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blog/ Edinburgh/ food/ haggis/ neeps/ recipe/ Robert Burns/ supper/ tatties/ whisky/ wine reduction

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

Reconstructed Scottish classic – haggis, neeps & tatties.

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

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

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

Chieftain of the pudding race ready for cooking.

Haggis might not sound appetising to everyone but it is the original “nose to tail” food, and tastes delicious. And these days, equally tasty vegetarian versions of the “chieftain of the pudding race” – as Burns called the dish – are readily available. This got me thinking that tradition is great, but tastes evolve and progress. Scotland’s culinary scene is now very different – and dare I say much more diverse and sophisticated – to how it was even a couple of decades ago. So why not try a reconstructed take on haggis, neeps and tatties for Burns night or indeed any other dinner that takes one’s fancy?

 So I give you a stack of whisky infused haggis and crushed neeps with chilli and sage butter, topped with a garlic and thyme flavoured fondant potato, and served with stock and red wine reduction.  At the risk of appearing immodest, it tastes as good as it looks. As Burns so eloquently put it, in Address to a Haggis.

And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin’, rich!

Oh, and remember – you don’t have to limit haggis, neeps and tatties only to Burns night. It’s a great dish for any autumn or winter evening…

Recipe will feed two people generously.


  • One small haggis (either meat-based or vegetarian) of good quality, such as those made by MacSween or Simon Howie
  • 1 small, or half a large, turnip (swede) peeled and cut into 1-2cm cubes
  • 1 very large or two large potatoes, peeled
  • A few fresh sage leaves, lightly crushed
  • 1 red chilli – deseeded if you prefer less heat – finely sliced
  • 250ml of good quality chicken or vegetable stock (for the fondant potatoes)
  • Around 400ml of good quality beef or vegetable stock (for the reduction)
  • A large glass of decent red wine – about 250ml – if you wouldn’t drink it don’t cook with it, is my rule!
  • Unsalted butter – for frying the potatoes and adding to the ‘neeps.
  • A good nip of decent whisky – see guidance on wine (above)
  • A couple of cloves of garlic, peeled but left whole
  • A couple of sprigs of thyme
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste.

Preparation and cooking

  1. Cook the haggis as per the maker’s instructions – I always think traditional simmering is better than microwaving, even if this takes longer.
  2. Place the turnip (swede) chunks into a saucepan, fill with water and add a generous pinch of salt. Bring to the boil, then turn down to a simmer and cover, cooking until the chunks become tender (about 10-15 minutes should do it).
  3. Whilst the turnips are cooking gently melt a good chunk of butter (about 30-50g) in a saucepan and when this begins to foam add the crushed sage. Turn off the heat. Now add the chilli to the butter and sage, swirling the mixture around for a few seconds, and set aside.
  4. To prepare the fondant potatoes trim the top and bottom off the peeled spud(s) and cut out two round shapes about three or four centimetres thick – a cookie cutter can help with this and if you want to be really “cheffie” trim off (turn) the edges to make a bevelled shape. Set aside in a bowl of cold water with a squeeze of lemon until ready to cook.
  5. Once the turnips are cooked drain them and add the sage and chilli butter – having first removed the sage leaves. Mash until getting towards smooth but still with a bit of texture (you are not looking for a cream). Season to taste and set aside until the haggis is ready.
  6. When the haggis is cooked remove the minced contents from the surrounding casing and place in a bowl. Pour in the nip of whisky and stir into the haggis “meat”. If it is a decent specimen, it will need no further seasoning.
  7. Lightly oil a non-stick baking tray/sheet and the inside of two cooking rings – around 10cm in width and 6cm tall. Place the rings on the baking sheet, divide the haggis between each of them, and firm down with the back of a spoon. 
  8. Next divide the crushed neeps between the rings, to form a layer on top of the haggis. Firm down and smooth the top surface. Brush with a little melted butter. Put the stacks into a preheated oven to 170 degrees Celsius for around 25mins, until thoroughly warmed through.
  9. Put the stock and wine for the reduction in a saucepan and place on a high heat. On a fast simmer reduce until 2/3 of the liquid has evaporated. Keep an eye on it and turn off the heat, and re-warm before serving, if the reduction is quick. You should be after a moderately thick, silky sauce.
  10. Melt a good lump of butter in a medium size frying or sauté pan, over a medium heat. Drain the potatoes and pat dry. When the butter is foaming put the fondants in the pan and fry for around five minutes until the side in contact with the pan becomes golden. 
  11. Turn over the potatoes and fry for a further five minutes – or so – until the other side is also golden. Add the stock, followed by garlic and thyme, cover and simmer until the potatoes become tender. Keep warm.
  12. When the haggis and neeps stacks are ready, carefully remove them from the cooking ring and place each one on the centre of a warmed dinner plate. Arrange a warm fondant potato on top of each stack. 
  13. Spoon a generous serving of the wine and stock reduction around each stack, and serve.

