Monday, 29 October 2012

Review: The Skylark, Portobello

Ah, Sunday. Day of rest. Day of extra time in bed. Day of tea. Day when I make myself drive somewhere because of that embarrassing time when the AA man wrote "flat battery, advised customer to get over nerves and drive more" on the callout paperwork. It's a good day, all things considered, and therefore it deserves to be started well.

I don't usually see the point in going out for brunch, largely because it involves getting dressed, but also because I object to spending disproportionate amounts of money being served badly cooked and overpriced food by people who are more hungover than me. Yesterday though, the combination of a booze free night out the evening before, an extra hour in bed, and payday changed that, and we decided to take a trip down to Portobello for brunch.

The Skylark is a new spot on the high street, having only opened in July. It's operated by the same folk as have the Word of Mouth cafe in Leith, and is charmingly named after a much loved pleasureboat from yesteryear. We were surprised at how quiet it was to begin with (it opens at 11, we were there about 11.30), but I was glad to see it steadily fill up towards lunch time. The crowd was mixed- young couples with little ones were welcome, and added to the relaxed atmosphere. I love the interior... clean, fresh and eclectic, without being over done.
We sat ourselves down after a barely-there welcome, and were fairly quickly presented with food menus and asked if we'd like a drink. We ordered an orange juice, a coffee, and a pot of tea- safe options, due to a lack of drinks menu. The juice was good, tangy, freshly squeezed. Food wise, we both opted for the Eggs Benedict with bacon (£5). Considering at the time we were one of only two tables in, I was surprised it took 20 minutes to arrive. The kitchen is at the back, and we could hear the chef teaching another person how to make a hollandaise - points for freshness. It would have been nice, though, to have had a warning that it would take a wee while as we were starting to raise eyebrows before it arrived.

When the food came, it was good. Very good. The free-range eggs were perfectly cooked (only 1 of our 4 had a touch of opaque white), the hollandaise rich and buttery, the bacon nice and crisp. We were happy.
We were also impressed at the enormity of the Croque Madame that the gent at the table next to us enjoyed. He gave it a thumbs up when he caught me ogling. I was particularly intrigued by the cakes on offer, displayed behind the kitchen separator. They looked good, as did the huge danish style pastries. This place does not skimp on portions.
The menu for The Skylark isn't big, but then neither is their kitchen. Beside, it's always better to do a few things well than a lot of things badly. We have already decided that we'll go back sans car to try their dinner options and to sample the interesting range of Edinburgh Gins and fruit wines on offer. If the brunch is anything to go by then the dinner will be worth a bus ride. My only hope for improvement is that next time, service may come with a smile.

Brunch(eggs benedict with bacon for two, a pot of tea, an orange juice & a black coffee): £14.70

The Skylark Portobello
241-243 Portobello High Street, Edinburgh.
0131 629 3037

Friday, 14 September 2012

Review: Bells Diner

The first time I remember going to a specialist burger restaurant was in 2005. Back then I was discovering the joys of London, where I'd moved to go to uni, and I'd not yet been introduced to the burger "chains" of GBK and Wannaburger. It was a novelty. I had a Halloumi and Avocado burger, which I remember being pretty good- a lot better than the meaty options that my friends had. It's strange how it's stuck in my mind as an occasion, because I can't honestly say I'm a burger connoiseur, and it's not the type of thing I'd specifically go out looking for.

The exception is where Bells Diner is concerned. It was founded in 1972, on the corner of St Stephen Street in Stockbridge, and has been an institution ever since. I have to be honest, it's a slightly odd place now. The wooden tables and dark red walls made me wonder whether the only thing that had changed over the years was the prices - but if you're booked up days in advance and clearly on to a winner, why change?
The menu in Bells is simple. Really simple. You basically pick the size of your burger (4, 6 or 8oz), pick the flavoured butter you want (or cheese, or cheese and bacon), and pick your sides. If you're feeling controversial you can go with a chicken fillet, or if you're a veggie, a nut burger or omlette. If you're on a 'diet', you can get the burger without a bun (but it still comes with chips), or a steak. And that's it. That is the menu.
I went for a 6oz burger with Roquefort butter, and a side of crispy onion.
The pickle tray is a thing of wonder and by far the best thing about Bells. This is the smaller one, believe it or not. We're talking sweetcorn relish, onion jam, chilli ham, tomato chutney, ketchup, brown sauce, bbq sauce, mayo, and salad dressing.
They do a variation on about 4 puddings. Here we have a banoffee pancake, with whipped cream and vanilla ice cream. The toffee sauce was, admittedly, one of the best elements of my meal. They also do sundaes (fairly standard), but I was warned off the cherry one by the waitress - apparently tinned cherries do not a good desert make. Honest, but a bit surprising to have something on the menu that you're advised not to order.

