Lothian Road, Edinburgh

When we first decided to feature food reviews on this blog, we agreed that we wouldn’t be covering any chain restaurants. We really didn’t think there was much point. But I suppose there has to be a notable exception to every rule and when, after a particularly fraught day’s work, we decide there’s really only one place we both fancy dining, then this review becomes inevitable. Because as chain restaurants go, Wagamama is, in our humble opinion, the best of the bunch. You can see the food being freshly prepared in the open kitchen, the staff are friendly and attentive and I love their open approach to specialist tastes – there’s a huge choice of both vegetarian and vegan meals and even some gluten-free options. We have eaten in Wagamama venues all over the country and the quality of the food never falters.

It’s a Thursday evening and the Lothian Road branch is pleasantly bustling with post-work diners. We take our seats, order drinks and peruse the menu, though I already have long-established firm favourites here. One of them is the chicken katsu curry. To me, this is the ultimate ‘hug on a plate,’ not at all challenging, you understand, but so very satisfying. There’s something about that big mound of sticky rice bathed in a kind of gloopy ‘chip shop curry’ sauce that is so compelling. There’s also the tender strips of chicken in their breadcrumb coating and that perfectly judged crispy salad dressed in a zesty sauce. I’ve often said that, when I find myself on Death Row (presumably sent there for crimes against humanity), this is the dish I will send out for.

I will also ask for a portion of duck gyoza, those succulent, flavoursome steamed parcels which are so delicious on their own and taste even more so when dipped into the accompanying bowl of  sweet chilli sauce – my mouth is watering just describing it!

We also order a portion of yasai yaki soba, a big plate of sizzling noodles with mushrooms, egg, peppers, bean sprouts and much more. There’s a fabulous gingery kick to this dish and a wonderful contrast between the softness of the noodles and the crunchiness of the vegetables that just compels you to keep eating until the plate is clean. Sprinkle it with soy sauce and it’s even better!

One more main dish, we decide, something we haven’t tried before and it’s prawn raikusaree, a mild coconut and citrus curry, served with a mound of white rice, peppers, red onion, red chillies and lime. The decently sized prawns are perfectly cooked and almost melt in the mouth. It’s sublime, and we realise that we’ve just discovered what’s destined to be another firm favourite.

After all that, can we possibly find room for pudding? Well, it has been a particularly tiring day… we were up at 5am for goodness sake! We decide to share a coconut and fig cheescake and a bowl of salted caramel ice cream. The former is light and adorable, based on a crunchy biscuit base and, of course, ice cream is just ice cream, right? Well no, as it happens, even this has its own unique flavour, sprinkled with caramelised sesame seeds and liberally dressed with a chilli toffee and ginger sauce. Yum!

Wagamama seems to me to be almost unique amongst chain restaurants, displaying levels of invention married to standards of quality you won’t find in many  establishments. Oh, and did I mention it’s also excellent value for money? Little wonder you rarely see the restaurants empty.

This was a great idea and it certainly won’t be the last time we dine here.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney



The Ivy on the Square


St Andrew Square, Edinburgh

Let’s be honest, we’re here because of The Ivy, the famous London restaurant none of our party has ever visited, but which is synonymous with celebrity and exclusivity. Not that we’re expecting either of these tonight, but we’re keen to see what this Scottish outpost has to offer, and perhaps to gain some insight into why its progenitor is so talked about.

We’re with good friends, so we’re off to a promising start: we’re predisposed to enjoy ourselves when we’re in their company. True, we’ve looked at the menu on line and found it pretty uninspiring, and our companions have read some mixed reviews. But we’re here with open minds (and mouths); we’ll give it a fair chance.

And we’re glad we do, because it’s hard to find much fault. The decor is idiosyncratic, all busy prints and reflective surfaces, but it works: it’s modern and traditional and quirky all at once. Okay, so the tables are crammed a little closely together, and it’s busy and bustling so they’re a little slow with our drinks orders, but that’s no problem really; there’s a lively atmosphere and we’re in no rush. The service is attentive without being overbearing, and the food is really rather good.

I start with the tuna carpaccio, which is yellowfin tuna served with ponzu dressing, avocado purée, toasted sesame and coriander shoots. It’s a thing of beauty, and the standout of the meal for me. It’s spicy but delicate, and the fish is melt-in-the-mouth soft. Lovely! Philip has the warm crispy duck salad, which comes with five spice dressing, toasted cashews, watermelon, beansprouts, coriander and ginger. He’s especially impressed by the textures, and by the surprising addition of the watermelon, and declares it a winning way to begin.

