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.

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).

Slam and Dunk

Deep in the Northern Hemisphere winter is a time when the egg-chasing sports enthusiasts get their moment in the limelight; when the Six Nations Rugby Championship takes centre stage; where some of the people of Wales connect with a strange kind of religious fervour.

This year it all kicked off with the biennial ‘Men in Skirts‘ weekend, as Scotland arrive in Cardiff. A brief moment when men can be true to their inner selves, and at least one shopping-laden woman can turn a blind eye…

1. a) Scary scrum

Scotland were in the rarified position of being tipped by many as favourites to win in Cardiff, only to be blown away 34-7 by the native dragon of Wales

1. b) City Road dragon [2]

Next up, it was the turn for Wales to be on the road, with the fixture that inspires thoughts of a clash with old enemies rather than a celebration amongst rivals. What would the marauders across the Severn Bridge take to the hosts of England, tipped to be champions before the tournament started? Well, with dragon-hearts in mouths for most of the last 60 minutes, it wasn’t to be, as St George stumbles to a 12-6 win, and the guest fire-starters prove at the final whistle to be a little more inert in portraying their true heritage…

2. Inert firestarters

Staying on the road, next up is the always welcome trip to Ireland, where the lotion joyously flows, and the red army have frequently found travelling success. As added-on time arrives Wales are only 3 points behind and in possession with the potential of a match-winning try; and then that wayward pass…… Ireland clinically strike for a 37-27 victory, as Welsh heads are bowed…

3. Fallen head [4]

With two oh-so close matches away, Wales return home determined not to let an unpredictable season slip on the banana skin that Italy may lay down at the Millennium Stadium (no Principality Building Society product placement accepted here!). A frenetic first half is followed by a procession to a 38-14 home win…

Banana skin

Which only leaves the simple matter of a victory in the final home match with France to secure a creditable second place in the Championship. If only… Wales don’t do ‘simple’! After most of the match watched through parted fingers, mouth agape, from behind the sofa, the final whistle brings that rarest of outcomes… Rabbits 14 Headlights 13…

5. Desperately holding on

Until we speak again, you may ask “but what about the other matches?” to which the carefully tutored Juno and Bella would answer “so what!” Another Six Nations comes to an end, with congratulations to Ireland for the Grand Slam of 5 wins in 5 games, and even greater congratulations to England for their Number 5… the Dunk of finishing 5th out of 6!

4. Pride restored

Breathless bone-crunching

Rugby does offer something in the Cardiff cauldron       Wales v Australiathat football is rarely praised for… opposing fans occupy the same space hours before kick-off for banter and liquid refreshments. But my ‘In-house Rugby Correspondent’ tells me to make no mistake about pondering the cuteness of these cuddly Wallabies…

  they have a plan…

  … and the green and gold finery only masks a core of steel when it comes to slaying dragons. Australia have a historic stranglehold on this fixture… 25 wins to 10 for Wales. However, the real pain for the home team is the 20-2 in terms of wins for Australia since Wales beat them in the 1987 inaugural World Cup. And even further pain is heaped in the last couple of years where Wales have been within a score of winning with a minute or so to go on three occasions, only to miraculously snatch defeat from the jaws of victory on each occasion.

What makes today a real grudge match is the British & Irish Lions 2-1 series win over the Wallabies in their own natural environment earlier this year, particularly the mauling of the final test match. The majority of the Lions were Welsh players, but time is long overdue that they do it under their own colours. Make no mistake, fire-breathers versus furry cuddliness means only one thing… war!

It is time for this…   to smoke this…            Let’s not pretend that such an outcome will be easy following the Lions win down under. The Aussies arrive in God’s Own Millenium Stadium having lost 20-13 to England before cutting a swathe through Italy (20-50), Ireland (16-32) and Scotland (15-21) this month on their way to this extra fixture (not originally planned, so flavoured with a little extra spice!). Over 67,000 settle into their stadium seats, the roof is closed to add to the pressure cooker effect, and the rest of the home nation strap in ready to assault their TV screens with passionate advice and abuse.

     V.     

Home expectations could not be higher, fuelled by images of one Welshman outnumbering the Aussies down under earlier this year, and the cuddly ones looking rather perplexed:

               

The game lives up to all the expectations, as first Wales take an early lead, then Australia are in the ascendency for the latter part of the first half. Australia extend their lead early in the second half before Wales make yet another heroic comeback. Then, guess what? Lightening really does strike in the same place many times… with breath-taking moves and bone-crunching tackles all over the pitch, and Wales having all of the cards falling in their favour, they manage yet again to fall one score short of winning. The final score is Wales 26 Australia 30, or more importantly for the visitors 9 wins in a row against the northern hemisphere champions.

Reports suggest the match was so good the result was less important… try telling that to the locals around here. Wales have two years before they meet Australia in the World Cup group to find that extra score; then the locals will accept a little more how great the match was.

   

I am still being Juno, as long as I avoid some of those rugby tackles until I speak with you again.