Le Marché Français
Pho Vietnam House
El Quijote Tapas
The Wednesday Night Hangouts
Kampong Ah Lee Malaysian Delight
Ong Gie Korean which has moved to Tolcross
West End Pearls
The Clock Café
Reviews: Eateries in That London:
Sapori and da Spago
Or try Dai's recipes at home!
Le Marché Français
French eatery and shop, 9a West Maitland St, Edinburgh
Having just had a lunch there, your correspondent realised he ought to add some 'reviews' in lieu of recipes, for when he eats out.
One of my muchtoomany haunts for a
Obviously, based in Haymarket they do a roaring lunchtime trade in takeaway sandwiches, coffees and pastries and get packed out when the rugby internationals are on, especially when their compatriots are in town.
The place was revamped a few years ago, giving it a lively new feel and they managed to survive the disruption of the neverending tram works, which dug up the street outside and dramatically reduced footfall.
I often bemoan the lack of a good croque monsieur outside France, and le Marché comes closest to rectifying that. 'French living' in Nottingham, while a great bistrot for an evening meal, once sold your gobsmacked reviewer an anæmic (but adequate) cheese'n'ham toastie under that name. A croque is not a toastie! Le Marché's may not be the best I've had but it does have béchamel sauce in it and the cheese on top, and tastes pretty damn good ~ a great value snack for lunch with a glass of the quaffable house rouge. And my companion (also genuinely French) had an excellent confit de canard with sautéed pommes de terre nouveaux.
À la prochaine!
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Pho Vietnam House
3 Grove St, Edinburgh EH3 8AF
So good, I painted the owner! This tiny restaurant in a cupboard on grove street was the graduation project of young Jodie Xyzptlk Ngurgle (or something like that) from Ho Chi Minh City.
Seating only 20 souls and with no booze licence, it was a cosy, byob affair. great for Yours Truly, as it's a ten minute walk from home, with a call in at Ash McCobb's Appellation Wines to raid the selection of unusual beers on the way.
This corner has seen any number of interesting-looking eateries come and go before I've even had chance to try them (the proverbial spondulicks being more elusive than ever these days), so discovering this one and how good the food was (and, let's not deny it, how lovely Jodie and her mum are), purely selfish reasons motivated a desire to spread the word so it stayed in business, including death threats to encourage readers of this site to go there.
And how successful that was. A couple of years later, she took a sledgehammer and knocked through to the now empty caff next door, expanding to double the size, despite which the place is still pretty full most nights of the week Pho (pronounced something like 'fur') is the national snack dish of Vietnam. basically a soup with flat rice noodles, it can be bought on any street corner and the joy of eating it (apart from the great-tasting stock) comes from playing with the flavour by adding your own, ever-changing combination of fish sauce, soy, chilli, lime and chopped greens; perhaps best with the thinly-sliced beef, it can also be served with chicken or tofu.
The rest of the menu reflects this snackbar approach. Vietnamese food is not startlingly different to the Chinese and Thai dishes we're now so used to, but it is distinctive enough not to be mistaken for them. The chicken curry has a different set of flavours from its Thai cousin and is almost white in colour. The wonderful chicken, fried and braised on the bone in a chilli and lemongrass sauce is probably my favourite but the pork loin, now enhanced with extra flavours like star anise, is challenging strongly. And the gloriously refreshing cold spring rolls, with noodles, prawns, pork and mint, make a great starter.
Ostensibly to visit relatives and bring back more recipes, but more likely to avoid my attempts to murder her Aberdonian husband and run off with her (if you tasted her cooking you wouldn't blame me ~ the way to a man's heart and all that ...), mum went back to Vietnam before Xmas and stayed to open a spa. But Jodie's partner made a fine substitute chef, despite being Polish ~ and male.
And the clincher, as if one were needed, is the value. £5.90 gets you a one-course lunch and a can of drink, and the evening meal won't set you back a lot either. So what are you waiting for?
And now, if you like the pixtures on the walls, why not check out her mum's art gallery, just a chopstick's throw away in Haymarket terrace?
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El Quijote tapas bar
13a Brougham St, Edinburgh EH3 9JS
Your friendly neighbourhood reviewer has not always lived in the UK. He spent one crazy year in Cádiz in Spainland. Among many things, the most missed is perhaps eating seafood on the seafront as the sun sets over the allterative Andalucian Atlantic. For the last decade and a half (good grief, has it been that long?!) he's been boring people to death with endless grumbles about the lack of a real tapas bar in the UK.
