Food

Passorn

13/12/17

Brougham Street, Edinburgh

It’s always exciting when you discover a great place to eat – and an extra bonus when it turns out to be within walking distance of where you live. Brougham Street, the unassuming thoroughfare that leads up from Tollcross to Edinburgh’s Meadows, has already yielded us two superb eateries. First of all, we sampled the quirky delights of Ong Gie, a fabulous Korean restaurant that specialises in barbecuing food at your table. https://bouquetsbrickbatsreviews.com/2016/12/18/ong-gie/

Next up, we decided to try Taxidi Greek Bistro, a brand new diner that now occupies the premises where My Big Fat Greek Restaurant used to reside. That too, proved to be an absolute corker. https://bouquetsbrickbatsreviews.com/2017/11/13/taxidi/

It has long been on our minds to try the restaurant right next door to Ong Gie so finally, on this chilly winter night, fuelled by a couple of drinks at the Cameo Cinema Bar, we decide that we really shouldn’t leave it any longer.

Passorn boasts that it offers ‘angelic Thai dining’ and it must be said there’s a lovely relaxed feel about this scrupulously clean restaurant. We haven’t booked, but it’s early in the week and they soon find a place for us. When we arrive, the restaurant is nearly empty but it quickly begins to fill up, so clearly it already has an established fan base. We order drinks and settle ourselves down to peruse the menu. What’s interesting here is that – with the curry dishes – the customer can choose the level of heat they prefer – I know of many people who have been permanently scared off Thai food simply because they’ve been on the receiving end of something way too fiery for them.

For my starter I select Bangkok Cakestwo perfectly formed Thai-style cakes, one of prawn and one of cod, served with kaffir lime leaves and red chilli paste. They are both exquisite, expertly spiced and yummy to the last mouthful. Susan opts for Nam Tok Moo, a dish from the North East of Thailand, featuring char-grilled pork with coriander, fresh mint, lemongrass, red onion, roasted rice and Passorn’s own chilli dressing, the whole thing attractively served in  a hollowed-out red cabbage. Again, it’s a knockout, absolutely scrumptious.

For the main course, I choose Pia Samun Prie, crispy monkfish pieces in a turmeric and coconut sauce, topped with crispy onion. The chunks of fish almost melt in the mouth and the dish makes a perfect contrast with Susan’s choice of main course, Angel Curry. This comprises a marinated 8oz sirloin steak in a spicy red curry sauce, served on a bed of crispy potatoes. (My mouth is watering just describing it!) The meat is so tender it can be cut with a standard knife and the tangy, palette-tingling sauce is just perfection on a plate. Furthermore, the combination of the two dishes is inspired, though I’ll admit that’s more down to luck than expertise on our part.

We also order side dishes of Pad Mee (stir fried noodles with beansprouts) and Sticky Rice. Regarding the latter, I’ve had various permutations of this dish all over the UK, but this can only be described as super-sticky, a satisfying gelatinous lump that actually has to be divided up with a knife – and possibly the main reason I end up too full to consider investigating the puddings. That’s not a criticism, by the way. But if you like to finish your meals with something sweet then maybe pace yourselves a bit more than we do.

No doubt about it, this is superb quality Thai food, as good as anything you’ll find in the New Town and, it has to be said, excellent value for money. Which prompts me to ask the question – is Brougham Street the city’s new ‘must-visit’ culinary location?

On the basis of the three restaurants we’ve sampled thus far, that would have to be a resounding ‘yes!’

5 stars

Philip Caveney

 

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The Gathering

26/11/17

Glencoe, Scotland

We’re in Glencoe, where we’ve spent the days climbing hills and being generally gobsmacked by the amazing scenery that waits at every turn. After last night’s fine dining at the Loch Leven Hotel, we’re in the mood for something a little more straightforward. The Gathering catches our eye, a green painted wooden building off the main road with a prominent welcome sign, which promises ‘fish and chips and more’ (it’s the ‘more’ that gets our attention). After a quick glance at the menu, we decide that a bit of lobster is exactly what we fancy, so in we go and, as it’s a rather chilly night, we locate a table as close as we can to the roaring multi-fuel stove which is doing its level best to heat up the large and attractive open-plan dining area.

