Edinburgh

A Gambler’s Guide to Dying

26/01/21

Traverse Online

We’re a little late to this one, which is a shame because A Gambler’s Guide to Dying, written and performed by Gary McNair, is a charming and engaging monologue, a delightful way to fill a spare hour. It’s the story of the narrator’s grandfather, a hardbitten Glaswegian, who discovers a love for betting on a long shot, even when such an approach incurs the wrath of the drinkers in his local bar.

Undeterred, Granddad continues with his mission, placing an accumulator bet every day, never spending any of his winnings, and always keeping an eye on the potential millions he might one day be able to leave for his family. When he is diagnosed with a fatal illness, he even spots an opportunity to turn that into a lucrative betting proposition.

Can he somehow outlive the remaining time that his doctors have predicted for him?

This could so easily have been mawkish and overly sentimental, but McNair’s approach is too skilful to allow that to happen. The marvel here is that the narrator manages to take on several roles in this story, never relying on costume changes or make-up, but just adding subtle vocal inflexions to identify each character. Gareth Nicholls’ and Siri Rødnes’s simple but effective direction develops this, positioning the camera to establish who is who, so that I’m never in any doubt as to which of them is speaking at any given moment, even when it’s a quick-fire exchange of words between grandfather and grandson.

I also love that McNair steadfastly refuses to offer a straightforward happy ending to his tale, yet somehow manages to use the gut-punch of failure to give his story a realistic, yet satisfying conclusion. The tragedy here is that this little gem will only be available to stream for one more day.

Do try to catch it.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

No 11: Five Course Festive Dinner

30/12/20

Brunswick Street, Edinburgh

Like many people, I have a birthday and I try to confine myself to just one a year. It does, however, seem to keep coming around with annoying regularity. In the normal run of things, I like to indulge in a slap-up meal to mark the occasion, but 2020 – as we all know – has been anything but normal and, in level 4 lockdown, a trip to a restaurant is frankly out of the question. Nor do I (or my wife, for that matter) fancy constructing said slap-up from scratch.

What to do?

A timely alert on Facebook tips me off to the fact that No 11, a brasserie where we’ve dined before, is offering a five course festive menu to be consumed at home – what’s more, at time of ordering, it’s available at a hefty 50% discount on the usual price. We flex the debit card before somebody changes their mind. On the big day, snowstorms notwithstanding, we set off for Brunswick Street, where we collect a couple of hefty containers, which we promptly ferry homewards. Upon unpacking the contents, we are delighted to note that some considerable thought has gone into this dining experience. They’ve even included a candle in a glass holder (bless!). The various courses come with a selection of matched wines, which – to me – is always a welcome bonus. As per the restaurant’s recommendation, we begin with a glass of prosecco, which is the best way to start most things (with the exception of driving or operating heavy machinery).

The starter is a ham hock and black pudding terrine, served with homemade piccalilli and a slice of fresh wholemeal bread. The terrine is satisfyingly chunky, arranged in thick, chewy layers and that zesty piccalilli gives it a peppery punch that makes it extra special.

Now we enjoy a glass of sauvignon blanc, before digging in to the second course, which is smoked trout. There are big chunks of fish accompanied by an avocado and rocket salad and a brown shrimp dressing. The wine has sharp tones of lime and peach which cut perfectly through the smoky flesh of the trout.

Next up, a wee bowl of carrot and ginger soup – well, why not? Soup can sometimes be meh, but not in this case, because the flavours are perfectly judged and there’s a thick, creamy texture that makes for a calming contrast to what went before. While we eat, the main course is browning nicely in the oven and giving off an appetising aroma.

When it’s ready, we pour a couple of glasses of a rich, red merlot and tuck into a delightful turkey Wellington, which is of such ample proportions, we decide to share just one of the servings, keeping the other for a cold snack the following day. The Wellington is beautifully done, the meat wrapped in bacon and encased in a thyme crepe, before being sealed into a crispy puff pastry lattice. There are layers of cranberry sauce in there too, plus a traditional sage and onion stuffing. It’s served with excellent roast potatoes, parsnips, sprouts, an al dente carrot and some wicked pigs in blankets, plus lashings of rich red wine gravy.