Sure, there are plenty of adequate places serving good Spanish snack food and plenty of plasticky ones like the Tasca chain, but nowhere seems to serve real 'tapa' portions. No visit to the Gaditano shops was complete without at least three visits to bars for maybe a couple of gambas here, or two or three albondigas there (with a glass of fino or a cerveza each time), none of which set one back more than a couple of quid. OK, prices will have risen but if the portions are small enough, a José-sin-amigos could still get a varied meal rather than a huge helping of the same thing. Dionika (now gone) and Barioja are fine, but insist on garnishing and presenting each plateful with some sort of aesthetic added
¡Por fin! (at last!), in el Quijote bar y tapas Edinburgh now has such a place and it's already establishing itself as a cool hangout joint for the Spanish community. set up by a group of friends, including a couple of Sevillanos, it's the perfect place for a platter of Iberian jamon or some chipirones a la plancha (griddled small squid) with a glass of dryest sherry.
During the day they function more as a café cum tapas bar but needless to say they also do larger Scottish-style evening portions.
But the place is so laid back they'll do just about anything on the menu as a snack at any time.
If they were any nearer to Dalry, your reporter would probably spend far too much of his time there. As it is, it's cheaper than renewing the passport and heading back to his little city by the bay ...
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Clerk St, Edinburgh EH8
On Wednesdays your indefatigable correspondent like nothing better than to speak a strange language almost but not quite entirely unlike Spanish. To do this with bemused natives of Spainland and far more fluent Brits, he heads for a pub where such people congregate for what is known as the Edinburgh Intercambio (all welcome). It gets going around 8 or 9, so it often seems sensible toeat in the area, in one of three or four regular haunts.
The first is the aforementioned hostelry itself:
Now, like Heston Blumincheek, this writer likes nothing better than popping over to Switzerland and chucking carefully measured quantities of Cumbeslobodian truffles and rare breed henfruit into the Large Hadron Collider to make that perfect omelette (after all, as any fule kno, you can't make an omelette without smashing Higgs ~ I'll get me coat).
But, also like Heston, he also appreciates a good old burger and a pint in a pub. And both of these (and other such delights) are available at the Greenmantle. A good selection of bottled beers as well as draught ales like Hobgoblin and Bitter and Twisted (the one they named after me) sit alongside a rather good menu, the stars of which are the Puddledub burgers made from finest free-range Scottish buffalo and topped with various extras, served with the essential accompaniment of chips, chips and more chips.
It can get pretty lively: as well as manglers of Spanglish, it's a popular pub both with locals who want to watch some footy and the local strudel population, including Wednesday-meeting groups like the trampoline society, the runners and the kendo soc. supply your own jokes.
But sometimes one gets to that side of town a bit too early or just fancies something a little more exotic to start the evening. In that case one directs one's feet mainly (apart from an occasional and delicious masala dosa at the Kalpna Indian veggie-weirdo restaurant, or the newer, wonderful and slightly more carnivorous Tanjore), toward the Kampong Ah Lee or the Ong Gie ~ which isn't there any more.
Both of these are great value and thus popular with a strudel crowd. Their popularity with diners from the relevant part of the world must mean something too.
Kampong Ah Lee Malaysian Delight is a Malaysian eatery a hundred yards further down Clerk Street. A café style place with quick service of individual plates (or bowls) with rice or noodles included, the portions are certainly on the Scottish side. The compulsory exhaustive survey of the menu is still going on, so, though it may be too early to nominate a favourite, the beef rendang is still winning.
Jong Ga Korean is the new name for Ong Gie, more of a takeaway but with room for a few diners. In That London your correspondent lived above the legendary You Me House (now in Malden) and got very used to eating and even cooking (see above) this little-known cuisine. and I've missed it. now, suddenly, Edinbuggle has a good restaurant on Dundas St (Shilla) and this cool little takeaway in Newington.
A bit of research revealed that the owners were described on one review site as 'probably the nicest people on the plant [sic]'. What plant they're on, is anybody's guess, but they are indeed very very nice people, very helpful and happy to explain or discuss any aspect of their country's fascinating cuisine.
There's a squid dish only previously found in the Seoul in Clerkenwell, but your man says, given a day or two's warning, he'll prepare that or any other dish in time for your visit. Which is nice.
So nice in fact, that success has crowned their enterprise and Ong Gie is now a fully-fledged restaurant in Tolcross. Highly recommended.
