided by the other ingredients. But for me, the really alluring thing about this recipe is that it is so simple and straightforward execute. It could easily be made in advance of a dinner party, and turned into a really posh pudding through the addition of a fruit compote, or some decadently indulgent Pedro Ximénez sherry and raisin ice cream. So even if you – like me – are not a natural baker, dust down your cake tins and do give this a try.
Thanks to Dove’s Farm for originally posting this recipe on their website.
150g unsalted butter.
150g castor sugar.
3 large eggs.
75g ground almonds.
75g medium ground polenta.
4 lemons, zested and juiced.
1/2 tsp baking powder.
Preparation and cooking
Preheat your oven to 170C/Fan 150C.
Oil a 20cm cake tin and line it with baking parchment – I prefer silicon coated.
Beat the butter – take it out the fridge in advance to ensure it is soft enough – and 150g of sugar together until smooth, pale and light.
Beat the eggs into the mixture, one at a time.
Mix in the ground almonds and baking powder.
Stir in all of the lemon zest and half the lemon juice.
Gently stir the polenta into the mixture
Spoon the mixture into the lined cake tin so it forms an even layer.
Bake for 40-45 minutes until firm and golden. Remove from the oven and allow the cake to cool in the tin.
Put the remaining lemon juice into a saucepan with 50g sugar.
Boil gently, stirring regularly, for around 5 minutes, until a thick syrup is formed.
Poor the syrup of the surface of the cake, and allow to fully cool before removing from the tin.
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.
Just as when we thought we’d finished placing our order, our server – and I should point out that the front of house staff really know the menu, and how to make diners feel at ease – drew our attention to the “side bar” section of the carte. A side order of crispy pig’s ear, smoked Maldon salt and aioli – oh why ever not?! And as our starters appeared so did a beautifully crisp – yet fruity – bottle of Marqués de Altillo Rioja blanco.
Ham hock hash & hollandaise.
Our choice of wine proved an ideal accompaniment to JML’s first course of ham hock hash cake, with poached egg and hollandaise. This proved to be a generous, round slab of fried mashed potato combined with meaty morsels exuding delicious smoked porcine flavours, and brilliantly set off with silky-smooth sauce and an egg poached to perfection. To be honest, it was a challenge to solicit a forkful from my dining partner for me to try. My choice of starter counts as one of my all-time favourite dishes, so the pressure was on – but I needn’t have worried. The plate of crispy whitebait that landed on the table was absolutely spot on, harbouring an intense taste of seafood which was further enhanced by being dipped in the accompanying citrus-infused mayonnaise. This was most definitely good mood food.
For his main course, JML moved from ham to lamb – a dry spice rubbed rump (to be precise) accompanied by mint yoghurt, Moroccan aubergine and flatbread. When carved, the meat was a perfectly-cooked pink, with its great taste being further enhanced by a coating of North African spiciness. Together with the well-matched accompanying ingredients, this was a plate that would definitely have you believe you were dining nearer Marrakech than Marchmont!
Fab pheasant – but maybe a bit more saucy?
My choice of pheasant breast wrapped in prosciutto, pigeon breast, crème potato mash, braised red cabbage, and red wine jus presented perhaps the only slight blip in what was turning into an excellent evening. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a bad dish at all, with the pheasant being richly gamey and succulent (which can be hard to achieve this late in the season), and the accompanying prosciutto and red cabbage respectively adding nice salty and fruity contrast. But the crème mash could have maybe been a wee bit more, well creamy, and it would have been nice to have had more of a puddle of the wine reduction on the plate. It’s probably just that the starters had set the bar very high. We couldn’t fault the side of crispy, salted, shredded pig’s ear, mind – imagine sweet, crisp, umami-laden slithers of pork scratching, and you’ll be getting there.
Having put away two pretty accomplished courses, we paused for breath before consuming pudding. This gave me time to properly take in the ambience of The Apiary, and I have to say the team behind it have managed to create a really pleasingly informal – but not too laid back – vibe, the kind that can be frequently encountered when dining in decent bistros on continental Europe. A commendable achievement in a building that was formerly a bank.
A cracking coconut & cardamom sponge.
And so to the desserts… I went for the warm coconut and cardamom sponge, with a Malibu and lime syrup and vanilla ice cream. It was light, yet packed with exotic coconut richness, which combined tremendously with the subtle floral hint provided by the cardamom, and the zingy notes coming from the lime syrup. Plus the ice cream was excellent, too. Across the table from me, an absolute triumph of a sweet was being consumed. The combination of a chocolate and brioche butter pudding, with orange zest, chocolate and stem ginger ice cream, and crème anglaise was something magical. It tasted every bit as warming and comforting as it looked, and those are the words spoken by someone who claims not to have a sweet tooth.
