Food

Parx

10/12/18

Rubislaw Terrace, Aberdeen

We’re in Aberdeen for the day, and we have an hour for lunch. Parx is recommended as a friendly place, where we can eat quickly and healthily. So we walk across the road from the school in which we’re working to this little basement cafe, and grab the last remaining table. It’s clearly very popular.

It’s easy to see why. Catering to the working lunch crowd, Parx does takeout food as well, and there are many in the queue who are choosing this option. But we have the luxury of time.

Unusually, we’re not really very hungry because we’ve already had a fairly indulgent hotel breakfast, so we decide to share a meal. We opt for a slice of roasted cauliflower quiche, served with two sides for £5.95. We choose a ‘superfood salad’ (parsnip, beetroot, kale, pomegranate and feta) and a pasta salad (comprising endamame beans and other tasty greenish stuff). It’s lovely, and the quiche is generous, although the salad portions are a little on the small side.

Depending on your viewpoint, it’s either a blessing or a curse that I’m the one who goes to the counter to place the order; suffice to say, if it were Philip, we wouldn’t have a big piece of lemon cake sitting in front of us. We can’t regret my weakness though: this is excellent cake, the sponge light and fluffy, the frosting citrus sharp and not too sweet.

All in all, we’re more than satisfied. A smashing little place. If you’re in Aberdeen and you’re feeling peckish, this just might be for you.

4 stars

Susan Singfield

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Hawksmoor

25/11/18

West Register Street, Edinburgh

It’s a cold, grey, gloomy Sunday, the kind that makes a roast dinner seem very attractive. And it’s a while since we’ve had one. There are some excellent Sunday roasts to be had in Edinburgh (Kyloe is a reliable 5 star experience), but the well-regarded Hawksmoor  chain opened its doors here in July, and we’ve been meaning to give it a try. So we put on our hats and gloves and waterproofs, and head down to West Register Street to see what all the fuss is about.

Housed in an old bank, Hawksmoor is certainly an imposing venue, but it does feel somewhat austere: the architecture is impressive, but it’s like a blank canvas. There’s no colour, no warmth, no personality. It needs some artwork, or some clever lighting. As it stands, it feels curiously dark and unfinished.

The service is friendly and efficient. We both order the slow cooked rump of beef at £20 per head, which comes with all the usual trimmings (cabbage, carrots, roast potatoes and Yorkshire pudding) and some roasted onion and garlic too. There’s a rich, meaty gravy on the side, and we can see from nearby diners that the portions are generous. Still, we stick with our tradition of ordering a side of mac’n’cheese whenever we spy it on a menu, because – well, because that’s what we do.

We don’t eat meat very often, so we like it to be good quality. And this is: it’s a lovely piece of beef, served pink and oozing with flavour. The vegetables are buttery and the spuds the ideal combination of crispy and soft. The Yorkshire is a good’un, huge and light and pillowy. The mac’n’cheese is decent too: sticky and mustardy. We’re glad we’ve ordered it.

We also have a bottle of Domaine du Haut Bourg Sauvignon Blanc, a fresh-tasting French wine that serves us very well. But we eschew the starters (they look like they’ll fill us up too much before the main) and we’re too full to entertain the idea of pudding.

There’s nothing to complain about: this is a meat-focused restaurant that knows its chops, and the food is rather good. But it’s lacking something – some theatre or spirit – that makes it seem special. I know I’ve had a good dinner, but I don’t feel like I’ve had a treat.

Next time we feel the urge for a Sunday roast, I think we’ll head back to Kyloe, where it’s warm and lively – and they carve the meat for you at the table.

3.9 stars

Susan Singfield

Southside Scran

 

13/11/18

Bruntsfield Place, Edinburgh

We can’t help but notice the smell of fresh paint as we enter Southside Scran. It’s rare that we visit such a recently-finished venue, but, over the past few months, we’ve watched with mounting excitement as Tom Kitchin’s latest project has taken shape in Bruntsfield. ‘As soon as we’ve got something to celebrate,’ we tell ourselves, ‘we’ll give this place a whirl.’ The opportunity arrives sooner than we think.

