Lothian Road, Edinburgh

When we first decided to feature food reviews on this blog, we agreed that we wouldn’t be covering any chain restaurants. We really didn’t think there was much point. But I suppose there has to be a notable exception to every rule and when, after a particularly fraught day’s work, we decide there’s really only one place we both fancy dining, then this review becomes inevitable. Because as chain restaurants go, Wagamama is, in our humble opinion, the best of the bunch. You can see the food being freshly prepared in the open kitchen, the staff are friendly and attentive and I love their open approach to specialist tastes – there’s a huge choice of both vegetarian and vegan meals and even some gluten-free options. We have eaten in Wagamama venues all over the country and the quality of the food never falters.

It’s a Thursday evening and the Lothian Road branch is pleasantly bustling with post-work diners. We take our seats, order drinks and peruse the menu, though I already have long-established firm favourites here. One of them is the chicken katsu curry. To me, this is the ultimate ‘hug on a plate,’ not at all challenging, you understand, but so very satisfying. There’s something about that big mound of sticky rice bathed in a kind of gloopy ‘chip shop curry’ sauce that is so compelling. There’s also the tender strips of chicken in their breadcrumb coating and that perfectly judged crispy salad dressed in a zesty sauce. I’ve often said that, when I find myself on Death Row (presumably sent there for crimes against humanity), this is the dish I will send out for.

I will also ask for a portion of duck gyoza, those succulent, flavoursome steamed parcels which are so delicious on their own and taste even more so when dipped into the accompanying bowl of  sweet chilli sauce – my mouth is watering just describing it!

We also order a portion of yasai yaki soba, a big plate of sizzling noodles with mushrooms, egg, peppers, bean sprouts and much more. There’s a fabulous gingery kick to this dish and a wonderful contrast between the softness of the noodles and the crunchiness of the vegetables that just compels you to keep eating until the plate is clean. Sprinkle it with soy sauce and it’s even better!

One more main dish, we decide, something we haven’t tried before and it’s prawn raikusaree, a mild coconut and citrus curry, served with a mound of white rice, peppers, red onion, red chillies and lime. The decently sized prawns are perfectly cooked and almost melt in the mouth. It’s sublime, and we realise that we’ve just discovered what’s destined to be another firm favourite.

After all that, can we possibly find room for pudding? Well, it has been a particularly tiring day… we were up at 5am for goodness sake! We decide to share a coconut and fig cheescake and a bowl of salted caramel ice cream. The former is light and adorable, based on a crunchy biscuit base and, of course, ice cream is just ice cream, right? Well no, as it happens, even this has its own unique flavour, sprinkled with caramelised sesame seeds and liberally dressed with a chilli toffee and ginger sauce. Yum!

Wagamama seems to me to be almost unique amongst chain restaurants, displaying levels of invention married to standards of quality you won’t find in many  establishments. Oh, and did I mention it’s also excellent value for money? Little wonder you rarely see the restaurants empty.

This was a great idea and it certainly won’t be the last time we dine here.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney



The Ivy on the Square


St Andrew Square, Edinburgh

Let’s be honest, we’re here because of The Ivy, the famous London restaurant none of our party has ever visited, but which is synonymous with celebrity and exclusivity. Not that we’re expecting either of these tonight, but we’re keen to see what this Scottish outpost has to offer, and perhaps to gain some insight into why its progenitor is so talked about.

We’re with good friends, so we’re off to a promising start: we’re predisposed to enjoy ourselves when we’re in their company. True, we’ve looked at the menu on line and found it pretty uninspiring, and our companions have read some mixed reviews. But we’re here with open minds (and mouths); we’ll give it a fair chance.

And we’re glad we do, because it’s hard to find much fault. The decor is idiosyncratic, all busy prints and reflective surfaces, but it works: it’s modern and traditional and quirky all at once. Okay, so the tables are crammed a little closely together, and it’s busy and bustling so they’re a little slow with our drinks orders, but that’s no problem really; there’s a lively atmosphere and we’re in no rush. The service is attentive without being overbearing, and the food is really rather good.

I start with the tuna carpaccio, which is yellowfin tuna served with ponzu dressing, avocado purée, toasted sesame and coriander shoots. It’s a thing of beauty, and the standout of the meal for me. It’s spicy but delicate, and the fish is melt-in-the-mouth soft. Lovely! Philip has the warm crispy duck salad, which comes with five spice dressing, toasted cashews, watermelon, beansprouts, coriander and ginger. He’s especially impressed by the textures, and by the surprising addition of the watermelon, and declares it a winning way to begin.

His main is line-caught swordfish with red pepper sauce, Provencal black olives, fregola and chimichurri dressing. It’s a simple dish, but a well-executed one, the fish seared to perfection. I opt for the ‘classic’ Ivy on the Square shepherd’s pie, which comprises slow-braised lamb shoulder with beef and Isle of Mull Cheddar potato mash. It’s not like any shepherd’s pie I’ve had before, its elevation completed by the robust gravy that accompanies it, which is rich and densely flavoured.