It’s suitably festive and effortlessly spectacular.

For the moment, we’re too full to continue, but luckily it’s time for a Zoom meet-up with my lovely daughter and her partner, during which I open my presents before we indulge in some rather brilliant online games, which are new to me and which, with the liberal addition of more alcohol, makes for a pretty decent birthday.

Once finished with the entertainment, we’re finally ready for dessert and it’s Christmas pudding cheesecake, which is very good, though I have to confess that the accompanying Drambuie cream is, for me, the one small misstep on the menu – it has a disconcertingly bitter flavour. I guess the simple truth is, I’m just not a fan of Drambuie. At any rate, it’s a minor niggle in what has been a very satisfying dine-at-home experience; indeed, it’s up there with the best that we’ve sampled so far during this infernal pandemic.

My fervent wish now is that this time next year, I’ll be able to dine in a restaurant, like in the old days before the world got sick. I’ll raise a glass to that and take the opportunity to wish all our readers a better 2021.

4.8 stars

Philip Caveney

The Scran & Scallie: Scran at Home

28/11/20

Stockbridge, Edinburgh

We were devotees of the short-lived (but hopefully one-day-to-be-revived) Southside Scran, which opened up in our neighbourhood just two years ago. Indeed, we banged on about it so much that, last Christmas, no fewer than three people bought us vouchers for the place. We were delighted! But we only got to spend two of them before disaster struck: the ceiling fell down, and the restaurant shut while repairs got underway.

And then COVID.

The Kitchen Group announced the permanent closure of Castle Terrace, another of their restaurants in our vicinity (truly, we were spoiled), and also confirmed that Southside Scran would be closed for the rest of 2020. A double blow. For them more than for us, of course. But we feel the loss too. We chose our flat because of its location, its proximity to the theatres and cinemas and restaurants and bars. All closed. All gone.

So we seized upon the news that The Scran & Scallie has started offering an ‘at home’ menu for collection or delivery. At last! The chance to indulge in some of our favourite food for the first time since last January. And we could put our remaining voucher towards it too.

It’s not as good, of course, as going out. Even though we do, literally, go out, because we opt for collection rather than delivery, so drive down to Stockbridge to pick up our order. (Usually we’d walk, but it’s forty minutes each way, and we don’t want a cold dinner.) But it’s as good as not-going-out can be: each course perfectly executed, each mouthful a delight.

Philip’s starter is the duck terrine with pear and raisin chutney, which is rich and gamey and delicious. I have the goat’s cheese tart with walnut condiment, and it’s light and creamy, all soft cheese and delicate puff pastry, with the walnut providing a welcome crunch.

My main is a gnocchi and blue cheese gratin. I rarely order gnocchi because they’re often awful, but I know I’m in good hands here so I take the risk. It’s a good move: this dish is like posh invalid food: intensely flavoured and utterly indulgent. Philip opts for the special, which today is sea trout with beetroot, hispi salad and salsa verdi. We share a side of chips, because, why not? And the sea trout is the standout of the evening, which isn’t a surprise: we always seem to love the Kitchin Group specials. It’s cooked to perfection, the flesh succulent and flaky, the skin as crispy as can be.

We wait almost an hour before moving on to our cheese course, which we do ourselves, because we’re at home, and we can. I’ve made some crackers, and we’ve a couple of new arrivals from Pong, so we have a little nibble on those, and drink another glass of wine.

And then it’s back to The Scran & Scallie‘s offerings: sticky toffee pudding and chocolate custard with honeycomb, which we share. They’re both glorious, and we luxuriate in the sugar fix.

We’re at home, so there’s the washing up to do, but – you know what? – that’s okay. We’re smiling; we’ve had a lovely time. I wash; he dries. And we spend the whole time enthusing over the meal we’ve just had.

