A friend and I have just spent a glorious three days in Edinburgh, where the sun actually shone for the majority of the time – what a difference a bit of sunshine makes. We wandered up and down the city (preferring to spend our time in the more characterful Old Town than the commercial New Town), which was probably a good idea considering how much we managed to eat. We didn’t have one dud meal, even with my total lack of planning (luckily, there were some eating recommendations from Helen and EuWen). So rather than write yet another epic post, here’s a brief guide to the various places we stuffed our faces at, in chronological order.
After trekking nearly 40 minutes to our hotel from Waverly station, it was definitely tea time. Bring on Eteaket, a brilliant little tearoom in New Town decked out in vibrant magenta and turquoise. The waitresses were incredibly upbeat and friendly, explaining the different cakes and pastries on offer. The tea list is pretty impressive, too, with over 40 types of (ethically sourced) loose-leaf teas; a little triple hourglass device is brought to the table to time how long your tea should be steeped. We opted for the cream tea, and two of the largest scones I’d ever seen arrived – and they were perfect, with a soft crumb and slight chewiness that I love. A perfect little place to while away an afternoon. We had no idea why Café Rouge next door seemed to be packed, when a place like this exists.
41 Frederick Street
0131 226 2982 / www.eteaket.co.uk
Tony Singh is one of Edinburgh’s better known restaurateurs, being the man behind Oloroso on Castle Street. Recently he opened his so-called ‘casual’ dining concept around the corner on North Castle Street, a family-style bistro. We came with expectations of a Canteen-esque eatery with rustic elements and good, solid comfort food and were pretty surprised by the strangely louche decor – all blood red, gold and chandeliers – and immediately felt out of place in our jeans and hoodies. Witty phrases were written across the arches, such as ‘I’m not a vegetarian because I love animals; I’m a vegetarian because I hate plants’. Check out a Twitpic of the restaurant here.
The set menu, at £20 for three courses, is a pretty good deal – but we could only fit in two after gorging on the overgrown scones just less than two hours ago. The dishes are pretty full-on, with lots of meat and pies and the like, which I just couldn’t stomach; luckily one of the specials of the day was a duck breast and ‘monk’s broth’ dish that carried a £2 supplement. The duck was perfectly cooked, all pink and juicy, while the broth was intensely flavoured and soothing – but in the end it was just a simple consommé with shredded vegetables (carrots, cabbage, and other such boring vegetables) and asking for a £2 supplement felt a bit cheeky. Soldiering on, a dessert of Scottish strawberries with creme fraiche was simple but gorgeous. Verdict? A slightly strange place to eat but there’s good grub to be had.
58a North Castle Street
0131 226 6743 / www.tonystable.com
Edinburgh Farmers’ Market
The city’s farmers’ market is held every Saturday from early morning until about 2pm, and its held on the lovely Castle Terrace where the stalls have the added bonus of the magnificent Edinburgh castle as a backdrop. I didn’t make any notes about the producers who attended (not there to WORK, afterall!), but one did stand out – the award-winning Piperfield Pork and their absolutely amazing scotch eggs. Okay, so it wasn’t piping hot (it was a market stall, afterall), and the egg was completely cooked through (again, as the nature of the market dictates), but the meat was spot-on. Perfectly seasoned, even slightly juicy – not dry or crumbly or overly processed – and, before we knew it, gone like that. Truly one of the best scotch eggs I’ve had so far (yes, to rival even the Harwood Arms’ and the Bull & Last’s!).
The Strawberry Store was also selling punnets of ripe Jubilee strawbs for £2.50 a pop, as well as wonderful Scottish raspberries, both of which we proceeded to devour while watching the marketgoers. One of the longest queues (in fact perhaps the only one) was for Falko Konditormeister‘s stall (pictured above), a German bakery and patisserie that’s situated on the other side of town. Gorgeous rye breads, strudels and various confections including a creamy blueberry cheesecake (which we bought and devoured on the train back on our last day) were all on display – next time I’m in Edinburgh, this will be the one of the first places I’ll go back to. Other thing at the market: Scottish heather honey, blueberry liqueur, a porridge bar, fudge, wild boar burgers, cheeses, and of course all manner of fruit and veg and meat stalls.