Back in Buccleuch St, there are two very small tables crammed into the waiting area, supplied with the impossibly thin metal knitting needles that pass for chopsticks in the erstwhile hermit kingdom — be grateful they are always backed up by a spoon. Food comes with complimentary ginseng tea and, while you won't get Ong Gie's table barbecues for your bulgogi beef or the red hot stone bowls for your dolsot bibimbap (a glorious hodgepodge of rice and assorted ingredients topped with a fried egg for you to stir together with fiery red bean paste), the value and the deliciousitude will more than compensate.
It certainly sets Your Spanish-mangler up for una noche de cerveza y sandeces. ¡Salud!.
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EH15 Restaurant at Jewel and Esk College
24 Milton Road East, Edinburgh EH15 2PP
So there I was, sitting in one of the mini-chesterfields at the Scottish Arts Club, having a wee snifter or six with Buffy McSpratwarbler, when this amiable cove joins our number and the conversation turns to the subject of the daily grind, as it often will despite one's best efforts. Turns out said a.c. is a senior panjandrum of some kind at an establishment called Jewel and Esk College, out to the east of Duddingston, that place with the loch of skating vicar fame.
"Well, gosh, golly and blow me down", says I, "I'm only heading for that very location this coming Tuesday! Lived here six bally years, never heard the name so much as whispered and now it's popping up in conversation more often than the sexual peccadiloes of our own dear royal family."
My forthcoming descent upon the place was all down to meeting this absolutely gorgeous and charming young Bulgarian lass who's studying 'hospitality' or some such nonsense. Turns out her project for this year is to shovel bucketloads of said hospitality over willing (and paying) volunteers in the form of delectably prepared produce from Arran and Ayrshire, supported by that worthy institution, the Isle of Arran Distillery, who were even throwing in a generous dram of their own hospitable produce as a digestif. You'll not be surprised to hear that your humble correspondent was only too pleased to assist in the lassie's education. We gentlemen are a dying breed, but someone has to keep the end up.
Naturally the panjandrum chappie was only too keen to sing the praises of his establishment, open to the public and providing some grub of tip-top quality and equally t-t value. In fact it turns out that willing volunteers can subject themselves not just to food but to all sorts of therapies, health and beauty thingies like massages and the like, for minimal cost and with only the slightest risk of being poisoned or crippled for life.
Duly convinced and booked in via their neat little website, I also found that the 44 bus takes me pretty much from the door of the Abode of Stone to the entrance of the college itself. Said eatery is at the top of a modern brown block dubbed 'the club' (round the back in the photo, the big windows being those of the café). It boasts a rather sweet terrace that in the climate of edinburgh may well be a pleasant place to sit on five or six nights of the year, but even in the indoor warmth a large picture window affords pleasant prospects to arthur's seat and the ski-slope of the Pentland Hills out to the west and south, vistas the solitary diner can drink in while doing likewise with a glass from the short but excellent wine list and watching the evening sun go down.
One need hardly say that the students who make up the staff are friendly and eager to please, not having been sufficiently exposed to the awful British Public long enough to become jaundiced or slovenly, not to mention having degrees to aim for. that and the fact that they all seem to be jolly nice chaps and chapesses anyway.
So to my meal. I began with a beautifully presented plate of mussels, with a breaded crustiness far less brittle than my own and far more garlicky, washing it down with a very pleasant Chilean sauvignon blanc. This was followed by a breast of pheasant served on what the menu described as a vegetable rösti and mustard mash. To be honest, the menu also said it was a wood pigeon breast, but, as they explained, a shortage of said plump grey birds had caused them to fall back on pheasant. Being inordinately fond of both avian delights, I was happy to accept their grovelling apologies and even meatier substitute, the libation this time being a pleasantly soft merlot. Soft but less pleasantly so was my piece of broccoli, which I'd have preferred a bit more al dente. Having said that, the dear old pater would probably have called it undercooked, as vegetables at anything firmer than pouring consistency do not go down well with him, so one accepts that tastes do vary.
And very happy I was with both dishes. Both pheasant and mussel are dashed easy coves to get wrong, easily dried out by the slightest overcooking, not unlike your devoted correspondent. And these were moist and delicious (rather, it must be said, unlike said correspondent). To round things off, a piping-hot apple and rhubarb crumble was topped with a quenelle (or, as the more common folk might term it, a dollop) of cream, delightfully infused with ginger, giving a lovely grace note to the sharp fruit undertones or something like that.
A delightful evening indeed.
I'm very tempted to go back soon and try the general fare. There are, so they tell me, regular special events and themes advertised, like everything else these days, out there on the interweb, and the place even functions outside term times. So all I need is the slightest of excuses to hop aboard another fear-and- lothian bus and see what else they can do. I wonder if buffy's free next week?
