Edinburgh

The Enemy

20/10/21

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

Ooh. I’m VERY excited about this one. I’m an avid admirer of Ibsen – what self-respecting theatre-lover isn’t? I’m in awe of the way he combines theatrical innovation and political conviction with accessible story-telling. I’m also a fan of Kieran Hurley’s work (Chalk Farm, Mouthpiece and Beats are all excellent), so I’m fascinated to see what he and director Finn den Hertog do with the Norwegian’s masterpiece, An Enemy of the People.

In fact, Hurley doesn’t change much at all, plot-wise. This 140-year-old play is uncannily prescient. The difference is all on the surface: in the modes of communication, and the cadence of the dialogue – and it’s beautifully done. The story shifts easily to a contemporary “once-great Scottish town,” where a new spa resort promises regeneration, and offers hope to the poor and dispossessed who live there. But Dr Kirsten Stockmann (Hannah Donaldson) is concerned: a sickness bug is spreading, and she’s almost certain the town’s water supply has been contaminated. But how? Could blame lie with council-approved shortcuts, aimed at bringing forward the resort’s opening? Maybe. If so, it’s more than a little awkward, because the provost is Kirsten’s sister, Vonny (Gabriel Quigley). Still, surely she will be grateful for the heads up, pleased to be able to avert a public health disaster, no matter what the cost? But no. Vonny has no qualms: without the resort, the people have nothing. They’re not sick because of poison, she tells her sister; they’re sick because they’re poor. She has a point.

Although the story remains unchanged, the staging is bang up-to-date: video designer Lewis den Hertog has created a multi-media piece à la Katie Mitchell, with ‘live cinema’ (where the onstage action is filmed and projected simultaneously onto a large screen) a key feature. There are pre-filmed sequences too, such as a jarringly upbeat advert for the new resort, and a series of enthusiastic vox pops on the local news. And there are text messages, and YouTube videos, and Skype and BTL comments a-plenty. It’s Ibsen with all the socials. It works. There’s a dizzying sense of things spiralling out of control, with Kirsten in the middle, alone, holding on to the damning test result – a dreadful talisman.

But Kirsten isn’t quite alone. She might have broken ties with her sister; her friend, Benny (Neil McKinven), and local celeb, Aly (Taqi Nazeer), might have sidled away – but her teenage daughter, Petra (Eléna Redmond) is firmly on her side. And so, perhaps, is Derek Kilmartin (Billy Mack), who has a proposal for Kirsten to consider…

It’s wonderful to see creative theatre projects taking shape again (I’ve nothing against old favourites, and it’s clear to see why theatres are being cautious post-pandemic, but it’s definitely time for something new). This particular project seems like a canny move, combining Ibsen’s timeless appeal with something bold and fresh. It’s almost guaranteed to get bums on seats, while simultaneously allowing playmakers the chance to experiment. Good call!

For the most part, it pays off. I have a little trouble hearing some of the dialogue, especially in the first act. I’m sitting quite far back in the stalls, which might have something to do with it, but I wonder if it’s more about the actors delivering their lines to cameras rather than to the auditorium. But this is my only gripe. The performances are natural and convincing, the relationships well-defined.

The message is clear: the truth matters, however unpalatable. It’s a timely homily. We need to heed the experts. The only problem is, we all think we’re Kirsten Stockmann.

4.3 stars

Susan Singfield


The Bombay Bicycle Club

06/10/21

Brougham Place, Edinburgh

We’ve lived in Edinburgh for six years now and The Bombay Bicycle Club has been there the whole time, in various hues of garish colours, up at the top of Brougham Place. We must have walked past it hundreds of times but, for whatever reason, we’ve never thought of eating there. Until tonight.

It’s a chill October evening, we’ve just had our regular stroll across The Meadows and and we’re planning to head off for a drink at The Cameo. In the gathering darkness, the curry house looks warm and inviting and I say, ‘Maybe we should give that place a try?’ And we both realise that, at this particular moment in time, we really REALLY fancy a curry. Maybe it’s a symptom of having had to carefully plan restaurant visits in advance for far too long (thanks, COVID), but, almost before we know what’s happening, we’re seated inside, enjoying some drinks and perusing the menu.

Of course we start with some papadums – not too many, because we know how they can erode your appetite long before the main courses arrive – but we’ve time to appreciate how good the accompanying pickles are, the mango chutney in particular has a deep, gingery tang and the lime pickle is one of the best we’ve tasted.

