Food

Dishoom: Breakfast

05/12/19

St Andrew Square, Edinburgh

We’re having breakfast out today and unusually (at least for us) we’re having it in an Indian restaurant. I’m sure I’m not the only person, who  – when the word ‘breakfast’ comes up – fails to automatically think of Bombay food, but Dishoom may be just the venue to change my mind.

Of course, we already know about this fabulous eaterie on St Andrew Square. Indeed, it’s one of our favourite places to eat dinner in Edinburgh, but lately it’s been annoyingly popular, and the last time we ‘dropped by’ for food, we were faced with the prospect of a  long wait for a table. And the problem is, Dishoom don’t take bookings (except for large groups) after 5.30pm. Then, the other day, a friend casually asked if we’d ever tried their breakfast menu. What the…? There’s a breakfast menu? How the chumping rollick did we miss that?

As you’ll no doubt have gathered, we didn’t need much persuasion.

So here we are, and actually, it’s gone 11am, so this is going to be more like brunch. There’s a convivial buzz about the place and the staff are, as ever, warm and welcoming. We take our seats, order coffees and peruse what’s on offer. Oh boy. We quickly realise that the main problem is going to be making a choice because everything sounds super-tempting but, eventually, final decisions are arrived at, and the food comes promptly on reassuringly large plates.

I’m having the wrestler’s naan roll, which is essentially a big, oven baked naan, all flakey and crispy and scrumptious, liberally stuffed with rashers of smoky bacon,  pork sausages and runny-yolked eggs. The meal comes with a little bowl of sweet chilli sauce on the side, which is particularly good on those peppery Ayrshire sausages and there’s also a scattering of fresh coriander. Umm. While this might not be the most photogenic meal I’ve had, boy is it good! I don’t so much eat it as fall upon it like a ravening wolf.

Susan’s vegan Bombay is certainly better looking than my dish and, happily, it’s equally mouth-watering. It comprises Beyond Meat sausages, vegan black pudding, tofu akuri, grilled field mushrooms, masala baked beans, grilled tomatoes and (whew!) a couple of home cooked vegan buns. The sausages and black pudding taste convincingly like meat, but the real revelation here is the tofu. I’ve eaten no end of flaccid, tasteless lumps of the stuff over the years, but this is a game-changer. It looks and tastes like spicy scrambled eggs. This may not be the point, but it certainly wins me over. (Confirmed carnivores should note that a non-vegan version of this meal is also available.)

The portions are definitely on the generous side, but I’m soon mopping my plate with the last scrap of naan, and already planning what I’m going to try next time. Finally, it would seem, Loudons has some serious competition in the breakfast/brunch arena.

If you’re bored with your morning toast and cereal options, this is a great tasting alternative and it comes at prices that won’t break the bank.

Go on. You know you want to…

5 stars

Philip Caveney

Southside Scran: Festive Set Menu

01/12/19

Bruntsfield Place, Edinburgh

‘Tis the season for festive dining, and here at B&B, we’re always on the lookout for good deals, so the announcement of a new festive set menu at the Southside Scran is something that needs to be investigated at our earliest opportunity. So here we are at lunchtime on December 1st (can’t get any earlier than that!). all ready to eat, despite the fact that the two friends due to accompany us have bailed at the last moment because of a not-so-festive lurgy.

We love the Scran; part of the Tom Kitchin group, not only is it a short walk from where we live, but – more importantly – we’ve never come away from this place disappointed. We take our seats and enjoy the fresh ciabatta, butter and goose liver paté that’s always served here. Then the starters arrive. I’ve been missing paté, due to the fact that it seems impossible to buy in this country, unless it’s encased in layers of plastic. So I’m happy to opt for the rabbit rillette, which proves to be light and creamy and full of flavour. It’s accompanied by salad and toast. Susan has the goats cheese vol-au-vent, a delightfully flakey pie, which comes with tangy red onion marmalade and drops of basalmic vinegar.

We both want the turkey ballotine for the main course (though we’re torn between that and the roasted pumpkin risotto, which we’ve had before and loved.) But turkey wins the day and it looks and tastes amazing, with chunks of brussel sprout, potato, crispy salty lardons and a pretty heritage carrot on the top. There’s a jug of rich, red wine gravy to finish things off. Those who feel a roast dinner should occupy half an acre of plate may look down on this, but it encompasses all the flavours of a Christmas dinner and is suprisingly filling.

Room for pudding? Well, go on then. It’s almost Christmas!