Although traditionally haggis, neeps and tatties are served on their own, they go well with green vegetables, such as the braised leeks that accompanied my take on the dish.

aromatics/ blog/ brining/ Edinburgh/ Feature/ fish/ food/ herbs/ salting/ spices/ turkey

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

brine in a bucket ready for the turkey
A fine brine, ready to work its magic.

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

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

home cured salt fish on a plate
Delicious, home-made salt fish.

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

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

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

a turkey in a bucket ready for brining
Horatio the turkey, ready for a brine bath.

So at lunchtime last Christmas eve Horatio the turkey was deposited into a lidded plastic tub together with sufficient salt, sugar and water to make a brine, and a whole host of herbs and spices – bay leaves, cloves, allspice berries, cinnamon sticks, star anise, peppercorns, juniper berries, clementine juice and peel, thyme, parsley and onions. Then into the fridge it went, until about an hour before cooking Christmas dinner was due to commence, whence it was drained, dried and brought up to room temperature. A mere two and a half hours in the oven – I certainly wasn’t going to overcook the turkey, as much as I wasn’t going to undercook it either – and the bird looked and smelled perfect. But how did it taste?

To be honest, it was blinking amazing. My father-in-law proclaimed it was the most moist, tastiest turkey he had ever sampled. The flesh was truly tender and not at all dry – which was down to more than just the quality of the bird, as the brining process helps lock moisture into the meat. And it had an almost mild gamey flavour, somewhere between guinea fowl and pheasant, but also with a very subtle hint of the aromatics that had gone into brine. This is certainly how I shall prepare our turkey from now on, but brining is not just for Christmas, as Jane Grigson’s recipes for salt duck and spiced salt beef clearly demonstrate. Watch this space!

bistro/ blog/ Edinburgh/ food/ review/ Scottish

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.

Rich chicken & chorizo with butter beans.

My starter of mussels in a white wine and cream sauce was tasty enough. The shellfish were plump, but the white granular substance covering them indicated the cream had split from the sauce during cooking.  Plus, the accompanying chunk of bread was a tad dry, as if it had been cut for a while. JML’s goats’ cheese tart was nicely presented and appetising, but was somewhat dominated by the inclusion of a whole round of baked cheese. The dishes of smoked duck, and smoked salmon seemed to be eagerly consumed across the table from us – the later accompanied by a gluten-free toast which was surprisingly tasty.

Another bottle of wine arrived – thankfully, this time opened and poured – at the same time as our mains. To be honest, my chargrilled rump of lamb was lovely. It possessed just the right level of rareness and its Madeira sauce matched it well. The accompanying Boulangère potatoes were adequate enough – though they would have benefited from some crispness to their surface, but the whole roast pepper and turned artichoke didn’t contrast the richness of the meat as much as I had hoped.

Pork two ways, with a zippy pepper sauce.

JML decided on the “home made” shepherd’s pie, which was – as the menu description suggested –homely rather than tantalisingly tasty. Our friends variously plumbed for chicken with chorizo, and the pork belly and loin. The chicken was moist and nicely accompanied by butter beans and chunks of spicy sausage, but in combination with a cream sauce maybe the sum of the dish was a little over rich. In relation to the pork-fest, the belly was very nicely cooked with a deep flavour, but the loin was slightly underwhelming, and whilst the sweet pepper coulis added tasty zippiness this highlighted that the accompanying fondant potato and honeyed carrots were a bit insipid, by comparison.

