Food

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.

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Bite Me!

25/09/17

Haymarket Terrace, Edinburgh

Whenever we’re trudging up Morrison Street into the city centre – usually on our way back home from the Haymarket tram stop – we comment on bite me!, a delightful-looking sandwich shop on the corner of Haymarket Terrace. It just looks so inviting: all gleaming white tiles, perfectly-shaped scones and clean, vibrant decor. But we rarely have an excuse to stop – we’re never passing at a meal time or when we’re sufficiently exhausted to think we need a break.

Today is different though. Today, we’ve had to get up early to take our car in for a service. We slept in later than we meant to, so we’ve not had time for breakfast: we’re tired, hungry and a little hungover from last night’s visit to the pub. We’re fantasising about food, and then – like a mirage – bite me! looms ahead. We look at each other; we’re of one accord. We don’t even need to speak. Wordless, we head through the door.

It’s as appealing inside as it is from the kerb. There’s a chalkboard behind the counter; the counter itself is stuffed full of sandwiches and cakes, all so appetising it’s hard to know what to order. But then I spot ‘breakfast rolls’ on the menu, and it’s clear what direction this treat is taking. We both order coffee with egg and bacon rolls – his with brown sauce, mine with red – and take a seat in the pretty bird-themed annexe.

Before long, the rolls arrive. They’re wrapped in paper, and the coffee is in cardboard cups. But the food inside the wrapper is spot on: a soft, fresh bap, crispy smoked bacon and a perfectly fried egg. It’s not greasy at all, and it’s piping hot. It’s a simple meal, but a very satisfying one.

We don’t like the coffee quite as much, but suspect that’s our own fault. We’ve learned since moving to Edinburgh that we need to request a ‘single shot’ – the norm here is a double and that’s too strong for us. We forgot to ask this time, which is a shame.

Still, for warm friendly service and a pleasant place to eat a decent snack, bite me! would be hard to beat. And we’ll be back some time to try those scones!

4 stars

Susan Singfield

The Foresters Arms

02/09/17

Carlton

Fiftieth anniversaries don’t come around all that often – only every oh…. fifty years. So, of course, as my in-laws are celebrating their golden wedding, the proverbial boat is pushed out on behalf of the happy couple and a rather splendid country retreat in the wilds of North Yorkshire is booked for the weekend. We’re putting on a buffet for the main event but, of course, there still needs to be a meal out and it’s useful if the venue can be reached on foot – so the necessary research is done and it’s discovered that we can eat en famille at The Foresters Arms in the local village, a picturesque community pub. Keith and Lesley, the owners, are a quirky delight: friendly and sardonic in equal measure; there’s a real warmth to this place (even though they’re very hot on the reminders that we should be on time).

There are eight of us to dine and we are quickly seated and our food brought to us. I begin with the smoked bacon and black pudding salad, topped with a runny poached egg, which is absolutely delightful, even if it does have the vegetarians in our group looking aghast. There is also a fine grilled goat’s cheese salad across the table and a lot of bowls of tomato and basil soup, which, since everyone who ordered it has eschewed cream, tastes rather tangier than it might do. Still, that’s their own fault for rejecting the dairy delight.

Next up for me is a steak and ale pie, served with creamy mash. The pie is delicious, deeply flavoursome and topped with a light crispy pastry. Susan goes for the smoked haddock, which comes with a lovely cheesy sauce, rich with the flavour of English mustard. For the vegetarians, there is a very good gnocchi and a vegetable lasagne, both of which are pronounced ‘very tasty.’ Our nephew has ordered a butterfly chicken but it must have fluttered away because I never get a chance to sample it. I should perhaps add that two huge helpings of steamed vegetables are also brought to the table, much more than could ever be consumed by mere humans, but they’re nicely cooked so we do our best.

The Foresters also offers an array of delicious traditional puddings, but there is a rather splendid cake waiting for us back at the cottage, so we head back for that instead. Should you find yourself in the vicinity of Calton and you don’t have a fiftieth anniversary cake waiting for you, maybe you could sample those puddings and let us know what you think? Otherwise, it’s hats off to Keith and Lesley and their staff for feeding us so well and hopefully we’ll be back to celebrate the big 100th in 2067…. we promise to be on time!

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Tigerlily

 

28/08/17

George Street, Edinburgh

We are having our kitchen replaced and there’s clearly no way there is going  to be any cooking going on at home tonight – so isn’t it fortuitous that a friend has recently bought us some vouchers for Tigerlily? And we haven’t been up that end of town for ages, so it’s all fallen together really nicely. There’s always a great buzz at Tiger Lily – we love the OTT decor, the cheerful friendliness of the staff and the fact that  there’s generally some kind of special offer available. (Well, we have a new kitchen to pay for.) Take tonight for instance: two courses for £15. What’s not to like about that? There’s a popular expression that is often heard bandied about: ‘You get what you pay for.’ But it ain’t necessarily so.