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6 Torphichen Place, Edinburgh, EH3 8DU
Some of us Thai freaks were saddened by the passing of the Chiang Mai restaurant in Dalry Road a year or so ago. There was always something gloomy and uninviting about the place from outside, which may account for the lack of punters who ventured in, but the food was generally very good and the service very friendly. Your reviewer got to know the owner and staff reasonably well and they were only too pleased to let him practice my thai language — though they seemed to get a bit fed up of being told praysanii yuu tang saay. Maybe they already know where the post office is. Maybe it isn't even 'on the left'. Maybe I should learn more phrases.
Thai is one of my favourite cuisines (and countries) and, even though it led to my discovering the contrasting but equally excellent Passorn Thai and absolute Thai in tolcross, it was a loss not to have somewhere on the doorstep of the Abode of Stone.
So it is with some delight and relief that your humble correspondent is able to tell you that khun Fon has returned to the big city, after her adventures running a Thai in Bathgate, to open a slimmed-down reincarnation of Chiang Mai under the name of Bluerapa Thai, opposite Torpichen cop shop.
(In case you're wondering, Bluerapa is a sort of pun on burapa ~ the Thai word for 'eastern' ~ and reflects the blue lettering of their sign ~ which needs to be noticeable, as this street is mainly used by cars, buses and coppers and is less noted for its passing trade in diners)
Fon has brought the same chef, the very capable Mon, with her, so it's no surprise that the menu is a lot like the old one. Khun Mon is always keen to vary the classics slightly, so the yum salads i'm so fond of will feature unexpected but highly effective pieces of mango or apple. Fon is keen to use fresh ingredients, locally sourced where possible and offer an affordable but interesting dining experience: quite a trick if you can pull it off in a tiny café with no licence. But when it does work, as it undoubtedly has at pho vietnam house just round the corner, it can be a recipe for success.
Mon's curries and some of his more elaborate dishes have usually impressed more than the basic stir-fries 'from the wok', but that could just be a comment on my taste in general. On the inaugural visit the dishes sampled with the sticky rice were the drunken scallops and the beef nam tok (which means 'waterfall', in reference to the tears or sweat it can produce, but simple negotiation will get the chili toned down ~ or even bumped up to isan intensity if you like a challenge). Both were delicious, the steak and scallops tender, the sauce and dressing spicy but flavoursome.
And the pad thai noodles are an excellent snack on the way home from one's Club. Look out for Fon and Mon doing their noodly thang at a street market near you.
This is one more welcome addition to the now fascinating (annoyingly so to a man with no income) area round Haymarket, with great byobs like this and pho adding to the sushi houses of Dalry Road, along with Chop Chop for chinese, khukuri for great nepali grub and a number of curry houses, including the sadly underappreciated Mumbai Mansion, which is a favourite in Edinburgh. but that's another story... some of which is told below.
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248 Morrison St, Edinburgh, EH3 8DT
This has become an Edinburgh institution and I'd like to think myself partly to thank for this, even though their fame was consolidated the minute a certain Mr Ramsay took one bite and declared the dumplings to be 'fucking amazing'. I still can't quite work out why they haven't blazoned this review across the window in place of the rather questionable 'can a billion people be wrong?' (by which logic the world's burger giants would also claim to provide delicious or even edible food to their eagerly malnourished customers). But when I and the love of my life first moved here they were newly opened and usually empty. Fearful that it would close down, and a supply of cheap, different and delicious food, a short stroll from the Abode of Stone, would wither and die, we started telling strangers in the street about it, as well as littering the art college and other such places with their garish yellow and red flyers.
Certainly word of mouth played a part in the success that got them nominated by their fans and onto the telly, leading to regular difficulty in getting a table when dropping in on spec (and I prefer doing such things spontaneously, me) and the opening of a second branch in Leith last year. My only real complaint about this is not that it has taken culinary wizard Jian out of the Haymarket kitchen but that she also took with her Rita, my favourite Lithuanian waitress (later a dumpling maker in her own right), who always greeted me with the most delightful and affectionate hugs I have had in my life — and much as I love my food, I love hugs even more.
