Food

Loudons Cafe & Bakery

 

03/08/17

Fountainbridge, Edinburgh

Loudons has an enviable reputation around Edinburgh and it’s very easy to see why. From the spacious, scrupulously clean interior to the charming, affable staff and the prompt and efficient service, this place quite simply ticks all the boxes – so when we and our guests decide to step out for a late breakfast, it seems the obvious place to head for. After all, it’s just a quick stroll away. The only slightly strange thing is that we haven’t got around to trying it before now.

We start by ordering coffee and we’re asked would we care to try Ruli Masasa, a new Rwandan blend they’re trialling? Yes, as it happens, we would – and very tasty it proves to be. As we sip, contentedly, we peruse the menu and it quickly becomes clear, that the only major problem is going to be which of the many delights on offer we’re actually going to choose. After some deliberation, Susan orders the American style pancakes, which arrive promptly and prove to be thick and satisfying, layered with bacon and baked banana (shouldn’t work, but trust me, it does!).  The impressive stack of pancakes is topped with maple syrup, icing sugar and cocoa powder. If you have a sweet tooth, this is definitely the one for you.

I’m in the mood for something more savoury so I choose an offering called the ‘Hoots Mon’, which, despite that awful name, is just wonderful. It comprises an English muffin, halved and liberally layered with haggis, black pudding and bacon, then topped with two poached eggs and a tangy tomato ketchup chutney. It is quite simply delightful, the bacon thick and crispy, the eggs poached to perfection, so that when you prod them with a knife, a gloopy yellow yoke gushes over the lower layers. Oh, yes please! Needless to say, I make very short work of eating it.

One of our companions orders French toast, which is served with bacon and maple syrup and looks very nice indeed. The fourth, a person of more modest appetite, plumps for a traditional fresh scone served with butter and jam, and pronounces it excellent. Pretty soon, all four plates are clean and we’re very happy punters.

OK, so maybe Loudons isn’t  the cheapest cafe you’ll find around the city (most dishes are around the £10 mark) but, for a pleasant brunch, you’d be hard put to better it and, since I can’t find a single thing to fault in the order, it must surely receive the maximum number of stars. What about that name, ‘Hoots Mon’? Should I deduct points for that? No, because you could call it ‘desiccated wombat’ and it would still taste incredible. Full marks it is, then.

For those of you contemplating an exhausting day of touring around the many festival venues, this is the logical place to refuel. And for those of you who’ve slept in, I hear they do excellent lunches too.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

Hotel du Vin

31/07/17

Bristo Place, Edinburgh

Edinburgh boasts a wealth of fine dining venues and Hotel du Vin, part of the Malmaison group, has been around since 2006. It also has a more fascinating history than some of the competition. Back in the day it was known as ‘Bedlam,’ the city’s biggest lunatic asylum. (The poet Robert Ferguson was one of its most celebrated inmates.) These days, of course, it’s all a bit more sedate, with a pleasant rustic feel, though that colourful history is commemorated in a private dining room which boasts a spectacular mural featuring two of Edinburgh’s most infamous inhabitants, Burke and Hare.

We first ate at Hotel du Vin back in the day, when we were first discovering the city, but long before we started reviewing our dining experiences. We have family visiting, so we decide to revisit the place, taking advantage of a bookatable deal that offers three courses and a glass of wine for just £20.95 per head.

For starters, Susan and I both opt for the seared Galician octopus, which is a rather splendid affair, succulent fishy tentacles resting on a bed of inky braised lentils with salsa verde. It’s rich and savoury and a great appetiser. There’s also Woodhall’s family black combe air-dried ham (looks fab but doesn’t photograph well) and a watercress and spinach soup, which is served with a poached egg and a dollop of sour cream. All of these are sampled and all are pronounced utterly delicious.