Do we have  room for pudding? Of course we do. And, having seen it delivered to a neighbouring table, we both opt for the chocolate bombe,  a delicious dome of milk chocolate, which – under a torrent of hot butterscotch sauce – melts into a vanilla ice cream and honeycomb centre. It’s as theatrical as it is sinfully delicious, and we’re suitably impressed.

All in all, we’ve had a great evening, relaxed and unhurried, and we’ve thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Will we be back? I’d say it’s highly likely.

4.3 stars

Susan Singfield


Tower Restaurant


National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh

We’ve been meaning to try the Tower restaurant for a while, and we’re reminded of this fact when we’re sent an email with an enticing offer, namely the chance to enjoy the Table d’Hote menu (£38 for three courses) with the added benefits of complementary champagne, coffee and petit fours. It’d be churlish to ignore this one.

The restaurant’s location is sublime. It’s at the top of the National Museum of Scotland (incidentally, a location that features prominently in one of Philip’s YA novels, Seventeen Coffins) and boasts a divine view of the Old Town, most notably the castle, resplendent in all its lit-up glory. And the service is spot-on: the waiting staff are all friendly and attentive without being overbearing. It’s an auspicious start.

There are olives on the table and, when we finish them (which we do, embarrassingly quickly), we are immediately offered more. We decline, but appreciate the generosity. A malty, crusty rye bread is similarly devoured; again, we are given the chance to refill our plates; again we demur, because we need to leave space for the meal ahead.

Philip starts with the Inverawe Loch Etive smoked trout, which is served with beetroot gel and lemon crème fraîche. It’s as pretty as a picture and tastes as good as it looks. I opt for the  game terrine with pickled pear and walnut croutons. This is superb: densely packed with a range of meats, all distinctly flavoured and utterly delicious.

For his main, Philip has the Borders beef Bourguignon, which comes with button mushrooms, bacon lardons and mashed potato. It’s a rich, sticky delight, packing a real punch. I have the pan-seared fillet of seabass, which – served with crushed heritage potatoes, prawns and saffron butter – is a far lighter, more subtle dish. I really like it; the fish is firm and the skin is crispy. Good stuff indeed!

We share two puddings: the dark Belgian chocolate terrine  with Maldon salt and honeycomb, and the Bramley apple and cinnamon crumble with vanilla ice cream. Both are eagerly consumed, and we are – by now – feeling very full.

Still, we make room for the petit fours that come with our coffees (a flat white for Philip and a black decaf Americano for me). Of course we do! The truffles and tablet are tooth-achingly sweet and yummy. And we leave secure in the knowledge that we have had a lovely evening eating lovely food.

4.3 stars

Susan Singfield

Theatre Bouquets 2017




Once again we have been wowed by some fantastic theatre this year. Here, in order of viewing (and with the benefit of hindsight), are our favourite productions of 2017.

The Winter’s Tale – Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

The Winter's Tale

This thrilling, modern-day version of Shakespeare’s play was dynamic and audacious – with the whole fourth act recast in Scots. We loved every minute of it, especially Maureen Beattie’s performance as Paulina.

Chess: The Musical  – Festival Theatre, Edinburgh


The students from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland thrilled the audience with a skilful display of all things theatrical. We loved the sophisticated choreography (often incorporating the real time use of video cameras) and choral singing that sent chills down our spines.

Nell Gwyn – King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

Nell Gwyn\

This superb production of Jessica Swales’ Olivier Award-winning comedy was a delight in just about every respect. From the superbly realised set, through to the opulent costumes and the lively period music, this was fabulous to behold.

Death of a Salesman – King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

Death of a Salesman

It was the direction that made this production so good: Abigail Graham did a wonderful job of clarifying everybody’s pain. And Nicholas Woodeson was perfect for the lead role, conveying Willy’s struggle with warmth and vitality.

The Toxic Avenger – Pleasance One, Edinburgh

The Toxic Avenger

A musical in the same vein that made Little Shop of Horrors such a pleasure, The Toxic Avenger was an unqualified delight, romping happily along powered by its own exuberance and the efforts of a stellar cast, who gave this everything they had – and then some.

The Power Behind the Crone – Assembly George Square, Edinburgh

The Power Behind the Crone

This was a wonderful piece of theatre, an exemplar of a Fringe show: beautifully scripted, and acted with precision and panache. Alison Skilbeck had absolute control of the material and created an impressive range of distinct, believable characters.

Seagulls – The Leith Volcano, Edinburgh

Volcano Theatre SEagulls at Edinburgh Fringe Festival

This was the most ambitious, exhilarating piece of theatre we saw this year. Site-specific productions – when the site is as spectacular and relevant as this (we were in an abandoned church, which had been flooded with forty-five tons of water) – can be truly exciting, and this one had a lot to offer.

