Food

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

 

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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

Grand Cru

15/09/18

Hanover Street, Edinburgh

It’s that rare beast: a Saturday where we have nothing particular planned, and a yearning to play out. Just as we’re wondering what direction our day will take, an email pops up, informing us that Grand Cru’s special lunch costs only £8.95 for two courses. Can this be true? We google the menu and it looks pretty impressive; the trip advisor reviews are decent too.

So we decide to head there for a late-ish lunch. And we’re really glad we do. Because, for the price, this is mighty fine.

There’s a friendly, informal atmosphere: a long bar and lots of nooks and crannies. We’re seated in the main area, and it’s buzzing – but even though it’s busy, we’re not too close to other diners and have plenty of room.

Philip begins with a caprese salad of mozzarella, tomatoes and avocado. It’s a generous portion, and the balsamic vinegar it’s topped with is as thick and sticky as can be. Delish! I have mussels in tomato sauce, which are served with a slice of warm, home-made bread. The mussels are perfect: big and soft and so plentiful I have to ask Philip to help me finish them. He’s more than happy to oblige, especially as the tomato sauce they’re in is rich and deeply satisfying. We’re off to a great start!

For his main, Philip opts for classic fish and chips – or, more accurately, angel cut Scottish haddock, cooked in home-made beer batter and served with chips and garden peas. The batter is hot and crispy; the fish perfectly cooked. The chips – often the weak point on a cheap menu like this – are lovely: clearly fresh rather than frozen, exactly as they need to be.

My beetroot and blue cheese risotto is a bit more unusual, but it’s really interesting and I enjoy it immensely. The flavours are strong and it’s very filling; we definitely don’t need the side of mac’n’cheese we’ve ordered to share, which matches nothing else on our plates, but we can’t resist (we never can say no when mac’n’cheese is on offer). It’s tasty and indulgent but quite unnecessary. Oh well.

We’re delighted to see a Willows End New Zealand Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc on the menu for a mere £22 and, after polishing it off, decide we’re too full to even think about pudding.

We’re sated; we’re happy; we’ve had a lovely time. And the bill comes in at £43. I think it’s safe to say that we’ll be back again.

4.2 stars

Susan Singfield

 

 

The Seafood Café

 

02/09/18

Findhorn, Moray

We’re up in the North of Scotland for the weekend, staying in a lovely B & B in Elgin. We’ve spent this unexpectedly sunny Sunday in Lossiemouth, walking a few miles of the Moray Coastal Trail, and cooling off by splashing about in the sea. It’s been delightful – all sun-blushed and salt-swept – so there’s really only one thing that will do for dinner.

Fish, of course.

So we head off to the pretty fishing village of Findhorn, and make our way to The Seafood Café, which has been recommended to us by the B & B’s proprietor. Located within the Royal Findhorn Yacht Club, this is an unprepossessing room, all pine furniture and pale walls, although the latter are hung with some pretty impressive photographs of local landscapes and wildlife. The place is empty (‘Sundays are quiet,’ we’re told) and it closes early so last orders are at 6pm, a little earlier than we’d choose. It’s unlicensed too, which isn’t a problem because we’re driving – but we note that there’s a BYOB policy, so it is quite possible to dine and wine if you want to. But we’re here for the fish, not the booze, and we’ve been told to expect the best.

We order a sharing platter to start – and it’s immediately impressive. There’s prawn cocktail here, as well as larger undressed prawns, a couple of generously-sized langoustines, smoked mackerel, oysters, smoked salmon with crispy seaweed and two salt-crusted scallops. It’s all delicious, but the scallops and salmon are the real standouts, the crispy seaweed elevating the latter and providing a nice contrasting texture.

Philip orders the ‘Posh Fish Fae Peterheed‘ for his main, which comprises a poached lemon sole stuffed with scallop mousse, another of those grilled langoustines, a pea purée and some sweet potato fries. As it should be, the stuffed sole is the star of the show, so light and delicate in flavour, it virtually melts on the tongue. The pea purée works well with it, and the fries are decent too: home cooked and crispy.

I have the daily special, which is hake, served with crushed potatoes and samphire. The potatoes are cooked with turmeric and tomatoes and are absolutely heavenly, while the hake is grilled to perfection – all soft, buttery flesh and hot crispy skin.

We may have eaten a lot, but we love our puds, and today’s specials sound so homely and tantalising that we really can’t resist, so we order a sticky toffee pudding and an apple crumble between us. They’re good – not as fancily presented as the main courses, it’s true, but who cares? The STP is sweet and moreish, generously topped with caramel sauce and accompanied by a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a shard of honeycomb. The crumble is spicy with cinnamon, the apple slices still quite firm and tumbled in the crumble mixture rather than covered by a layer of  it. It’s an interesting twist on a traditional dish, and I like it a lot. Yum, yum!