4.8 stars

Susan Singfield

Hotel Du Vin

04/11/20

Bristo Place, Edinburgh

It hardly seems possible, but a quick glance back through the diary confirms it: we haven’t visited a proper restaurant since March.

Yes, that’s right. March.

Oh, yes, we’ve been in socially-distanced cafes and we’ve had swanky restaurants deliver food to our door to be heated up and consumed at home, but really, enough is enough. Another lockdown’s looming and we’re determined that it’s high time we dined out, so we cast around for places where we can possibly eat al fresco in November. In Scotland. Then we remember that the Hotel Du Vin does have a very pleasant courtyard and, what’s more, it is even equipped with patio heaters should the weather prove too brisk.

So here we are, at a table in said courtyard, nibbling at warm bread dipped in olive oil and balsamic vinegar and discussing the unfolding horror story that is the American presidential election. Meanwhile, we lament the fact that today our discussion cannot be lubricated with something containing alcohol, but hey, them’s the rules – and you can’t have everything. The staff are friendly and attentive, and ensure that they observe social distancing at all times. We feel very relaxed.

For my starter, I choose sautéed mushrooms on toasted sourdough and it turns out to be a good choice. The generously sized mushrooms are soaked in a rich Madeira sauce and virtually melt in the mouth, while the crispy toast provides a perfect contrast. Susan has a baked St Marcellin cheese fondue which is rich and creamy and is accompanied by new potatoes, cornichons and croutons. It only takes a mouthful of our respective starters to make us appreciate how much we’ve missed doing this and, happily, we’ve chosen a good place to break our fast because both meals are pretty much note perfect.

Next up for me is haddock and king prawn gratin, baked in a cream sauce and glazed under breadcrumbs with thick, stringy layers of Gruyère. It’s a gooey, aromatic treat, generously stuffed with chunky prawns and accompanied by sides of frites and cauliflower cheese. Susan opts for mussels frites, a big bowl of moules marinère steamed in white wine, cream, shallots and garlic. Despite me selflessly helping her to eat it, the portion is too generous to finish.

After this, we’re feeling pretty full but we’re not ready to leave, so we have coffee and more chat, just to ensure that we’re absolutely certain there’s definitely no room for pudding.

And of course, in the fullness of time, it turns out there is room, and who knows when we’ll have this opportunity again? So I order an apple and blackberry crumble, the fruit still with a little bite left in it and served with an indulgent hot custard. Susan finishes off with a perfectly executed crème brûlée, the top scorched just enough that it breaks with a satisfying snap when tapped with a spoon. Voila!

By the time we head for home, the evening is already descending and we find ourselves thinking of all the incredible meals we’ve enjoyed since we first moved to Edinburgh. For now, we can only cross our fingers and hope that one day soon, those happy times will return, and that visits to places like Hotel Du Vin will once again be commonplace.

But right now, this was really just what we needed.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

Declan

26/08/20

Traverse Theatre Online

First seen by B&B  at The Traverse Theatre in June 2018, Mouthpiece by Kieran Hurley scored a five star review from us and, some time thereafter, went on to a run of acclaimed performances at London’s Soho Theatre.

Now, lockdown has spawned a companion piece, once again written by Hurley and starring Lorn Macdonald, who, in this pithy, foul-mouthed monologue, offers the same basic story from a different perspective, that of the antagonist. 

Like so many lockdown projects, this thirty minute film has necessitated an inventive approach from the production team in order to make it so much more than just a static talking head scenario – and they’ve delivered big time. There are gorgeous animated cartoon inserts by Nisan Yetkin in the style of Declan’s distinctive artwork, and a series of exterior scenes shot in some memorable Edinburgh locations. 

Furthermore, there are scenes featuring ‘Declan’ (Angus Taylor), who we understand is playing the character in the fictionalised account of his story as written by Libby, the woman the other Declan meets on Salisbury Crags, who befriends him and then ‘steals his life.’