It's become so well known, there doesn't seem much for me to say (not that this normally stops me), but it's a bit of a marmite place. I don't mean that it's best spread thinly on toast, but that while most people seem to love it, as any google of reviews will show, a fair few don't take to it at all. Firstly this may be down to the fact it sells slightly more unfamiliar food from Northern China (where wheat, rather than rice, is the staple crop) and does so in the style of a large popular street cafe. I reckon their coming second on The f Word was more down to the poncey Southern diners' expectations of presentation than anything to do with the flavours. And to set it against a cantonese restaurant like Sweet Mandarin (as a strudel in the 70s I ate at their grandmother's restaurant!) is like pitching a Spanish tapas bar against a Polish barszcz and bigos caff.
And it's interesting, given that a few decades ago people were finding Thai food too different and too strong-flavoured (and goodness gracious me was poking fun at the Brits by asking 'what's the blandest thing on the menu?'), that many reviewers call the flavours 'bland'. I'd say subtle. With the exception of chili-mad areas like Szechuan, most Chinese food is about understated combinations of flavours and textures and what Jian can do with dull-sounding mixtures like pork and celery or beef and turnip never ceases to amaze me. Anyway, you can mix as powerful or gentle a dipping sauce as you fancy with the garlic, chili oil, soy and vinegar provided, to lift those flavours to your personal taste.
A dish which encapsulates the whole question is their astounding (to me) fried aubergine and garlic. To some it's over greasy, over garlicky and a bit too squelchy (I like that in a woman) — to me it's delicious and if you don't like it, i'll have yours. But everyone has their own favourites and maybe everyone can find a few dishes they don't like on the extensive menu (but not expensive, unless, like a few reviewers, you come from parts of the world where dumplings are only 20p each — but then so is the daily wage of the average waitress). My bafta-nominated nephew (14) would walk here from solihull (which is odd because he lives in Nottingham) just for twenty large portions of their unbelievable fried chicken wings.
I'm so glad to say I only have to walk from Dalry Road — and that he is rarely here to nick my wings.
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Grassmarket, Edinburgh, EH1 2JU
"Here as I sit at this empty café, thinking of you" as Mr Ferry once sang, "I remember all those moments, lost in wonder, that we'll never find again."
Perhaps fortunately Edinburgh's own little piece of Paris is rarely empty enough for such reveries, but memories lost in wonder it does hold aplenty, at least for your world-weary reviewer.
Back in the day when said w-wr first came to visit Auld Reekie with the love of his life, 'twas the first of many lunch venues, and the delight of eating there may well have contributed to the decision to move here from That London. Sure enough, it became a frequent haunt, especially for lunches, whenever she could (mild sarcasm alert) with difficulty be torn away from her arduous studies (mild sarcasm ended) at the nearby art college.
So now, when your correspondent returns there, it is with a tendency to sit, not to say sojourn, like Keats's knight, alone and faintly loitering, wiping away a nostalgic tear, while tucking into a hearty plate of petit salé aux lentilles and guzzling a glass of the excellent vin de maison. On the other hand there is the compensation that a flatulence-inducing sausage and lentil stew is more appropriate for a guillaume sans-amis than the companion of a celestial nymph in human form. Every cloud ...
And still it stands, in the centre of le marché de l'herbe, and still it is a mainstay of the local scene, for tourists and Edinburghers alike. And, as on the day of writing, it's more a place for convivial dining than solitary pining, more for joie de vivre than mal du pays. I can do that at home.
As in most eateries in Franceland itself, the plats du jour make for a great value lunch. Your reviewer and his companion, the legendary Woodstock Taylor, began the meal with a salad of blue potatoes and smoked sausage which tasted as delicious as it looked odd. Equally delish were both Woody's coley and your reviewer's chicken in blue cheese sauce (no, the blue motif is not intended as a metaphor for any emotional state; it's just a coincidence, ok?), and the portions were heartier than recalled from earlier visits, even before adding the optional but excellent green salad or assiete de légumes. Even the salad dressing is exquisite.
And the ambience, always at least as important as the grub, is unfailingly pleasant here. Charming staff with none of the arrogance for which the french waiter is traditionally (and perhaps unfairly) renowned, and an atmosphere and style that seem to bring out the cordial side of all diners. Even those prone to wistful, Proustian souvenirs du cœur...
Tous ces moments, perdus dans l'enchantement, qui ne reviendront jamais, indeed, Bryan. Jamais it is then.
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22 Valleyfield St, Edinburgh, EH3 9LR
It's a Thursday night in Embra and, as we wander down the mean but busy streets, past eateries expensive and economical, it's hard to believe there's a recession on. No room in Pho, Chop Chop heaving, and some group of revellers has monopolised Quijote. Where are two guys and a heartbroken lass to go for a consoling meal?