The deal here is very no-nonsense. Fifteen pounds buys you half a char-grilled lobster and, for a couple of quid extra, they’ll throw in a bowl of chips – and that’s pretty much what we go for. After a short wait, the platters arrive and there they are, exactly what we ordered – the decently-sized half-lobsters accompanied by some nicely dressed rocket and a large bowl of garlic butter in which to dunk the meat. Mmm.

Okay, so lobster can be a bit of a faff. Once you’ve picked out the easy bit, there’s a lot of wrestling with medieval-looking implements in order to break open those claws and seek out their tasty interiors. For some it’s just too much effort for too little return, but the lobster is a tasty beast, and we have time on our hands, so we’re prepared to give it our best shot. The chips, by the way,  are perfect: crispy on the outside and nice and soft within. We ask for a bowl of mayonnaise in which to dip them and it is promptly provided.

Afterwards, we’ve still room for some pudding so we order a warm chocolate fudge cake with a couple of scoops of salted caramel ice cream, which we share, and which finishes the meal off to our satisfaction. With a couple of drinks the bill comes in at under fifty pounds which feels like a result.

If you’re in Glencoe and you’re in the mood for fish and chips (and more), this may be just the place for you.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Loch Leven Hotel

25/11/17

Old Ferry Road, North Ballachulish

We’ve been living in Edinburgh full-time for eighteen months now, and we’re horribly aware of how little we still know of our adopted country. So we make the most of a free weekend, and head up to Glencoe, to explore a portion of the Highlands. We find what looks like a decent deal for a couple of nights at the Loch Leven Hotel in North Ballachulish, check out the tripadvisor reviews and make our booking.

And, my word, we’re glad we do.

Because the hotel’s location is nothing short of magnificent. Situated on the shores of the loch, it boasts an enviable view, all snow-capped mountains and autumnal trees. Our room opens out onto a veranda, with a path that leads directly down to the water. It’s breathtaking. Add to that a warm, friendly vibe and clean, comfortable rooms, and you’ve got yourself a great hotel. The gin experts’ bar and the fine-dining restaurant are the icing on the proverbial cake.

They’re justifiably proud of what they’re achieving at the Loch Leven Hotel. It’s a small, family-run establishment, and they’re clearly an ambitious clan. When we praise the food, the manager, Henry, tells us that they’re ‘going for an AA rosette’; on the basis of what we eat tonight, I’d say the award’s not far away.

I start with the pan-seared Isle of Mull scallops, which are simply perfect. They’re melt-in-the-mouth, with a backnote of chargrill; it’d be hard to better this. Philip has the smoked and dry-cured grouse breast; this is the first time he’s eaten grouse prepared this way, but he says it will not be the last. It’s bold and flavoursome, a revelation of a dish.

Philip has the Scottish herb-crusted lamb rack for his main, which comes with Dauphinoise potatoes, butternut squash puree, heritage carrots, and the richest stickiest berry jus either of us have ever tried. It’s all lovely, but the jus is the killer. We ask the waiter what’s in it, and are surprised to note there’s Pernod in the mix. It seems there’s life in the 80s throwback still. Meanwhile, I’m tucking in to the Scottish venison steak, which is served rare, with braised cabbage, white wine and cream spinach and some carrot crisps. It’s delicious, and makes me resolve to buy some venison next time I visit the butchers.

And then there’s pudding, of course; we’re not ones to say no. Philip decides to sample the salted caramel and dark chocolate torte, while I have the sticky toffee pudding, both of which we have with vanilla ice cream. They’re lovely: dark, sweet and gooey as can be, but perhaps not as noteworthy as what has gone before.