And that's Bells. It's not a place that's particularly easy to review. They do burgers, they do them well. The burgers are pretty good, particularly compared to some of the crap you get in chain restaurants. The atmosphere is cosy and friendly. The service is friendly and efficient. The deserts are average and I couldn't help feeling that, considering the chips were of the cheap frozen reconstituted potato kind, the whole thing was slightly overpriced. The last time I went, we took friends who lamented that it was "no Cambridge Bar" - if you want impressive toppings, Bells is not for you. But if you want a nostalgic reminder of Edinburgh in the 1970s, or a world where the burger was more about the meat than the other stuff in the bun, then it's worth a bash.

Meal for two, with a beer each and a pudding to share: £32

Bells Diner
7 St Stephen Street
0131 225 8116

Monday, 10 September 2012

Recipe: Pan-fried Gnocci with Spinach, Cherry Tomatoes & Pine Nuts

This is easily one of my favourite week night meals - it's a Mr F concoction that has become a bit of a comfort food staple. It combines several of my favourite foods (spinach, butter and potatoes), and the act of frying carbohydrates means it is probably bad for you. I tell myself that the cherry tomatoes and spinach count as two of your five a day, so that makes it ok.
Serves 2

500g gnocci (roughly one packet, unless you can be bothered making your own)
1 clove garlic, finely diced
1 generous pinch mixed dried Italian herbs
50g butter
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 large handfuls (about 75g) baby leaf spinach
2 handfuls (about 12) cherry or baby plum tomatoes, halved

Pre-heat your oven on low (to use to keep things warm).
Cook the gnocci according to the packet instructions. Meanwhile, in a frying pan, melt half of the butter and add in the pine nuts and garlic. Toast in the butter until golden, taking care not to burn them. Add in the cooked and drained gnocci, adding more butter if necessary to prevent it sticking to the pan, and stir gently. The gnocci should fry slowly for a minute or so on each side, until golden and crispy. Transfer the gnocci and nuts into an ovenproof dish, and keep warm in the oven. Make sure you pour over any butter that's been left behind to keep the flavour!
In the same pan, pop the other half of the butter in. Stir in the spinach, sprinkle on the mixed dried herbs, and wilt away the liquid. This may take a minute or so. When the spinach liquid has evaporated, mix in the cherry tomatoes, stirring only occasionally, to soften the flesh and char the skin slightly.
Remove the gnocci from the oven, stir through the spinach, tomatoes and pine nuts, and serve on hot plates. Season with pepper, or, if you fancy, a little parmesan.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Review: The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Modern Two) Cafe

Normally it rains on my days off - particuarly if they are days off in lieu for working a weekend - so I plan hours of swimming, drinking tea, catching up on telly programmes that Mr F rolls his eyes at, and crocheting. But the last time I had a random day off, the sun shone, and I felt the need to get out of the flat.

I live within a stone's throw of the Water of Leith, a beautiful river with a walkway that meanders its way through Edinburgh. I used to work in Leith, and on sunny days enjoyed walking home along the banks, spotting herons and Antony Gormley statues, but it's not a route that I take if I'm in a hurry to get somewhere, and so it's not one that I use often. It seemed a pretty perfect day to take a walk along it, see an exhibition at the National Gallery of Modern Art, have a bit of lunch, and wander home before the inevitable afternoon clouds.

I joined it at Saunders Street, in Stockbridge, where the Stockbridge Gormley statue has been hiding underwater for nearly a month due to the raised river levels. I wandered westwards, through the greenery, past St Bernard's Well...
... and through to Dean Village.
It was at this point that I encountered a diversion, caused by the recent bad weather, which led me up via the Dean Cemetery, and round and down to the Galleries. As I was walking in, I spotted the Inter-Gallery Bus service, which is a great idea for those not familiar with the city or with transport difficulties.