His main is line-caught swordfish with red pepper sauce, Provencal black olives, fregola and chimichurri dressing. It’s a simple dish, but a well-executed one, the fish seared to perfection. I opt for the ‘classic’ Ivy on the Square shepherd’s pie, which comprises slow-braised lamb shoulder with beef and Isle of Mull Cheddar potato mash. It’s not like any shepherd’s pie I’ve had before, its elevation completed by the robust gravy that accompanies it, which is rich and densely flavoured.

Do we have  room for pudding? Of course we do. And, having seen it delivered to a neighbouring table, we both opt for the chocolate bombe,  a delicious dome of milk chocolate, which – under a torrent of hot butterscotch sauce – melts into a vanilla ice cream and honeycomb centre. It’s as theatrical as it is sinfully delicious, and we’re suitably impressed.

All in all, we’ve had a great evening, relaxed and unhurried, and we’ve thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Will we be back? I’d say it’s highly likely.

4.3 stars

Susan Singfield


Tower Restaurant


National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh

We’ve been meaning to try the Tower restaurant for a while, and we’re reminded of this fact when we’re sent an email with an enticing offer, namely the chance to enjoy the Table d’Hote menu (£38 for three courses) with the added benefits of complementary champagne, coffee and petit fours. It’d be churlish to ignore this one.

The restaurant’s location is sublime. It’s at the top of the National Museum of Scotland (incidentally, a location that features prominently in one of Philip’s YA novels, Seventeen Coffins) and boasts a divine view of the Old Town, most notably the castle, resplendent in all its lit-up glory. And the service is spot-on: the waiting staff are all friendly and attentive without being overbearing. It’s an auspicious start.

There are olives on the table and, when we finish them (which we do, embarrassingly quickly), we are immediately offered more. We decline, but appreciate the generosity. A malty, crusty rye bread is similarly devoured; again, we are given the chance to refill our plates; again we demur, because we need to leave space for the meal ahead.

Philip starts with the Inverawe Loch Etive smoked trout, which is served with beetroot gel and lemon crème fraîche. It’s as pretty as a picture and tastes as good as it looks. I opt for the  game terrine with pickled pear and walnut croutons. This is superb: densely packed with a range of meats, all distinctly flavoured and utterly delicious.

For his main, Philip has the Borders beef Bourguignon, which comes with button mushrooms, bacon lardons and mashed potato. It’s a rich, sticky delight, packing a real punch. I have the pan-seared fillet of seabass, which – served with crushed heritage potatoes, prawns and saffron butter – is a far lighter, more subtle dish. I really like it; the fish is firm and the skin is crispy. Good stuff indeed!

We share two puddings: the dark Belgian chocolate terrine  with Maldon salt and honeycomb, and the Bramley apple and cinnamon crumble with vanilla ice cream. Both are eagerly consumed, and we are – by now – feeling very full.

Still, we make room for the petit fours that come with our coffees (a flat white for Philip and a black decaf Americano for me). Of course we do! The truffles and tablet are tooth-achingly sweet and yummy. And we leave secure in the knowledge that we have had a lovely evening eating lovely food.

4.3 stars

Susan Singfield




Brougham Street, Edinburgh

It’s always exciting when you discover a great place to eat – and an extra bonus when it turns out to be within walking distance of where you live. Brougham Street, the unassuming thoroughfare that leads up from Tollcross to Edinburgh’s Meadows, has already yielded us two superb eateries. First of all, we sampled the quirky delights of Ong Gie, a fabulous Korean restaurant that specialises in barbecuing food at your table.

Next up, we decided to try Taxidi Greek Bistro, a brand new diner that now occupies the premises where My Big Fat Greek Restaurant used to reside. That too, proved to be an absolute corker.

It has long been on our minds to try the restaurant right next door to Ong Gie so finally, on this chilly winter night, fuelled by a couple of drinks at the Cameo Cinema Bar, we decide that we really shouldn’t leave it any longer.

Passorn boasts that it offers ‘angelic Thai dining’ and it must be said there’s a lovely relaxed feel about this scrupulously clean restaurant. We haven’t booked, but it’s early in the week and they soon find a place for us. When we arrive, the restaurant is nearly empty but it quickly begins to fill up, so clearly it already has an established fan base. We order drinks and settle ourselves down to peruse the menu. What’s interesting here is that – with the curry dishes – the customer can choose the level of heat they prefer – I know of many people who have been permanently scared off Thai food simply because they’ve been on the receiving end of something way too fiery for them.

For my starter I select Bangkok Cakestwo perfectly formed Thai-style cakes, one of prawn and one of cod, served with kaffir lime leaves and red chilli paste. They are both exquisite, expertly spiced and yummy to the last mouthful. Susan opts for Nam Tok Moo, a dish from the North East of Thailand, featuring char-grilled pork with coriander, fresh mint, lemongrass, red onion, roasted rice and Passorn’s own chilli dressing, the whole thing attractively served in  a hollowed-out red cabbage. Again, it’s a knockout, absolutely scrumptious.