Then out come the starters, a fish pakora and a tandoori salmon. The former has been deep fried, which is often a turn off for us, but its been expertly done, crispy rather than greasy, with a nice, flakey texture within. The salmon is a delight, marinated in a spicy sauce and oven baked until it’s bursting with flavour. It’s a promising start.

We’ve both opted for naan bread. I’ve gone for the plain variety which is light and slighty crisped at the edges, an absolute delight. Susan’s peshawari naan is another revelation, filled with a delightful blend of mango and coconut. For the main courses, there’s a fabulous king prawn biriani, baked in a pot with a covering of bread, which, when opened, reveals the filling in all its sticky, aromatic glory. And there’s also a bowl of the Bombay Bicycle Club lamb curry, tender chunks of meat basking in a thick, mouthwatering sauce, just perfect to dip chunks of naan into.

Of course, we tell ourselves, we can’t possibly finish everything that’s in front of us; we’ll surely have to ask for something to take the delicious leftovers home in… except that, somehow, we do finish every mouthful and we’re full and happy and we have nothing to criticise.

The moral of this story is, I suppose, to take notice of what’s right on your doorstep. Hopefully we won’t wait another six years before returning to this little treasure of a curry house.

4.5 stars

Philip Caveney

Looking Good Dead

05/10/21

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

Superintendent Roy Grace is the protagonist of Peter James’ popular police procedurals – a diligent but troubled policeman, who’ll stop at nothing to solve a case. In Shaun McKenna’s stage adaptation of the second novel, Looking Good Dead, Grace (Harry Long) is relegated to a supporting role. Instead, the focus here is on the Bryce family, inadvertently caught up in a terrible crime. I think this is a wise move; they, after all, form the crux of the story.

Top of the bill, therefore, are soap favourites Adam Woodyatt and Gaynor Faye, as Tom and Kellie Bryce. They enjoy an affluent, suburban life. Tom works; Kellie cleans a lot; their teenage sons, Joe and Max (Luke Ward-Wilkinson), are – respectively – in Venezuela climbing mountains and on the sofa listening to silence through NOISE CANCELLING HEADPHONES. Did you get that? NOISE CANCELLING HEADPHONES. I’ll mention them again anyway, just in case. (Director Jonathan O’Boyle is clearly a fan of Chekhov’s, holding dear the great playwright’s principle: if, in the first act a character has worn noise cancelling headphones, then in the following act, someone must fail to hear something important.) It all seems fine and dandy until a stranger leaves a memory stick on Tom’s commuter train. Tom makes the rash decision to bring it home; he plans to play the good Samaritan by tracking down its owner and ensuring its return. However, when Max plugs the stick into Tom’s computer, it reveals a link… to a murder. Happening in real time before their eyes. What have they been witness to? And what will the killer do when he realises he’s been seen?

Woodyatt and Faye inhabit their characters convincingly, and I especially enjoy Ian Haughton’s performance as the enigmatic Kent. I like Sergeant Branson (Leon Stewart)’s bad jokes, and the way Grace responds to them; this shift in tone works well to undercut some of the more histrionic scenes. The way Michael Holt’s set design incorporates the villain’s lair as well as the Bryces’ home is ingenious, and I am especially impressed with the decisive way the lighting is used to move us from one to the other at the flick of a switch.

There are some issues though – and the main one is the plot. Quite frankly, it’s risible. I’m more than happy to suspend my disbelief, but this stretches the elastic beyond its capacity. I’m unconvinced by any of the characters’ motivations, and am aghast at the ineptitude of the police, who keep politely agreeing to step outside so that suspected serial killers can have a private chat. And why exactly does everyone keep talking and revealing secrets in a room they’ve been told, quite clearly, is bugged? And why exactly exactly is it being bugged in the first place?

In addition, the police station set seems clumsy in comparison to the slick kitchen/lair: it’s pushed on and pulled off with wearisome regularity, and is so small that the actors seem constrained by it. There’s no space for movement, and they lean and perch awkwardly as they deliver their lines. I’m not a fan of the bigger action scenes either; the direction here just isn’t dynamic or fleet-footed enough.

So yes, there are problems. But do I enjoy myself? Yes, I do. Looking Good Dead might be silly but it’s entertaining, and I am more than happy to be back in the environs of the lovely King’s Theatre.

3 stars

Susan Singfield

Grease

29/09/21

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

We’ve been denied the magic of theatre for far too long… so what’s the ideal production to get us back in our seats, clapping our hands and grinning behind our face masks? I put it to you that Grease is a pretty sound option. It has everything you need for a guaranteed good time – brash, funny and shot through with a heady mix of nostalgia. What’s not to like? And, what’s more, where most big musicals can offer you four or five great numbers, Grease is packed with wall-to-wall, solid gold, five-star bangers. A couple of chords into that memorable theme song and I’m already sold.

