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.