I choose the chocolate mousse & citrus sablé, which is satisfyingly rich, while Susan opts for the mincemeat and frangipane tart, served with brandy crème Anglaise. This too is an utter delight and I say that as somebody who has only been able to eat mincemeat for a relatively short while, due to a long childhood aversion to the stuff, now conquered.

The three course set menu (£30 per head) comes with tea or coffee, and those hearty types who still have some room to spare can add a cheese course for a little extra. Of course, you can also mix and match. We add a couple of sides from the bistro menu at £4.50 each – some warm, crunchy French beans with hazelnuts and shallots and, as ever,  a bowl of macaroni cheese, because… well, because we’re hopelessly addicted to the stuff. And don’t tell me it doesn’t go with turkey. Macaroni cheese goes with everything. Fact.

All in all, this is a superbly satisfying way to get the festive season off to a perfect start. And it’s also excellent value for money.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

Gaucho

Gaucho looks as though it were built primarily to illustrate what the word ‘sleek’ might look like. It’s a combination of dark grey and mirrored surfaces, glitzy lights that hang low over the diners, quiet Latin American music pulsing in the background. It’s early evening in Edinburgh on a particularly dreich night, and we arrive like two half-drowned cats, dripping helplessly onto the carpet. A friendly attendant takes our coats and brings us a couple of tall glasses of Prosecco, which we consume in the upstairs bar, before descending to the dining area. Here, our waiter brings us a tray, where various cuts of meat are laid out for our inspection, so we can properly appreciate the differences between them.

We are brought a plate of bread and some herb butter. The slices of wholemeal are fine but there’s a couple of crunchy white rolls that have a satisfyingly homemade flavour to them, particularly when they’re plastered in that butter.

I start with a potato and salmon salad – the salmon flakey and perfectly poached, surrounded by crispy Ratte potatoes, endives and onion purée, the whole thing drenched in tangy lemon mayo. It’s an excellent start. Susan opts for an Empanada, a dainty pastry parcel filled with sweet corn and mozzarella. This is also nice, though I suspect mine is the more satisfying of the two

Next up, for me it has to be a steak. I choose what the Argentinians call a chorizo, which is just a succulent sirloin, served medium rare and bordered by a strip of juicy crackling. It cuts easily with an ordinary knife (always a good sign) and has a pleasing strip of crispy fat along one edge. I’ve certainly had more impressive steaks than this around Edinburgh, but I make short work of it and have no complaints. It’s accompanied by a side of chips, cooked with the skin on and there’s  a pleasantly spicy pepper sauce. There’s nothing wrong with Susan’s chicken Milanese, topped with a fried egg and garnished with rocket and Parmesan, but it’s perhaps a little too redolent of the deep fat fryer for her taste. 

We both order a side of mac’n’cheese – I know, I know, it doesn’t really go, but we’ve have a crap couple of days and we both feel like being indulgent. These are fairly hearty portions and perfectly nice in their own way, but not quite as spectacular as those offered at The Bruntsfield Chop House, where the sauce is thick and gooey and loaded with cheese. (You don’t order this dish for its health benefits.)

However, when it comes to the puddings, ‘indulgent’ is definitely the word to choose when describing them. My sticky toffee pudding comes with a generous helping of dulce de leche sauce, a dollop of clotted cream and delicious chunks of honeycomb. It’s absolutely mouthwatering. Susan’s salted dulce de leche cheesecake is also a winner, super sweet and so filling, I have to help her with the last couple of spoonfuls. (I’m useful like that).

We’re thoroughly sated and reluctantly head back out into the downpour as full as two ticks. 

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney

 

Maxies

12/09/19

Johnston Terrace, Edinburgh

Maxies is a bit of an Edinburgh institution, but we’ve sort of dismissed it as ‘a tourist place’ and not bothered to check it out. This attitude makes some sense now that we’re actually living here, but – let’s face it – we were regular tourists to this fabulous city for a good seven years before we made the move, so I’m not quite sure what made us turn our noses up, especially as it boasts an impressive outside terrace with views over picturesque Victoria Street. But now it’s time to rectify the situation: a too-good-to-ignore Groupon offer has come to our attention, and we decide to take the opportunity to see what we have missed.

We’re getting two courses and a glass of Prosecco each for £32, so we’re not expecting high end ingredients or fancy flourishes. We’re hoping for tasty food and a lovely atmosphere, and – to be fair – we do get some of that.