For her main course, Susan tries the Normandy chicken cobb salad, a beautifully arranged dish featuring tangy Roquefort cheese, avocado, tomatoes, brioche croutons, soft boiled eggs and pancetta. It looks and tastes absolutely splendid. I’m in a ‘gromphy’ mood, so I go for the black and blue burger. Now, I can guess what you’re thinking – a burger is a burger is a burger, right? Not so. This one features a succulent 200 gram pattie nestled between a light-as-a-feather black sesame seed brioche. The meat is liberally coated with Roquefort cheese and mushroom ketchup and is accompanied by a cone of crispy, salty french fries. Mmm. Best of all, it comes with crunchy dill pickles on the side (and when one of our guests announces he doesn’t like dill pickles, I’m in there like a shot!). Oh yes, there’s also a grilled Cornish mackerel served with trout roe and Waldorf fregola grossa. Everything is cooked to perfection and nicely presented – there’s really nothing here to find fault with, and trust me I look really hard.

Of course, there must be puddings and three of us cannot resist the description of a treacle tart, served with (how good does this sound?) custard ice cream. Yes please! And very nice it proves to be, thick, not too dry (because we all know that can happen, right?) and accompanied by a scoop of something that tastes very like deep-frozen heaven. The fourth member of our party investigates the peach melba – melt-in-the-mouth poached peaches with fresh raspberries, meringue and (nice touch this) jelly and ice cream! It’s a delight, but hey, it’s not treacle tart and custard ice cream, if you catch my drift.

All-in-all, this is splendid grown-up food, perfectly prepared and served in pleasant and convivial surroundings. The white wine offered is a chardonnay and though this would usually invoke a negative mark, it proves to be perfectly drinkable (though a sauvignon blanc would have been more agreeable to us ABCs).

It’s a tiny niggle. We were very happy with our Hotel du Vin experience and I can’t help feeling that, unless you’re extraordinarily fussy, you’ll enjoy it too. Make sure you pop your head into the Burke and Hare room to check out that artwork – unless of course you’ve actually booked the Burke and Hare room, in which case you can sit there and ogle it to your heart’s content.

4.8 stars

Philip Caveney

 

Dine

29/07/17

Traverse Theatre, Cambridge Street, Edinburgh

We’re meeting up with some old friends and we’ve been meaning to try Dine for a while now, so it seems like the ideal time to give the place a whirl. Since we’re eating fairly early, we have the opportunity to select from the market menu, which comes in at a very reasonable £19.50 for three courses. Michelin-starred chef Stuart Muir claims to have created a series of contemporary twists on classic dishes and our expectations are high.

The room above the Traverse theatre is a delightful setting for a meal: it’s spacious and circular with dark wooden flooring, giving a surprisingly intimate feel; the tables are arranged around a central and remarkably realistic apple tree. The staff are friendly and chatty – attentive without being obtrusive. Drinks are duly ordered and the starters arrive promptly.

I opt for the cured sea trout, which, though not the most photogenic thing on the menu, is really quite delicious, served with pickled green apple, burnt cucumber, yoghurt and dill. Susan has the heritage tomatoes, which are bursting with flavour, nestling on goats cheese, black olive crumb, filo and basil. Our companions go for the smoked Ayrshire ham hock terrine with carrot chutney, pickled heritage carrots, watercress and sourdough. It looks splendid but I’m not offered a taste, no matter how many hints I drop!

The main courses are equally assured. Susan’s Perthshire chicken is agreeably moist and succulent, served with sweetcorn puree, burnt sweetcorn, baby gem and pickled trompettes. I sample the (very alliterative) braised brisket of borders beef (try saying that with a mouthful of garden peas!), served with truffle polenta cake, burnt onion puree and tender steam broccoli. Brisket is notoriously hard to get right, but this is as tender as you’d want, and coated with a sticky, piquant sauce. A slice of this meat nestled on a chunk of polenta cake makes for a very pleasing contrast. Excellent.

Puddings? Well, Susan orders the Blacketyside farm strawberries – these come with mascarpone, meringue, 12-year-old balsamic, basil and a scoop of strawberry sorbet. It’s a pretty spectacular concoction, hitting all the sweet notes in perfect harmony. I go for the selection of British cheese, with crackers and a rich, fruity chutney. Since cutting down on dairy products in my everyday diet, this is a chance to be a bit decadent and the three cheeses I’m served are generously proportioned and lip-smackingly good. (Had I been a bit more organised I’d have made a note of their names, but I was too busy devouring them to take time out to do that, so suffice to say that Dine does excellent cheese.)

