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Edinburgh Restaurant Review: The spice is right – Mother India’s Café

Mother India's Cafe montage.
Mother India’s fare (courtesy of their website). 

I suppose I am what might be termed as a ‘honourary’ Scot. I’ve lived the majority of my life north of the border, and am hitched to a “Weegie”. My vocabulary is now littered with Scots phrases – an overcast morning isn’t “dull”, but rather “gey dreich”. Yet listen carefully and there is sometimes still a wee hint in my voice betraying that I originally hail from the UK’s Curry Capital. Not Glasgow (obviously), nor Bradford, Manchester or London’s Brick Lane. For by birth, I am a Brummie.

I adore Asian food, and I think my growing up in a city where a substantial proportion of the population can trace its heritage to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh has much to do with this. I went to school in a part of Birmingham that was blessed with a plethora of Asian-run shops and eateries. I still have vivid memories of walking past these, taking in the sights of the (then) weird, yet wonderful-looking, fruit and vegetables displayed outside grocers’ shops and the amazing smells of cooking spices as they emanated from restaurants.

Last weekend, with my parents visiting from Birmingham, I was keen to show them that great Indian cooking isn’t only the preserve of the city of my birth. And in Edinburgh there is no finer place to demonstrate this than Mother India’s Café. Located just off “The Bridges” on Infirmary Street (EH1 1LT) this has been an incredibly popular restaurant since its opening five years ago. Even at 6.30pm on a Friday the main dining area was packed, so we were shown to our table in the restaurant’s basement, which was thankfully was not dark and dingy as some subterranean eateries can be. No clichéd flock wallpaper or piped sitar music to be found here though, oh no – just modern, minimalist furniture complementing the white-washed walls, which are adorned with arty photos portraying life across the Indian sub-continent.

Equally refreshing is the restaurant’s menu. Mother India’s Café serves an Indian take on tapas – sometimes also referred to as tiffin. Their a la carte menu features a staggering 42 dishes, as well as daily specials and accompaniments such as various forms of bread and rice. Non-meat eaters are very well served, as nearly half the dishes available are either vegetarian or vegan. As recommended by the restaurant, we decided to order five or six dishes between us, accompanied by a couple of portions of naan bread and basmati rice. The very courteous waiting staff obviously know the menu inside out, as they were immediately able to suggest something suitable for my Mother, who doesn’t have a particular soft spot for dishes heavy on chilli.

Whilst our mains were being cooked, we were served the ubiquitous poppadums accompanied by some very tasty (and I suspect home-made) pickles and chutneys, variously washed down with warm, cinnamon-infused chai and cool Kingfisher larger. Our curry “tapas” duly arrived in short order, together with substantial naans and steaming fluffy rice. All dishes looked vibrant, being presented in their miniature balti dishes and casserole pots.

The lamb saag was rich, the succulent meat being bathed in an earthy, spinach-laden sauce with a hint of methi. Two of our chicken-based dishes – chilli garlic chicken, and ginger chicken and spinach leaf – superficially looked quite similar, with tender pieces of breast and thigh surrounded by a deep (but not artificial) red sauce. Tasting revealed them to be quite different, with the chilli garlic chicken having a real kick – as might be expected – and the ginger-based dish having more subtle, fruity warmth.

The chicken makhni (which means butter) consisted of delicate meat accompanied by a substantial, creamy gravy, though whilst not in the least bit hot to taste still had a spicy depth. The spiced haddock – a bit of an unfamiliar wildcard amongst our order – was quite a revelation, consisting of a substantial fillet of fish marinaded in a Punjabi spice blend and then perfectly baked en papilliote. And last, but not least, the lamb karahi matched the fruitiness from the tomato-based sauce with an intensity of flavour provided by chilli and masala.

All of the dishes we consumed had a real zesty freshness to them, which hinted that they were cooked to order. They also exhibited none of the cloying oiliness that can sometimes be present in Indian takeaway fare. And whilst the portions served at Mother India’s Café are purposely quite small, five or six of these shared between four people makes for a substantial meal.

