The Tastiest of Thistles

For most people a visit to Edinburgh is likely to stir up thoughts of The Royal Mile, Arthur’s Seat, Princes Street, castles, museums and palaces. Steep hills, stone steps and cobbled streets ooze history. Then there is the incessant din of those bag pipes as you stroll from one quintessential Scottish souvenir shop to the next (all selling the same range of stuff). But, enough of these time fillers, when it comes to the serious business how does Edinburgh stand up to satisfying your appetites? Savouring Auld Reekie comes with impressive surprises.

‘How do you like your eggs?’ is a very pertinent question of any culinary adventure, whatever time of the day it happens to be. But, what about your bee pollen, goji berries, pak choi and whisky sauce (but not all in the same meal)? Traditional Scottish fayre has certainly taken on an altogether more exotic flavour.

Starting the day needn’t be a boring tradition! At the Urban Angel in New Town, just around the corner from Thistle Street, the eggs might come baked with a tomato sauce accompanied by chorizo and black pudding. Just add an Acai Bowl of goji berries, bee pollen and coconut flakes, alongside your avocado on sourdough, with a freshly baked almond croissant. Just make sure you book a morning seat, because this place is deservedly popular.

So, you’ve loaded up on history and culture, or good old shopping. But, what you’re really focused on is the potential provenance of that next meal. What is it currently doing… quacking, mooing, baaing, or maybe gently gliding some slinky watery moves.

Cafe Marlayne on Thistle Street doesn’t go in for the over elaborate menu choices, but what it offers comes with a side of style. Swoon over a crispy fried egg and asparagus starter, complete with a grainy Freekah (whatever Freekah is).

Then, it’s time to offend Daffy’s sensibilities, with neatly presented duck breast, carrot and ginger puree, pak choi in sesame oil, spring onions and a hoisin glaze.

Fishers in the City, on Thistle Street (yes, there again) offers good old fashioned Scottish tradition with a modern twist. Scallops, salsify puree, and Stornoway black pudding was just begging to be eaten long before the ubiquitous photograph could be taken.

Then there was the national treasure… Loch Duart Salmon simply presented but delicately flavoured, served with new potatoes, green beans and a sauce vierge. It just called for a side of perfect chips, and Fishers duely obliged. This was my kind of Fish & Chips!

Before you start thinking Edinburgh only does British dishes, albeit in quite some style, Cafe Andaluz on George Street in New Town (parallel to Thistle Street) sets up a fine range of tapas. OK, so you need longer to read the menu than to eat the food, but each dish was presented in a way that says ‘we want you to plan your return… very soon!’. You’ll have to guess the range of dishes here, but somewhere in there lies a black pudding dish that deserves its own Michelin star.

So, what about traditional Scottish Haggis? Well, the Haggis & Whisky House on Cockburn Street in the Old Town (what, not Thistle Street in the New Town?) shows that even tradition can be tinkered with to great effect… Haggis, tatties and neeps in a whisky sauce showcases the dish in all its finery. OK, so chips aren’t the natural accompaniment, but when they’re this good, tradition can be left outside the door.

Until we speak again, all of the above delights, except the Haggis & Whisky House, were found within a 200metre walk within New Town. Why expend unnecessary energy searching for fabulous food. There is even a most fabulous coffee place on Thistle Street where the beans are often roasted while you wait, and believe me, the wait is worth it.

Train cancelled, but…

It’s that frequently annoying situation. Your train arrives in the station on time, only to find your connection is cancelled with a two hour wait for the next service.