 As the play proceeds, we become increasingly unsure which of the two men is actually real. ‘Fuckin’ meta,’ as Declan is so fond of saying. (Especially, as – of course – they’re both actors and ‘Declan’ is as much of a construct as he ever was…)

This is a striking piece of filmed theatre. I’m not certain that a knowledge of the original play is absolutely essential to the enjoyment of it, but I think it helps. Having seen and loved Mouthpiece, I can’t unknow it  (which is quite meta all by itself). But one thing’s for sure, you certainly won’t be bored by this. McDonald and Taylor are clearly actors to watch out for in the future and Hurley too, is a major talent (as anyone who saw his underrated feature film Beats will surely attest). 

Short, punchy and inventive, Declan is well worth your attention.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

L’alba D’oro

l-alba-d-oro

27/06/20

 Henderson Row, Edinburgh

It should be simple enough, right?  We haven’t eaten fish and chips since well before lockdown began, three months ago, and we really, really fancy some. But good fish and chips, you understand, not the greasy lukewarm sludge that sometimes masquerades under that description around Britain’s fair cities. We certainly don’t want to repeat the experience we once had, when, fuelled by a few drinks at The Cameo, we called at a high street chippy (which shall remain nameless), waited ages for some ‘freshly prepared’ nosh, took one bite each and promptly threw the lot into the nearest food recycling bin.

I mean, how difficult can it be?

Of course, in usual circumstances, there’s an easy solution. A quick trip to Berties on Victoria Street and the problem is solved, plus you get to dine in a swish, open-plan restaurant. But these are unusual times, so who can deliver a tasty fish supper direct to our door? We put out a call for help on Facebook and three friends come straight back with the same answer. L’alba D’oro in Stockbridge is the establishment we are looking for. These are all people we trust, so we order online and the food soon arrives, packaged in cardboard and smelling suitably enticing. As the establishment doesn’t offer any Manchester Caviar (mushy peas), we take the opportunity to heat up a can from our larder. We’ve also got our own swanky home-made tomato ketchup (we’ve had time on our hands, okay?), so we are all ready to dine.

Our friends were correct. This is exactly what we’ve been craving. A generously sized portion of haddock, encased in light, crunchy batter, the fish perfectly cooked: white, flaky and aromatic. The chips are crispy on the outside, and all soft and flavoursome within. You’d think it would take quite a while to down such a massive portion, but we demolish it in no time at all.

So, in short, if you’re in Edinburgh and you’re longing for perfect fish and chips, you know where to order from. (L’alba D’oro also offer other tasty treats, plus a different fish special every day.)

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

Wedgwood at Home

24/05/20

wedgwoodtherestaurant.co.uk

It’s Week Ten in the Year of Our Lockdown, and I am missing eating out. I love the whole restaurant experience: the theatre, the bustle. But, if that’s not available, I’ll settle for just the food.

Like many establishments across the country, the normally premises-bound Wedgwood Restaurant (Canongate, Royal Mile, Edinburgh) is offering a takeaway service at the moment: a three course meal for £22. This is a ‘cook at home’ menu and, to be honest, there’s a little bit too much cooking involved: we have to write down the timings so we don’t mess it up, and it doesn’t feel very relaxing. Maybe it would work better if we had an open-plan kitchen-diner, but we don’t, so we’re scuttling between the table and the stove, conversations left hanging or shouted between two rooms.

Still, the food is very good, and the evening does feel special.

To start, Philip has a smoked salmon and dill paté, which is served with crumbed oatcake, blistered tomatoes, baby gem and toast. The paté has a pleasant citrusy flavour, but there’s a lot of it and not much toast. I have roast cauliflower velouté with a coriander and cashew crumb and red pepper oil. It’s lovely: a creamy, indulgent delight.

My main is roast smoked mackerel, with a spring onion and black olive potato cake, green beans and a chorizo hollandaise. It’s perfectly judged, the intensely flavoured fish well complemented by the robustness of the olives and chorizo. Philip has a lemon and thyme scented confit chicken leg with braised fennel, lentils and a gorgeously shiny honey and grain mustard jus. The whole meal is delicious, but it’s the jus that makes it.

