Food

Scorrybreac

10/04/19

Bosville Terrace, Portree, Skye

We’re holidaying on the Isle of Skye, and we’re awed by its beauty. Our remote cottage has an uninterrupted view of Staffin Bay, and we’re happily spending our days walking the hills and cliff tops, our evenings barbecuing and drinking wine. But we love to eat out too, and so we spend a little time researching what’s available. Friends have recommended The Three Chimneys and Kinloch Lodge, but both are a little too far away; neither of us fancies a ninety-minute drive either side of dinner. And google has another suggestion.

Scorrybreac is a tiny restaurant in Portree, a manageable forty minutes down a winding mountain road. Situated above the harbour, its simple furnishings and minimalist menu bode very well indeed. This looks like just the kind of place we like. Indeed, it’s the kind of place a lot of people like, and friend google makes it very clear that advance booking is a must. We witness the truth of this advice from the comfort of our window seat, as disappointed potential diners are turned away in droves.

It’s a family affair, run by the Munro brothers, one of whom shoulders the entire front of house responsibility. Hats off to him: he’s friendly, taking time to answer questions and enthuse about the food, whilst still maintaining a brisk and efficient approach. In a place this small (there are only eighteen covers), the simple three course/three options menu makes perfect sense. And, at £45 a head, the pricing seems sensible too.

The wine list is short but nicely varied, but – as I’m driving – we don’t get to try it out. Philip has a glass of New Zealand sauvignon blanc, which he says is good and ‘lemony.’

We’re given a bowl of smoked popcorn to graze as soon as we sit down and, soon after ordering, an amuse bouche appears. It’s a carrot and turmeric purée, topped with larch pines, which is an interesting touch. Next to arrive is a slice of warm soda bread with whipped caramelised butter. Yum. I’m impressed, and I haven’t even started my meal yet.

To start, we both order the monkfish carpaccio, which comes with beetroot, orange and crème fraîche. It’s the freshest tasting dish imaginable, the fish all melt-in-the-mouth loveliness, and the accompanying pea shoots adding a welcome zing. We’re informed that the oil on the plate is Douglas fir, and its piny flavour is something new to us. It’s good, complementing the dish perfectly.

For his main course, Philip has the lamb rump with wild garlic and Jerusalem artichoke. The meat is rich and soft, the flavours bold and intense. I opt for the cod with mussels, cabbage and vanilla. It’s beautiful: really light and delicate, although it does become a little watery after a few minutes.

We order everything on the pudding menu, and share what we receive. There’s dark chocolate, caramel and malt ice-cream, which turns out to be a cremeux type thing, almost viciously bitter, but artfully tempered by the ice cream and honeycomb. Then there’s sea buckthorn, meringue and almond, which is a slice of deliciously moist cake served with an orange mousse and a light Italian meringue. These are plate-lickingly good, although we refrain from actually doing so. Just.

To finish, we have cheese: generous slices of brie, blue cheese and smoked cheddar, with chunky oatcakes, fruit and (a simple but genius touch) honey.

Scorrybreac is a little treasure of a place, and definitely worth booking if you like fine dining without a fuss.

4.4 stars

Susan Singfield

 

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China Red Buffet Restaurant

30/03/19

Grindlay Street, Edinburgh

China Red has been on our radar for a while now. Not only was it the winner of the Edinburgh Evening News’s 2018 Chinese Restaurant of the Year award, it’s also situated conveniently near to where we live. We’ve often walked past, remarking, “We really ought to come here some time.” Tonight, at last, that time has come.

It’s Saturday, and we’ve had a couple of drinks before we arrive. I think this is a good thing: a buffet is suited to such circumstances. We order a glass of sauvignon blanc for me and a bottle of Tsing Tsao for Philip, and then set off to explore the vast cornucopia of edible items on offer. We’re paying £16.50 each, which seems eminently fair with such an array laid out before us.

We sample tiny bits of lots of things, far too many to detail here, but we barely scratch the surface of what’s available. Nothing we try is terrible. Some is average. And much is really very good.

I enjoy the sushi, particularly the cooked salmon and crab, which are delicate and really fresh. I also like the steamed broccoli and prawn dish, cooked in a light oyster sauce. The shellfish are firm and sturdy, and the vegetables retain their bite.

Philip’s especially impressed by the selection of noodles; he tries them several different ways. The Singapore vermicelli is his favourite, packed with ginger and spice. He also loves the salt and pepper ribs and the roast duck, which are rich and densely flavoured.

We’re both fans of the teppanyaki bar, where a friendly chef cooks us small portions of king prawns, lamb chops and steak, before setting them on fire for a bit of theatre. The prawns and the chops are perfect; the steak isn’t as good but, on reflection, we were never going to get a prime cut for the price they’re charging here.

There are lots of puddings available, but we both decide to try a made-to-order banana and chocolate crêpe, which is every bit as delicious as it sounds, albeit not very Chinese. Ça ne fait rien. We eschew any further sweet stuff, because we’re full, and because the pancake seems an ideal final course.

Will we come back? Probably, on a weekend night with a bit of booze inside us. It’s a convivial, relaxed place, and there’s enough choice here to satisfy even the fussiest of folk.

3.9 stars

Susan Singfield

Bistro Franc

10/03/18

Hanover Street, Liverpool

We’re with my parents, visiting the city they hail from: the legend that is Liverpool. We’ve been to Matthew Street (aka Memory Lane), taken photographs outside the Cavern, and listened to tales of how they used to go there in their school lunch hours to listen to the bands. Philip’s actually played here once, so he has his own stories to share, of being the lead singer with Hieronymus Bosch. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed our morning, but now we’re hungry and it’s time for some lunch.

Mum’s booked us into Bistro Franc, because it’s central and she’s heard good things. When we arrive, though, we’re worried. The place looks fine, but the lunch menu seems suspiciously cheap. £11.90 for three courses? Really? What are we in for here?

Miraculously, we’re in for some decent scran: the low prices don’t correlate with low standards. Hurrah! And the service is friendly and unfussy, as chummily sarcastic as you’d expect from Scousers, but never intrusive and always well-judged.

None of us is drinking: it’s lunch time, two of us are driving and the others are keen to stick with tap water. But the wine list looks comprehensive enough; maybe we’ll give it a go another time.

To start, I have the brie and pine nut salad. It’s fresh, crunchy, and generously dotted with chunks of cheese. It would certainly benefit from a zingy dressing of some sort – a raspberry  or pomegranate vinaigrette, maybe? – but it’s a pleasant way to begin my meal. Philip has the chicken liver paté, which is creamy and rich, served on toasted baguette.

We both have the pork belly roast for our main, which incurs a £3 surcharge. This seems eminently fair: the square of meat is perfectly cooked, all soft flesh and crispy, sticky skin. The accompanying Yorkshire (although I suspect it’s not home-made) is light and fluffy and serves us well. There are roast potatoes too, which are beautifully done, and the broccoli, red cabbage and carrots are spot on. (We don’t eat the new potatoes, because there’s too much food here, and something has to give.)

I don’t even try to resist the bread and butter pudding with custard; why would I? It’s luscious: sweet and chocolatey and comforting. Yum. Philip opts for the rather more refined blackberry and hazelnut tart: the base is crisp, and the filling zesty. A big dollop of Chantilly cream cuts through the sharp fruit, and he’s smiling as he clears his plate.

We’re not in a rush, so we linger over coffee and fresh mint tea; there’s a relaxed atmosphere here, and we’re happy to stay a while.

And the bill, when it comes, is £63. In total. For four of us. I don’t know how they do it. But I’m glad they do.

4.1 stars

Susan Singfield

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

 

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