When in Salisbury next, I suggest you hope for such a situation! 5 minutes walk brings you to the fabulous Lebanese restaurant of Baroushka

This is a place where a leisurely approach to lunch is required; maybe even absolutely demanded…

A starter of grilled halloumi with a rocket salad accompaniment was the perfect balance of baked exterior with a delicately soft cheese interior. Looking like perfectly toasted slices of bread this provided a light appetizer…

The main course of pear glazed duck breast on a bed of cous cous with an orange salad provided a delightful range of contrasting tastes and textures. Even the designs of plate and table cloth add to the overall welcome sensual assault, to remind you that relaxation need not be a mindless exercise…

A Turkish Coffee came with a range of ethnic paraphernalia, including a cube of Turkish Delight

The Spiced Ginger Beer was a further addition to the assault on the taste buds. Is this placed licensed? You bet, with an extensive range of beers, wines and cocktails. But this is lunch, right… and some of us have yet to navigate the dysfunctions of the privatised rail system with a clear head!

Until we speak again, apologies to any readers stranded by rail cancellations elsewhere… you really are in the wrong place.

Mile End Road

For me, this is a 1980’s stroll down reminiscence lane. For you, this is a tale of two sides of the road.

Go south and you are in a twilight zone of mid and high rise blocks liberally interspersed with unsavoury looking fast food joints. A place where obesity and Brexit may hook up for a sleazy night out!

This is where the old saying bears some truth… “What the Luftwaffe started the town planners finished!”

However, cross the road to the north side and you can stroll the Georgian terraces that surround Tredegar Square, a short distance from Victoria Park… undoubtedly a place where the metropolitan liberal elite hang out. So, if you find yourself in Mile End with a spare 24 hours on your hands, don’t be afraid, just find north on your compass.

Start with a fueling stop at The Greedy Cow, where a Kangaroo Burger hops off the menu to assault your gastronomic whims.

Yes, you heard right first time, it is pinned down for a reason…

Then you simply meander through the conservation area to find a range of traditional watering holes to quench that marsupial thirst. The Lord Tredegar is a great old Victorian boozer serving up a fine pint of Hophead pale ale…

Then there is the Morgan Arms, requiring a careful navigation to avoid the resident Greene King family! A one time great traditional brewery that has joined many others in spoiling the name of good beer with its capitalist quest to take over the world of ‘falling down lotion’…

And if the dawn of a new day still finds you in fighting fettle why not avoid the traditional Youngs beers and opt for a Proper Job IPA in The Coborn? Just don’t let on to a certain regular reader that it comes from Cornwall…oops!

Need something less alcoholic? Who needs those coffee chains when you can pop in to an authentic independent Italian coffee house?

Until we speak again, this has been a nostalgic gastronomic trip down memory lane. As for the present day… if you are looking to get Brexit done, it has all gone south.

Christmas in Peckham

How do you avoid the repetition of a traditional Christmas meal? Well, we’ve previously done Cardiff in July, Blackheath in June, central London in January… but here we were, planning on having our annual Christmas meal in December of all places! Trouble is, most restaurants seem to want to ditch what they are known for, and produce their version of what everyone is doing.

I have to admit, on this occasion I was doing the travelling, so it seemed only right to delegate the venue choice to the dude living locally. “Peckham…”, he suggested. Well, the first thing to come to mind was the song lyric “Is there life in Peckham?” Turns out, there really is, and amongst other contenders, it is alive and well at…

Artusi sign

On inspecting the online menu possibilities, it seemed like we were attending the first night of a somewhat far more adventurous Christmas menu than I had seen before. But, despite getting up my resolve to go for it, redemption came in the form of having to book it in advance. We hadn’t, so we were left to their very own tradition of setting out their Italian inspired menu of the day on a blackboard near the restaurant entrance…

Chalkboard menu

A Salt Beef starter arrived with just the right blend of soft melt-in-the-mouth tender brisket and tart pickled cucumber…

Salt Beef starter

The main dish of Rigatoni Sausage Ragu came in the form of small pasta tubes with smaller pieces of sausage in a delicate balance. Why get stuffed, when you can just enjoy a satisfying blend of complementary flavours? Though it is very clear to me that had Juno been present that Sea Bream across the table would not last the time it takes for a blog post snap…

Canelloni Sausage Ragu

Until we speak again, it seems there is life in Peckham, and it comes in a very satisfyingly un-Christmas package. Artusi is for any time, not just for Christmas!

