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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?
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!
Some recipes are just so versatile – like this gorgeous yoghurt cake recipe from Bill Granger that a friend of mine recently modified. The original was a splendid sounding peach and almond yoghurt cake, but she replaced it with blueberries, raspberries and pistachio nuts. Three of my favourite things – naturally, I had to nick it and make it myself so I could spend my days stuffing it in my face.
The yoghurt in the cake is what makes it so lovely and moist – the crumb is quite dense, and yet it’s still quite light. I love the tartness of the blueberries and raspberries (uhh, not quite back in season yet), which offset the sweet sponge. The crushed pistachios also look great on top and add a nice crunch. This will definitely be something I’ll be whipping up at the next charity bake sale at work… ;-)
Berry and pistachio yoghurt cake
Adapted from Bill Granger’s peach and almond yoghurt cake
220g unsalted butter, softened
250g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 medium eggs
225g self-raising flour, sifted
250ml plain yoghurt
250-300g mixed blueberries and raspberries
50g shelled pistachios, roughly crushed
1. Preheat oven to 170°C. Grease and line the base of a 23cm springform cake pan. (I used a 23cm deep square cake tin and it fits perfectly).
2. Place the butter and sugar into a bowl mix until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla, then add the eggs one at a time beating well after each addition.
3. Fold in the flour, milk and yoghurt and mix until barely combined.
4. Gently fold in the berries.
5. I crush my pistachios by whizzing them quickly in a mini food processor until they’re nicely crushed but not blitzed to a powder. Then, I put them through a sieve so I can mix the finer powdery bits directly into the cake batter. Fold the pistachio ‘dust’ through the mixture.
6. Pour the cake mixture into the prepared tin, then sprinkle the remaining crushed pistachios over the top. Bake in the centre of the oven for 1 hour 20 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. If the cake is browning too quickly, cover with foil for the last 20 minutes of cooking.
7. Allow the cake to cool… and resist touching it in the meantime – I couldn’t help it, it’s just so nice and springy to the touch! Serve in thick wodges with a nice cuppa :-)
Can you guess my favourite Christmas song yet? It was the title of last year’s Christmas post, too!
This was my second time away from home and family over the holidays, but I’m amazingly blessed with an ‘extended family’ of sorts who invited me to their house, and a very old friend who came down to visit me in London after Boxing Day. In fact, it’s only now after I’m back in this big (cold) house that I feel lonely at all…! Oh, what a good Christmas it has been…
The story? My dear friend Lallie is one of the (very) few people I’ve kept in touch with post-uni – she’s been my closest friend and housemate for the past four years, and this is the first year we haven’t been living together. Tragedy! So this year, after hearing about my somewhat disastrous situation that prevented me from going back home (will not elaborate), she invited me down to her home in Chichester, West Sussex. I’ve been there many times and the sheer hospitality of her family astounds me (*wipes tear from eye*).
And lucky for me, they really do go all out for Christmas – a big, happy, traditional English Christmas so to say. And boy, was I well fed. Before the festivities we had some marvellous sherries (a gorgeously nutty palo cortado and some crisp fino), and on the 23rd a simple dinner of roasted vegetables with pan-fried sea bass (sadly, no photos).
The real prep began on Christmas eve – we were up bright and early to make pastry for the sausage rolls, followed by some simple Rachel Allen biscuits (with cinnamon and nutmeg) for visiting relatives and a batch of Nigella custard creams. Everyone eagerly anticipated the sausage rolls, which I can say were positively divine. Good pastry (cough!). We also started the prep for a gorgeous chocolate and rum bread and butter pudding – with generous amounts of the stated ingredients…! That was left to chill overnight for the big Christmas day dinner.
Christmas eve dinner was relatively low-key, with roasted pork loin with Granny Smith apples and a cider gravy, served with roasted potatoes. Hats off to the chef!
And then Christmas day was upon us, with much fanfare and ripping open of a serious mountain of presents accompanied by yet more sherry and eating of biscuits. I don’t know how the weather was like elsewhere in the UK, but it was a beautiful day – a big contrast to the somewhat overcast week preceding it!
As the designated kitchen helpers, we busied ourselves prepping yet more things – namely, decorating the mini Christmas puddings (rolling blue food colouring into the royal icing was dreadfully messy…!).
There was also the setting up of the table, complete with a handcrafted ivy-candlestick arrangement courtesy of miss crafty hands herself, Lallie. Amazing what a few handfuls of foliage can do to a few sticks of wax!
The carving of the meat (rolled turkey) was, naturally, left to the man of the household. The dog, Saffy (short for Saffron) looks on with anticipation…
Check out the minimalist plate of obligatory turkey and (perfectly roasted even sans goose fat) potatoes before we all got really gluttonous – or rather I did – and loaded up like a fat boy in an all-you-can-eat buffet joint. The tray next to the jug of bread sauce (had bread sauce for the first time, and now I can see why all of y’all rate it so much!) is the apple, chestnut and pork stuffing. Divine. In place of crackers, we had poppers – the contents of which promptly draped themselves all over the stuffing and settled nicely into the gravy boat post-popping. Ah, festivities…
And so this was Christmas dinner – there’s turkey with bread sauce, cranberry sauce and gravy; roasted potatoes; peas and carrots; creamed parsnip; swede mash; apple, chestnut and pork stuffing; Brussels sprouts (am I in the minority?); broccoli. Now my stomach is quite expansive but after that dinner even I couldn’t face the rich bread and butter pudding waiting for us on the counter… no jokes!
It was the most satisfying Christmas – not only in terms of food and wine, but in company and good spirit. And, now I can say I’ve experienced a truly English Christmas. Hoorah!