This restaurant is a cracking wee find. It’s friendly, without being too casual; the front of house staff are simply charming; and the kitchen turns out some fantastically enjoyable and inventive food, yet without making it overly complicated. It also offers some excellent lunch and pre-theatre deals. To be honest, it’s the sort of place you’d probably like to keep as your little secret. But that wouldn’t be fair. So, as the long winter closes (or at any other time of year, for that matter) if you want to put a spring in your step, make a beeline for The Apiary.
Food 8/10 Atmosphere 8/10 Service 8/10 Value 8/10
Ambience – Expect a venue with a relaxed – but elegant – bistro/café ambience.
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.
The frontage of Ad Lib is certainly understated – not the brash Americana one might expect, given its culinary specialisation – and my first thought on stepping through the door was that the place was “toty”. Yet I was actually greeted by a slim, but cleverly stylish, dining space leading to the bar and main restaurant area, and which matches vermillion walls, cubic wooden furniture and tasteful, US-influenced artwork. Collectively, this had more of a nod to Frank Lloyd Wright than Trump Towers, I am pleased to say. Beyond the bar the airy dining room offers more of this stylish, Greenwich Village-esque vibe. But enough already about the décor, what about the food?
Ad Lib’s lunch menu is engaging in a “I really can’t make up my mind what to have” sort of way. Inviting sounding starters and mains, deli salads and sandwiches, gourmet burgers, steak AND lobster (I kid you not), and a burgeoning specials board all vie for attention. Now, for the purposes of this review I shall be focusing on what JML and I consumed, given that trying to cover what eight people were eating might just stretch a point a wee bit too far. Oh, and in terms of drinks, I should point out that Ad Lib serves the excellent Portuguese lager that is Sagres on draft, meaning this was our quaff of choice. So…
That really is a “Big Burrito”.
In choosing a dish to kick of proceedings, I was somewhat torn. The salt and pepper squid, and Cajun prawn popcorn both sounded really inviting, but in the end it was the sticky molasses baby back ribs, with chilli and star anise than won me over. They certainly did not disappoint, featuring perfectly tender meat adorned in a tackily sweet-rich-spicy sauce, topped with a zingy fresh tomato salsa. Truly splendid. JML’s starter consisted of three ‘sliders’ (why so named?) – mini classic Aberdeen angus burgers accompanied by an onion relish. These were certainly tasty, with the relish providing a nice contrast to the umami flavour of the beef, but maybe the burgers were just ever so slightly on the dry side.
A lovely basket-o-fish.
Deciding on a main was an equally involved affair, especially when the specials board was also brought into play. It was the “Big Burrito” that caught JML’s attention, and this turned out to be a dish that could under no circumstances be accused of being misdescribed. What arrived was a gargantuan portion of seared stake, combined with chorizo, red rice, and black beans, all neatly encased in a dustbin lid-sized tortilla, and topped off with fresh salsa and sour cream. It was a plateful that would not look out of place on Man Versus Food, but the fact that it presented little challenge for my dining companion indicated just how good it was. Having started with turf, I moved onto surf for my main course, deciding to try the intriguingly named Bloody Mary basket ’o’ fish. This transpired to consist of an excellently cooked portion of haddock, bream and king prawns, all coated in a rich – but light – tomato infused batter, and sat upon a mini washing basket of skinny fries. Only a bit more kick and smokiness from the accompanying smoked chilli mayo would have made this really good dish a great one.
Sundae, scrummy sundae.
By the time it came to ordering sweets, I must admit that we were flagging, as were our waistlines. But so cannily persuasive were the young restaurant staff that we crumbled – we were signed up to the authentic US diner experience, after all. My New York ice cream waffle sundae – accompanied with hot toffee sauce, toasted pecans and berries – provided a good combination of textures flavours, even for someone who is a bit of a self-proclaimed “pudding-o-phobe”. Across the table, a home baked millionaires’ shortbread cheesecake was efficiently dispatched. Very pleasant, but a bit heavy after the “Big Burrito”, was JML’s opinion. Oh, and not enough evidence of the shortbread. Probably wouldn’t have been shopping on Fifth Avenue, as a result.
There is very much to like about Ad Lib. It’s a welcoming restaurant that is simultaneously stylish, yet laid back. It captures the essence of what makes American deli food so tempting and scrumptious, without turning itself into a pastiche. So if you are hungry in GLA and fancy a taste of NYC, be sure to check out this easy-going eatery.
Food 7.5/10 Drink 7/10 Service 7/10 Value 7.5/10
Ambience – Expect a stylish, yet laid back diner-come-bistro.
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