I headed into the former Dean Gallery, now rather pretentiously called Modern Two. It's a beautiful building with a lawn in front - if you peek between the trees, you can spot the castle.
I had a wander around the galleries - there's not many in Modern Two, so it's perfect to spend an hour before lunch. On my way upstairs I fell in love slightly with this, a piece by Richard Wright called The Stairwell Project.
After spending some time contemplating the Munch exhibition (stunning - highly evocative and deepy emotional prints), I wandered back down past this fellow, a huge two-story sculpture, down to the cafe below.
The cafe in the gallery is quite an unusual layout. Being opposite the main entrance, it's one of the first things that you see when you come in to the building, which really draws you in. I'm surprised that they havn't used the space for more galleries, as it's really a group of smaller spaces with interconnecting doors, but this layout and the simple features make for a welcoming space. I particularly like that the bottom of the statue is in the second half of the cafe - art and food, mingling together.
Sorry for the rubbish interior shots. I got told off by a room steward trying to get the bottom one so I had to switch to my phone(they'd apparently not noticed me going round upstairs!)
 I was lucky to get a table - the cafe was busy, and several tables had been pre-booked for afternoon teas (which looked lovely). The friendly waitress handed me a copy of the days menu, which had been influenced by the Munch exhibition. The treats on offer were Scandinavian influenced, a food trend which seems to be booming at the moment, and was varied. Good options for vegetarians were included, and prices weren't outrageous. I was tempted by a couple of things - both the artichoke hummus and the creamy polenta dishes sounded lovely. When I admitted to the waitress that I couldn't decide, she brought me a taster of the hummus - brilliant customer service, and a good way to try something new. Being contrary, I went for the polenta.
It was amazing. I've never eaten something quite like this before. I wasn't entirely sure I was going to like it, but I did. Somehow the combination of the sweet honey with the salty cheese and peppery bitter rocket just, well, worked. The unsalted pistachios added extra texture and crunch to the smoother polenta, and were nice and waxy compared to the crumbly blue cheese. It was wonderful, and I'm looking forward to trying to recreate it again at home. I'd decided to treat myself to a glass of red wine to go with it, and I was glad that I did - it turned lunch for one into a luxury.

I ended with a flapjack. It was huge, crumbly and chewy. Perfect.
The food and service were great, and the surroundings are stunning. It's a shame that you can't sit outside at the Modern Two as you can over the road in the Modern One, but the atmosphere inside is lovely. It is so nice to find a museum or gallery cafe where the food is interesting and original, and as worth a trip as the art itself.
Lunch for one (including a glass of wine, and a pot of tea with dessert): £15
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
75 Belford Road

Monday, 6 August 2012

Recipe: Banana Bread for Breakfast

It's a funny thing, breakfast. I don't think I've heard anyone recall a wonderful breakfast that they had in the same way that they would recall a dinner or a lunch. It's a meal that is often skipped, frequently rushed and usually really quite boring. Although I'd like to tell you that I get up early enough to make Eggs Benedict on a daily basis, that would be a lie, and anyone who vaguely knows me will be snorting with laughter at the thought.

In an attempt to wean Mr F off cereal bars, we have been experimenting with different 'healthy' options that can be nibbled on the bus, or washed down with a cup of coffee in a more discreet manner than a bowl of cornflakes. I've been enjoying trying variations on banana bread, mostly because it means I have a use for the slightly mangled bananas that end up being left in the bottom of my bag, but partly also because "Banana and Sultana" is fun to say.

Basic Banana Bread (based on one of Delia Smith's)

75g butter or margerine
110g caster sugar
1 egg
225g plain flour
2tsp baking powder
4 bananas
1 teaspoon lemon juice (optional)
2 tsp mixed spice (or variations on nutmeg, ginger and cinnamon will do)
2 generous handfuls of tasty extras

Line a loaf tin with greaseproof paper.
Put everything except for the tasty extras into a bowl and mix thoroughly.
Stir in the extras.
Bake for 50-60 mins, at 180C.