It’s clear from the outset that the venue is still going through that ‘settling in’ phase. When we arrive, the person on the front desk is locked into a long phone conversation, but a friendly waiter ushers us to the bar and supplies us with complimentary glasses of prosecco, whilst our table is ‘sorted out.’ Clearly, this man knows the quickest route to our hearts. It’s a Tuesday evening and during this bedding-in process, covers are restricted to 26 diners, so its relatively quiet tonight – but there’s a cheery wood burner on the go, a rotisserie is filling the place with the appetising aroma of cooked chicken and we’re perfectly content to sit perusing the menu and sipping our drinks.

Once at our table, we’re presented with chunks of fresh sourdough, some butter and a delicious pot of intensely flavoured chicken liver parfait. We try valiantly to hold ourselves back for the actual meal, but it’s difficult, especially when they replace the bread we’ve already eaten.

For my starter, I’ve chosen the Borders game pithivier, a delightfully crispy pie which is surrounded by a rich and fruity jus. It’s note perfect. Susan has the West coast shellfish ravioli, liberally doused in a delightful seafood bisque. In both cases the plates are virtually licked clean.

My main course is Clash Farm pork belly, with apple sauce. It’s soft, and sticky with a chewy, rather than crispy skin, good, if perhaps a little over-salted. Susan’s Orkney scallops with herb butter are nicely judged, just firm enough to offer a little ‘bite.’ For sides, we’ve chosen a bowl of macaroni cheese (I know, I know, it doesn’t really go with anything but, whenever we see it we somehow can’t resist ordering it and this is exactly as we like it, thick and gooey with a nice crispy top.) There’s also an earthy ragout of lentils and lardons and a green salad, which, in its own way, is a bit of a stand out. Perhaps you’re thinking, ‘oh, it’s just a green salad, a few leaves, a bit of cucumber, right?’ No, this is a little masterpiece, incorporating avocado, endives and pumpkin seeds, crunchy, and zesty and very nice indeed. So often, it’s the details that lift a meal above the run-of-the-mill.

We’re pretty full, by now, but the rice pudding with pumpkin, orange and salted caramel sauce sounds too good to ignore, so we opt to share a bowl – and we’re glad we do, because in many ways, this little belter is the other star of the show, so rich, so satisfying, that it makes the plate of strongly flavoured cheeses we finish up with a bit of a let down – nothing wrong with them, you understand, but that pudding is a tough act to follow, and perhaps more the kind of flavour my taste buds want to remember.

When it comes time to pay the bill our waiter informs us that because everything this evening hasn’t been ‘absolutely perfect,’ they’ve discounted the wine we ordered. It turns out that they haven’t charged us one penny for a bottle of Marlborough sauvignon blanc, which is very noble of them and a move that’s guaranteed to prompt me to return, once things are more settled. But really, I have no complaints anyway. I’m full and happy, a perfect combination.

It’s early days of course, but this first visit augers well for the restaurant’s future. Southside Scran offers really clever food, a sizeable step up from mere pub grub. The fact that the place is ten minutes walk from where we live is simply the icing on the cake – or, if you prefer, the sauce on the pudding.

4.8 stars

Philip Caveney

Brewhemia

03/11/18

Market Street, Edinburgh

This is our third visit to Brewhemia, and this time we’ve persuaded friends to join us. The promise of live music, themed performances and – not least – Schöfferhofer grapefruit beer on tap makes this an offer they can’t refuse. We’re ready to have fun.

Brewhemia is a vast enterprise, appealing to a wide demographic. We’re here on a Saturday evening, and there’s a nightclub vibe, but it’s oddly inclusive: there are people of all ages, some dressed to the nines, others much more casual. It doesn’t seem to matter; the place is big enough to accommodate all sorts. This is reflected in the building too: we’ve chosen to sit in the huge beer hall, because we want to see the band and the performers, but there are plenty of more intimate spaces tucked away up on the mezzanine, and a quieter dining area at the front of the venue.

