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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

Chefs' Alliance/ Feature/ food/ news/ Scottish/ slow food/ Sustainable

Sustainable food news: A quick post about Slow Food

A great slow food barley risotto.
A demo of cooking great barley risotto.

A passion about good food that is responsibly produced and sourced.  This is what has inspired me to write about the quality ingredients I buy, cook and eat. I am not alone in this dedication, I know.  Yet sometimes it can be tricky to engage with others who share a similar passion. Accosting  fellow shoppers at a farmers’ market to congratulate them on their purchases of organic rhubarb, or a sour dough bloomer risks offending middle-class sensibilities, after all. Of course, I’m parodying the image of those of us with an interest in sustainable food. However, there is definitely a need for a forum that easily allows people to exchange ideas and exuberance about the things they are growing, cooking and eating.

Yesterday I had the pleasure to participate in a great event marking the end of Slow Food Week 2013. For anyone not familiar with the slow food movement, please do have a look at their website. Fundamentally, their ethos is all about food being “good, clean and fair”. It’s an approach that encompasses care and, dare I say, passion – whether this comes from those producing the raw ingredients, or those serving the delicious dishes that are composed from these. What’s more, slow food is also about knowing the exact background of what is being served and eaten.

Let’s be honest, anonymous shopping is so easy these days. Swipe, beep, swipe, beep, goes the routine. And off home we go with our bags full of Chilean asparagus, Kenyan beans, and New Zealand hoki (it’s a fish, the stocks of which look increasingly threatened). There is usually no discussion in the generic environment of the supermarket as to the provenance or sustainability of the food we buy – bar the marketing blurb that “reassures” us that produce is “Scottish”, or “English”, or “British” – apart, of course, from when it frequently isn’t any of these things. There’s no real explanation about what’s on offer, other than a passing indication of country of origin, and maybe – if we are lucky – a diminutive name check for the producer. There certainly seems to be little genuine passion from big retailers about the produce filling the supermarkets’ aisles.  But it doesn’t have to be like this.

Mull cheese and smoked trout from Belhaven.
Cheese from Mull, smoked trout from Belhaven.

Yesterday, at Edinburgh’s Summerhall, knowledge and passion were in abundance. The event featured producers, suppliers and restaurateurs from across Scotland, each with stalls packed with (mostly) locally sourced ingredients and produce. All supporters of the slow food ethos, everyone had a story to tell, and every stall was a bit different. To be honest, such was the enthusiasm of all those involved for what they were doing, there was a danger of being slightly overwhelming – but not in a bad way. To taste such quality produce and hear about the connection those serving it had with what they were offering was inspirational. It was great to experience so much of that genuine buzz in one place, at one time.

I asked Neil Forbes – Chef/Proprietor of Edinburgh brasserie, Café St Honore – why he was at the event. “My gran’s soup”, he replied, somewhat enigmatically. He went on to explain that she used the best, freshest – and often home-grown – ingredients when she cooked it. That has influenced Neil’s take on food ever since. What’s not inspirational about those values?

Equally, chatting to Sascha Grierson about the organic meat company she, and her husband Hugh, run provided me with an interesting insight. “Sometimes, people ask about our marketing ‘department'” she laughingly said. “That would be me. And the accounts department, and I’m often the person on the stall at the farmers’ markets, too” Sascha explained. This emphasised that more often than not the organisations involved in the slow food movement are comparatively modest in size, and operate without the resources and infrastructure available to the large-scale food conglomerates. But speak to anyone involved in slow food and it’s apparent that they are people with a real devotion to what they produce and sell, and a genuine interest in the people they sell it to.  This is what drives their success.

Scottish Café & Restaurant produce & sustainability award.
Scottish Café & Restaurant produce & sustainability award.

I’d like to add how great it was to also speak to proprietors and staff from: Centotre, and the Scottish Café & Restaurant ; the Stockbridge Restaurant; the Cumberland Bar; the Edinburgh Larder; Mara Seaweed; 63 Tay Street Restaurant; The Monachyle Mhor Hotel; and the Roost; as well as representatives from Slow Food UK. Thank you all for putting on a truly inspirational event. It’s a pleasure to write about it and, in doing so, to try and inspire others to think about how and where the food they eat is produced and prepared. 

bistro/ Edinburgh/ French/ restaurant/ review/ Scottish/ slow food

Review: Café St Honoré – A French gem with a Scottish Twist

Front of Cafe Saint Honore.
A wee bit of Paris, in Thistle Street Lane.