I blooming love this recipe. It's so easy, it takes about 5 minutes to mix, and you can add anything you want - sultanas, raisins, chopped nuts, whole nuts, chocolate chopped up, mixed peel - it's all good. You could use soft or light brown sugar if you prefer, or self raising flour if that's all you have, and it'd probably work. I've made it with low fat margerine, as well as proper butter, and it works. I've also used bananas that I've frozen when they went mushy, and defrosted a few weeks later - you don't get the banana chunks with this, but a really smooth, bready texture.It also freezes really well as long as it's pre-sliced.


Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Review: Seadogs

There used to be a restaurant on Rose Street that I frequented whenever there was an excuse- Seadogs. It was part of David Ramsden's 'The Dogs' chain, and I loved it. It offered reasonably priced food in an interesting environment, without any of the sycophantic crap that Edinburgh restaurants and their patrons have a tendency towards.
On our first visit, Mr F and I ordered a seafood platter and a portion of Kedgeree. We were told (by Mr. Ramsden) we didn't need to bother with the rice, because the platter would come with some form of carb - either Paella or Kedgeree. On the second visit, where we steered away from the platter, and ventured on to the menu, we asked for advice on what wine to order, and were recommended the house, or if we were feeling fancy, the one up from the house. On our third visit, we arrived a bit early, and were told that we couldn't order until our designated time - fine by us, we happily devoured the menu until we turned to the food.
I can see how these type of details would annoy others. Seadogs was not for the type of diner who likes to think that he knows best, or that he is getting special treatment. It was for the rest of us - people that like decent food at reasonable prices in an interesting setting - and so I, and several other people I've spoken to, were gutted when it closed down.

It is back.

Amore Dogs, which was the streetlevel bit of the dogs townhouse (The Dogs at the top, and UnderDogs at the bottom), has been converted. After consultations via twitter and facebook, it is now Seadogs once more, and I can think of a few people who are relieved and glad to see it return. It goes without saying then, that it was my choice of restaurant for my birthday dinner.

Mr Foodie and I went down after work on a Tuesday night. A slightly random night to indulge, but we had an excuse, so I wasn't too bothered about it being on the quiet side. I love the casual interior - clean, fresh and white, with quirky photos and trinkets that add personality without being too much.
We could have pretended to look at the menu - it is good. It's varied, with a decent vegetarian selection, and a great use of the cheaper sustainable fish that keep prices affordable. I've eaten a couple of the dishes upstairs at The Dogs, and enjoyed them.

We, however, were boring, and ordered the old faithful - the seafood platter. Piled high with the Kedgeree were salmon fillets, prawns in breadcrumbs, squid rings, whole prawns, mussels, and a sardine each. Amazing - the only criticism I have is that it would have been nice to have a little less breadcrumbs. In fact, it was so good that after it was taken away, the ladies at the table next to us admitted food envy.
And a side of chunky chips with an extra garlic mayo portion. We drank a carafe of house wine. Handily for two people, Seadogs sells wine in 500ml and 1000ml carafes as well as by the glass or bottle- perfect for sharing if you are out on a school night. Jugs of water come automatically, which I also appreciate, mostly because I hate the bottled water hard sell that some restaurants try.

For dessert - a lemon and lime parfait with shortbread. This was good - really good - a huge dollop of curd on the top, a creamy centre, and a crunchy base. Perfect after a large seafood dinner.
Welcome back, Seadogs. You have been missed.

Dinner for two, including wine and a pudding to share - £50.

104 Hanover Street

Friday, 15 June 2012

Review: Home Taste

A friend of mine has recently moved house, and therefore takes a walk from Tollcross along the Grassmarket on a daily basis on her way to work. It's not an area I frequent particularly often, unless looking for a specific 'something' that I know i'll get there, which is daft, because there's lots of lovely little independent shops and restaurants in the area. Home Taste is slightly round the corner on Bread Street. Knowing my love of small and local restaurants, my friend suggested it as a perfect antidote to a horribly rainy Edinburgh evening.