We all know the story of course. Prim, virginal Sandy Dumbrowski (Georgia Louise) arrives at Rydell High School having already spent a summer being romanced by handsome Danny Zucco (Dan Partridge) – but he finds it hard to be romantic in front of the other members of his gang, so a troubled courtship ensues. Those who only know the story from the movie version may be surprised to discover that this production, based on the original musical by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, is quite different from that familiar screenplay. This slick, adrenalin-fuelled adaptation gallops effortlessly from scene to scene and is at its finest in the ensemble dance numbers where Arlene Philips’s nifty choreography has the whole cast hoofing up a storm.

We also have Peter Andre in the dual role as disc jockey Vince Fontaine (cunningly housed in a circular booth at the top left of the stage) and as the Teen Angel, where he delivers a delightful version of Beauty School Dropout to Frenchy (Marianna Nedfitou). Andre might appear to be stunt casting, but he’s terrific in this production and a moment where he holds a top note for what seems an impossibly long time is proof that he possesses an accomplished singing voice – as does Georgia Louise who gives a super-powered rendition of Hopelessly Devoted to You.

There are also some memorable visual motifs. A scene where Danny and Sandy watch a drive in movie in glorious 3D is a particular delight.

If the first half is good, the second is even better – and the finale, where the cast lead us through a spirited singlalong of the best known songs has the entire audience up on its feet, clapping and stamping out the rhythms. I don’t mind admitted to being quite emotional at this point. I’ve missed live theatre so much and it’s just great to be back, relishing the shared experience. we’ve all been longing for.

So if you’re looking for a guaranteed good night out, Grease is the word!

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

Wahaca

01/09/21

South St Andrew Street, Edinburgh

We’re slowly getting used to the loosening of Covid restrictions, but it’s tricky, navigating our way through a world that is, still, much riskier than ‘normal.’ We’re desperate to enjoy ourselves, but a little nervous too. We’re deliberately choosing quiet times when we venture out (Wednesday is the new Saturday, right?), and at least Scotland’s approach is more measured than England’s “let’s pretend it’s all over” free-for-all. Thankfully, Wahaca is the perfect place for the Covid-cautious: it’s big, airy and spotlessly clean, with lots of space between groups and perspex screens separating the tables. Phew!

We start with a freebie from the ‘summer specials’ – a cricket salsa served with tortilla chips. It sets the tone: this is going to be fun. The chips are fresh and well-seasoned, and the salsa tastes great, although I’ve no idea what part of the flavour combo is the insect’s doing. Philip orders a bottle of Corona, and I opt for a glass of a Picpoul de Pinet. Both arrive quickly, and we’re soon sipping contentedly.

We’ve decided in advance to try the ‘favourites’ set menu, because we’ve never been here before and want to sample a range of what’s on offer. It’s £42 for the two of us, which is, let’s be honest, great value. It consists of seven small dishes, and each one is, I’m pleased to say, delicious.

The Trealy Farm chorizo quesadillas arrive first, and they’re sumptuous, filled with crushed potatoes and a generous portion of cheese as well as the titular chorizo, the crisply baked tortilla providing a welcome crunch.

The next three dishes arrive at once: crispy cauliflower bites with lime and a roast jalapeno allioli, Devon crab tostadas and buttermilk chicken tacos. I’m quite fussy about deep-fried food; I tend to avoid it usually, because I don’t like it at all if it’s greasy, and can tell immediately if the oil’s not been hot enough. But the cauliflower bites are done just right, and so’s the chicken, so it’s a pleasure to eat them both. The cauliflower in particular is very more-ish. My favourite, though, is the crab; it’s so fresh and absolutely bursting with flavour. It zings. I love it.

The final three dishes arrive, along with a second round of drinks. There are pork pibil tacos, which Philip loves, but which are a bit too rich for me, although I like the intensity of the flavour. I prefer the grilled halloumi ‘Al Pastor’ tacos, which are vibrant and a little lighter on the palate. The chipotle lime slaw is crunchy and ‘clean’ and flavoursome; it’s good.

It’s all good. And, of course, we were never going to leave without sharing a portion of churros with a dulche de leche caramel sauce. It’s sheer indulgence. Oh my.