When my Father – who also loves Asian food – comments that “it was one of the best Indian meals I have had in a long time”, it’s a sure sign that Edinburgh has a venue that can certainly give the best curry houses in the land a run for their money.

Food – 8.5/10
Atmosphere – 7.5/10
Service – 8/10
Value – 8/10

Ambience – Expect a busy, modern Indian restaurant.

Mother India's Cafe on UrbanspoonSquare Meal

Edinburgh/ Portobello/ pub/ restaurant/ review

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

View from ‘The Espy’

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

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

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

Dips and flatbread

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

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

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

Pork & prawn cakes

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

Having polished off our dishes, it was now getting perilously close to the 3.30pm deadline set for us to vacate the table, so we tried to attract the attention of someone to whom we could make payment – and tried and tried again. Eventually – with just minutes to spare – we paid the cheque, only for another waiter to enquire just moments later as to whether we were ready for the bill…

Pork loin & black pudding

The Espy has a nice vibe, great location and serves decent pub grub. The staff can’t be faulted for their friendliness. But on this visit there seemed to be something significantly amiss with how either the kitchen or front of house was being managed; as we were leaving, I overheard a waiter apologising to another table for problems with their order. Maybe it was down to all the extra covers on promenade, who knows? But having to wait the best part of 40 minutes to receive my order does impart a more jaundiced attitude to my food, when this eventually arrives. Fingers crossed that “normal service” has resumed by the next time I’m down Portobello way, otherwise it may well be another sea-side venue that gets my custom.

Food – 6.5/10
Atmosphere – 7/10
Service – 5/10
Value – 6.5/10

Ambience – Expect a relaxed yet busy, pub experience.

Esplanade on UrbanspoonSquare Meal

Edinburgh/ Foodies Festival/ review

Festival review: Crowded culinary capers at the Edinburgh Foodies Festival

A seriously large paella.
A seriously large paella.

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

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

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

"Goucho" beef being char-grille
Fantastic “Goucho” beef being char-grilled.

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

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

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

Firstly, by lunchtime on Saturday there were so many people attending the event that it became difficult to move around many areas or get close to some of the stalls. Maybe dividing the event into two sessions a day, each with smaller capacities, might alleviate this issue.

It would also be good to see a greater representation from Scottish-based suppliers and companies – particularly from our wonderful meat and seafood sector. This isn’t to say a wider geographic take on good food and drink isn’t appreciated. Yet lovely as I’m sure the oysters that had been shipped all the way from Cornwall’s Camel estuary were, I’d rather have partaken of some from Loch Fyne.

Surely it must be possible to book places at demonstration sessions online at the same time as booking tickets? I wasn’t the only person at the event disappointed to have spent time queuing to see a chef, to find there were no places left at that particular demonstration, when I got to the box office.

And this might be nit-picking, but speaking as someone who used to run a festival, the event would really benefit from much improved directional signage and a greater number of stewards being on hand. It really shouldn’t be necessary to ask four different punters in turn for directions to the toilets.

All in all, however, it was great to spend a few hours at an event in central Edinburgh, surrounded by people who were passionate about the food and drink they produced, and those who were equally passionate about sampling and purchase these.

drink/ Edinburgh/ food/ Foodies Festival/ producers/ street food

Feature article: Looking forward to Edinburgh’s Foodies Festival

Edinburgh Foodies' Festival.

There is an urban myth that the population of Edinburgh effectively doubles each August. The city is thronged with hundreds of thousands of people participating in the world’s largest arts festival, and associated fringe. Great as all this culture is, it’s also exciting that my home city will once again see a celebration of all things culinary, when the Foodies Festival Edinburgh returns to ‘Auld Reekie’ from 9-11 August.