I knew I was going to like this place when I walked in. My glasses steamed up, and one of the waitresses brought me a tissue. That's a good sign right there. I was seated, smack bang in the middle of the room, and she brought over a hotpot plate. I got excited. I should probably warn you - there is nothing fancy about this restaurant. It is probably the Chinese equivalent of a greasy spoon, and they have Tesco smart price tissue boxes on the tables rather than napkins.
We ummed and aahed over whether to have hotpot, or whether to go for a different dish from their menu - and after seeing the table behind us have their food delivered, we decided to go for the menu. It was vague in its descriptions, but we ordered well.
We decided to share some beef skewers (which actually turned out to be pork, probably a translation issue on our part), which were amazing. They were salty and spicy in a hot way, lots of spices coating them, and a slight cumin seed taste. They appear to have been slow cooked over charcoal, which made them really tender. Delicious.
My friend went for a pork belly and pepper stirfry dish, with a side of rice. The pork was, again, gorgeous, nice and freshly flavoured, and not too greasy. Very spicy though - lots of green chillies.
I went for a hotpot soup, which was amazing. It contained a little bit of everything that you'd get if you had a hotpot - seaweed, mushrooms and fungi, glass noodles, chunks of fish, fishballs, and a generous middle dollop of glass noodles. I'd asked the waitress how hot is 'hot', and she laughed and said she'd ask for a not-so-hot version. Even though I'm a fan of heat, it was on the spicy side for me and I was glad I'd whipped out as many of the dried chillies as possible when it arrived.
I have to also mention the 'condiments' trolley in the middle of the restaurant. It was one of the first things I saw when I arrive, and both bemused and excited me. Here we have bowls of fresh herbs, a massive bowl of peanut sauce, diced garlic, diced chillies, soy sauce, chilli sauce, and vinegars. It was brilliant, and I got quite carried away using the little bowls on the tables to mix away and dunk my seafood.

I love restaurants like this - they are so much more relaxed, and provide tastier, healthier food than most of your average Chinese restaurants. I was a little alarmed to see the chef hacking into an enormous box of meat when I went to the toilet (which was as functional as the dining room), but for food this good, I can forgive the basic kitchen and bathroom areas. Strongly recommended.

Meal for two, with rice for one, a side order and soft drinks: £20-£25

Home Taste
27 Bread Street

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Recipe: Pan-fried Duck with Pea and Pea Shoot Risotto

There are a lot of things that I've not cooked before. Some of them I'm too lazy to attempt (anything that involves starting it the day before), some of them I'm too stingy to mess up (lobster, truffles) and some of them I'd love to, but I've never got round to it (mussels). I have, however, ticked another thing off my list - I have cooked duck. Mr F and I treat ourselves to nice meat from the Stockbridge Farmers Market every now and then, and although I've been a bit scared of cooking the duck and left it in the freezer for a couple of weeks, I am now a convert.

We debated what to have the duck with. I had a flick through my alarming number of cookbooks, but couldn't find anything that we fancied. Although I'd usually go straight to an Asian recipe and get the 5 spice out, I wanted to get this right, and actually taste the lovely meat. In my mind, I had an image of it nestled on top of a pile of risotto, but I couldn't find a suggestion I fancied online, so I did the geeky thing and tweeted Nigel Slater. His reply? "maybe think about a classic risotto with masses of peas and peashoots in. Duck is always happy with peas". He was right, it was good.

Pan-fried Duck Breast with Pea and Pea Shoot Risotto
Serves 2

2 skin-on duck breasts (preferably free-range)
150g Risotto rice
1 leek, sliced into rings
25g butter
500ml hot chicken stock
150g peas
50g pea shoots
50g parmesan, finely grated