So, all in all, we’re delighted with the way our Wednesday’s turned out. We’ve put off visiting Wahaca because, you know, it’s a chain, and chains offer bland, uninteresting food, don’t they? But tonight’s dinner proves that Wagamama isn’t the only exception to that rule.

4.2 stars

Susan Singfield

The Kitchin

16/06/21

Commercial Quay, Leith

A 50th birthday celebration is a great excuse to push the boat out – and the fact is, we’ve been trying to visit The Kitchin ever since we first moved to Edinburgh, some five years ago. We’ve managed to dine at all the other Tom Kitchin restaurants over that time: The Scran and Scallie, The Southside Scran and even The Bonnie Badger out in Gullane, but, mostly because of our complete inability to organise booking months ahead of time, we’ve never been able to find a suitable slot at his flagship venue. Until today.

It’s the sixteenth of June and we’re sitting at a table in The Kitchin, sipping our welcome glasses of champagne. The place is swish and comfortable and, though busy, it’s socially distanced enough for us to feel relaxed. We’ve walked the three miles from home to Commerical Quay, so we’ve managed to work up a decent appetite en route. On the other side of a glass partition, we can see Tom himself, hard at work on his latest masterpiece. We’ve opted for the Chef’s ‘Surprise’ menu, which means that we won’t know what we’re having until it arrives. The waiter gives us ample opportunity to rule out any ingredients we have an aversion to, but the fact is, we like most things and part of the thrill of dining at this level is to hand over control to the seasoned professionals on the other side of that screen.

We’ve also opted for the matched wines. This is going to be pricy, but hey, you’re only fifty once, right?

We start with an amuse bouche – a Swedish potato and seafood cake, which is essentially a little mouthful of salty heaven and a great way to get the old taste buds woken up. Goes well with the champagne too.

This is followed by a pea and lovage velouté, intensely flavoured but light as you like and we cannot resist mopping up that rich, green sauce with handfuls of freshly made soda bread. ‘Go easy on the bread,’ I keep telling myself, but I just somehow can’t make myself do that.

A glass of wine arrives (I’m not going to list all the wines, suffice to say that they are expertly paired with each dish), and then we’re presented with scallops in puff pastry. These are cooked in their shells and sealed with a ring of pastry, so they have to be opened up by the waiter, revealing melt-in-the-mouth tender scallops floating in a vibrant, citrus-infused sauce. If there’s a standout for me in this list of knockout dishes, this may just be it. But happily it proves to be a close-run thing.

Another glass of wine arrives, and then our next dish. This is pork cheek with truffle and asparagus, ladled with béchamel sauce and it’s every bit as good as it sounds. Truffle can be overpowering but not so here – there’s just enough of it to lend an extra burst of flavour, while the pork cheek is tender and expertly spiced.

The next dish is John Dory with fennel and it’s a bit of a revelation, this one. For one thing, I’ve never eaten John Dory before and I have to say that I enjoy the experience; the white flaky fish is deliciously seasoned. Also, I’d be the first to admit that fennel has never been my favourite food, but this is cooked in a tangy lemon sauce and is absolutely delicious. I vow that the next time I cook with fennel, I’m going to try a similar approach.

A switch to red wine signals what is no doubt intended as the main course in this menu, lamb rib, loin and jus – though, like all the other dishes, it is perfectly proportioned, because we still have a way to go on this food odyssey. An earthy Lebanese wine makes the ideal accompaniment to the succulent meat, which is ladled with a rich, marrowbone gravy. In a vain attempt to be critical, I observe that the first mouthful of lamb is chewier than I anticipate, but that’s the only criticism I manage to summon up. The second and third mouthfuls are fine.

We’re expecting our pudding around now, but out comes an extra one, just because they can, and this is an oat mousse with strawberry jus, light, intensely flavoured and just the thing to cut through the lingering notes of the meat dish we’ve recently finished. Think of it as a delicious palette cleanser.

Now comes the actual pudding and seriously, this is just perfection in a bowl, an apple crumble soufflé that features all the flavour of the traditional favourite, but is so light and fluffy that it almost threatens to float away from our spoons. The apple is just tart enough to cut through the sweetness of the soufflé and I have to resist the impulse to applaud. This is up there with B & B’s all-time favourite pud, Mark Greenaway’s sticky toffee pudding soufflé.

Just when we’re telling ourselves that we can’t possibly eat another thing, out comes a little lemon birthday cake with a candle on the top, and we happily share it, before ordering some coffee.

There can’t be any more… can there? Well, yes there can, actually, because here’s a dainty chocolate almond financier and I challenge anyone to turn a blind eye to that when sipping a latte! I know we couldn’t.