The answer, it seems, is Absolute Thai in Tolcross. I've been a couple of times before and there's never anyone else in. And no, I've checked, there's no back entrance for people to run out when they see me coming, which has been known to happen.
It seems weird, this emptiness. They have a website, there are any number of glowing reviews online and in the magazines, and most of all the food is really great. But here we are again, the only diners in the place. Maybe it's just when we call it's quiet, they've been around a while and they must survive somehow. Maybe most of their trade is pre- and post-theatre from the nearby Kings. which means it's a pity said temple of thespia currently has the builders in. But maybe James Corden and co will pop in and try the place while they're in the Goldoni rehash there next week.
Maybe it's the austere interior and backstreet location that offset the reasonable prices that often come with home-style cooking and byob boozery, even though there's now a great place to get interesting tipples in the nearby Provenance Wines. Perhaps it's the pleasant but rather shy lads who act as waiters (the owner's sons I'm told) making some folk feel awkward. or like I said, maybe I just keep calling at quiet times.
But there shouldn't be quiet times in a place as good as this. Even my regret that there was no beef rendang available this time (yes, it's a dish from Indonesialand, but they do a really great one here) was allayed by the fact that this let me discover other less familiar dishes like the excellent duck in black pepper and garlic sauce as well as great starters, maybe the best fishcakes i've had and a really good Thai curry. Preparation and presentation were impeccable and I don't feel guilty that we took full advantage of the appetite loss caused by our companion's crestfallen condition. Hey, we know how she feels:— we gave her hugs, we ate her curry. Fair swap.
Must go back soon. So must you, dear reader. And you, Mr Corden.
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93 St Leonard’s Street, Embra, EH8 9QY
It was a surreal but serendipitous conversation. Chatting, as lonely gits do, to a pretty Filipina encountered on the interweb, your plucky reviewer was rather flummoxed by the simple but direct question, ——what you like do, big boy?
Taking it as a more general question than it perhaps was, and a reference to my waistline to boot, a reply was stammered out expressing an unsurprising fondness for eating.
——Oh, you like Filipino food?
It was necessary to admit that said cuisine was a gap in the otherwise wide-ranging knowledge. A vague memory of lumpia, a form of wrap or spring roll, featuring in the beloved Complete Asian Cookbook (Charmaine Solomon, Windward Books, 1976) was about as far as it went. Malaysian in That London, check; Indonesian in Amsterdam, check; Thai pretty much everywhere, natch. But Filipino, not yet.
——You no have Filipino restaurant in Scottishland?
——You're kidding, lol, was the typed response but some instinct restrained the over-eager digit before pressing send. ——Check interweb first, said a small but grating voice, ——look for Filipino restaurant in Scottishland.
And sure enough, there is one, and only one in the whole People's Republic of Salmondia. and it's here in the Burgh.
So the message was retyped and the response came back
——You go there some time, ok, tell me all about? Now what you want me do? You want me take this off? You want pretty Oriental bride? Time run out. You give me credit card num…
Will the boy never learn? But one thing was learned. On the other side of town from the abode of stone, for the last two years, a small eatery has been building a loyal following among Newington's locals and university strudels alike.
So, on a dreich Embra night, myself and a neighbour finding ourselves damp and hungry in a bar in Stockbridge whose menu was ailing to inspire, decided the obvious thing to do was get over to St Leonard's and check it out. What matter that it's even harder to get there from Hector's than it is from Dalry?
Trying to stuff thoughts of our lack of funds into an oubliette at the back of our minds, we hailed a passing cab.
And were we glad we did. to the roster of recommended rarely-run-across restaurants of Auld Reekie, must now be added the excellent Rice Terraces. a huge photograph of the eponymous Banaue rice terraces dominates one wall of this bijou eatery of but 30 covers, serving, rather like my belovéd Pho, good honest home or street cooking. And, like Jodie Xyzptlk Ngurgle (or something like that) of said Viet establishment or Fon of Bluerapa Thai, it has yet another bubbly owner, one Ida Taylor, another delightful and talented cook who married a Scottish bloke instead of waiting for Yours Truly to come along. Fools.
So what of the food? The menu, as can be seen on their website, is very affordable, as well as being quite varied and extensive for so small a kitchen. So where to begin?
Well, the obvious way into any cuisine like this is to check out the set meals. And at the terraces this means diving into the kamayan selections, seven dishes served with a broad bamboo log full of flavoured rice and traditionally eaten with the fingers (finger bowls and hot wipes replenished throughout the meal). Cutlery will be provided for those who insist on it, but why miss out on the extra fun? The charming waiter, Mrs Taylor's son, gives basic instructions which immediately go in one ear and leave by the other, leaving the diner free to improvise as messily as desired.