We share a bottle of the house white – a perfectly decent chenin blanc, then retire to our room, a mere ten feet away from the table, declaring ourselves more than happy with all we have consumed.

Would we come back again? You bet we would – for myriad reasons.

4.8 stars

Susan Singfield

Taxidi

12/11/17

Brougham Street, Edinburgh

Premises can change very quickly in Edinburgh. My Big Fat Greek Kitchen was already a long-established venue when we first moved here – indeed, we dined there on a friend’s recommendation shortly after arrival, and sampled a decent if somewhat unspectacular meal. Seemingly overnight, however, the place has been transformed – a lick of paint, an attractive alfresco dining area set up at the entrance and a radical change of focus to a cafe/bistro feel. We figure it is high time for a visit, so with two friends in tow, we make the short walk from our apartment on a chilly Sunday evening.

There’s a warm, welcoming atmosphere at Taxidi and the evident love for the Greek food they create here is apparent from the word go. We’re happy to accept the advice of the proprietor and decide to do everything mezze style – all four of us enjoying a little bit of the different dishes we order. The service is prompt and, almost before we know it, the dishes are arriving in quick succession. Such is our eagerness to sample them, that we completely forget to photograph anything, so it will be hard to fully convey the wonders that are arranged in front of us – but when I tell you that each course is more delicious that the last, then you’ll doubtless get the general idea.

We sample Favis Santorinas – a delicious gooey split-pea spread with caramelised onion, sort of like a hot hummus, but way more interesting; Talagani – grilled sheep’s cheese from Messenia, served with rocket and a tangy orange marmalade; Kolokythokeftedes – crispy courgette fritters, as light as you please, and dressed with onion, mint, parsley, dill and feta cheese; Melitzana – grilled aubergines with feta, parsley, garlic, olive oil and served with a thick yoghurt sauce (I’m not usually a big fan of aubergines but these are splendid); keftedes tis giagias Daphenes – succulent spicy meatballs made with beef and pork and also served with that fabulous yoghurt sauce. There’s a generously filled bread basket with a scattering of salty black olives on the side and, of course, plenty of pitta bread – quite the nicest I can remember eating, sprinkled with olive oil, salt and oregano. Everything is freshly prepared and simply but beautifully presented and, after we have fallen upon it like ravenous wolves, not one scrap of food is left on the plates – unless of course, you count the olive pits. Indeed, after a quick discussion, we decide that we can’t find a single thing to fault with any of the dishes we’ve eaten.

Ah, but what about the puddings, you might ask? They can often be the stumbling block that lets a meal down. Well, happily, that’s not the case here. We order four sweets and dutifully divide them up. They comprise: loukomades – Greek style doughnuts with honey and walnuts (if the meal has one standout dish, this is probably it – it’s like heaven on a plate); Ekmek Kantaifi – layers of phyllo, with Mastiha flavoured custard, whipped cream and pistachios; Kazan Ntipi – a rich and creamy Byzantine style panna cotta – and finally, Joanne’s Orange Cake, which tastes a lot more exotic than it sounds, a slice of sponge soaked with orange syrup. In case that isn’t enough, we’re offered a lovely warming shot of Mastika, a Greek liqueur, which we happily accept – and which brings this exciting meal to a suitably warming conclusion.

OK, I need to criticise something, so I will say that perhaps just one choice of Greek white or red wine on the drinks menu seems a little… er, Spartan. Maybe that’s something that might be developed later? But hey, it’s not a deal breaker.

Taxidi offers proper Greek cuisine at great value for money prices – and I would also add that, if you’re vegetarian, or have friends of that persuasion, this is an inspired place to eat – and proof if ever it were needed, that sometimes a change can be for the better.