As someone who loves food and drink – and writing about my passion for these – I’m very much looking forward to attending the Foodies Festival for the first time. The programme for the event certainly appears busy. As might be expected, a number of leading chefs from across Scotland – including Jeff Bland from Edinburgh’s Balmoral Hotel, Mark Greenaway from Restaurant Mark Greenaway, Café St Honore’s Neil Forbes, and Paul Wedgwood of Wedgwood – will be demonstrating their signature dishes and how these can be prepared at home, in the Chefs’ Theatre.

For those with a sweet tooth, the festival also boasts a Cake and Chocolate Theatre, but anyone who prefer things a bit more savoury should fear not, as there will also be a “specially designed” BBQ Arena where visitors can learn how to achieve the perfect chargrill. To complement all this food, the event also boasts both a Wine Village and a Drinks Theatre, with the latter featuring demonstrations from some of the UK’s top sommeliers and drink experts. As someone with a passion for Spanish cuisine, I shall certainly be looking out for the class on matching sherry with food.

Two areas of the event I shall be making a beeline for are the Producers’ Market – where there will be an array of artisan Scottish produce on offer – and the Street Food Avenue. Not only am I a big supporter of locally-produced food and drink, but am also delighted that the UK finally seems to be embracing great quality snacks and meals served by mobile street vendors.

On paper, the Foodies Festival Edinburgh certainly does appear action packed, and I shall be reporting back on any enticing discoveries I make there, in the near future.

Foodies Festival Edinburgh takes place at Inverlieth Park on Friday 9 to Sunday 11 August 2013. For full event details and to obtain tickets, visit

bar/ Edinburgh/ food/ pub/ restaurant/ review

Edinburgh Restaurant Review: Prayers answered at The Safari Lounge

Safari Lounge entrance.
A wildly great pub lies inside.

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

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

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

A busy bar and kitchen at the Safari Lounge.
A busy bar and kitchen.

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

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

As to the sides? Well JML’s fries were skinny and crispy as described, and came as an ample portion. My popcorn mussels were a revelation, however. Imagine a take on whitebait, but involving shellfish in tempura batter accompanied by home-made tartar sauce. Crisp on the outside and with a soft interior, packed with intense, slightly salty, seafood flavour. I need say no more.

Popcorn mussels & fizz.
Popcorn mussels & fizz.

As we were devouring our delicious fare, it became apparent that The Safari Lounge – which takes its name from the neon sign displayed in the window of its former incarnation, the Station Bar – has been the subject of a very clever makeover indeed. The banquets running along the walls are now covered in subtle, but stylish embossed khaki leather. The traditional tables and chairs are painted with dark black shellac, and the bar stools covered with cow hide. Having asked the, very friendly, bar staff for permission to take some photos for the review, I got chatting with Andy Caird, proprietor of The Safari Lounge. Caird has previously managed such esteemed Edinburgh stalwarts as Negotiant’s and Medina, and obviously knows what makes a winning venue.

“I set out to refresh the bar, but no more than necessary – I didn’t want to destroy the place’s character”, he told me. “It’s a similar approach with the food. I wanted a menu that wasn’t just typical pub fare, and that features dishes prepared with fresh ingredients. But at the same time, the pub and what it serves should offer something for everyone in the area.”

As I spoke to Andy, I noticed a couple of old boys – certainly regulars of the pub in its former incarnation – stood drinking at the bar, joking with the staff. At the same time, food was flying out of the kitchen and landing on the tables populated by cool-looking 20 and 30 somethings. The Safari Lounge certainly is a venue with loads to offer. If there is any justice, the gods will be smiling on it for a long time to come!

Food – 8/10
Atmosphere -8/10
Service -8/10
Value – 8/10
Ambience – Expect a laid-back – yet busy, modern pub experience.

(N.B. the croquetas recipe mentioned in my last post, will be appearing on the blog in the very near future).

The Safari Lounge on Urbanspoon

Bite magazine/ Edinburgh/ Leith/ restaurant/ review/ Scottish/ Seafood

Bite Magazine review: A happy return to The Shore

Beautiful hake on courgettes, Puy lentils & pancetta.
Beautiful hake on courgettes, Puy lentils & pancetta.