Safe Place – Rose Street Theatre, Edinburgh

Safe Place

Safe Place provided a sensitive, insightful examination of the uneasy relationship between trans-activism and feminism. It asked (and answered) many questions, all within the framework of a nuanced and intelligent play.

Angels in America: NT Live – Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Angels In America

Clocking in at just under eight hours, Tony Kushner’s play offered us a “gay fantasia on national themes” – a sprawling, painful and searingly funny depiction of New York in the 1980s, fractured and ill-prepared to deal with the AIDS epidemic. A truly iconic piece of theatre.

Twelfth Night/Romeo & Juliet – King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

Twelfth Night

Romeo & Juliet

Merely Theatre gave us some ‘stripped-back’ Shakespeare, performing Twelfth Night and Romeo & Juliet in rep. The plays featured only five actors and the casting was gender-blind. It all made for an interesting dynamic and prompted us to re-examine familiar scenes.

Cockpit – Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh


Cockpit was a witty, clever play, which saw the Lyceum transformed into a truly immersive space.  Director Wils Wilson served up a fascinating piece of theatre: arresting, thought-provoking, provocative and demanding – and it kept us talking for hours afterwards.

Cinderella – King’s Theatre, Edinburgh


We never thought a pantomime would feature in any ‘best of’ list of ours but, for the second year running, the King’s Theatre’s stalwarts managed to wow us. Allan Stewart, Andy Gray and Grant Stott knew exactly how to work their audience, and the special effects were truly spectacular.

Susan Singfield & Philip Caveney



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


The Tin Soldier


The Studio, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh


Bird of Paradise Theatre’s production of The Tin Soldier is an object lesson in the art of storytelling. It’s thoughtful and vibrant and beautifully done.

Jack (Robert Softley Gale) and his friends live in The Place. Based on the Internats, where non-ambulant disabled children were ‘dumped’ in Soviet Russia, The Place is cold, inhospitable and under-staffed. Left to their own devices, the children forge strong ties, creating their own family units. And, central to this bonding process, is the sharing and telling of stories.

The appeal of The Tin Soldier is obvious: the loyal, steadfast toy is one of very few positive depictions of a disabled character in children’s fiction. He might not have a happy ending, but he’s undoubtedly the hero of the tale: dogged, determined, loving and loveable.

But the real beauty of this piece is all in the telling. The multi-media, multi-format approach is beguiling: the story is told simultaneously through spoken word, sign language, subtitles, music and animation. If that sounds chaotic, it’s not. It’s all perfectly choreographed, each form complementing the next, adding subtle layers of meaning and complexity. Caroline Parker, as the aptly-named Dancer, is especially mesmerising, signing the songs centre-stage; it’s visually stunning, even though I don’t know sign language.

Bird of Paradise’s artistic vision is of “a culture where disabled artists are recognised for the excellence of their work” – and Softley Gale, Parker and Joseph Brown (Kipper) certainly merit accolades for these performances.

The music is provided by Novasound, aka Audrey Tait and Lauren Gilmour. It’s lovely: Gilmour’s voice has a plaintive quality that really suits the tale.

The Tin Soldier is playing until the 23rd December, so if you’re looking for a festive family show that goes beyond the obvious, then why not take a look at this? You won’t be disappointed.

4.4 stars

Susan Singfield

The Arabian Nights


Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

The Arabian Nights is unusual: a children’s Christmas show that never mentions Christmas. Of course it doesn’t – this is a collection of mainly Middle Eastern and Indian stories – but they’re wonderfully apt for the festive season, as marvellous and magical as can be. Suhayla El-Bushra’s script is sprightly and engaging, and nicely complemented by Joe Douglas’s lively direction. This is a delightful production.

At its centre is Scheherazade  (Rehanna MacDonald), a young girl who has fallen foul of the tyrannical Sultan (Nicholas Karimi). Desperate to stay her impending execution, she regales the taciturn leader with tales she has learned from her storyteller mother (Neshla Caplan). Despite professing to hate stories, the Sultan is beguiled, demanding more and more. And, as time goes by, the two develop an unlikely friendship.

The staging is lovely: simple but evocative, brightly coloured and celebratory. And the stories are beautifully told: there’s puppetry and music, shadow-play and song. It’s zesty and energetic, the stories tumbling across the stage as quickly and impressively as the acrobats. It could be chaotic, but it’s not, even when we are faced with a sequence of four (or is it five?) tales within tales, each left open as the next begins, a masterful piece of writing if ever there was one. The actors are fantastic too: a true ensemble, most performing many roles with humour and precision.

Accessible yet profound; moving yet funny; sophisticated yet full of fart jokes: this is perfectly pitched for a family audience.

4.5 stars

Susan Singfield