We visited Café St Honoré on a freezing spring evening, having been keen to experience this French-influenced exponent of “slow food” for a while. Despite the cold weather, the welcome was immediately warm as we stepped into the restaurant which, if you forget it is hidden just of Edinburgh’s Thistle Street, would be entirely at home in Paris’s Latin Quarter.

Café St Honoré specialises in using seasonal, locally-sourced produce to create bistro-style cuisine, and the passion of it’s chef-director Neil Forbes with this regard has lead to the establishment being rated as Scotland’s most sustainable eatery in 2012. As already mentioned Whilst the ambience of the restaurant is very obviously French, its insistence on using – wherever possible – Scottish ingredients creates an ‘Auld Alliance’ of classic cuisine français in combination with quality Scot’s flavours.

From the several alternatives available, we decided to go with the ‘café classics’ menu which provides diners with a choice from two options for each course and offers great value at £22.50 for starter, main and pudding. My partner opened proceedings with a dish of potato and herb dumplings with Highland Crowdie cheese which were, as anticipated, satisfyingly both herby and cheesy and provided a good balance of flavours. The real star of our first course, however, was my cullen skink which was packed with delicious smoked haddock and potatoes, all bathed in a luxurious creamy sauce that had assumed the smokiness of the fish during cooking.

Our mains were equally good, and whilst I again choose a very palatable fish-based dish of pan-fried coley with sautéed pink fir potatoes and greens, I almost wish I had joined my partner in sampling the venison casserole. This consisted of meltingly tender meat and vegetables cooked in a satisfyingly rich and flavoursome wine sauce.

For pudding we were unanimous in choosing the crème fraiche and sea buckthorn mousse, which was exceptional. The richness of the mousse was beautifully countered by the tartness of the sea buckthorn sauce with which it was topped, and the spring rhubarb jus in which it sat.

Add to the excellent food excellent service – which was extremely friendly, knowledgeable and attentive without being over-bearing – and a good wine list – we chose a very satisfying South American cabernet sauvignon – overall, we had a wonderful dining experience for a very reasonable £70 (excluding gratuity).

So if you are in Edinburgh and crave well cooked, French-inspired food that comes packed with local and seasonal flavours, you would be well advised to seek out Café St Honoré.

Food – 8/10
Atmosphere – 8/10
Service -8/10
Value – 8/10

Ambience – Expect a venue with a brasserie, to quality restaurant ambience.

[This review is based on one posted on Tripadvisor in March 2013]

Cafe St Honoré on Urbanspoon Square Meal

bar/ café/ drink/ Edinburgh/ farmers' market/ Feature/ food/ foodie/ recipes/ restaurant/ review/ slow food

Scrumptious Scran is born…

So, after (what is probably) years of threatening to set up a blog as a means of sharing my passion about food and drink, I’ve finally got my metaphoric finger out and Scrumptious Scran is now live. But why establish a food blog?

Well, anyone who knows me will be aware that I love food and drink. It doesn’t necessarily have to be sophisticated fare. What, for example, can compare to an egg, bacon and mushroom sandwich on sourdough bread, accompanied by a decent cup of coffee, to kick off a Sunday morning? But it has to be flavoursome and put together with care, attention and – hopefully – some passion.

Ideally, I also like the food I cook and eat to be seasonal, and sourced as locally as possible. I’m realistic, however, and know that it isn’t always possible to do a complete weekly shop at the likes of the terrific Edinburgh Farmers’ Market (more about this Edinburgh foodie institution in a later post on the blog). But my ideas about food do share much in common with those of the Slow Food Movement.

So what can be expected from Scrumptious Scran over the coming weeks, months and (hopefully) years? Well, my intention is for the blog to be a mixture of updates on how I’ve been ‘engaging’ with food and drink, including:

  • What I have been buying, and where from.
  • The recipes I have tried at home.
  • The restaurants, cafés and bars I have enjoyed (or even, not enjoyed).
  • The books, magazines and other blogs that have influenced my culinary perspective.

And, given the fact that it is nigh on impossible for one person to keep abreast of all the latest gastronomic developments, I will certainly be welcoming suggestions of any restaurants or products that might be worthy of a feature in the blog, via [email protected].

And so my literary, culinary journey begins! I look forward to hearing from those of you who follow its progress.


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