Firstly, prep your duck breast. On the skin side, cut through the fat with a sharp knife in a diamond pattern. Make sure you only cut through the fat, not the meat underneath. Pop the butter, and leek into a saucepan. Cook gently until the leeks start to soften and turn translucent, then add the rice. Stir through and toast the rice for a minute before adding a small amount of the chicken stock. Continue to add the stock, stirring regularly, and adding more as needed.
While the risotto is simmering away fairly comfortably, in a large skillet (if you have one), or in a large frying pan, place the two duck breasts skin side down, and cook on a meduim heat. You don't need to add oil - so much fat will come out of the duck that you'll have to spoon it out to stop it spitting and burning the sides of the duck (if you're feeling frugal, or can't bear the thought of throwing it out, stick it in a ramekin and use it to cook roast potatoes in). Cook gently for 10 minutes or so, until the skin has started crisping up - use tongs or a fish slice to check it's not burning. Turn them over when they're nice and crispy. Cook for a further 4 minutes (although this will depend on how thick the meat is, and how rare you like it. We went for pink, which was 4 minutes, but we did have to push it down a wee bit with the tongs every now and then to make sure it was cooking evenly). Turn it back onto the skin side and poke it, to make sure it's cooked. Do the thumb muscle test - you want it ideally middle finger to ring finger bouncy.
Take it out of the pan, and rest it on a wooden board until the risotto is cooked - this should be about 5 minutes. When the risotto is cooked to your liking, stir in the pea shoots and allow to wilt slightly - a bit of texture to the stalks is nice though. Mix through the cheese, reserving a little for a sprinkle on top, and add a good sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper.
Serve as you wish - to keep the duck skin really crispy, it's probably best served on the side, but it does look pretty nestling amongst the green risotto!

Further ideas:
* To make a vegetarian risotto, use a veggie parmesan-style cheese and vegetable stock.
* This would be a great base for pan-fried fish, using a fish stock instead - a sustainable white fish with a crispy skin would be great.
* If you're feeling frugal but fancy the idea of having it with fish, smoked salmon trimmings or smoked mackerel are both very cheap, and are both delicious flaked with this risotto towards the end.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Inspiration: Soda Bread

I love fresh bread. The smell, the spongey texture, the warm filling - a good fresh loaf with butter is not far off perfection for me. It's brilliant.
Mr Foodie is from Northern Ireland - a land where bread is Different. Good different. Soda bread is hard to get hold of in Scotland. Actually, I should clarify - it's not hard to get hold of, but it's not "right". Apparently, Soda bread should be simple and white, unlike this, which Mr Foodie reckons is more like Wheaten Bread. Are you as confused as me? I hope so... I was nervous when I decided to make my own.

I'm not a natural baker. I get frustrated at the size of tins (how and why do I never have the size specified in the recipe?) I don't understand how you can magically tell if you've kneaded dough enough, and the hundreds of types of flour overwhelm me. The last time I made bread rolls, they were more like hockey pucks. I was not optimistic about Soda bread - it doesn't rise until it's in the oven, it seemed very wet, and putting soured milk in bread seemed - well - wierd. But it worked!
I used this recipe by Rachel Allen, the Queen of Irish cooking and baking. Really easy. I didn't bother with the 'floured' surface, mostly because I couldn't find the antibac kitchen spray. It took about 5 minutes to mix in, and was ready by the time I'd showered and dried my hair - perfect emergency breakfast bread. Particularly good with....
Eggs, crispy bacon and spinach
 Scrambled eggs, spinach and smoked salmon
Bank holiday weekend brunch heaven.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Review: Steak Edinburgh

There are a couple of things that seem to be quite 'fashionable' foodwise at the moment - foraging and steak. I'm too lazy to forage, but I am a fan of a steak. There are quite a few steak restaurants in Edinburgh and the number is increasing at the 'higher' end of the market. Steak opened at around about the same time as Kyloe (formerly The Restaurant at The Rutland), but it's located at the other end of Princes Street in one of their old competitors buildings. Formerly known as Hawk&Hunter, 12 Picardy Place has had a revamp, getting Mark Greenaway on board - Scotland's latest celebrity chef. Steak is another, very different, offering to the ever popular area. I was quite excited when Victoria, one of the lovely Edinburgh Cake Ladies, sent a tweet out asking if anyone fancied trying Steak's Thursday Steak 'n' Shake night - at £13.50 for a 250g sirloin and chips, it was a good deal.