Go, enjoy. I think you’ll love this as much as we do.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

Numero 25

 

19/10/17

St Remy de Provence

We’re in St Remy looking for somewhere to eat, but our regular haunts (La Casolette and the Bistrot des Alpilles) are closed: it’s the end of the season, after all, and things are winding down. We’re not inspired by Les Saveurs current menu (too much focus on veal), so we’re walking along the Boulevard Mirabeau trying to decide. We settle on Numero 25, mainly because it looks so stylish inside. The set menu looks interesting too; it’s a little expensive compared to other places in the area (thirty two euros for three courses) but still very reasonable by British standards.

I start with the carpaccio de boeuf charolais, which is perfect – soft and melty and utterly indulgent. Philip has the tataki de Thon albacore, slices of lightly seared tuna served with a spicy wasabi sauce. Again, it’s very nicely done.

My main course is a pave de Thon albercore – a fish pie – but it’s not like any fish pie I’ve had before. It’s served with an attractive (empty) lobster head, and it’s in a pot with a pastry crust, which is crisp and quite delicous. Inside, there’s a generous selection of prawns and mixed fish, although there’s perhaps a bit too much bulgar wheat in the base, bulking out the meal. Philip opts for the Parmentier de canard confit, which comprises chunks of duck and truffles under a garlic mashed potato. It’s great – tasty and richly flavoured – but would definitely benefit from some kind of vegetable accompaniment.

Pudding is crumble pomme & caramel salé, which is big on apple and short on crumble – just what I need after my hefty main course. It’s served with vanilla cream, which I don’t eat, but it’s a pleasant way to end the meal. Philip has the moulleaux coulant au chocolat, a fondant, which is nicely cooked, crispy on the outside and oozing in the middle. It’s served lukewarm, rather than hot, which does rather diminish the pleasure, but it is quickly devoured.

Again, we eschew the wine – we’re not sure why: but we just don’t fancy a drink. All in all, we’ve had a lovely evening – an interesting and imaginative menu that has left us feeling comfortably satisfied.

4.1 stars

Susan Singfield

Auberge de Tavel

17/10/17

Tavel, Provence

Auberge de Tavel comes highly recommended: my mum, who is no stranger to a fine dining establishment, tells us that the five course lunch  she ate here last year was the best meal she’d ever eaten. Anywhere. Ever. It’s hard to resist the lure of such enthusiasm – and why would we want to? We’re spending half term with my parents in nearby St Gabriel and, even better, Mum has found a Groupon deal, promising us that same menu for a mere 39 euros per couple. PER COUPLE! We book hastily, pile into the hire car and head off into the hills.

The auberge is a charming little hotel in the tiny village of Tavel. We decide to make the most of the October sunshine and sit outside (something we definitely won’t be doing when we return to Edinburgh next week). We find ourselves in a small courtyard, all Provençal shutters and bleached grey stone, pretty flowers and trailing plants. It’s delightful and certainly bodes well.

The first offering from the tasting menu is a dainty amuse bouche, a kind of creamy onion crumble in a miniature glass jar. It’s unusual, but rather nice, and certainly whets the appetite.

The basket of bread that arrives before the next course is not the customary sliced baguette; instead we have hunks of warm fresh olive and walnut bread. The walnut in particular is absolutely heavenly.

The second course is soup – a cold courgette soup to be precise, which doesn’t sound at all appetising but is, in fact, delicious, delicately seasoned and bursting with flavour. It’s accompanied by a crisp bread loaded with whipped goat’s cheese, which is admittedly quite hard to eat – not because it doesn’t taste amazing; it does, but because the base is so brittle, the topping so generous, and its location (balanced on the side of the soup dish) not exactly ideal for applying pressure. We narrowly avert any major spillage, and thoroughly enjoy the food.

Course three is lamb, served with vegetables and polenta. I’ve never really liked polenta but this is a game-changer: it’s crisp and light and perfectly complements the robust flavour of the slow-cooked lamb and its rich sauce.

Thank goodness the next course is a light one: a fig comfiture with ricotta cheese. It’s light, and very appropriate for this stage in the proceedings.