For the main course, I choose Pia Samun Prie, crispy monkfish pieces in a turmeric and coconut sauce, topped with crispy onion. The chunks of fish almost melt in the mouth and the dish makes a perfect contrast with Susan’s choice of main course, Angel Curry. This comprises a marinated 8oz sirloin steak in a spicy red curry sauce, served on a bed of crispy potatoes. (My mouth is watering just describing it!) The meat is so tender it can be cut with a standard knife and the tangy, palette-tingling sauce is just perfection on a plate. Furthermore, the combination of the two dishes is inspired, though I’ll admit that’s more down to luck than expertise on our part.

We also order side dishes of Pad Mee (stir fried noodles with beansprouts) and Sticky Rice. Regarding the latter, I’ve had various permutations of this dish all over the UK, but this can only be described as super-sticky, a satisfying gelatinous lump that actually has to be divided up with a knife – and possibly the main reason I end up too full to consider investigating the puddings. That’s not a criticism, by the way. But if you like to finish your meals with something sweet then maybe pace yourselves a bit more than we do.

No doubt about it, this is superb quality Thai food, as good as anything you’ll find in the New Town and, it has to be said, excellent value for money. Which prompts me to ask the question – is Brougham Street the city’s new ‘must-visit’ culinary location?

On the basis of the three restaurants we’ve sampled thus far, that would have to be a resounding ‘yes!’

5 stars

Philip Caveney



The Gathering


Glencoe, Scotland

We’re in Glencoe, where we’ve spent the days climbing hills and being generally gobsmacked by the amazing scenery that waits at every turn. After last night’s fine dining at the Loch Leven Hotel, we’re in the mood for something a little more straightforward. The Gathering catches our eye, a green painted wooden building off the main road with a prominent welcome sign, which promises ‘fish and chips and more’ (it’s the ‘more’ that gets our attention). After a quick glance at the menu, we decide that a bit of lobster is exactly what we fancy, so in we go and, as it’s a rather chilly night, we locate a table as close as we can to the roaring multi-fuel stove which is doing its level best to heat up the large and attractive open-plan dining area.

The deal here is very no-nonsense. Fifteen pounds buys you half a char-grilled lobster and, for a couple of quid extra, they’ll throw in a bowl of chips – and that’s pretty much what we go for. After a short wait, the platters arrive and there they are, exactly what we ordered – the decently-sized half-lobsters accompanied by some nicely dressed rocket and a large bowl of garlic butter in which to dunk the meat. Mmm.

Okay, so lobster can be a bit of a faff. Once you’ve picked out the easy bit, there’s a lot of wrestling with medieval-looking implements in order to break open those claws and seek out their tasty interiors. For some it’s just too much effort for too little return, but the lobster is a tasty beast, and we have time on our hands, so we’re prepared to give it our best shot. The chips, by the way,  are perfect: crispy on the outside and nice and soft within. We ask for a bowl of mayonnaise in which to dip them and it is promptly provided.

Afterwards, we’ve still room for some pudding so we order a warm chocolate fudge cake with a couple of scoops of salted caramel ice cream, which we share, and which finishes the meal off to our satisfaction. With a couple of drinks the bill comes in at under fifty pounds which feels like a result.

If you’re in Glencoe and you’re in the mood for fish and chips (and more), this may be just the place for you.

4 stars

Philip Caveney


Loch Leven Hotel


Old Ferry Road, North Ballachulish

We’ve been living in Edinburgh full-time for eighteen months now, and we’re horribly aware of how little we still know of our adopted country. So we make the most of a free weekend, and head up to Glencoe, to explore a portion of the Highlands. We find what looks like a decent deal for a couple of nights at the Loch Leven Hotel in North Ballachulish, check out the tripadvisor reviews and make our booking.

And, my word, we’re glad we do.

Because the hotel’s location is nothing short of magnificent. Situated on the shores of the loch, it boasts an enviable view, all snow-capped mountains and autumnal trees. Our room opens out onto a veranda, with a path that leads directly down to the water. It’s breathtaking. Add to that a warm, friendly vibe and clean, comfortable rooms, and you’ve got yourself a great hotel. The gin experts’ bar and the fine-dining restaurant are the icing on the proverbial cake.

They’re justifiably proud of what they’re achieving at the Loch Leven Hotel. It’s a small, family-run establishment, and they’re clearly an ambitious clan. When we praise the food, the manager, Henry, tells us that they’re ‘going for an AA rosette’; on the basis of what we eat tonight, I’d say the award’s not far away.

I start with the pan-seared Isle of Mull scallops, which are simply perfect. They’re melt-in-the-mouth, with a backnote of chargrill; it’d be hard to better this. Philip has the smoked and dry-cured grouse breast; this is the first time he’s eaten grouse prepared this way, but he says it will not be the last. It’s bold and flavoursome, a revelation of a dish.