We add in our own cheese course, because we want to, because this is our ‘date night’ and we want it to last. We have a subscription to Pong cheese, so we share three small pieces, with some onion chutney and home-made crackers.

Then pudding. We share a sticky toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce and a dark chocolate brownie with milk chocolate cremeaux, white chocolate and sweet cicely pesto and raspberries. This final course is the winner: every mouthful feels like a treat. It’s sticky and sweet and wonderful.

Wedgwood offer wine with their menu, but we have laid in a good stock from Majestic, so we open a bottle (okay, two) of Chenin Blanc (La Baume de La Grande Oliviette), and enjoy.

And, all in all, for a night in, this is pretty good.

But I’d still prefer a night out. Without the washing up.

4 stars

Susan Singfield

Bravo Figaro

14/05/20

Go Faster Stripe and Traverse Theatre

Mark Thomas is always a delight to watch: standup, storyteller, activist – all of these terms can be applied to him and all seem to fit perfectly. We missed Bravo Figaro at last year’s festival, so this seems like a welcome addition to our lockdown entertainment options, streaming live on YouTube for just £5, with a percentage of ticket purchases going to the Traverse theatre.

Business is pretty much as usual here, as Thomas ambles onto a sparsely furnished stage and begins to unfold the story of his father, Colin, a hardworking family man, a builder by trade who, unusually for a working class chap, developed a fervent passion for opera. Thomas pulls no punches in his depiction of a man who was never slow in using his own fists when angered and who clearly ruled his wife and chidren with a rod of iron. But, when he was stricken by a rare form of degenerative illness, Colin became a shadow of the man he used to be – and his son had to look for ways in which he might remind his father of the things that used to motivate him.

This clever and moving story, draws a compelling narrative, interspersed with occasional recorded pieces featuring the voices of his parents in conversation.

It’s testament to Thomas’s considerable skill as a raconteur that he manages to flit effortlessly in and out of the various scenes, between genuinely funny observations and heartwrenching moments of realisation. Not everything here quite hits home as surely as it might, for example, a brief passage where he explains to the younger people in the audience what vinyl is seems like a misstep – they are the hipster generation, after all.

But that’s a minor quibble. This is a charming and perceptive piece, that provides an excellent way to fill an hour of lockdown. I look forward to seeing him again, preferrably in a packed theatre, with the laughter of others ringing around me.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

Six by Nico: Home by Nico Experience

24/04/20

sixbynico.co.uk

Running a review site that focuses on film, theatre and comedy has never been more problematic and, of course, we also review restaurants – and that’s even more difficult. While film,theatre and comedy can be sourced online, restaurants cannot.

So when we hear that Six by Nico are offering a four course meal, to be cooked in customers’ home ovens, we sit up and take notice. At £80 for four people, it’s not cheap, but neither is it too extortionate for a high-end takeaway, and it does include wine! And yes, there are only two of us, but we’ll freeze up two portions for later. (Future menus, it transpires, will be available for two diners, at the reduced cost of £50.)

In the good old days B.C. (before Coronavirus), we had plans to visit this popular restaurant with friends, but could never seem to sort out a time when we could all get there. Ah, for such problems now! SbN is best known for showcasing a different theme each month and tends to book out well in advance. So, here, finally, is our chance to try out their cuisine, albeit in the familiar surroundings of our modest home. This week’s menu theme is ‘Catalonia.’

The food arrives at 10am, neatly packaged with cooking instructions and full allergy information. It’s apparent at a glance that the portions are on the generous side. We separate two portions, put everything in the fridge, and look forward to the evening.

Unfortunately, when we approach the allotted hour of 7pm, (Sod’s law!)  a whole battalion of workers start attacking the pavement outside our front door with drills, a process that continues until the small hours of the morning. Apparently there’s a problem with the electricity supply. ‘Will it last out until we’ve finished cooking?’ we yell over the noise, crossing our fingers and hoping for the best…

It does. Phew!

