Food

Bryn Williams at Porth Eirias

15/02/19

The Promenade, Colywn Bay

We’re in North Wales, visiting my parents, and we’re all eager to try renowned Welsh chef Bryn Williams’ new(ish) enterprise at Porth Eirias. Philip and I have had a sneaky peak – we met a friend here for coffee last time we were over – but we’ve not yet sampled the food.

These days, Colwyn Bay’s promenade is a delightful place to be: as well as revamped cycle paths, there are clean sands, quirky beach art, and, of course, Porth Eirias itself: a square, modern building, with a huge roof terrace. Fittingly, it houses a water sports centre as well as Bryn Williams’ restaurant, which somehow helps to give the place a real community feel: it’s here for people to enjoy. Inside, it’s bright and airy, all industrial pipework and high ceilings, with a glass wall facing out to sea. It’s frankly stunning.

We’re seated in the window, with a perfect view. It’s a remarkably sunny day for February, and the beach is looking fabulous. The service is friendly and relaxed. We order wine and sit back to peruse what’s on offer.

Mum, dad and I all opt for the set menu, which changes every week. Two courses cost a very reasonable £17, but naturally we all want three, which takes it up to £21. Today, our starter is scallops, served with salted grapes and a saffron emulsion. They’re perfectly cooked: charred just the right amount, with a delicious almost caramel aroma. The salted grapes are interesting too, a tangy counterpoint to the delicate fish.

Philip goes à la carte, and chooses the salt and pepper squid, which comes with spring onions, mint and a lime mayonnaise. It’s a generous portion: light, crispy and not at all greasy. He’s a happy chap.

The set menu’s main course is a beautiful piece of monkfish, with purple potatoes, charred leeks and a chicken beurre blanc that has me wanting to lick my plate, although I do manage to resist (well, I’m next to the window; anyone might see). We share some sides, of fries and roasted cabbage, and they are pretty decent too. Philip’s burger is an unusual choice for him, but he declares himself satisfied: it’s a juicy, meaty patty served in a brioche bun with lots of gherkins, and comes with fries & coleslaw. It hits the spot, he says, and eats it all.

For pudding, my parents and I have a pistachio parfait with chocolate and rhubarb, while Philip has vanilla rice pudding with a fruit compote and candied nuts. Both have the requisite naughty-but-nice factor that makes sweet food such a joy to eat. Yum yum!

We’re impressed with the restaurant’s accessibility too, and with the easy, breezy way the staff deal with my parents’ physical requirements (mum needs a seat with a lot of leg room, and somewhere to store her zimmer frame; dad struggles to cut up food, so they slice his into bite-size pieces in the kitchen: no fuss, just happy to help).

It’s a lovely place, and a really welcome addition to the area. We enjoy a gentle stroll along the prom, and pronounce ourselves content.

4.6 stars

Susan Singfield

 

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The Bonnie Badger

10/02/19

Main Street, Gullane

It’s nearly Valentine’s day, and that’s all the excuse we need. Tom and Michaela Kitchin have opened up a country hotel a few miles away in Gullane, and we’re really keen to try it. So when a promotional email pops into my inbox, I am very tempted by the Luxury Winter Break package advertised therein. Philip needs very little persuasion: he’s a fan too. We’re lucky enough to live just five minutes’ walk away from not one, but two, of The Kitchin Group’s fabulous restaurants, Castle Terrace and the Southside Scran, so we’ve a fair idea what we can expect.

Gullane is a forty-five minute drive from our home in Edinburgh; it’s a sunny day and the roads are quiet. These feel like good omens, and they are. The coastline is gorgeous, and there are deer in the road; this is a pretty village, a world away from the city bustle. We park up outside the attractive grey stone building, and head inside.

Our package includes a welcome drink and a mini afternoon tea, and these make the arrival process an absolute pleasure. We sit in the garden room, looking out at a wood fire, drinking Prosecco (me) and lager (Philip), and tucking into home-made baked goods of the highest calibre. There are scones, served with cream and thick fig jam, and little squares of lemon drizzle and carrot cake. We make short work of it, then head to our room.

We have a ‘superior room’ in a cottage behind the main building, and it is utterly charming. One wall is all French windows, which open up onto a private garden space; inside, there’re all the usual touches: a big bed, a fancy shower, thick towels and bathrobes. The hairdryer is a GHD (good choice), and there’s a Nespresso machine, although we don’t use this, because we don’t like the single-use plastic pods. It doesn’t matter: we’re being so well catered for on this short break that we don’t miss an extra cuppa.

We head out to the sea, which is a short stroll from the pub, and it’s utterly, breathtakingly beautiful. Gullane Bay is one of the cleanest beaches we have ever seen, and we’re there as the sun begins to set, climbing the dunes and walking along the sand. We can’t keep the smiles off our faces, not that we’re trying very hard.

Then it’s back to the hotel to get ready for dinner, which is served in The Stables restaurant. Our package includes a bottle of house wine; we go for the white, which is a French blend of Roussanne, viognier & grenache blanc – and very light and tasty it is too.

To begin, Philip has the smoked ham terrine and quail eggwhich he declares a triumph, while I have the Orkney King scallops, served with cauliflower and raisins. These are soft and delicate and perfectly cooked, with the raisins adding an unexpected but very welcome sweetness to the dish. We’re off to a flying start!

For my main, I have the Highland Wagyu sirloin steakwhich is cooked on ‘the big green egg’ (a barbecue of sorts, outdoors) and is as succulent as you’d expect, served with chips and roasted vegetables. Philip’s fish pie is also rather marvellous, robustly flavoured and generously filled with smoked haddock and prawns. He also orders sides of chorizo potatoes and honey-glazed baby carrots; the potatoes are a spicy, garlicky delight, and the carrots – though tamer – are rather lovely too.