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

A happy return to The Shore

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

Heavenly chocolate brownie & caramelised banana.
Heavenly chocolate brownie & caramelised banana.

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

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

Mains were slightly more eclectic…

Read the full review at:

The entrance to The Shore.
A ‘Shore’ welcome.

beer/ burger/ Edinburgh/ pub/ review/ Simon Howie

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holyrood 9a pudding menu.
And for pudding?

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

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

Food – 7.5/10

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

Holyrood 9a on Urbanspoon

Bite magazine/ Edinburgh/ wine

Bite Magazine review: Divine wine at Le Di-Vin

Le Di-Vin bar.
Great “Vin du Moment”.

I’m delighted to have been asked to contribute to Bite magazine – “your independent, local guide to eating and drinking in Edinburgh”. My first piece for them is a review of the smashing wine bar that is Le Di-Vin.  As an appetiser, I’ve posted an extract of this below, together with a link to the full version on the Bite website

Divine wine at Le Di-Vin

“Wine bar”. For those of us who grew up in the 80s this term evokes memories of venues packed with punters dressed like extras from Dynasty, glugging over-oaked chardonnay to a backing track by Sade. Fortunately, the modern incarnation is a lot more palatable, as a recent visit to Le Di-Vin joyfully proved.

Nestling in a former church building, Le Di-Vin is the younger sibling to next-door restaurant La P’tite Folie, both owned by Virginie and Ghislain Brouard.

Entering the bar it is apparent that wine is the star. A whole double-height wall is dedicated to a decorative pewter bar, backed by shelves of quality wines, expertly sourced from across the globe by Ghislain: 164 bottles to choose from. Yet a visit to Le Di-Vin is far from an overwhelming experience – quite the reverse…

Read the rest of the review here at Bite.

Chefs' Alliance/ Edinburgh/ review/ Scottish/ slow food

Review: West End Thrills – The Edinburgh Larder Bistro

Beetroot Soup
Beetroot and chard soup.

I have been inspired to go west. Following my recent visit to the excellent Slow Food event at Edinburgh’s Summerhall, I’ve realised I need to venture outside my east Edinburgh eatery comfort zone more often. My resolve to dine more widely stems from the realisation that Edinburgh has some great restaurants that follow the slow food ethos which I have yet to visit. So on Friday, I put my resolution into action when JML and I booked ourselves a table at The Edinburgh Larder Bistro (1a Alva Street, EH2 4PH) for dinner.

I had heard of this restaurant before, but it really popped onto my culinary radar when I had the opportunity to taste some great nibbles prepared by the establishment’s Chef – Finlay Nicol – at the Summerhall event. Nicol is a member of Slow Food’s The Chef Alliance, so it’s unsurprising to learn that the bistro serves a menu comprising of seasonal dishes, and works with local food and drink suppliers to ensure that these feature the best local, Scottish produce.

The Edinburgh Larder Bistro, occupies an expansive, slightly labyrinthine basement in Edinburgh’s West End. Unexpectedly, the venue also sports a bright conservatory area to its rear, which is where we were seated. Whilst the restaurant offers an impressive a la carte menu, we had taken advantage of a offer and therefore chose our dishes from the slightly smaller, but no less impressive, pre-theatre menu.

Smoked Haddock Pate
Smoked haddock pâté.

To start, I went for the beetroot and chard soup. This was invitingly bright purpley-pink and packed with delicious flavours of earthy sweetness from the beetroot, married with the slightly astringent kick of the chard. A generous blob of crème fraiche placed in the centre of the bowl also added a nice creamy note when mixed into the rest of the liquid, and the only slight quibble I had with the dish was that I had to use a fork to help the lengthy shreds of shard leaves onto my spoon. JML’s opening dish was the pâté of the day, which smoked haddock and spring onion. He was served two generous quenelles of pâté, accompanied by an inviting, flower-adorned organic salad and slices of wholemeal toast. The pâté was obviously made with quality ingredients, and tasted of rich, yet subtle, smokey fishiness, which was complemented by a zing from the spring onion. The speed with which it was consumed certainly suggested it was a hit.