This being a lunch-time get together, we decided to forgo puddings, choosing instead to share a plate of “fine Scottish cheeses” with biscuits and home-made chutney, whilst we drank our coffees. The cheeses were nice enough, but I don’t recall any indication being given of what they were, or where in Scotland they hailed from. It could be that we were all a bit too busy chatting, however…

All in all, I think my re-acquaintance with The Doric left me a bit flat. It wasn’t an awful experience by any means, but in the intervening years since I regularly crossed its threshold I think the venue and its cooking has become a wee bit tired. And with the prices of some of the mains roughly comparable with those served by such trendy and celebrated newcomers as Kitchin’s The Scran and Scally and Greenaway’s Bistro Moderene, it might be high time for The Doric to contemplate a bit of a refresh.

Food – 6/10
Atmosphere -6/10
Service -6.5/10
Value – 5.5/10

Ambience – Expect a bistro/gastro-pub experience.

Doric Tavern on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

blog/ chilli/ Edinburgh/ eggs/ food/ Mexican/ peppers/ recipe/ tomatoes

Recipe: A brunch that’s “muy bien” – Huevos rancheros (rancher’s eggs)

Tasty huevos!

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

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

Bring on the toms & eggs…

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

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

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

 ¡Buen provecho!


  • A good glug of olive oil (3-4 tbsp)
  • 1 medium onion, finely sliced
  • 1 red pepper, deseeded and chopped
  • 1 fat clove of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
  • Half a dozen (or so) large chestnut mushrooms, wiped and sliced
  • A good pinch (dependent on how spicy, and the preferred level of heat) of dried chilli flakes
  • A 400g tin or carton of good quality chopped tomatoes
  • A generous squirt of tomato puree 
  • ½ tsp thyme leaves (preferably fresh, and chopped)
  • 1 bay leaf (again, fresh if available)
  • 2 large eggs – hen or duck
  • Salt and pepper, to taste.

Preparation and cooking

  1. In a medium sized frying pan heat the oil over a medium heat, until hot but not smoking. Add a pinch of salt followed by the onion and pepper. Fry until they begin to soften, stirring to ensure they don’t brown.
  2. Add the garlic, and chilli flakes, give a good stir and cook for a further minute.
  3. Now add the mushrooms and continue to cook for a couple of minutes until softened and just starting to take on some colour.
  4. Pour in the tomatoes, followed by the tomato puree, thyme and bay leaf. Give the ingredients a good mix and when bubbling turn down the heat and simmer until the sauce thickens. Check the seasoning.
  5. With the back of a tablespoon, make two indents in the tomato sauce and crack an egg into each of these. Place a lid or plate over the frying pan and cook until the eggs just set.
  6. Serve at once with lots of sliced bread, or tortillas and refried beans, depending on your mood…
Bite magazine/ Edinburgh/ restaurant/ review

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.

blog/ Cod/ coley/ Edinburgh/ food/ preserve/ recipe/ salt/ Tim Hayward

Feature Article: A cure for cod – I hope…

Coley, awaiting more cure.

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

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

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

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

Cured, wrapped, now dry…

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

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

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

BBC/ blog/ Edinburgh/ food/ Glasgow/ review/ Scotland/ show

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.

Hebridean Sea Salt – who hand produce salt from the Atlantic waters off the Isle of Lewis. If the “base” product wasn’t great enough, they also have seaweed infused and smoked varieties. Trust me; you have to try these to fully appreciate how they go beyond merely being defined as a “condiment”.

The Big Cheese Making Kit – happened upon these lovely people on the stand promoting produce from East Lothian. I have always harboured a secret desire to make my own cheese and these kits look like an ideal answer. The kits include ones for producing Mozzarella, Ricotta and (the one I intend to try) goats cheese.

The Little Herb Farm – was at GFFS thanks to being awarded a bursary by the show. Their lovely herb-infused, fruit and botanical vinegars – as well as smashing herb jellies – clearly demonstrated why they had earned such an accolade. I can’t do justice to their rhubarb vinegar in print; you will just have to try it yourself…

Supernature – sharing its name with a fine album by Goldfrapp, this company produces delicious, cold-pressed rapeseed oil a stone’s through from Scrumptious Scran Towers. Not only is their healthy and subtly rich “base” product a world away from what might be found on supermarket shelves, a range of oils flavoured with the likes of lemon and coriander is also available. I could have left with armfuls of bottles.

The Little Round Cake Company – interestingly the descriptors “little” and “wee” seemed to feature in a fair few producers’ names. But look at the picture of the “merangz” – nowt little about those, I am sure you will agree?