Edinburgh Farmer’s Market
Every Saturday 9am-2pm
185 Bruntsfield Place
0131 656 0763 / www.falko.co.uk
It’s no secret that I like a blahdy good cup of coffee. We’re spoiled for choice these days in London, but it never even occurred to me to seek out some decent cups while in Edinburgh. How wrong was I – luckily we stumbled across Wellington Coffee on our way to seek out the National Portrait Gallery (er, we subsequently didn’t go, and got distracted by the Lakeland flagship, too). A little post-research reveals that this little joint is actually created by the same people behind the Kilimanjaro Coffee bar, and that the man behind it, Jonathan Sharp, is actually Scottish Barista 2009. Nice one, chap. The flat white wasn’t quite as good as the ones I’ve had recently at The Espresso Room, or at the ever reliable Lantana, Milk Bar and co, but pretty invigorating nonetheless. Plus points for the sleek Synesso espresso machine, and gorgeous noir cups (I’m a sucker for good mugs).
Tiny, but a great place to watch the people float by on George Street. Didn’t try any of the food offerings, as we were gearing ourselves up for a slap-up seafood meal at our dinner destination.
33a George Street
0131 225 6857
… Which deserves its own post (also because, for silly aesthetic reasons, the pictures I took there are stylistically different to the ones in this one and I like consistency). Having opened just a few months ago, there doesn’t seem to be an awful lot of press about it, which is a shame. It was definitely one of the highlight meals this summer, and will be writing about it in more detail in due course. Ditto for…
The Grain Store
… Which was highly recommended by Helen and rightly so. It was our last meal before heading back on the train to the Big Smoke, and a nice one to round off with.
Oh Edinburgh. I loved you the first time and I still do, after this time. I’ll definitely be back again another day, if only to eat that scotch egg again…
It’s been a long time since I’ve had a truly relaxing weekend – and now that the sun is shining, a full day of no commitments (work, play or otherwise) meant I could finally schlep about doing whatever I wanted. And one thing that had been at the top of my list – apart from just soaking up the rays in the garden – was to put my new Imperia pasta-making machine to use! My lovely boyfriend had bought it for my birthday, complete with a recipe book, and we’ve been itching to make and eat some homemade pasta for weeks and weeks. Finally, today was the day.
And it wasn’t as disastrous as I’d imagined. Just a little bit of egg threatened to (and eventually did) escape the flour ‘volcano’ as I mixed the two together, but eventually a nice smooth dough was formed. And with the machine clamped and ready, it only took, er, three of us to effectively roll out some pasta – one to hold down the machine (as the clamp was, frankly, pretty useless), one to feed the dough in and catch the dough coming out, and one to turn the handle. It was pretty hilarious… can’t quite get my head around rolling out pasta all by my lonesome just yet!
A simple bolognese sauce had been simmering away very nicely all afternoon – made with huge punnets of intensely sweet vine tomatoes (for once, Sainsbo’s has proven useful with their vittoria vine toms reduced to 99p each – and each packet had 10% extra!). A quick blanch in boiling salted water later, the pasta (tagliatelle) was ready and tossed with the bolognese. Gorgeous. All it needed was a grating of parmesan.
A simple side salad with veg box ingredients – mixed leaves, cucumber and yet more tomatoes – provided the obligatory fresh veg quota, gently dressed with good extra virgin olive oil and some blueberry vinegar I’d obtained from Vienna’s Naschmarkt a few months back. The tartness of the vinegar is absolutely marvellous (and a very pretty deep magenta colour).
And to use up the remaining tomatoes, a very garlicky (ie just the way I like it) bruschetta. One of my favourite things in the world.
Dessert was little espresso cups of cranachan, which I forgot to take pictures of. After the sun went down, we retreated back indoors to continue our game of Monopoly City. Despite having a modest portfolio, managed to sweep the competition off its feet (at 4-8 million at a time) to end up with a fat wad of cash. What a way to end the day!