Artusi entrance

Climate Change

Fossil fuel dependence is gradually waning, renewable sources are on the increase, and nuclear power causes its usual divisions of opinion. However, down on the south bank of the river Thames power is being restored through a wholly different climate of change… and an old icon is getting a facelift as well as a complete new purpose in life.

Until we speak again, Battersea seems to be the word for architectural puzzles these days… not just for dogs!

Victorian Folly

I thought Cardiff Castle was enough of a Victorian Folly, but just take a stroll a couple hundred yards back from the seafront of Brighton, and let your biscuit be taken!

So, why go to India when you can experience ‘it’ without so much of the heat and humidity? Who needs authenticity these days… Chicken Korma anyone!?

Until we speak again, Brighton Pavilion offers the kind of India you are unlikely to find in… err… India!

Time Was…

Memories of romance struck up on the ballroom dance floor on a Saturday night; and whatever went on beneath the boardwalk a little later on!

Until we speak again, may the remains of Brighton’s West Pier keep on stirring those pre-1970’s recollections… for those of you old enough to creatively distort any!

Breakfast on Bold Street

When in Liverpool the choice of first meal of the day can be quite an enticing decision. Maybe that’s why Bold Street was invented? Why not try Bakchish for the ‘full’ Arabic?

Then, for the more home spun safety merchant, but nonetheless tasty option, Leaf services up a great Eggs Asparagus, with added Halloumi, Bacon and Black Pudding. The Lemongrass & Ginger Roibos tea is also a refreshing accoutrements…

Until we speak again, ‘bed only’ hotel accommodation is strongly recommended when in Liverpool. Why not be Bold and save on the hotel breakfast costs.

Dumfries Surprise

Ever found yourself somewhere you never expected to be… only to wonder why it hasn’t appeared on your radar before? No! Well take a picture of Dumfries in the borderlands of Scotland. Better still, take a visit. It will only take a day or so of your time, as it is hardly a metropolis. But it will hold a few surprises.

A day in the life of Dumfries can only start with a wholesome B&B freshly cooked full Scottish breakfast, featuring a haggis cameo and the quintessential lorne sausage

Having partaken of the traditional sustenance it is time to explore red sandstone in all its native forms. The architecture definitely speaks of bygone important days, and was built to withstand anything the Scottish weather could hurl it’s way…

Scratch the surface and you may find that not everything is distinctly local. Having wandered around the tightly packed streets it is unlikely that the ballast of breakfast is wearing off; but let’s say for arguments sake that a dream of globalisation is intruding on your sandstone meandering. Americana Scottish-style awaits you on, of all places, English Street

If a Blueberry Delight pancake stack doesn’t remind your arteries of the concept of mortality nothing will! Suitably fortified the Cavens Arms is the best place locally for liquid refreshment. A good selection of the falling over juice (Orkney IPA and Jarl Blonde Ale were the main culprits) interrupted any photographic evidence.

Ask any self-respecting Scottish local and they will surely remind you of the hunger-inducing powers of imbibing the intoxicating liquids. Crumb will be there on of all places, Irish Street, to satisfy many cravings… Teriyaki Salmon, Beef Chilli or Southern Fried Chicken as particularly favoured samples…

Until we speak again, particularly sated cats recommend more than a day if you want to discover a Dumfries Surprise.

When Scotland met Ireland

Haggis Bon Bons turned out to be a sublime way of ending a working day in sunny Stranraer. What could possibly complement them? Step up to the plate Dublin, and serve up a pint of your finest Guinness

Until we speak again, if you ever find yourself in the Independent Republic of Stranraer, sample an international combination of Scotland and Ireland’s finest (as sampled at the Craignelder Hotel).