Equi’s Ice Cream – Scotland is blessed by a rich vein of foodie entrepreneurs who have Italian roots, and this family-run business provides some amazing gelati – the dolce latte and raisin flavours, in particular, were chin-drippingly good.

Kelly Bronze – I love a traditional turkey at Christmas, but nothing graces the table of Scrumptious Scran Towers unless it is a truly free-range fowl, from a breed that imparts great flavour. For the last few years our Christmas feast of choice has come from the Home Counties, but having seen how good these turkeys look, this year I hope to report back on a tasty Scottish bird…

Sincere thanks go to the BBC Good Food Scotland Show press and blogging team for facilitating my visit.

American/ Bite magazine/ Edinburgh/ restaurant/ review

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.

The Californian-inspired food (3 courses for £25pp) impressed too. I started with a flavoursome spicy chicken and sweet potato frittata, well complemented by a smokey BBQ sauce. The enthusiasm with which JML consumed his Manchego, feta and mozzarella flat bread with arugula (that’s Californian for rocket) pesto indicated how tasty this was.

Fab Flatiron and fries.
Fab Flatiron and fries.

Our mains were carnivorous. JML’s slow cooked pork shoulder was smashingly tender, without falling apart, and the accompanying chorizo mash and rosemary jus provided a great flavour balance to the meat. My chargrilled Buccleuch flat iron steak, with fries and a peppercorn sauce sounded uncomplicated. However, this American shoulder cut of beef was one of the best steaks I have sampled, smokey black outside with a meltingly moist pink interior…

Read the full review at:

Great strawberry cheesecake.
More on this tasty pud in the full review.

Calistoga on Urbanspoon Square Meal

blog/ coffee/ Edinburgh/ food/ restaurant/ review

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.

Back at lunchtime, I grabbed a very good baguette and some water prior to meeting a colleague for a catch-up coffee. The sandwich combined really fresh bread, lovely Emmental, and tasty salt beef. I needed to scoff, swig and check emails. I asked about the WiFi password – but the WiFi wasn’t on. As the venue’s website indicates, “From Monday 16 September, to ensure that everyone that wants to have lunch at Brew Lab can do so, our wifi will turn off automatically from 11:45-14:00 Mon-Fri during term-time”. How would I know this before dining – I had no internet connection?! Plus the walls are so thick, mobile connections are very patchy. “It’s to ensure we converse over lunch” is what the students on the table next to me assumed. No, it’s a cynical attempt to maximise covers at the expense of customer satisfaction, I might wager.  This really must be the only coffee shop in Edinburgh not to offer WiFi to its customers at peak times.  And what really gets my goat is that it isn’t made absolutely obvious that there is no lunchtime WiFi, prior to punters purchasing coffee or food.  A sign, making this glaringly obvious, is badly needed…

When my colleague arrived, I trotted off to the lab/barista area to order coffees and cake – the gluten free Bakewell tart is superb. However, Brew Lab doesn’t go for table service, but rather a system of ordering at the bar with subsequent delivery to the table. This is a big mistake. I do not wish to wait for ten minutes to be served whilst the two punters before me dance a tango with a front of house person continually rebooting a totally erratic card machine. This being whilst the other six staff working the “lab” area appeared oblivious to the, increasingly fractious, cash laden queue.  The way service operates means at busy times – and the place was packed on this particular lunchtime – punters either have to take a chance on buying “sit-in” coffee and food but having nowhere to sit, or (as I witnessed) place an order then skip off to check there are seats, before this is processed. Whilst customers who have bagged tables are left queueing to place orders…

To be honest, I am annoyed, because this place could achieve so much more of what it promises. Maybe it’s my age and the fact that the weather was rubbish. But I have experienced similar, equally impressive, coffee bars in the USA and Europe, each of which are very much better in how they deliver the customer experience. The base product – drinks, pastries, and sandwiches – cannot be faulted. The coffee is amazing. But this is not a place that should be run like a student union canteen. It positions itself as a top end coffee joint. Well, it could be…

Food 7.5/10
Drink 9.5/10
Service 4.5/10
Value 6.5/10
Ambience – A scruffy yet posh coffee shop, without WiFi at lunchtime.

Brew Lab Artisan Coffee Bar on Urbanspoon

Bite magazine/ Edinburgh/ restaurant/ review/ Scottish

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:

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