Here’s to more blogging throughout the summer.
Piccadilly Circus, Oxford Street and Leicester Square, predictably, were the first few places I saw when I first came to London. They’re the ultimate tourist destinations, crawling with parka-wearing, flag-waving, camera toting groups from all over the globe. To them, this is London. Not mine.
It might be a huge cliché these days, but I love the East End. Living in the south east London area (the eternally ‘up and coming’ New Cross) during my uni years (and experiencing my fair share of souf-eaz lundun culture… god I miss Goldsmiths) was a big part of that love forming.
I remember how easy it was to hop on the East London line before it closed, and being able to shuttle to Shoreditch and therefore Brick Lane (for bagels from the Beigel Bake every time, natch) in a jiffy. These days, it’s a huge trek that usually involves at least one train ride, followed by a bus ride.
It’s a place I take every friend or family member to when they visit London. There’s always something new to see, something new to eat, there are always new sounds, new colours.
One of my favourite bits is Columbia Road Flower Market in the spring. I adore the little shops and galleries along the edges of the market, the characterful stallholders…look out for the brilliantly camp Cockney guy near the end of the market in colourful rasta colours bemoaning having to sell chichi travellers pink Japanese cherry blossoms! Naturally, I had to have some. He was well pleased when I obliged him and asked for the ‘light red’ flowers instead of embarrassing him by using the term ‘pink’… ;-)
There’s also ‘that’ fried seafood storefront, selling cups of prawns or calamari for £3/£1.50 respectively. It’s not the greatest fry, but perfect for when you want something to graze on while perusing the market…
Perfect coffee next to the StArt gallery
And next to the StArt gallery is this amazing little coffee stand. Such a cheerful fella, the guy who mans it. They use Arabica beans for the brew… ’twas an excellent cup, with a perfect cashmere-soft foam for my cappuccino. Yum!
All in all, a day spent here is just my cup of tea. Or, should it be, a perfectly brewed cup of coffee?
Western new year is over in a flash (or in some cases, prolonged only by an enduring post-party hangover), but Chinese New Year is celebrated over two weeks. I hadn’t really observed tradition this year (no relatives in London means there’s no bai neen for me – visiting houses to wish relatives good fortune and such) apart from making radish cake and giving my parents the requisite phone call on New Year’s day… ;-)
The last day of the Chinese New Year (the 15th day) is called yuen siu, also known as the lantern festival. In Hong Kong, Victoria Park would have no doubt been alight with massive lit floats and structures (though, I don’t think they did it last year…hmm!) and with children running rampant with (health and safety approved) plastic lanterns depicting the cartoon character du jour, though more traditionally one would carry paper lanterns lit with a single candle; another popular lantern is the ubiquitous bunny-shaped one, which is my personal favourite (though, I remember my childhood days when it was the epitome of cool to have a plastic Sailor Moon lantern.)
Families will also indulge in the making of and eating of tong yuen (湯圓), sweet glutinous dumplings. More of the latter, as modern times means most people would rather buy ready-made varieties from the supermarket chiller… but as someone who had never made tong yuen before, I can vouch for how easy it is to prepare in your own home! My black sesame filling is a tad rudimentary and not molten and silky like I prefer, but it definitely sated the craving for tong yuen on a chilly London night!
Black sesame tong yuen
Based on a recipe from Flavour and Fortune
For the black sesame filling
1 1/2 cups black sesame seeds
1 1/2 cups icing sugar
1/2 cup solid shortening (I substituted some unsalted butter, which probably contributes to a much richer taste).
For the dumplings
2 cups glutinous rice flour
3/4 cup hot water (approximately)
1. For the filling: place the sesame seeds into a dry pan and toast over a medium low heat until fragrant. Tip into a mini food processor and pulse until powder-like.
2. Mix in the icing sugar and knead in the shortening/butter until you get a well-mixed paste. (In reality I didn’t read the instructions thoroughly and bunged everything into the food processor. It worked okay but kneading by hand will probably make a smoother paste. My food processor isn’t very good either at ‘powderising’ the black sesame seeds, so my mixture was rather coarse.) Refrigerate until firm (again I didn’t do this as I didn’t have time – but this will make filling your tong yuen much easier as you can shape the filling into small balls and work the tong yuen dough around it).