Tonight’s theme is ‘Vegas’ and there are already actors mingling with the crowd: a couple of showgirls, a croupier, a ‘just married’ husband hugging a stuffed tiger. It sounds tacky – and it is – but it’s all done with such vivacity and good humour, such unabashed pleasure, that it really works, putting smiles on our faces – or maybe that’s just the beer. (On our previous visits, we’ve been treated to ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and ‘Women from History’ – the themes are nothing if not eclectic!) The house band perform a selection of speakeasy classics, crowd-pleasing covers that we’re happy to hear.

But we’re not just here for the entertainment: we want to eat as well. Unsurprisingly, the food is of the robust, ‘soak-up-all-the-beer’ variety, and we’re delighted to oblige. Philip starts with the smoked haddock bon bons & Stornoway black pudding, which is served with slow cooked leek, pea puree, and a hollandaise sauce. It’s bold and tasty – if a little filling for a starter – and he enjoys it a lot. I have the beet hummus with coriander, feta, pomegranate, and flatbread. The hummus and all the little bits are lovely, but I’m unimpressed with the bread, which is cold, dry and unappetising.

Still, I’m not too bothered: I don’t want to load up on carbs right now, not with the main that’s coming up. Because I’ve ordered the sausage fest, which is a platter of Crombies’ speciality sausages, served with wholegrain mustard, creamy mash and gravy. There are three sausages, and they’re not only enormous, they clearly have a high meat content. I’ve eaten vegan food for the last three days, so this seems particularly extreme. They’re delicious though, and I eat them all: the pork and fennel is the best, I decide, although the beef is good too, and the pork and herb. Our friends tell us Crombies’ butchers is a bit of an Edinburgh institution, and we resolve to check it out.

Philip has the winter schnitzel, which is chicken, served with truffle and parmesan mash, a fried duck egg, crispy onions, and beer-candied bacon. He declares it a triumph and polishes it off.

I’m not minded to eat a pudding – I’m absolutely stuffed – and remain resolute until everyone else orders dessert. I hear the words “bread and butter pudding” coming out of my mouth, and – ten minutes later – I’m facing a bowl of the stuff, served with whisky marmalade, dark chocolate, vanilla custard,  and marmalade ice cream. Somehow, I find the space for it, and very good it is too, especially the marmalade ice cream. Philip has no such qualms, and orders the sticky toffee and ginger pudding. It’s his go-to pud, and he’s pleased with the generous serving of butterscotch sauce, and not at all bothered that the kitchen has run out of vanilla ice cream; he prefers chocolate anyway.

It’s been a lively, boozy evening, and we’ve had a great time. And it’s not over yet: as the last plates are cleared, and we order a final drink ‘for the road,’ we’re treated to a glitzy lip-synching drag performance, ‘Jennifer Lopez’ and backing singers dancing on the tables and upping the vibe.

Brewhemia really is a special place: an oddity, but a welcome one. We’re still grinning as we step out onto the drizzly midnight streets. Cheers!

4.3 stars

Susan Singfield

La Table d’Yvan

18/10/18

Mas des Carrasins, St Remy de Provençe

It’s that time of year again – October half term – so we’re spending the week visiting my parents in Provençe. Mum has long been extolling the relative virtues of Groupon restaurant deals in France: unlike in the UK, where the majority of voucher options are for pizza or burger joints, here, high-end establishments regularly have tempting offers. Last year, she proved the point by taking us to Auberge de Tavel for lunch (check out our review here: https://bouquetsbrickbatsreviews.com/2017/10/24/auberge-de-tavel/); this time, it’s dinner at Table d’Yvan, situated on the outskirts of St Remy, part of the Mas De Carrasins hotel.

It makes a strong first impression: the setting is beautiful. In the warm dusk, we walk through an immaculately tended garden area, where summer diners eat their meals. There are lemon trees, laden with fruit, numerous olive trees and surprising sculptures set between the plants. We’re inside though (it’s warm, but it’s still October) in the equally eclectic dining room, the tasteful white and silver decoration offset by bold and interesting works of contemporary art, and bright colours, skilfully arranged.

Nor does the food disappoint. This is a six course tasting menu, and our expectations are tempered by the €54 per couple price. That’s less than £25 a head, so we’re anticipating cheap ingredients artfully managed. We’re wrong. There’s nothing low-rent about this food except the price.