The ladies arrived at Steak. It's a pretty impressive entrance - past a concierge desk, into a dark room, mostly lit by candles. Backless bookcases dotted with hardbacks, church pillar candles and oversized bottles of spirits separated the space into three areas. The front, with the bar, has two enormous tables, the middle (where we were) another enormous table, and the back a variety of sizes.
photo from the Steak website
It was dark. Very dark. I could just imagine my mother saying "if I'm paying money for food, I want to be able to see it". She'd have a point. Considering how few diners there were at 7pm on a Thursday, pumping music out at an over-loud level also seemed a little odd. This is the Abercrombie & Fitch of Edinburgh restaurants.
photo from the Steak website
We were seated, after some kerfuffle about having a table that would have seated 14 having 9 on it. The waitress handed out menus. After that it got a little confusing. She only seemed to talk to the two of us at one end of the table at a normal volume, rather than trying to speak to us all from a sensible mid-point. That was slightly awkward. She didn't mention the Steak and Shake offer - we had to ask what the shakes of the day were (Bounty, peanut butter, chocolate, vanilla and strawberry). She didn't know if I could substitute it for a non-dairy option (note - the website offers a smoothie option but there was no mention of this) so I ordered a Tomato Juice and hoped for the best. It was not the best service I've ever had, but considering the enormous tables and the pumping music, I'm hardly surprised that she struggled.

We ordered, and our steaks came perfectly done. Everyone was impressed at how beautifully cooked they were, and how well presented. And - bonus points - the generous portion of bearnease sauce came automatically rather than as an 'extra'. The chips were good as far as chips go.
I ordered a side of "Buttered Spinach and Hazelnuts" and was disappointed. Although there were a good number of nuts sprinked on top, it completely lacked seasoning. It cried out for salt, pepper and a pinch of 'something' (nutmeg, perhaps), and I have no idea if butter even went near it. I suspect not - towards the bottom of the portion, the spinach floated in 2-3 tablespoons of water implying it'd been steamed and reheated rather than freshly cooked in butter. I was very glad I'd not tipped it out onto my plate - my steak would have been swimming.
Some of the other ladies ordered sides and fared better - the truffled macaroni cheese was tasty - not a massive portion, but highly flavoured and nicely crusty on top. I'd recommend it as an alternative to chips if eating from the a la carte.

I should probably also mention the tomato juice. It arrived along with the shakes at no extra cost - good to know that there's an alternative. However, it was no 'regular' tomato juice. I have no idea what I was served, and if I'd been with people I knew better, it would have gone back. It was watery, and fizzy. Yes, fizzy. It tasted weird too. It's taken me the best part of 3 days to work out what the strange aftertaste was (to begin with, I could only describe it as slightly sour), but it tasted like someone had topped it up with carbonated water. You know that slightly unusual metallic taste? That, but with lemony tomato juice. Not good at all.

Steak Edinburgh has so much potential. I have issues with the website (a woman suggestively biting into a raw steak on the front page? Seriously?) and interior, but these are probably be a matter of taste. Decent steak is a treat for every carnivore, but to encourage return visitors, it has to get the basics right or run the risk of being labelled as All Fur Coat and Nae Knickers.

Steak 'n' Shake Thursdays: £13.50
Buttered spinach and hazelnuts: £3
Truffled macaroni cheese: £3

12 Picardy Place, EH1

Monday, 21 May 2012

Event: Edinburgh Cake Ladies do Terrific Towers of Traybakes

I can't remember how I discovered the Edinburgh Cake Ladies. It was a while ago - maybe nearly a year ago - but it was a good day. My first event just happened to be this one (which I didn't blog about - it was during a non-blogging phase). It was great. I meant it when I said cake is amazing. And my Guinness and chocolate cake was pretty bloody good.

Moving forwards, these ladies have started to become regular elements of my social calendar. There is something wonderful about being able to chat food all evening at a supper club or a pudding club with people who won't judge if you go back for seconds. In fact, as I have discovered since last October, it's positively encouraged.