On this occasion the meat set was chosen, and delicious it was. Your reviewer is keen to go again, with a companion who is fonder of seafood than his first co-conspirator. and then again and again, with anyone else who wants to try it out and can put up with his company (and logorrhoea).
Filipino food is not spicy like some other cuisines from that part of the world. Rice terraces describe it as the original fusion food, being influenced by successive occupiers, most recently Spanish and American. Indeed, to an old Spainland-hand, some of the dishes have recognisable names like calamare, mechado and turon, even if the actual receta has taken on a new style.
So expect recognisable soups and stews, but with the subtle and elusive flavours of a distinct blend of herbs and spices, like shrimp sauce, tamarind, salted bean curd and the orange, paprika-like annatto seed (aka achuete). Also expect friendly service and a selection of rums, tequilas and San Miguel beers. not a lot of people know that San Mig was originally brewed in the Philippines, and at Rice Terraces you can sample the refreshingly light original pilsner and even the headier and delicious Red Horse, all of which go very well with the food.
Whenever the feet get itchy enough to wander away from the West End's well-worn tracks, or when anybody says the magic words, ——let's go do some kamayan seafood, big boy, I'll be back.
(And all that stuff about the online lass was made up, more or less, just in case you were inclined to believe it! Someone else's perfectly innocent conversation with a Filipina living over here led to the online discovery. But, though the truth should never be allowed to get in the way of a fun story, it's equally important that the tendency of some folk to take everything seriously should not be allowed to get smartarse food writers into hot water.)
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West End Pearls
I can't relate to the assiduous blogger, me. Nor the conscientious dieter!
It is far from commendable to eat out far more often than one's bank balance says one should, and yet to write about it far less often than one's Twitter heading seems to promise. And in the eternity since found myself a Wullie-no-mates in EH11, the number of interesting, affordable and more-or-less fattening eateries has grown steadily.
Businesses come and go, of course; the joy shared, when arriving here with la ninfa celestial, on finding the newly-opened Chop Chop (see above) was tempered by the disappointment when our even-handier wee tapas bar, Rincon de España, mordió el polvo (bit the dust), within a month.
Over the years your correspondent has seen some very nice places go the way of all fleshmongers: the Sizzling Scot’s affordable steaks and hearty burgers, the Good Seed’s interesting Italian dishes and slow-cooked bavettes. The loss of Partenope’s interesting Italian surf’n’turf menu has at least been alleviated by the opening of Mia, of which moa, sorry more later.
But come with old Dai Lowe, and leave the Lot.
Of steakery and tapas bar forgot:
Let Wishart lay his tables as he will,
Or Kitchin fry fish supper — heed them not.
Let us begin and end our perambulations at the newest venues in the vicinity of Haymarket Station and environs, the Szechuan Kitchen and Tugas Amor. After a coffee and cake, that is, in Jacob’s patisserie...
Not so very long ago, Jacob Philip had a tiny bakery in downtown Gorgie, which quickly gained a big reputation and a cult following for incredibly good value cakes and pastries that would have the Berries and the Hollywoods bowing deferentially. The cakes are still baked on those modest premises, but they can now be enjoyed in comfort and with great coffee, in the spacious café opposite Haymarket’s busy tram, bus and train interchange. And those poor souls stuck in the East end of town can now enjoy the same goodies on South Bridge.
Right; time for a Chinese. The long-established China Star, on West Maitland Street, a rather old-fashioned Cantonese eatery, has now opened a sister branch, Szechuan Kitchen, serving food from the South West, where they like it spicy and they like it sweet. It seems an odd thing to moan about, especially for a gutbucket like Yrs Trly, but the portions needn't be so big. Perhaps it's geared to a Scottish clientèle from days gone by, when each ordered his or her own food, and expected one dish to make a whole and substantial meal, after the manner of mince and tatties or a fish supper. But sophisticated, modern diners, like your cultured correspondent, prefer to have a selection of tastes and textures on the table, even when dining (as is the norm for some of us, sob) alone.
Nonetheless, the Szechuan duck was tender and tangy, though the rice had been left in its water a few minutes too many. But another visit is on the cards … if time and all the alternatives permit.