So, that’s it, we’re finally done. We’ve been here for something like two and a half hours, we’ve eaten some extraordinary food, we’ve drunk quite a bit of wine (so sue us) and we can honestly say this is a meal so special, so unique, we’ll never ever forget it.

And that’s the object of the exercise, right?

5 stars

Philip Caveney

Adam

15/03/21

BBC iPlayer

Trans men must be one of the most under-represented groups in the UK. I read a lot of news; I watch a lot of films and, when there are no pandemic restrictions, I am an avid theatre goer. But, despite the (anecdotal) fact that I know more trans men than I do women, I very rarely see them referred to; their stories largely seem to go untold.

Adam, then, is important not just because of what it says, but because it exists at all – and on a mainstream platform too. The BBC is under fire at the moment, but we shouldn’t forget what it offers us. If commercial viability is the only factor by which content is judged, marginalised people remain invisible to the masses, their experiences rendered forever ‘fringe.’

Indeed, Adam premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2017, a National Theatre of Scotland production at the Traverse Theatre, where it was highly acclaimed. This new version, written by Frances Poet and directed by Cora Bissett and Louise Lockwood, again stars Adam Kashmiry as himself, and chronicles his experiences as an Egyptian trans man, alone and frightened in a Glasgow flat, awaiting the results of his asylum application. Adam can’t return to Egypt: revealing his true identity there could result in his death. But he can’t use his gender identity to claim asylum in the UK until he transitions, and he can’t transition until he is granted asylum. Trapped in this double bind, no wonder Adam struggles to cope…

This hour-long film is beautifully constructed. It does always feel more like a play than a movie, but that’s not to its detriment. Yasmin Al-Khudhairi appears as Adam’s female-looking outer self, and offers us an occasional and understated glimpse into how others perceive him. The rest of the supporting cast is strong too, especially Neshla Caplan as a sour-faced immigration officer. But this is Adam Kashmiry’s story, and it is his film too: his performance is compelling, haunting – and heartwarming. Because, although this story is one of unimaginable hardship and pain, it’s also one of triumph over adversity. Here he is: a free man, telling his own tale.

4.4 stars

Susan Singfield

Kyloe at Home

15/03/21

http://www.kyloerestaurant.com

We’re in the middle of a pandemic and we’re both longing for a proper Sunday dinner – you know the kind of thing: a succulent roast joint, crispy potatoes, lashings of gravy. Of course, not so very long ago, such meals could be found at the drop of a hat in any number of restaurants and bars around our home city. Kyloe was always first choice for the old Sunday dinner, though. There’s much to be said for that wonderful feeling of anticipation, as you watch a huge joint being carved right in front of you before being dispensed onto dining plates…

Ah well, until those days can be properly recaptured, Kyloe has set up an ‘at home’ dining experience – which is why on the first available Sunday, we find ourselves wandering over to McLaren’s on the Corner in Bruntsfield (it’s part of the same group, Signature Pubs), where we collect a surprisingly huge cardboard box containing everything we need to create the kind of repast we’ve been dreaming of.

The first thing to say is that Kyloe have thought this through very carefully. The ‘dine at home’ experiences we’ve tried thus far have varied in how simple they are to put together. This one is reassuringly easy. We switch on the oven at 180 degrees and, at clearly designated intervals, we add another container to those already there, leaving ourselves free to indulge in a couple of aperitifs. We’ve ordered a dinner for two and, working on the B & B belief that a side of mac’ n’ cheese goes with just about anything, we’ve added that for a fiver extra.

Once arranged on a plate, the dinner is both generous in proportion and everything you’d expect from this kind of meal. The roast rib of beef is sumptuous, the potatoes crispy, the cabbage and bacon mouthwatering. There’s a container of horseradish sauce to be served hot (not usually a favourite of ours but this one rocks) and naturally there’s a pair of large, crispy Yorkshire puddings, which, when filled with the other veg and ladled with a rich, red wine gravy are just what we were hoping for.

Puddings, I hear you ask? Well, yes, there are some perfectly serviceable sweets – a vanilla cheesecake with raspberry jus and a sticky toffee pudding with a thick gooey sauce. Only the latter of these is a bit disappointing (a portion of custard might have been a welcome addition) but if I’m honest, this is really all about the main course and Kyloe have done an excellent job of providing a spectacular Sunday dinner at home.

Not that I wouldn’t prefer to dine in their excellent restaurant, but fingers crossed on that score.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney

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