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.

Lost & Found

In Wales, the impact of the pandemic is once again easing, as we find ourselves topping the world table for progressing the vaccine rollout. But, what did you miss during the long winter months of lockdown restrictions?

Apologies and sympathy to those of you having to downgrade from Heinz to Own Brand baked beans. Juno’s View is that quality always trumps quantity, so Heinz for a day or two less a week would be my heartless advice!

In pursuit of that quality, it is the idea of a favourite independent restaurant re-opening that kept stirring my imagination. And, one such establishment seems to have taken the opportunity for an internal refurbishment during the months of closure…

Getting in an early booking, before the arrival of most other desperate punters, provided an opportunity to see where some of the felled rainforest ended up! Though it does make for a relaxed space for fine dining.

This was always a place for a limited menu of high quality local produce. So, would a re-vamped menu trouble any prior expectations?

Not wishing to overload the meat feast… a starter of asparagus and poached egg, with avocado, cherry vine tomatoes and hollandaise sauce offered an instant reminder that I’m not at ‘chez Juno’s View‘ at this point. Here, presentation combines with a delicate assault on the taste buds. Not for me, the fleeting thought of eating out of the carton/bag or whether to use a cheap porcelain plate!

Then there is the whole reason for dreaming and wishing… that poor Daisy has been grazing the ranch for months with no chance to provide a pleasurable outcome for others… Yes, the Fillet Steak experience! OK, so I cooked a couple of good quality ones at home over Christmas. But this is what getting out of bed on a rainy Tuesday morning in May is all about…

Just add some buttered greens, triple cooked chips and pink peppercorn sauce, and the picture is complete…

Until we speak again… what, you thought I’d share more of my steak with you? I’m too busy sipping the accompanying smooth Argentinian Malbec. Enjoy your Own Brand whatevers.

Second bite

Sometimes it takes a second visit in order to truly satisfy those expectations… wherever they may originally have come from. Take I Giardini di Sorrento for example…

Great reviews and a sight of a sumptuous swordfish main dish on the website, and I’m salivating at the prospect of my first visit. However, combine such raised expectations with a visit to a Cardiff based independent family-run Italian restaurant in the company of a fine food critic, who just happened to be returning from Venice 24 hours earlier, and the recipe for success could be quite a challenge!

Fortunately, a light and delicately fried calamari starter primes the taste buds nicely, and those potentially unachievable expectations begin to dissolve into the tender seafood chewiness, spiked with the sharpness of squeezed lemon…

Then comes the tinge of disappointment, as it seems the swordfish has gone awol off the menu tonight, taking a break to allow some poor sea bass to put in a shift! Thoughts turn to a Plan B, and though my choice of salmon pistachio penne was only slightly overly salty, for my guest the risotto principe was quite a few furlongs behind in the race with its Venice counterpart of a few nights earlier.

We leave sated, but with a sense of disappointment; the important lesson being one of tempering expectations before a first visit… just taste the moment. So many awards and great reviews can’t all be misplaced… cue a re-visit, and a chance to soak up the authenticity of a lunchtime capriciossa pizza

It might be Cardiff, but could we really be dining elsewhere?

And even a visit to the restroom involves an additional reminder we could be absorbing Mediterranean vibes…

Until we speak again, there is a question about whether our tastes on the night have anything to do with the overall quality of what is on offer. Should we allow particular expectations to determine our experience in the moment? Well, yes we should… but don’t let that block further adventures into culinary discovery.

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

The best kind of Phoenix

How do you describe the feeling on seeing one of your favourite restaurants has been closed? No, I’m not talking of the demise of a Gregg’s or a Wetherspoons; that would be a celebration! It was summer of 2018 and the Bayside Brasserie was making way for a new Everyman Cinema in Cardiff Bay.

Now, I am a very frequent user of ‘the pictures’ (as one of my reader’s will no doubt confirm by messaging shortly), so something different from the usual over representation of the run-of-the-mill multiplexes is more than welcome. But why take away my favourite eatery down the bay?

Fast forward to the summer of 2019, and my faith in a higher influence is happily restored…

Yes, it’s back… and every bit as good. With a balmy summer evening permitting use of an outside table, the view across the glass of a Patagonian Malbec set up the appetite…

Starters of Chilli and Lime Squid and a most mouth-watering Belly Pork helped to settle any anxieties that a re-opening 50 yards away from the original would be a let-down.

Then came the true memory-refresher… I can definitely confirm the Bayside Brasserie still serves up one of Cardiff’s finest Filet Steaks

Until we speak again, let this be a lesson that nightmares can occasionally turn into dreams… now whatever has become of our political leadership, and not just the class of clowns presently screwing up the UK?

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.

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).

Wales by the Med

It’s springtime in Wales… blowing a gale and shivering! The deceptive kind of inviting day where any sensible cat would ignore the sun and blue sky and stay indoors. But where did sensibility get any of us anyway? Thoughts drift towards lazy balmy Mediterranean days of summer; but why wait… when The Mumbles can bring a piece of the Mediterranean closer to home!

Outside

Don’t be deceived by the empty tables, as this was a lucky early visit; and before we had finished the meal all tables downstairs were taken as were most upstairs. This may be a place worth booking to avoid disappointment!

Inside

Cheese may be what cats use to trap mice, but grilled Halloumi is always going to be a trap for me. But the real surprise was the cubed liver starter, far more tasty than any throw back to the dreaded school meals of shoe leather and cold onion fame. ..

Haloumi and Liver starters

Then came the main event… with so many different tasty kebabs to choose from the Turkish residents of The Mumbles certainly came up with a stunning twist on the Patlikan Kebab… Skewered Lamb, aubergines and tomato came vigorously sizzling across the restaurant to the table; and the addition of the spoon was an essential implement for what could easily have been mistaken for a supreme stew…

Patlikan Kebab

Until we speak again, enjoy your days in the Mediterranean, but if the cost of flights and hotels appear prohibitive, well, just pop over to The Mediterranean (Mumbles style) where the welcome will be just as warm.