For starters,we have a very nice foccacia with olive oil and basalmic vinegar. (The foccacia isn’t quite as splendid as the one we’ve been sampling from Tasty Buns, but is nonetheless an appetising introduction.)

Next up, it’s a manchego bomba with red pepper romesco: a round, firm sphere of excellence filled with a gooey, melting cheese and potato filling and accompanied by some green salad. Delicious.

The main course is a rich, chicken and chorizo ragout, accompanied by paprika & garlic patatas bravas and roasted fennel and piquillo pepper cous cous, the latter served cold. This is the most ambitious of the dishes here and it works very well indeed. There’s also a bottle of Plot Twenty Two Tempranillo Shiraz, the heavy acidic flavour cutting perfectly through the tang of the sauce.

Next up, cheese and crackers: a portion of ossau iraty, a delicious cheese from the Pyrenees (and when I say a portion, there’s a huge block of the stuff, which will be happily eaten over the next few days). We enjoy this with some charcoal crackers and a tangy chutney, noting that the cheese has been sourced from I J Mellis, our usual purveyor of choice in Edinburgh (though somebody recently treated us to a subscription to the equally excellent Pong Cheese, so it’s a wee while since we’ve been).

And so to pudding, which is slightly disappointing. St Clement’s cake  – the name conjours images of a moist citrusy orange and lemon concoction, but this, served with a vanilla crème anglaise, though a perfectly decent bake, is a little too bland for our liking. It lacks the lip-smacking decadence of a perfect pud, the final flourish that such a meal demands.

Of course, what’s missing from all this of is the theatre of visiting a top flight restaurant, the vivacity and atmosphere that the food itself is only a part of. Nevertheless, this is more ambitious (and feels much more special) than your average takeaway. Those wishing to investigate should note that only the first two hundred customers who apply for a weekend meal will be successful, so if you want to try it, book early.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

 

Five From Inside

21/04/20

Traverse Theatre YouTube

We were looking forward to Donny’s Brain at the Traverse, but then along came a global pandemic to scupper our plans. Enter writer Rona Munro, director Caitlin Skinner and the rest of the cast and crew with a plan to fill the gap: a series of five short monologues, free to view on the theatre’s YouTube channel.

Thematically, we’re in all too familiar territory: one way or another, the characters are all trapped, either physically incarcerated or marooned within their own introspection. It’s a ghastly reminder of the zeitgeist.

First up, there’s Jacob (Bhav Joshi), who’s literally locked up: he’s in prison, desperately seeking help from his brother. The off-kilter camera angles create a sense of panic and disorientation; his fear is palpable. Next comes twitchy Fern (Lauren Grace), who’s also being kept against her will, apparently in some kind of clinic. She’s struggling to ‘colour her mood’ correctly with her crayons. ‘I’m normal,’ she keeps insisting, frantically trying to banish her demons.

Mr Bubbles (Michael Dylan) is a children’s entertainer whose career is on the line after an embarrassing live TV bust-up with his partner; he’s trapped in his character, wiping at his make-up, trying to reveal the self below. And Siobhan (Roanna Davidson) is locked in a cycle of resentment against an employer who ostracises her, and refuses to recognise her contribution to the firm’s success.

My favourite of the five is the last one, Clemmy, performed by Suzanne Magowan (last seen by Bouquets & Brickbats in the thought-provoking Fibres), which takes the form of a filmed confession from a mother to her young daughter. She’s caught in a web of her own lies, and her anguish is heartbreaking. The back story is tantalising; this clearly has the potential to be developed into a longer piece.

But there’s no weak link here, and an astonishing tonal mix, considering the self-limiting nature of the project. Although each one is a stand-alone, they work best when viewed together, a series of lives connected by a sense of isolation.

Available until 9pm on 2nd May, these vignettes are well worth fifty minutes of your time.

3.8 stars

Susan Singfield