I certainly enjoy my starter, chargrilled calamari served with saffron butter sauce and  a crispy salad. The calamari is nicely cooked and, I’m glad to note, doesn’t come encased in batter, which always serves to obscure that delicate flavour. Susan’s duck liver mousse is also beautifully done, rich and creamy and served with a tangy apple chutney. Our only criticism here is that there’s not really enough of the delightful gingerbread crisps for such a  generous portion of mousse but, as we later discover, we could simply have asked for some more, like the people at the next table did. What shrinking violets we are!

For the main course I choose the grilled Balinese chicken satay, which is a glorious treat, served with a mound of glutinous sticky rice, pickled cucumbers, prawn  crackers and a gorgeous peanut dressing. Susan is feeling gromphy, so she opts for the Scottish steak burger on a brioche bun, served with shoestring fries and kimchi  ketchup. We’ve said it before and we’ll doubtless say it again, but a burger is a  burger is a burger. This one is a decent example of the species, though the frozen  chips that accompany it are pretty generic.

The special menu offers only one pudding, a sharing plate of gooey chocolate chip cookies, with a couple  of scoops of vanilla ice cream, and pouring jugs of chocolate sauce and caramel sauce. You also get your choice of coffee to go with it. And how much for this little delight? Just £5. Yes, you heard that right. £5 for the two of us. Inevitably, we find ourselves wondering how they can do it for so little, but all that really matters is that they do it and it’s pretty irresistible.

So, a great value meal that presents like a much more expensive one, served in a lively, relaxed setting, culminating in a lovely indulgent pudding that costs less than you’d normally pay for the coffees that accompany it. As I said before, what’s not to  like? Form an orderly queue, please.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

 

Kyloe

27/08/17

Rutland Street, Edinburgh

The Fringe is approaching its final days and we have family staying with us, seeing shows and generally hanging out. A Sunday roast seems like a capital idea and we’ve heard very good things indeed about Kyloe, where the gimmick is a whole joint serving groups of four or six, so we book a table and turn up, secure in the knowledge that there won’t be any indecision about ordering, because we’ve already done all that in advance. The interior is the right mixture of traditional and quirky – there are a lot of portraits of cows and I love the light fittings made out of barrels and the cowhide-lined booths. The staff are friendly and attentive and the atmosphere convivial.

We’re offered the chance to have a starter, but decide to save our appetites for the main course (wisely, as it turns out, as the portions here are positively gargantuan). Very soon, a sizzling joint is brought out from the kitchen and is carved in front of us as we sit there salivating. It’s apparent at a glance that it’s perfectly cooked, succulently rare inside, but not too bloody. It’s accompanied by four light, fluffy Yorkshire puddings, a huge bowl of roast potatoes, diced root vegetables, creamed spinach and two jugs, one containing a rich dark gravy and the other horseradish sauce. Oh yes, and there’s some nice peppery rocket on the side. There are few meals that cannot be enhanced by a liberal sprinkling of rocket.

There is absolutely nothing to fault here – the food is hot, impeccably prepared and absolutely delicious. I’d like to say that we restrain ourselves, but it’s hard when presented with such a feast. We fall upon it like ravenous wolves and, I’m sure, eat more than is strictly good for us, but who can resist such temptation? Not us, for sure.

Nor can we resist the equally scrumptious and generously proportioned pudding, a sharing slab of warm chocolate brownie, crispy on top and fabulously gooey within. This is accompanied by an intensely flavoured vanilla ice cream. Of course, we tell each other as it is placed in front of us, we’ll never be able to finish all of this. And, naturally, we do, every last crumb.

The Sunday dinner here costs £100 for four diners, which is costlier than some other places around Edinburgh, but you cannot argue with the quality of the food or the absolute delight you’ll experience in its consumption. I’ve eaten Sunday dinners all over the city but I can honestly say I haven’t had a better one than this.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

Loudons Cafe & Bakery

 

03/08/17

Fountainbridge, Edinburgh

Loudons has an enviable reputation around Edinburgh and it’s very easy to see why. From the spacious, scrupulously clean interior to the charming, affable staff and the prompt and efficient service, this place quite simply ticks all the boxes – so when we and our guests decide to step out for a late breakfast, it seems the obvious place to head for. After all, it’s just a quick stroll away. The only slightly strange thing is that we haven’t got around to trying it before now.

We start by ordering coffee and we’re asked would we care to try Ruli Masasa, a new Rwandan blend they’re trialling? Yes, as it happens, we would – and very tasty it proves to be. As we sip, contentedly, we peruse the menu and it quickly becomes clear, that the only major problem is going to be which of the many delights on offer we’re actually going to choose. After some deliberation, Susan orders the American style pancakes, which arrive promptly and prove to be thick and satisfying, layered with bacon and baked banana (shouldn’t work, but trust me, it does!).  The impressive stack of pancakes is topped with maple syrup, icing sugar and cocoa powder. If you have a sweet tooth, this is definitely the one for you.