We start with an amuse bouche: an aubergine and mushroom patty served with a sweet potato purée. It’s delicious. As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews for B & B, aubergines are the only vegetables I don’t like. But this is lovely: the patty almost meaty in its texture, and beautifully complemented by the smooth sweet potato sauce.

Next up, is a butternut squash soup with crayfish, garlic cream and bacon crumbs. The first mouthful is disappointing – it needs seasoning, I think – but then I stir in the garlic cream and the flavour is instantly transformed. Aha! I’d still like it to be a little warmer than it is, but it’s mouthwateringly good.

After that we have goat’s cheese three ways: with courgettes in a creme légére served with vegetable chips, in a raviolo with tomato and basil, and in a profiterole, the choux as crispy and flaky as any I’ve ever eaten. All three are superb.

We’re now at course four and I’m beginning to regret accepting a bread roll with the soup, even through the bread (I chose wholemeal from a basket of six different types) was fresh and warm and perfectly baked. But this is no dainty tasting portion, it’s a full sized meal of guinea fowl served with polenta chips, chard and a rich jus. And I’m running out of superlatives too; everything here is so damned fine. I don’t think I’ve eaten guinea fowl before, but it’s definitely on my radar now, and I intend to have it again. It’s marvellous, rich yet delicate, all soft meat and crispy skin. Aah. Even the memory makes me hungry!

Thank goodness the fifth course is a modest one: more goat’s cheese, which I think might be a misstep when I read it on the menu but, in reality, it works really well. This time it’s two simple slices of fresh cheese, mildly flavoured and very subtle – a palate cleanser, if you like.

And then there’s pudding: a raspberry mousse served between two biscuits with a scattering of fresh raspberries, a scoop of sorbet and a thin strip of raspberry jelly meticulously laid across the top biscuit. There’s a raspberry coulis too, and it’s as sweet and sharp and sumptuous as anyone could wish.

We’re delighted. Everything has been beautifully presented. It’s pretty food with robust flavours. We feel spoiled and indulged. We’ve shared a carafe of fruity sauvignon blanc, and enjoyed a relaxed evening with my mum and dad, who are always lovely, lively company. What’s not to like?

5 stars

Susan Singfield

 

Effie’s of Perth

01/10/18

High Street, Perth

Philip has a gig in Perth this morning, and I’ve come along for the ride. Why not? We’re quick to seize any opportunity to explore our adopted country, and – although we’ve worked in this area before – we haven’t spent any time in this lovely historic town. So we set aside the afternoon, and hope that it won’t rain.

We’ll need to eat of course. A google search quickly reveals Effie’s as the go-to place for lunch, so we decide to follow the crowd and see what makes this place so popular. It’s not difficult to work it out. Effie’s is a fine example of a family run business: a quirkily decorated vintage tea room that is immediately appealing, with waiters who are chatty and eager to share their story. There are old photos of ‘Effie’ on the tablecloths – all beehived 1960s glamour – and our waiter proudly tells us she’s his mother, and she’s currently in the kitchen, presiding over the apple crumble.

But we’re not thinking about puddings… yet. I order the macaroni, which is bigged-up on their website. It’s great, exactly what mac’n’cheese should be, indulgent and generous and strongly flavoured. It’s not elegantly presented – this is a long way from fine dining. It’s comfort food: big portions, no pretentions, home-cooking by the best home cook. The macaroni comes with a side salad, which I eat, and a handful of crisps, which I don’t – not because I’m being virtuous, but because I’ve also ordered a side of handmade chips, and there’s a limit to how many carbs I can consume. The chips are perfect, a far cry from the bland frozen fries a lot of cafes seem content to serve. Thick and crispy, hot and fluffy – honestly, they’re great.

Philip wants to try the chicken and ham pie, but he’s too late, the last one’s been sold. He opts for the steak pie instead, and is very pleased with what he gets: soft, tender beef in a rich, succulent gravy, topped with a mound of flaky pastry, as light as air. This comes with carrots and peas and more of those marvellous chips. We’re full up. But how can we come to a place like this and not sample the sweet offerings?