Next up, we’re surprised by an additional amuse bouche, creme brulee, creatively presented inside a real egg shell, with a mini soldier of cinnamon toast on the side. It’s cute as anything, and makes us all smile, even before we’ve tasted it. Happily, it tastes every bit as good s it looks.

Our final course is a sort of poire belle Helene/pavlova mash-up, deliberately retro in its style. Presented on a stripy red, white and grey plate reminiscent of 80s teenage bedspreads, it’s a pretty crown of meringue topped with cream, a poached pear, and lashings of nutella sauce. It’s unusual, but I like it.

We don’t sample the wine, although the list is extensive – Philip and I both enjoy a tipple, but lunchtime drinking has a habit of eradicating the afternoon, so we stick to tap water. We do have coffee though, which comes with petit fours; goodness knows, these are an unnecessary addition at this juncture. Still, we eat them – purely, you understand, in the name of research for this review. And very good they are as well.

It’s a great start to our week in France: a noteworthy meal in wonderful company. If you should find yourself in the area this is a restaurant you really must visit. But if you’re going for the tasting menu, you should probably skip breakfast.

5 stars

Susan Singfield

Maki & Ramen – Omakase Sushi Bar

06/10/17

Fountainbridge, Edinburgh

I was rather disappointed when Kampung Ali announced its imminent closure a while ago. This unassuming Malaysian cafe, though very basic in decor, offered great value rice and noodle dishes and was only a short walk from my home. Amongst other things, it did a fantastic coconut rice, one of the best I’ve ever tasted. Here’s what we said about the place back in 2015.*

https://bouquetsbrickbatsreviews.com/2015/04/09/kampung-ali-fountainbridge-edinburgh/

The premises didn’t stand empty for long. Pretty soon it was transformed into the Maki & Ramen – Omakase Sushi Bar. (A bit of a long-winded title, I’ll grant you, but the place seems to answer to both names and has an online listing under each of them. Go figure.) I kept promising myself that we would drop by and check it out but, for one reason or another, the time was never right. But now, for reasons too complicated to mention, I find myself alone on a Saturday evening and decide that here is my ideal opportunity to give the place a whirl.

The first thing to say is that the management have effected an astonishing transformation here. What was once a hokey, ramshackle diner with cheesy photographic dioramas on its walls, is now a sleek, dramatically-lit dining space with a selection of different-sized tables to cater for large groups, smaller ones and, luckily for me, individuals. It’s already pretty busy when I arrive and the place is buzzing, but they soon find me a spot and I’m left to peruse the menu and admire the extensive collection of Post It notes left by the appreciative (and often rather talented) diners who have preceded me. I go in there planning to eat ramen, but then I spot chicken katsu curry on the menu and decide that this is exactly what I am in the mood for. I also order a portion of  pork gyoza and a bottle of Sapporo lager.

The service is friendly and efficient and the food, which arrives in double-quick time, is piping hot. Those of you who are familiar with the katsu curry at Wagamama’s should note that this is a chunkier, earthier version of the meal, the piquant sauce thick and studded with vegetables. There’s a mound of sticky rice and (nice touch this) a chunk of al dente broccoli. The generously-sized portion looks so inviting, I quite forget to photograph it before I start tucking in. Doh! The same goes for the gyoza – these are moist and succulent, with soft, paper-thin cases that virtually melt in the mouth. There are five dumplings in the portion and I eat the lot. Oh yes, every meal comes with a little bowl of savoury miso soup, which is another nice touch.

Tonight is just a try out – I will go back, hopefully with friends, and sample some of the more adventurous items on the menu, but I have to say that this is a very promising first visit. Go and check it out. If you’re at all artistically inclined, leave an illustrated Post It note. You’ll be in good company.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

*I should also add that there is another Kampung Ali (or Ah Lee, as it’s spelled on the website) on Clerk Street, Edinburgh, still apparently going strong.