4. For the dumplings: Sift the glutinous rice flour into a bowl and slowly add the water, stirring with long chopsticks until the mixture comes together to form a dough. Knead with your hands until smooth and elastic (you may not need all of the water – and this recipe is so simple, you can just add more rice flour or water as you need to get the right consistency).
5. Break off a small piece about the size of a 50p coin (smaller or bigger depending on how large you like your tong yuen to be – it’s easier to fill a bigger one though!). Roll between your palms to create a ball.
6. Now make an indentation in the middle of the ball and work, using your fingers, to make the hole deeper – forming a ‘cup’ if you will – large enough for a nice wodge of filling. If you’ve refrigerated your filling you can roll little bits into small balls and fit it inside the hole before drawing the edges together and rolling again into a smooth ball. With my slightly liquidy filling this proved more difficult, so I didn’t put as much into each ball as I would have liked! (And sometimes the filling leaked out… as you can see from some of the tong yuens in the background in the picture below!) I find it easier to pinch the open ends together and then draw the two corners together again before rolling. Roll between your palms until completely smooth.
7. Put a pan of water onto a rolling boil (gee, lots of rolling in this recipe…) and carefully drop the tong yuens in. They’re ready when they float to the surface. Remove with a slotted spoon and place into a serving bowl.
8. In a separate pan, bring more water to the boil and drop in one piece of rock sugar or peen tong (a brown slab of sugar, readily available in Chinese supermarkets) and a knob of ginger. Bring to the boil and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Taste. It should be lightly sweet and gingery but not syrupy. Ladle over the tong yuen and serve.
I love Chinese siu mei (roasted meats). I remember many a time, when I first came to London, I craved nothing but a simple plate of chaa gaai faan (char siu pork and chicken on rice). However, what I fancy usually varies. There’s soy sauce chicken, roast duck, char siu and crispy pork belly, and they’re like CHILDREN to me – how are you ever going to choose a favourite? Sometimes it’s all about the silky smoothness and sweet savouriness of soy sauce chicken. But give me a good tender piece of char siu – I love the end bits where the meat is lightly charred and smokey – and I’m good. Roast duck is heavenly when soaked in that ubiquitous sweet soy; perfect together on rice or in a hot steaming bowl of ho fun (flat rice noodles). And crisp pork belly (siu youk)? A gorgeously sinful piece of meat – the juicy meat, flavoursome fat, crisp skin… but one of the complaints our family has most of the time about store-bought pork belly is that the skin is never quite crisp enough. (Or perhaps, are we buying from the wrong places? This is in Hong Kong, mind!).
Regardless, siu mei is something we always just buy, never make ourselves at home. Nor have I ever questioned what goes into making such delicious meats. I’ve made soy sauce chicken wings before, though I could never achieve the same uniform glossiness of the store-bought variety. And I keep meaning to make char siu after my mom keeps saying how easy it is (and I shall, once I get my pork tenderloin from Paganum!)
But I was inspired by Helen’s fantastic homemade Chinese crispy pork belly that I had to give it a shot myself. For some reason I didn’t use the same recipe (googling led me to this excellent recipe with step by step pictures) but the results are good!
My favourite bit was playing butcher and chopping (not slicing) the pork into bite-sized pieces with a big knife – the sound of the crunchy crackling was amazing!
You’ll need to prepare the pork at least 24 hours in advance for the best flavour. So here’s the recipe, thanks to happyhomemaker88!
Chinese crispy pork belly
For the marinade
1 cube fermented red beancurd (nam yue, pictured)
1/2 tbsp Chinese five spice powder
1/2 tbsp white pepper
1/2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tbsp salt
1 tbsp rice wine (I ran out of Chinese rice wine so subsituted cooking sake)
For the pork belly
1 x 1kg piece pork belly
1 tbsp coarse sea salt
2 tbsp white vinegar
1. Mix all of the marinade ingredients together in a small bowl until well combined.
2. Using a sharp knife, score the skin of the pork belly all over (you can ask your butcher to do this for you). The more you score, the more fat will be released and the crispier your pork belly will be! Turn the pork belly over and make incisions in the meat about 1/2cm deep and about 2cm apart.