This was fine dining prepared to a very high standard, offered at a very reasonable price in a charming location. Any way you look at it, it ticks all the boxes. With the madness of the fringe only days away, make sure you book early to avoid disappointment.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney

Seasons

Broughton Street, Edinburgh

09/07/17

We’re here because it sounds exciting: we’ve seen Seasons advertised on Facebook and we’re intrigued by what we’ve read. Because there’s no menu here, as such, just a list of locally sourced ingredients, and the choice of a five or seven-course tasting menu. “We ask for you to put your trust in our ethos and our team,” says their  website – and so we do.

We’re eating with friends and, after some discussion, we all agree to go with the seven-course option (we’re afraid of missing something spectacular if we opt for the shorter menu). We eschew the wine pairings: at £45 a head, this seems a bit much for seven (or maybe six, if tripadvisor reviews are accurate) 75ml glasses, however wonderful they are. We share a bottle of sauvignon blanc instead, although several of our refills taste suspiciously like Chardonnay; have they confused our wine with another table’s? Looking back, we realise we have probably drunk a lot more than a bottle between us, so the mix-up is in our favour – and we’re too busy enjoying ourselves to bring it up. Because the food is really rather good.

We start with an amuse bouche, quirkily presented in a ceramic egg. It’s an Arbroath smokie with dill foam, and it packs a lovely punch. It’s a good start, and sets us up nicely for the first ‘proper’ course, which is a spinach and watercress velouté,with a burnt onion oil and crumb. This is absolutely delicious: smooth and velvety and richly flavoured.

The second course consists of langoustines, served with heritage tomatoes and a tomato bisque. The langoustine tails are soft (maybe too soft?) but they taste wonderful, and the tomato bisque is inspired. So far, so good. Next up, it’s braised ox cheeks, with kohlrabi and herbs. This is perhaps the least enjoyable course of the evening: it’s all very well cooked – the tiny sweet mushrooms are a particular delight – but we all agree it lacks seasoning, and it’s a bit big and oafish in the wake of all the finery we’ve tried so far. The fourth course, plaice with samphire and a plaice tortellino, is also under-seasoned. We ask for salt, which is clearly not de rigeur, as we discover when we are given a bowl of unground rock salt and a teaspoon. This feels a bit grudging (obviously we can’t use it), but we find it funny rather than annoying, and just eat the course without. Apart from the lack of sodium, it’s delicious, especially the fish-filled pasta.

By now, we’re starting to think that five courses would have been enough: we’re getting very full. But the fifth course, lamb with peas and feta, is worth finding space for: it’s perfect. The lamb is pink and tender, and the peas enriched by the sharp salty cheese.  Yum. Nevertheless, we’re relieved to see that the sixth course is a light one, a pre-dessert of strawberries, strawberry ice-cream and honeycomb. It’s light and sweet and very fresh. We all relish it.

Pudding is cherries with woodruff sponge, chocolate crumb and a cherry sorbet. It’s a fascinating combination of flavours and textures and, while it doesn’t quite elicit the lip-smacking groans of pleasure that sweet stuff often can, it certainly holds our interest, and we all clear our plates. It’s a clever dessert, and it gives us pause for thought.

Seasons is a lovely place to spend an evening with friends. It’s relaxed and convivial, with plenty of space between courses to digest what’s gone before and catch up with each other’s news. We arrive at seven and don’t leave until after ten-thirty, and we enjoy ourselves immensely. It’s a quirky, original restaurant with real daring and ambition. Well worth a visit. Give it a try!

4.4 stars

Susan Singfield

 

Cucina at G & V Hotel

17/06/17

Royal Mile, Edinburgh

It was my birthday yesterday, but events conspired to prevent us from celebrating together then (Philip was working in Yorkshire while I was at home in Edinburgh). No matter: the date is only a number, and an excuse for a treat. We’re happy to postpone our pleasure for a day.