The restaurant is surprisingly small, a series of stone-walled rooms and corridors, a fascinating warren of an old building. It’s cosy: an old-fashioned bar nestles next to the main seating area, where benches are covered in embroidered cushions and throws. I like the look of the place, although it could be a bit cleaner (the surfaces are all okay, and we see the tables being thoroughly wiped, but it doesn’t look like the woodwork has had a good scrub down in quite some time, and the loos leave quite a lot to be desired).

The food isn’t bad for the price; it’s the details that let it down. Philip’s starter of warm duck and mango salad is really tasty, the duck cooked very well. My deep-fried crispy brie with cranberry jelly is also nice, if uninspiring, but the accompanying salad has no dressing at all. The bread we order is fresh, but the butter is straight from the fridge, hard as rock and completely unspreadable. That’s a rookie error, isn’t it?

My main (vegetarian enchilada with hot chilli sauce) is delicious: spicy and generously portioned. It’s a simple dish, but they do it well. Philip opts for a special: lamb chops with haggis, neeps and tatties. The chops are a crispy, fatty, lip-smacking indulgence, and the haggis a savoury delight with real depth of flavour. The spuds are a bit lack-lustre though, and he can barely tell the neeps are there.

It’s a school night, so we don’t drink much: just a bottle of Peroni and a small Pinot Grigio between us besides the glass of fizz. It’s a good job, because there are no draft beers, and the wine is expensive compared to the food; the two price lists don’t seem to match.

We’re impressed with the service, which is friendly and unfussy, the staff clearly well-motivated and good at their jobs. But it seems a shame that so many tourists will have this meh experience as their lasting impression of Scottish cuisine, when there is so much better to be had in Edinburgh.

2.9 stars

Susan Singfield

Tasty Buns

Bread Street, Edinburgh

It turns out Scotland’s Bakery of the Year is less than 200m from our flat. How can we have overlooked it in the three years we’ve been here? I love cake (and Philip tolerates it happily); what wonders have escaped our gluttony?

We’ve walked past Tasty Buns countless times, but the unprepossessing exterior offers little clue as to what’s within. True, there’s often an intriguing sandwich board outside advertising the day’s offerings, but as we can’t actually see them, we’ve ignored what’s before our eyes.

We’ve not, however, found the recent press coverage so easy to ignore: since winning The Food Awards Scotland 2019’s coveted prize, this little bakery has been firmly in our sights. Their speciality, we learn online, is ‘boozy bakes’ – and this dismays us a little, as – although we’re definitely fans of booze – we don’t tend to like it in our puds. Still, it seems silly not to take a look at a the temptation on our doorstep, so we decide to head on in and take a look.

Tasty Buns is much bigger than it looks from the outside, the narrow interior stretching back, with space for twenty-something cake-lovers. It’s attractive, all whitewashed brick and fancy mirrors – and the display cabinet at the front reveals the wonders we have missed. There are about eight bakes on offer – not all boozy – and all of them look quite divine. We order coffee (an Americano and a latte, single shot by request and very good indeed), and two cakes to share.

The Tunnock’s caramel wafer brownie is the best brownie I’ve ever had – and I’ve had many. It’s rich and moist and decadent: a paragon; exquisite. A generous slice of spiced apple and salted caramel cake offers a light sponge with a robust flavour, the richness of the butter cream complemented by the tart apple filling. It’s exactly what cake ought to be: at once fresh and indulgent, a genuine treat.

The service is brisk and friendly; the atmosphere relaxed. It might have taken us a while to find, but we’ll be back again before too long.

If you’re after cake and a cuppa, I really can’t think of anywhere better you could go than Louise Campbell’s marvellous bakery. It’s easy to see how Tasty Buns has earned its accolades.

5 stars

Susan Singfield

Tommy’s Banglacafé

28/07/19

South Charlotte Street, Edinburgh

We’re not supposed to be eating out tonight. The ingredients for a delicious oven-baked risotto are waiting for us at home. But we’ve had a few errands to run in the New Town and, on our way back, Tommy’s Banglacafé catches our attention. This is hardly surprising, as there is a brightly painted tuk tuk bike on the street outside, and the entrance is festooned with gorgeously gaudy flowers and, yeah, a tiger. It looks vibrant and enticing, so we head up the steps. Just to look at the menu, mind.

The member of staff who greets us is friendly and enthusiastic, handing us fliers and giving us time to peruse what’s on offer. We walk away, cheerily informing her we’ll be back another day. But we’re barely two hundred yards away before Philip starts up. ‘I mean, we really shouldn’t go there now, should we?’ he says.

‘No.’ I’m holding firm.