Philip has the Scottish herb-crusted lamb rack for his main, which comes with Dauphinoise potatoes, butternut squash puree, heritage carrots, and the richest stickiest berry jus either of us have ever tried. It’s all lovely, but the jus is the killer. We ask the waiter what’s in it, and are surprised to note there’s Pernod in the mix. It seems there’s life in the 80s throwback still. Meanwhile, I’m tucking in to the Scottish venison steak, which is served rare, with braised cabbage, white wine and cream spinach and some carrot crisps. It’s delicious, and makes me resolve to buy some venison next time I visit the butchers.

And then there’s pudding, of course; we’re not ones to say no. Philip decides to sample the salted caramel and dark chocolate torte, while I have the sticky toffee pudding, both of which we have with vanilla ice cream. They’re lovely: dark, sweet and gooey as can be, but perhaps not as noteworthy as what has gone before.

We share a bottle of the house white – a perfectly decent chenin blanc, then retire to our room, a mere ten feet away from the table, declaring ourselves more than happy with all we have consumed.

Would we come back again? You bet we would – for myriad reasons.

4.8 stars

Susan Singfield




Brougham Street, Edinburgh

Premises can change very quickly in Edinburgh. My Big Fat Greek Kitchen was already a long-established venue when we first moved here – indeed, we dined there on a friend’s recommendation shortly after arrival, and sampled a decent if somewhat unspectacular meal. Seemingly overnight, however, the place has been transformed – a lick of paint, an attractive alfresco dining area set up at the entrance and a radical change of focus to a cafe/bistro feel. We figure it is high time for a visit, so with two friends in tow, we make the short walk from our apartment on a chilly Sunday evening.

There’s a warm, welcoming atmosphere at Taxidi and the evident love for the Greek food they create here is apparent from the word go. We’re happy to accept the advice of the proprietor and decide to do everything mezze style – all four of us enjoying a little bit of the different dishes we order. The service is prompt and, almost before we know it, the dishes are arriving in quick succession. Such is our eagerness to sample them, that we completely forget to photograph anything, so it will be hard to fully convey the wonders that are arranged in front of us – but when I tell you that each course is more delicious that the last, then you’ll doubtless get the general idea.

We sample Favis Santorinas – a delicious gooey split-pea spread with caramelised onion, sort of like a hot hummus, but way more interesting; Talagani – grilled sheep’s cheese from Messenia, served with rocket and a tangy orange marmalade; Kolokythokeftedes – crispy courgette fritters, as light as you please, and dressed with onion, mint, parsley, dill and feta cheese; Melitzana – grilled aubergines with feta, parsley, garlic, olive oil and served with a thick yoghurt sauce (I’m not usually a big fan of aubergines but these are splendid); keftedes tis giagias Daphenes – succulent spicy meatballs made with beef and pork and also served with that fabulous yoghurt sauce. There’s a generously filled bread basket with a scattering of salty black olives on the side and, of course, plenty of pitta bread – quite the nicest I can remember eating, sprinkled with olive oil, salt and oregano. Everything is freshly prepared and simply but beautifully presented and, after we have fallen upon it like ravenous wolves, not one scrap of food is left on the plates – unless of course, you count the olive pits. Indeed, after a quick discussion, we decide that we can’t find a single thing to fault with any of the dishes we’ve eaten.

Ah, but what about the puddings, you might ask? They can often be the stumbling block that lets a meal down. Well, happily, that’s not the case here. We order four sweets and dutifully divide them up. They comprise: loukomades – Greek style doughnuts with honey and walnuts (if the meal has one standout dish, this is probably it – it’s like heaven on a plate); Ekmek Kantaifi – layers of phyllo, with Mastiha flavoured custard, whipped cream and pistachios; Kazan Ntipi – a rich and creamy Byzantine style panna cotta – and finally, Joanne’s Orange Cake, which tastes a lot more exotic than it sounds, a slice of sponge soaked with orange syrup. In case that isn’t enough, we’re offered a lovely warming shot of Mastika, a Greek liqueur, which we happily accept – and which brings this exciting meal to a suitably warming conclusion.

OK, I need to criticise something, so I will say that perhaps just one choice of Greek white or red wine on the drinks menu seems a little… er, Spartan. Maybe that’s something that might be developed later? But hey, it’s not a deal breaker.

Taxidi offers proper Greek cuisine at great value for money prices – and I would also add that, if you’re vegetarian, or have friends of that persuasion, this is an inspired place to eat – and proof if ever it were needed, that sometimes a change can be for the better.

Go, enjoy. I think you’ll love this as much as we do.

5 stars

Philip Caveney