We’re lured to Cucina with another bookatable deal (seriously, they’re hard to resist), and are soon happily perusing the Star Menu, drinking our complementary Prosecco  (this is becoming a habit; if we’re not careful, we’ll start expecting a free glass of fizz wherever we go). The decor is quirky: all bright colours and modern surfaces, not as in-your-face ‘designer’ as it used to be in its Hotel Missoni days, but definitely drawing on its previous incarnation’s style. And we’re looking forward to some stylish Italian nosh.

We’re not disappointed. The bread arrives promptly, and there’s a choice (we always appreciate a choice). I opt for a pumpkin seed, while Philip takes the sun-dried tomato. Both are lovely: fresh and chewy and distinctly naughty. We accept the offer of a second slice.

For starters, I choose steamed mussels; these are served in a light tomato sauce with garlic and chilli. They’re exactly as they should be: plump and tender and as moreish as can be. Philip’s homemade conchiglie with pork ragu is also very good indeed, the pasta served al dente with just the right amount of bite, and a deliciously herby pork sauce.

Our mains are good too, although maybe not quite as impressive as the starters. Philip’s BBQ chicken comes with roast potato and spinach, and he’s really impressed with the sauce, which is sweet and densely flavoured without being all thick and sticky and overpowering the dish. My cod with Savoy cabbage, chorizo, potatoes and lemon sauce is – in the main – beautifully cooked, although I don’t eat the skin, which is soft and flabby, and not crispy as I’d like. Still, that’s hardly a meal-ruining issue, and the rest of it is mouthwateringly good.

Would we like a pudding? Of course we would. At first, I’m disappointed with my tiramisu: it’s a light, delicate frothy thing, served in a cocktail glass, all sweetness and air. I’ve been looking forward to a thick slab of marscapone and soggy sponge, and this just doesn’t tick the boxes in my head. But it tastes divine and, actually, once I’ve eaten a few mouthfuls and got down to the sponge, I’m kind of glad it’s what it is. It’s less ‘gromphy’ for sure, but it’s a better ending to the meal we’ve had. Philip has no such qualms about his pud: it’s ice-cream. Readers of this blog might not be aware that, in some circles, Philip is renowned for being the world’s second best ice-cream eater, and he’s keen to try the liquorice, cocoa and pistachio flavours on offer here. He declares them bowl-lickingly good, although he does manage to refrain from actually demonstrating this.

Our bookatable deal even includes coffee and petit fours. Okay, so the tiny pieces of biscotti we receive are somewhat underwhelming, but we’re more than pleased with what we’ve had. Even with the (extra) bottle of Prosecco we’ve consumed, this all comes in at a very reasonable £88. Not bad at all.

4.4 stars

Susan Singfield

Ricci’s Place

16/06/17

Crossley Street, Halifax

For writerly reasons, I’m in Halifax, a town I honestly don’t think I’ve ever visited  before. I’m staying at the White Swan hotel, so I put out a Facebook call for recommendations for somewhere to eat. Ricci’s Place proves to be one minute’s walk from my hotel, so I can hardly complain that it’s inaccessible. As I walk, I can’t help reflecting that Halifax will be much nicer once it’s finished. At the moment, huge swathes of it seem to be under reconstruction and travelling any distance requires the unwary traveller to side-step cement mixers, road drills and various other items of machinery. Ricci’s Place turns out to be one of those industrial chic establishments, all stripped floorboards and neon signs. It bills itself as a ‘modern kitchen.’ It’s still early so there are only ten or twelve diners in evidence.

For starters, I choose the crispy baby squid, served with rocket, chilli, lemon and alioli. It arrives almost before I finished ordering it, as though the chefs were waiting on starting blocks. For a moment I think that they’ve mistakenly prepared a main course, because this is a very hearty portion indeed, even by my gargantuan standards. I guess the term ‘crunchy’ should have tipped me off  to the fact that the squid would be coated with something, in this case a rather bland breadcrumb affair which unfortunately serves to mask the delicate flavour of the squid itself, but the accompanying salad is nicely spiced with a powerful punch of chilli, while the alioli is very garlicky indeed and makes me fear for the olfactory safety of the schoolchildren I shall be talking with tomorrow.