‘There’s that risotto at home,’ he continues. ‘Although…’

‘Although what?’

‘Well, it’s not like I couldn’t make that tomorrow instead. No, no, we shouldn’t…’

I laugh at him. ‘Come on then,’ I say. We turn around and head back to the restaurant. The woman at the door doesn’t look remotely surprised.

‘Table for two?’ she grins.

Tommy’s Banglacafé is the latest venture from Tommy Miah, and offers a range of Bangladeshi cuisine. The focus is on street food; this is a relaxed, informal room, with a huge, glitzy bar and a bold colour scheme. It’s modern and fun, and we’re glad we’ve come inside. As soon as we’re seated, we’re offered ‘free chai’ – of course we accept.

Sipping on the nutmeg-rich chai, we’re not sure how much food to order, but go for two small plates, one house special and some meat from the grill. It’s more than enough; the portions are very generous. They all arrive together, and we dip in and out of each dish, relishing the distinctive flavours and robust spicing.

The standout is probably the Fakruddin Kacchi Biryani, which is both familiar and unusual. There’s cassia bark in it, I think, which adds a singular perfume-y note. It’s delicious, packed with slow-cooked lamb; it’s bursting with flavour. It comes with a side of raita, which complements it perfectly. The portion is huge – probably enough for four, I’d say. We do our best to finish it between us, but can’t quite manage it.

There’s more lamb (of course) in the Lamb Shatkora Kebab, this time cooked with ‘Bengali lemon’ and caramelised onions. It’s utterly delicious – a smaller dish, this one, and a superior cut of meat. It’s great.

We also have some Bagerhat Prawns (fried in gram flour and chilli) and Tommy’s Jhal Muri (which is a mixture of spicy puffed rice, dried lentils, peanuts and chickpeas). These are lovely too. Philip is especially taken with the Jhal Muri, and keeps making appreciative noises as he devours it. We have some Paratha Bread too, which is nice, but we’ve more than enough food, so a tad unnecessary perhaps.

With a glass of Pinot Grigio and a pint of Cobra, the bill (including service) comes to just over £50. Tommy’s Banglacafé is a welcome addition to the Edinburgh food scene, and one that doesn’t break the bank.

4.2 stars

Susan Singfield

 

The Townhouse

09/07/19

Lower Bridge Street, Chester

We’re visiting my parents in North Wales, and have planned a day out in Chester. Mum’s on the case, and has sussed out a TravelZoo (nope, me neither) voucher for a lunchtime meal. It’s at The Townhouse on Lower Bridge Street, right in the middle of town, and she and dad have eaten there before. So far, so good.

The Townhouse is a boutique hotel, and the brasserie – where we’re eating – is in an attractive space leading off a velvet-sofa-ed bar. It’s quite formal, all pale linen and plush upholstered seats, but it’s fresh and inviting, with French windows opening on to a plant-filled patio.

The voucher affords us four three-course meals for just £58. (Some options carry a small supplement, as you’d expect.) My starter of goat’s cheese and honey bonbons is a lovely blend of sweet and salt and, although the quinoa, beetroot and balsamic salad that accompanies it is a little gritty in texture, it tastes divine. Philip has the smoked haddock and spring onion fishcake, which is robustly made, with a real depth of flavour.

My main is oven baked breast of chicken, with giant couscous, charred carrots and courgettes, broccoli, crispy kale and red pepper pesto. It’s delicious: the chicken is beautifully cooked, and the couscous concoction is bursting with flavour. The only mis-step – and it is a serious mis-step – is the crispy kale, which dissolves into an unpleasant pool of oil as soon as I crunch down on it. Urgh. I push what’s left to the side and enjoy the rest of the dish.

Philip has the carved Welsh lamb rump, which carries a £4 supplement. It’s served with a mixed bean cassoulet, fondant potatoes, minted garden peas and a sticky rosemary jus. The meat is succulent, and he’s especially impressed with the savoury taste of the cassoulet.

To finish, Philip has the sticky toffee pudding, which comes with butterscotch sauce and Cheshire Farm vanilla ice cream. It’s a decent example of the classic pud, but maybe not as moist and decadent as it might be. My trio of flavoured crème brûlée is fantastic though, with strawberry and chocolate alongside the classic vanilla. It’s gloriously, lip-smackingly good, and ought to appear on more menus.

We have a glass of wine each (a serviceable sauvignon blanc), and coffee to finish; all in, the extras come to £26. An affordable treat in a central location – you can bet we’ll be back before too long.

4.1 stars

Susan Singfield