It’s only 7.30 when we leave and the sun’s still blazing, so we take another walk along that picturesque shoreline, admiring the view and feeling most contented to be here.

4.6 stars

Susan Singfield

 

 

Hemma

27/08/18

Holyrood Road, Edinburgh

It’s the final day of Edfringe 2018. We’re tired after three weeks of running around like headless chickens and, more worryingly, we’re somewhat hungover from an enthusiastic booze-up with friends last night. Now we’re due to meet two other friends for ‘coffee’ before they get their train back to Manchester. We choose to meet them in Hemma, the Swedish-inspired café-bar, a popular haunt from our early days in the city and a decent walk from the hustle of the city centre. It was better known to us back then as ‘the Bill Murray bar’ because of a random and completely unexplained assortment of paintings of said actor hanging on the walls. They’re gone now, and we kind of miss them.

Hardly surprisingly, we decide that mere coffee isn’t going to be enough to cut through our fuzzled senses – a hearty brunch is much more what we we need. I order the Hemma breakfast and Susan, determined to be at least a little bit healthy, goes for the avocado, pea and mint smash, to which she adds  poached eggs and feta cheese.

The former meal is rather like the venue – quirky, with unexpected elements. It’s by no means perfect. The bacon isn’t as crispy as I’d like, but the haggis and sausages are exactly what’s required. The presence of hasselback potatoes is a surprise, to say the least, but they slip down nicely enough and I have to hand it to whoever thought of adding a little bowl of spicy chilli to the plate. Chilli, in my humble opinion, works at any time of the day or night, and makes a great addition to this meal. My poached eggs are nicely done, though Susan’s prove to be a little on the hard side. She pronounces the pea and avocado delicious however. The chunks of feta add a tangy saltiness to the meal that goes down a treat.

Our hangovers are suitably vanquished and, after a long and enjoyable natter, we’re ready to head back out in to the world, rejuvenated. Hemma, by the way, is the Swedish  for ‘at home.’ If you’re in Edinburgh and you’re suffering from the events of the night before, you could do a lot worse than head out to Holyrood for a little rejuvenation. But don’t expect to see Bill Murray on the walls. He’s just a memory now.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Ishka

11/08/18

Morrison Street, Edinburgh

Four years ago today, we got married – so we take an evening off from reviewing so we can celebrate (we don’t see fewer shows, we just cram them in earlier) and take ourselves off to Ishka on nearby Morrison Street, where we order a bottle of New Zealand Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, and plan to take things very easy. There’s a card on our table wishing us a happy anniversary, which is a lovely touch, and sets the tone for the friendly service we receive all evening.

There are some interesting flourishes on the menu: the artisanal bread, for instance, comes with tomato butter, which sounds like something we’ll enjoy. Sadly, though, this is a bit of a let down – the butter is nice enough, but the bread has been sliced too thinly and clearly left out for a while, so that it’s dry and unappetising.

Still, we fare better with the rest of what we order. Philip has a pigeon breast to start, which comes with berry jam, a black pudding croquette, diced beetroot candy and a pistachio nut soil. It’s delicious: rich and strongly flavoured, and beautifully presented. I have asparagus and chicken, accompanied by a boiled egg and a lemon and flaked almond dressing; it’s as light and refreshing as it sounds, and I enjoy every mouthful.

Philip’s main course is lamb rump; the meat is very good, but the star of the show is the pearl barley and button mushroom cream broth it’s served on, a robust yet delicately flavoured base. I have Atlantic cod: the fish is perfectly cooked, and I even find myself enjoying the accompanying garlic and coriander poached fennel, although it’s not a vegetable I usually like. The ‘layer potato cake’ is a little dry, but all in all, it’s a decent plate.

The puddings sound more sumptuous on the menu than they are in reality; there’s nothing at all wrong with either Philip’s apple and chocolate (apple compôte, light sponge with crème pat and chocolate ice cream, caramel sauce and nut clusters) or my elderflower and raspberry (elderflower cheesecake, raspberry macaron, muesli soil, peach crisps and peach purée), but nor are they as lip-smackingly, groaningly wonderful as a good pud can be.

We eschew coffee, heading out to the pub instead, for a final drink and a cheers to us. Ishka is a friendly, stylish place, and we’ve enjoyed our evening.

3.8 stars

Susan Singfield