For the main course, I opt for ‘lasagna with a difference,’ mostly because I’m intrigued by the name. Changing the traditional recipe? Look what happened to Jamie Oliver when he dared to tweak the ingredients for spaghetti bolognese! There were riots in the streets! There were moves to have his head served on a plate! Clearly, Ricci (if he even exists) has no reservations whatsoever about playing fast and loose with tradition. This lasagna is made with wild boar and has an intense gamey flavour. It’s layered with buffalo mozzarella, duck eggs, speck (whatever the hell that is) and San Marzano tomatoes. It’s not exactly the handsomest meal you’ve ever seen but I have to say, it’s very satisfying indeed, particularly when you have a side order of hand cut chips to mop up that spectacularly herby sauce.

Again, the hefty portion size means I struggle to finish and though the sweets sound enticing, I am sadly quite beyond sampling them, so I head out into the half-finished streets and make the long, arduous trek back to my hotel.

So, a reasonably decent starter and a very satisfying main course. If you should happen to find  yourself in Halifax, for whatever reason, (perhaps you live there!) this is a decent dining experience – something to take your mind off all that building work.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney

Chez Mal Brasserie at Malmaison

28/05/17

Leith, Edinburgh

We’re here because some of bookatable.co.uk’s deals are just too good to ignore, and this one – three courses and a glass of Prosecco at the Chez Mal Brasserie for a mere £19.95 – seems like particularly good value for money. It’s in Leith too, which is an added draw: it’s a rare part of our adopted hometown that we’ve yet to explore. So we plot a route on google maps, lace up our walking boots, and set off through the city and along the Waters of Leith. Eight kilometres and ninety minutes later, we arrive at Malmaison, feeling more than ready for this little treat.

Its location is wonderful: a cobbled street on the waterfront. The building dates back to 1883, and its maritime history is echoed in the quirky artwork that decorates the bare stone walls. Service is friendly, and our Proseccos arrive quickly. The Spring fixed-price menu offers four options per course, all of which sound interesting (and, even without the bookatable deal, it’s still only £24.95). We order promptly – being hungry makes us decisive – and select a bottle of French languedoc to accompany our meals. The wine is soon delivered, and is sliding down very nicely… but something seems to have gone awry. Where is our food?

Just as we’re getting to the neck-craning stage (did the people at the next table come in after us? They seem to be on their second courses already), a waiter appears with some complementary bread and apologises for the delay, citing a mix-up in the kitchen. We’re glad of the bread, which is absolutely delicious, and served with both a rich salty butter and an olive oil/balsamic combo. But we do devour it a little too enthusiastically (did I mention that we’re hungry?), perhaps spoiling our appetites for what’s to come.

The starters appear soon afterwards, and they’re good. Philip’s grilled masala spiced mackerel with sweet potato and lime pickle and a cumin raita is especially tasty: the robust fish perfectly enhanced by the sharply pickled veg. My spring lamb Benedict is also nicely done, but there’s a reason it’s usually made with ham, and that’s the saltiness. The lamb and egg together, especially atop the brioche toast, are perhaps a little too rich, with nothing to cut through it all.

Philip’s main is a chicken Milanese, which is a breaded chicken breast with a Burford brown fried egg, truffle mayonnaise and rainbow chard. It’s indisputably well-cooked, and there’s not much here to criticise, but neither is there much to laud. It’s, well, okay. Quite nice. Y’know. My pan-fried river trout is a bit better: the fish is beautifully cooked with a crispy skin, and the pea and broad bean purée accompanying it is lovely. But it still feels like it could do with… I don’t know what, just to elevate it into something better, something more.

The puddings are delicious though; hats off to the pastry chef. We share two. The first is a warm Valrhona caramel chocolate brownie, a rich, sumptuous temptation, which is served with the most more-ish ice cream I’ve ever tasted, a brown butter pecan concoction. Yum. Second is a rhubarb trifle, the creamy vanilla custard and rhubarb jelly offset perfectly by sharp, almost sour pieces of the eponymous fruit, and a spicy ginger crumble. These make for a very satisfactory end to our evening, and we wander off into the Leith evening, ready to walk off our excess.

3.8 stars

Susan Singfield