Pork Belly
Roast pork belly.

For my main course, I was initially tempted to order the beef cheeks. I’m a big fan of under-utilised cuts of meat, and beef cheeks – and for that matter, their piggy counterparts – are delicious when slow braised. I was a little disappointed, therefore, when our waitress informed us that in this instance the cheeks had been substituted with a pork belly alternative. Any disappointment soon evaporated however, when I was presented with a beautifully succulent and tender slice of pork adorned with crispy crackling and resting on a bed of sautéed new potatoes, greens and peas., all surrounded by a light, meaty broth. The meat was perfectly cooked and worked well with the rest of dish’s ingredients. To accompany my main, I also ordered a side of seasonal vegetables, which in this case consisted of sautéed lettuce and chard. This was nice enough, but having already consumed chard in my soup, there was a wee danger of overloading on this particular veg.

Tomato Tart
Roast tomato tart.

My dining companion’s main was a roasted tomato tart, with puy lentil salad and crowdie cheese. The Clyde Valley Tomatoes – which are grown just a short trip down the M8 from Edinburgh – used in the tart gave it a real richness of flavour, which was complemented by the creaminess of the crowdie cheese paired with it. The puy lentil salad was also a winner, combining seasonal leaves, earthy pulses and yet more delicious toms with a perfectly seasoned dressing. As a side, JML ordered “Beef dripping chips with Hebridean sea salt”. The golden brown chunks of potato that arrived were sensational, and amongst the best chips I have ever tasted.

Chocolate Fondant
Chocolate fondant.

Even though our dining special offer consisted of two dishes each and a bottle of house wine for £35 – which certainly represents great value – we couldn’t resist availing ourselves of the dessert menu. JML is a big fan of chocolate, so I wasn’t surprised when he ordered the chocolate fondant. This was spot on, quite literally oozing chocolaty richness. It was served with an intriguing carrot ice cream and terrific beetroot granita, which tasted “…just like frozen beetroot jam”. My espresso pecan tart with vanilla ice cream was also rich and tasty, with the flavour of the coffee coming through without overpowering that of the nuts. My only gripe was that the tart’s pastry base was bordering on being overdone, which called for some heavyweight spoon action to divide the pud into consumable segments.

Pecan Pie
Pecan & espresso tart.

All in all, we had great meal at Edinburgh Larder Bistro. The venue is relaxed and welcoming, service is very pleasant, and the food is obviously prepared with passion and attention to detail. What’s more, not only can you dine on really inviting, tasty dishes at this restaurant, but in doing so you will be supporting local producers and suppliers – the menu even lists and thanks those responsible for the ingredients the restaurant uses.

I might be an east-end boy at heart, but I shall certainly be going west again, if my initial experience of the Edinburgh Larder Bistro is anything to go by.

Food 7.5/10
Atmosphere 7.5/10
Service 8/10
Value 9/10

Ambience – Expect a venue with a bistro/brasserie ambience.

Edinburgh Larder Bistro on Urbanspoon Square Meal

Edinburgh/ French/ Languedoc/ restaurant/ review

Review: La Garrigue – Fine flavours of the Languedoc, to counter a dreich capital day

Painting of La Garrigue restaurant.
La Garrigue (courtesy of the restaurant’s website).

It’s the end of April and today is, once again, one of those days this month when it’s blowing a hoolie. What’s more, the gale force wind only serves to ensure that the accompanying hail and sleet is near horizontal. I do love Scotland, but sometimes I long to escape its weather for more warm and sunny climes. But not being able to jump on a plane to Spain or the South of France, last Friday my other half and myself decided to do the next best thing – we injected a little culinary sunshine into our evening by dining at the southern French eatery, La Garrigue.