Our waiter is back again, pressing us to try the crumble. And the carrot cake, he tells us, is famous, made by ‘Alison’ from a secret recipe she won’t even divulge to the family. We decide to sample both. We tell him we’ll be sharing, and he not only brings us an extra fork for the cake, but splits the crumble into two small bowls. It’s details like this that make the service so good.

The apple crumble is great. Effie comes out of the kitchen to ask us what we think. It’s truly delicious. I mean, it’s just a crumble, but the fruit is cinammony and sharp, the crumble crisp and sweet. The custard is creamy and rich with vanilla.

But the carrot cake is the star of the show. I’ve never had one like it. It’s moist and delicate and oddly light – not at all dense, like this cake often is. The frosting is a revelation too, silky smooth and not too sweet.

But oh my, we’ve eaten too much. And it is raining – of course it is. But we’ve no choice really but to spend an hour walking by the river Tay, getting gently soaked. We’re far too stuffed to drive home without exercising at least a few of those calories away.

And we certainly won’t need dinner tonight.

4.8 stars

Susan Singfield

Trenchtown

 

29/09/18

Gilmore Place, Edinburgh

‘Good things come to those who wait.’

How many times have I heard that said? The thought crosses my mind more than once as we sit in Trenchtown waiting for our food to arrive. Okay, it’s a Saturday night and the place is packed with hungry punters, so we’re not expecting miracles here, but…. maybe I need to get into the Jamaican vibe a little more. Everything in it’s own time, right? Only, I’m hungry.

We’ve been meaning to try this Caribbean eaterie for some time and tonight, in the company of good friends, seems a propitious time to give it a whirl. We are initially charmed. We like the lively, bustling ambiance of the place, we enjoy the eclectic design replete with vibrant murals and shanty town/beach hut trappings. We enjoy the pulsing reggae music that throbs urgently in the background and the staff are as cheerful and friendly as you could reasonably expect of people who are dashing back and forth trying to feed battalions of diners. But it’s still a good hour before anything more nutritious than Red Stripe lager arrives at our table.

Luckily, the food, when it finally comes is well worth waiting for, simply served on enamelled plates or from stainless steel mess tins. Nice touch. There are four of us so we decide to maximise our options and share a range of starters. There’s fiery fried squid, light and crispy, coated in panko crumb and sprinkled with mango mole, coriander and lime mayonnaise. There’s a bowl of jerk wings, marinated for 24 hours in a finger-lickingly sticky sauce. There are Trinidadian doubles – bara roti flatbreads coated with spiced chickpeas, mango chutney and shredded coconut (these are quite the ugliest things on the table, but have a lovely earthy flavour that more than makes up for their homely appearance). And there are sweetcorn fritters, liberally coated with spiced mango and lime sauce, as light and crunchy as you like, but challengingly spiced, so that even the most hardened of us can’t resist letting out an ‘oof’ when we take a bite. Those who prefer milder things, please take note: these may be too much for you!

So far, so good. For the main course, I have chosen jerk beef ribs and when they eventually arrive, I’m very pleased with the look of them. There are two thick lengths of rib on the plate, thickly coated with meat so tender it’s virtually sliding off the bone. They are garnished with sweet onion chutney, there’s some crunchy lime and coriander chow, a dressed salad and a side of spicy French fries. The latter are a bit ‘meh,’ evidently frozen and sprinkled with paprika, but the rest of it is very nice indeed. Susan opts for the Trini chicken curry, which comprises a chicken breast cooked in coconut milk with mango. This comes with a side of rice and peas. Again, its nicely executed. The meat is succulently tender and the rice is fluffy and delicious. The portions are all on the generous side, so much so that we find ourselves unable to even contemplate a pudding. Which is a rare occurrence but maybe no bad thing.

The bill comes and we’re genuinely surprised at the price, which – with two rounds of drinks – comes in at less than £25 per head. We’ve enjoyed our visit to Trenchtown, despite that long wait for service. Maybe the answer is to visit earlier in the week, when it’s less rammed. Or maybe they need to put on some more staff at the weekends. Or maybe I just need to chill.

Because the food is really very good.

4 stars

Philip Caveney