For pudding (of course we have pudding), Philip plumps for the treacle tart, which he opts to have with vanilla ice cream. The tart is as sticky and sweet as it should be, but lighter than the stodgy stuff we used to love at school – and a good thing too after the meal we have just had. I have the vanilla cheesecake with poached rhubarb, which is a remarkable thing indeed, all light sweet creaminess and tart fruit, the tangy rhubarb sorbet being especially inspired.

We retire to the bar for a nightcap, then stagger back to our room, where we find two small flasks of hot chocolate and some cookies waiting for us. It’s a lovely touch, but we can’t face the cookies right now. We wrap them up and put them away to enjoy another time.

In the morning, after a good night’s sleep, it’s time to start eating again. We can scarcely believe it, but we’re actually hungry, so we shower quickly and head over to the bar for breakfast. The atmosphere is very relaxed; we’re sitting next to the window, looking out at the quiet high street. We’re offered coffee, and then plates of food are brought to the table: there’s Prosciutto, Swiss cheese, smoked salmon and avocado; fruit bread, rye bread, little croissants, pains au chocolat and the tiniest, sweetest cinnamon swirls. There’s freshly squeezed orange juice, home-made jams, a pot of honey – everything is here. We order poached eggs and bacon and sausages too, because we’re greedy, and all of it, everything, is just wonderful. Best of all are the pots of home-made granola with rhubarb compôte and Greek yoghurt. Phew!

It’s time for us to check out, so we do, but – once we’ve packed everything into the car – we head back to that beach, because we really need to walk off some of what we’ve consumed. It’s no hardship: we spend ninety minutes walking five miles in glorious sunshine, exploring that gorgeous stretch of coast. It’s a wonderful end to a wonderful treat.

5 stars

Susan Singfield

 

 

Bertie’s Proper Fish & Chips

19/12/18

Victoria Street, Edinburgh

Fish and chips.

Those three short words come laden with so many expectations, don’t they? We all have treasured memories of childhood seaside trips, where those scalding fried potatoes, drenched in salt and vinegar were exactly what we wanted after a day of splashing about in the surf. But of course, in these troubled times, whenever the mood for a traditional fish supper looms into view (as it inevitably will from time to time), it’s an ambition that often comes fraught with disappointment.

Let’s face it, we’ve all been there. Greasy chips, soggy batter, and a lump of fish so stale you don’t know whether to eat it or sing happy birthday to it.

As you might infer from the name, Bertie’s is dedicated to this most British of institutions. Opened just a week ago and occupying a spacious couple of floors in a converted building on one of Edinburgh’s most picturesque streets, Bertie’s is all decked out in handsome, seaside-themed livery, weathered wood, glossy tiles and cheeky postcards. There’s plenty of room in here, a lively ambience and the staff are friendly and helpful. So far, so good.

There are some enticing starters on offer but we’re here for the main event, so I order the most traditional thing I can find on the menu, a portion of battered haddock served with twice-fried chips and tartare sauce – and, since I’m in that kind of mood, I opt to go large because hey, that’s just the way I roll. Susan, who’s never been that keen on batter, chooses a regular portion of baked cod with lemon and herb butter and the same accompaniments. For side dishes, we ask for a bowl of the old Manchester caviar (mushy peas) and some white bread and butter, because -let’s face it – if you can’t work a chip butty into the proceedings, it’s a pretty poor show, right?

As we wait, I peruse the condiments tray and notice a bottle of something called ‘chippy sauce,’ which is a new one on me, but a quick enquiry on social media has my Scottish pals assuring me that this is a famous Edinburgh delicacy, a kind of cross between brown sauce and vinegar – and how can I have lived here for over two years and never experienced it before? Good question. I feel thoroughly rebuked.

The main courses arrive and it’s clear from the first mouthful that the people behind that stainless steel counter know exactly what they’re doing. The fish portion has the approximate dimensions of a small dolphin, the batter is crunchy even when sprinkled with malt vinegar, and the tender white flesh yields beautifully beneath a knife. The chips are perfectly cooked with crispy exteriors and soft buttery inners. The tartare sauce is also a hit, even with Susan, who was convinced she didn’t like the stuff. Her baked cod is also impeccably done, melt-in-the-mouth tender. I try some of the aforementioned chippy sauce and have to agree, it goes down rather well.

Bertie’s have clearly succeeded in their chief aim: to remind diners how good fish and chips can taste when they’re ‘proper.’

We’re pretty full but can’t quite resist sampling the sharing dessert platter, a pudding that’s unabashedly aiming for nostalgia on a plate. It’s essentially a trip back to childhood (right down to the plastic bucket and spade) and comprises two miniature 99 ice cream cones with raspberry sauce, chunks of chalky Edinburgh rock, two miniature candy flosses, some warm donuts with a saucer of dipping chocolate and, most wicked of all, a fried and battered fun-sized chocolate bar (yes, I can picture the health freaks out there, shaking their heads in despair but, luckily, this isn’t something we intend to eat too often!). It’s a light-hearted frivolity, and in that sense works well, but it must be said that this pudding is a bit unbalanced: it needs more ice-cream and less rock, and fewer of those slightly heavy donuts. Still, we polish it all off with smiles on our faces.

It’s interesting to note that Bertie’s menu also takes in more sophisticated seafood dishes – there are fresh mussels, chowder, even a Malaysian fish curry, but our simple fish’n’chips are an impressive introduction to what they do and, certainly, the next time a desire for a chippy tea hits home, we’ll know exactly where to come.

Perhaps we’ll see you there?

4.5 stars

Philip Caveney

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

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