I’m in the mood for something more savoury so I choose an offering called the ‘Hoots Mon’, which, despite that awful name, is just wonderful. It comprises an English muffin, halved and liberally layered with haggis, black pudding and bacon, then topped with two poached eggs and a tangy tomato ketchup chutney. It is quite simply delightful, the bacon thick and crispy, the eggs poached to perfection, so that when you prod them with a knife, a gloopy yellow yoke gushes over the lower layers. Oh, yes please! Needless to say, I make very short work of eating it.

One of our companions orders French toast, which is served with bacon and maple syrup and looks very nice indeed. The fourth, a person of more modest appetite, plumps for a traditional fresh scone served with butter and jam, and pronounces it excellent. Pretty soon, all four plates are clean and we’re very happy punters.

OK, so maybe Loudons isn’t  the cheapest cafe you’ll find around the city (most dishes are around the £10 mark) but, for a pleasant brunch, you’d be hard put to better it and, since I can’t find a single thing to fault in the order, it must surely receive the maximum number of stars. What about that name, ‘Hoots Mon’? Should I deduct points for that? No, because you could call it ‘desiccated wombat’ and it would still taste incredible. Full marks it is, then.

For those of you contemplating an exhausting day of touring around the many festival venues, this is the logical place to refuel. And for those of you who’ve slept in, I hear they do excellent lunches too.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

Hotel du Vin

31/07/17

Bristo Place, Edinburgh

Edinburgh boasts a wealth of fine dining venues and Hotel du Vin, part of the Malmaison group, has been around since 2006. It also has a more fascinating history than some of the competition. Back in the day it was known as ‘Bedlam,’ the city’s biggest lunatic asylum. (The poet Robert Ferguson was one of its most celebrated inmates.) These days, of course, it’s all a bit more sedate, with a pleasant rustic feel, though that colourful history is commemorated in a private dining room which boasts a spectacular mural featuring two of Edinburgh’s most infamous inhabitants, Burke and Hare.

We first ate at Hotel du Vin back in the day, when we were first discovering the city, but long before we started reviewing our dining experiences. We have family visiting, so we decide to revisit the place, taking advantage of a bookatable deal that offers three courses and a glass of wine for just £20.95 per head.

For starters, Susan and I both opt for the seared Galician octopus, which is a rather splendid affair, succulent fishy tentacles resting on a bed of inky braised lentils with salsa verde. It’s rich and savoury and a great appetiser. There’s also Woodhall’s family black combe air-dried ham (looks fab but doesn’t photograph well) and a watercress and spinach soup, which is served with a poached egg and a dollop of sour cream. All of these are sampled and all are pronounced utterly delicious.

For her main course, Susan tries the Normandy chicken cobb salad, a beautifully arranged dish featuring tangy Roquefort cheese, avocado, tomatoes, brioche croutons, soft boiled eggs and pancetta. It looks and tastes absolutely splendid. I’m in a ‘gromphy’ mood, so I go for the black and blue burger. Now, I can guess what you’re thinking – a burger is a burger is a burger, right? Not so. This one features a succulent 200 gram pattie nestled between a light-as-a-feather black sesame seed brioche. The meat is liberally coated with Roquefort cheese and mushroom ketchup and is accompanied by a cone of crispy, salty french fries. Mmm. Best of all, it comes with crunchy dill pickles on the side (and when one of our guests announces he doesn’t like dill pickles, I’m in there like a shot!). Oh yes, there’s also a grilled Cornish mackerel served with trout roe and Waldorf fregola grossa. Everything is cooked to perfection and nicely presented – there’s really nothing here to find fault with, and trust me I look really hard.

Of course, there must be puddings and three of us cannot resist the description of a treacle tart, served with (how good does this sound?) custard ice cream. Yes please! And very nice it proves to be, thick, not too dry (because we all know that can happen, right?) and accompanied by a scoop of something that tastes very like deep-frozen heaven. The fourth member of our party investigates the peach melba – melt-in-the-mouth poached peaches with fresh raspberries, meringue and (nice touch this) jelly and ice cream! It’s a delight, but hey, it’s not treacle tart and custard ice cream, if you catch my drift.

All-in-all, this is splendid grown-up food, perfectly prepared and served in pleasant and convivial surroundings. The white wine offered is a chardonnay and though this would usually invoke a negative mark, it proves to be perfectly drinkable (though a sauvignon blanc would have been more agreeable to us ABCs).

It’s a tiny niggle. We were very happy with our Hotel du Vin experience and I can’t help feeling that, unless you’re extraordinarily fussy, you’ll enjoy it too. Make sure you pop your head into the Burke and Hare room to check out that artwork – unless of course you’ve actually booked the Burke and Hare room, in which case you can sit there and ogle it to your heart’s content.

4.8 stars

Philip Caveney