Located a stone’s throw from Waverley Station, on Jeffery Street, this bistro has been a fixture on the Edinburgh gastronomic scene for 12 years. It specialises in the cuisine of the Languedoc (or ‘Le Midi’) region of France, hence the name which references to the aromatic, herb-dominated scrubland common to the area. So shunning yet another sharp April shower, JML and I were greeted by the restaurant’s welcoming French waiters and seated in front of the bistro’s huge picture windows that provide stunning views of Calton Hill.

Within a couple of minutes of the menus being delivered to us we were asked if we would like an aperitif. Now in my book, this is always a good start to dinner, and quite typical of Mediterranean dining. So sipping ‘un pousse rapier’ – a sort of champagne cocktail – and a nicely chilled Muscat sec, we made our dining choices. Not an easy task as, going by the dish descriptions, everything on the menu seemed inviting.

JML chose to start with the pig’s head ‘fromage’ accompanied by a gribiche sauce. A very inviting slab of succulent terrine arrived which was moist and full with rich pork flavour. The creamy, eggy sauce that accompanied it – sharpened by capers, tarragon and cornichons – made for an excellent counterpoint to the meat. My first course choice of ‘traditional’ fish soup with croutons and rouille was every bit as good as I had hoped for – a dark vermilion bowl of intense seafood tastes that could have come straight from a Mediterranean port, paired with crisp toasted bread slices and home-made saffron mayonnaise.

Beef cheek with parsnip purée.
Beef cheek with parsnip purée.

Whilst we were still discussing how good our starters were, our meaty mains were served. I had decided upon rabbit stuffed with walnut and liver farce, on a bed of salsify and winter veg (the veg chosen to match the weather, I assume). Now rabbit is a real litmus test of a good kitchen. Cooked badly, it is dry and tough. My lapin was the polar opposite, being succulent and bathed in a flavoursome, but not overpowering, gravy. The dish really shone thanks to the addition of the stuffing which added a real depth of umami. JML’s slow cooked cheek of beef, with glazed carrots and parsnip purée was equally impressive. I love beef or pig cheeks, especially when slow cooked and served with lashings of sauce from the casserole. This meltingly tender morsel ticked all the right boxes in that respect.

Rabbit stuffed with walnuts and a liver.
Rabbit stuffed with walnuts and a liver.

We paused for a while, and sipped on our very pleasant glasses of Languedoc red wine (Les Acrobats 2011), before ordering pudding. This provided an opportunity to take in the ambience of La Garrigue, which matches chunky, stripped wood tables and chairs with bright lavendar walls, all providing a nice bistro vibe to the restaurant’s quirky layout. Yet by the time our final course arrived, and with all covers occupied, the restaurant was a wee bit too southern French in one respect – it was becoming decidedly too warm.

The rising heat levels and elements of the final course provided the only low-point to the evening, yet these things are all relative. My tarte au citron was very nicely presented – an inviting slice of lemony tart surrounded by a scattering of raspberries and saffron meringue, with a tangy jus. It was just the right pudding for someone who doesn’t have an overly sweet tooth. JML’s dessert was, by contrast, a bit of a let-down. A crème brûlée with lavender, it looked great and the custard was smooth with just enough lavendery hint to hit the palette. But it was tepid as opposed to hot; despite the caramel topping being so well cooked it was difficult to crack. And I’m sorry to say that the tuile biscuit that accompanied the brûlée had more in common

Delicious tarte au citron.
Delicious tarte au citron.

with toasted pita bread than a crunchy biscuit.

A few minor quibbles aside, all things considered we had a most enjoyable evening at La Garrigue. The service is knowledgeable and warmly proficient – though we did have to request the bill twice – and, at its best, the food provides a delicious flavour of the Languedoc.

I’d happily return to this ray of southern French culinary sunshine again – but maybe next time sporting fewer Scottish winter woollens…

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

Ambience – Expect a venue with a bistro ambience.

La Garrigue on Urbanspoon Square Meal

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