4. Place the meat skin-side up into a container. Pat the skin dry with kitchen paper, then rub in the coarse salt. Place, uncovered, into the fridge and leave to marinate overnight.
5. Take the meat out an hour before roasting (so about 2 hours before you want to serve). Preheat the oven to 200C/400F.
6. Place the pork belly on a rack in the middle of the oven and roast for 20 minutes. Then, brush the skin with the white vinegar and switch the oven to the grill (broil) function. (The white vinegar is to help speed up the crackling process.)
7. Keep an eye on your pork belly as it cooks; it should take about 45 minutes. Now, the tip here is to let the skin char for ultra-crispy crackling (the logic is that this is how you know the skin is crisp all the way through and not chewy on the bottom).
8. So don’t worry if your pork belly is a bit charred – use a serrated knife to scrape away the blackened layer and reveal a golden-red layer of crisp pork skin. (Admittedly I think I went a bit far with the charring this time, so the skin was nice and crisp but a bit dry for my liking. Next time!)
9. Using a large knife, chop (don’t slice) the pork belly into bite-sized pieces. I do this by holding the knife over the skin, then hitting down hard on the back of the knife with the heel of my hand. A nice, clean chop – just listen to that crackling!
The pork tasted just like the versions I buy from roast meat stalls in HK. I never would have figured out that fermented beancurd was a major player in the creation of this marvellous piece of meat!
This is a post I had started a while ago, a few days after returning from Vienna. It’s finally time I posted it! Hopefully there will be more to follow…
The second day in Vienna (see here for the post on the first day) began without breakfast – the first thing to hit my palate was a supremely rich sacherpunsch (which is essentially a sachertorte, with the exception that the usually dry cake is soaked in rum) and a strong espresso at L. Heiner, a professed favourite of my extremely knowledgable tour guide.
Highlights of the day included nipping quickly through the Naschmarkt (Vienna’s most famous food market, which also hosts a flea market on Saturdays; more on it later) and ending up at Café Drechsler. This old-timer, established in 1919, was a popular haunt of marketgoers and stallholders alike (it only closed for one hour every day, from 2am-3am). So connected were the market regulars to the kaffeehaus that Herr Drechsler himself would bring coffees to them, every day without fail, so they would not have to leave their stalls. It closed several years ago, but was rescued and given a new lease of life thanks to the joint efforts of Manfred Stallmajer and Sir Terence Conran. A regular himself in his younger years, Stallmajer would simply and thriftily order a simple melange until, coerced by a grumpy Drechsler, supplement it with a goulash. To him, it would have been a shame for the space left by the closure to go to a brand like McDonalds or Starbucks (snaking their way around the city, slowly but surely) so he took it into his own hands to relaunch the café.
The aim was simple – to hold onto the principles of the kaffeehaus while bringing it more in line with the 21st century (a manifesto that was, of course, met with criticism and scepticism); anything which was original to the restaurant must be kept, unless it was proven to be beyond repair. The chairs and timber wood panelling were meticulously restored, and some of the original bauhaus fittings (such as the lights) were also kept, though placed differently. The original ceiling of the building was also kept, after stripping away thick decades of yellowed wallpaper (apparently the layers just kept going on one after the other whenever the most recent layer got too stained). Shiny new mirrors have been put in, and distinctively modern transparent light fittings installed in place of the heavy globes that dominate most kaffeehausen.
It felt worlds apart from many of the other traditional kaffeehausen I visited, yet not. The patrons were not, as expected, hipsters or yuppies attracted by the rebranding (though there were a few), but a few gentlemen who looked like comfortable old-timers. These little details, coupled with the ever so subtle ‘upgrades’ of materials and fabrics and combined with the essential air of the café means that the spirit of the kaffeehausen is not lost.