Last Wednesday saw the arrival of Towers of Terrific Traybakes. The ladies have stepped away from the cakes lately towards a wider variety of baking (in fact, no-bake for some of the ladies this week). Although I'm a fan of variety, I do have a bit of a fear of traybakes. I should whisper when I admit I don't really like them. I can't put my finger on why (unlike cupcakes, which I can tirade about). I think it's the over-sweet over-chocolatey tendency that they can have. They're so often made with low quality chocolate in cafes that I get half way through and can't finish. After this lot, though, I am converted...
My dinner! Clockwise from top: lemon and blueberry, fig and pistachio, pavlova slice, Canadian Nanaimo and a millionaire's shortbread marshmallow.  
My effort: Yorkshire parkin. I used this recipe.
At the end of the evening, the tupperware come out, and the leftovers are divided up to take home. A great way of getting to try things that there just isn't room for on the night (or as one lady said - as a reward for her babysitter!)
A lovely evening, getting to know lovely people. In fact, we were all so busy chatting that we didn't notice a certain Colin Firth coming in to buy some art. I could not be more gutted!
Thanks to the Edinburgh Cake Ladies for organising it, and the marvellous Bon Papillon cafe for hosting us!

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Event: Pudding Club

Pudding Club. Two words that got 15 women very excited.
At my initial foray into the world of supper clubs, I sat myself down next to the lovely Wendy. To cut a long story short, after a lot of wine and chatter, she told me that she was starting to enter the Supperclub world, and was looking to host a Pudding Club… cue weeks of excitement, menu discussions via twitter with excited attendees, and the next thing I know, I’m knocking on Wendy’s front door.

We were welcomed in to her lovely living room, where a long table was set for us. We chatted and mingled for a few minutes, sipping Pink Lemonade until it was time to begin.
Wendy had said that she would be serving tea and coffee throughout the meal, as well as providing jugs of water. This was a great idea – a couple of us were driving, and I love a cup of tea with my pudding. I did, however, sample a cheeky wee half glass of lovely dessert wine that one of the other ladies brought
… And so it began.

A trio of starters. A cocoa rich chocolate mousse, a delicate pomegranate and prosecco jelly, and a beautiful buttermilk pannacotta. I’m not usually a pannacotta fan – it can be too rich and milky for me, but this was beautifully creamy, slightly tart from the buttermilk, and with a lovely speckle of vanilla. The strawberry sauce on top was perfect too.
 … After that came the lovely sticky toffee pudding – mini portions were spot on, served with the most amazing toffee sauce, and a thick vanilla custard....
… fresh fruit pavlova…
…cheesecake two ways – baked rum and raisin, and fridge-set cherry…
At this point, I couldn’t continue with the full portions, and shared pieces with one of the other ladies!
And finally, on to our 'dessert'...
A trio of icecreams - ginger and coconut, keylime pie and raspberry. 

It was a wonderful night - good food, good company and a good host. It was relaxed but meticulously organised, and a perfect treat.

If you're interested in knowing more about Wendy, her catering business, or her supper clubs, she can be found at

Monday, 30 April 2012

Recipe: Tomato and Potato Layer Bake

I am now the proud owner of a food processor. Proud, and overexcited. I've been waiting for it to arrive for 6 weeks (when my mum ordered it as a housewarming present, it was out of stock, so good old John Lewis sourced one for me). This has given me 6 weeks of getting excited about things that I can whizz, chop, whisk, blend, grate, and puree.
First up - a quick and tasty potato dish. This recipe is loosely based on a Delia Smith's Summer Collection recipe that my mum makes a lot. I've sped it up a bit so that it's easier for a week night dinner, and made it store cupboard friendly. Think of it as a really easy and lower fat version of boulangere or dauphinoise potatoes.
Tomato and Potato Layer Bake
Serves 2

500g potatoes
1 large onion, red or white
1 can good quality tinned tomatoes
1 tablespoon virgin or extra virgin olive oil (optional but highly recommended)
1-2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp dried sage
1/2 tsp dried basil
Salt and pepper
In a food processor (or with a very sharp knife), whizz your potatoes and onion into thin slices.
Mix together the tomatoes, oil, herbs, garlic, and a generous pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper. 
In a large microwave-proof dish, mix together your potatoes, onions and tomato mix. 
Microwave on full for 15 minutes, covered (you could use a plate or clingfilm if you don't have a lidded dish).
Take the cover off, and microwave again for another 5 minutes. 
Ideal served with meat or fish - it would be great for a healthy side to steak. We had ours with roast chicken and a spinach salad. 
Fresh basil, torn up, would also work if you have it, to give a stronger taste 
You could also add in crumbled feta or mozzarella, olives, slivers of parma ham, capers, anchovies - anything really - to make it perfect for a lunch box.