Let us now head back to the Haymarket junction and turn right on to the A70 itself, pausing only to remind ourselves that up Morrison Street we can still go to Bluerapa Thai and Pho Vietnam House. And also, earning a few plaudits already, the Atelier, a new, bijou fine dinery, which may feature in these pages in the event of a rush of blood (or money) to the head. But back to the main drag …
… and here, on our left, is an old favourite, Sushiya. No, not Hay Sushi, keep going. I have nothing against Hay Sushi, larger and maybe slightly cheaper than its more established neighbour, but, if you knew sushi like I know sushi (you knew that was coming, didn't you?), you wouldn't be too surprised that the older venue is the one that's always busy. Your reviewer was spoilt in London, being introduced by la japonesa to some fine places like Café Japan in Golders Green, and has yet to find an Edinburgh establishment of quite that authenticity or standard (or value for money), though the search is mostly an enjoyable one and Sushiya will definitely keep the cravings at bay. Good ramen and tempura too.
Further down the road, a much newer addition, very popular with the growing Chinese community, is Xiangbala Hotpot. When the Lucidity gutbuckets first arrived in Scotland, Chop Chop was trying to cope with a Scottish reluctance to embrace anything more unfamiliar (or authentic) than chicken chop suey and rice; now this purveyor of the hotpots formerly known as Mongolian, seems to have been the first a goodly few. For a set fee per person, your party is presented with a heated pot of steaming broth and a huge platter of uncooked meat, seafood and/or vegetables, plus noodles and a dipping sauce of your choice. The pieces of meat or seafood are then simmered in the pot until cooked to taste, dipped in sauce and eaten, the broth being enriched to a flavoursome soup as the meal progresses. A very convivial meal for a party to enjoy, but perhaps not ideal for the Wullie-nae-mates among us. Some (particularly those of us approaching a certain age from one side or the other) might find the sheer quantity overwhelming or the blending of flavours tending towards monotony, but for the hearty appetite and the popular diner, it makes a pleasant change, and though it is often heaving with Asian students, it has no shortage of fans of more local origin.
Still sampling food from what we call the Far East (or the Even Farther West, if you continue in the direction we're actually travelling), we come to the newest Oriental eatery on the drag, Feast. A more traditional Cantonese diner, it scores by doing the authentic old stuff really well. But it also has a dim sum menu, geared again to the influx of students and business folk from Southern China, and containing such home favourites as congee (rice porridge) and chicken claws. Go on; don't be a wuss, try something different today. The charming lasses who run and probably own the place will gladly guide the nervous diner.
But now ... Go West, young man! Or rather, aller vers l'ouest, jeune homme! For across the road from old Hong Kong, you could find yourself in the French Caribbean. Or maybe Provence. For whatever reason, the place to be (armed with your own bottles of booze) is called riveRLife.
Yes, your hostess, the delightful Buuuumba Mweetwa hails from Zambia in central Africa, which might add to the confusion, until you know that her man, chef Mario Caneval is from Guadalupe and has manned the stoves in luxury hotels from Paris to Gleneagles. So his influences and preferences are a combination of French Caribbean and Provençal French.
Beautifully presented rack of lamb with dauphinoise potatoes and ratatouille, share the menu with fiery jerk chicken and rice and peas. And if you're looking for a great night out, you really should try one of their West Indian buffet evenings, usually the first Sunday of the month (and now, every Wednesday evening too). Dominique, their resident muso, will serenade you with the music of Bob Marley and others, aided and abetted by special guests from all walks of music and all nations, notably an African women's choir, while whole families enjoy the fun atmosphere and the great range of dishes, from the stewed oxtail and that spicy chicken, to the fish simmered in coconut and coriander. Lovely people, great atmosphere, divine food; what more need one say?
Another thing your correspondent does most Sunday afternoons, dear reader, is toddle down the side street called West Park Place to a warren of artists' studios, for a life drawing session. This takes him between two premises which have served his corpulence well down the years. To the left has stood (and fallen), the wonderful Dolce e Salato, Italian caff; a rather good but short-lived Indian restaurant, where the manager's accent varied according to whether he was talking to his Indian chef, a local diner (he'd been running his father's Glasgow establishment for many years), or a bluff Northerner like meself (he was born in Bradford); and, latterly, the Good Seed Bistro, which did some really good stuff in both its incarnations, but failed to catch on sufficiently to survive in the precarious world of modern business. And to the right, La Partenope, where we first ate to celebrate our move here, in that happier time, sob, sob, under the auspices of the great Rosario Sartore, who abandoned us for the Broughton area some time ago.
But Partenope is dead, long live Mia. Another Italian has risen from the ashes (no ashes were involved and this site does not condone arson as a form of business development). At first sight, a more cheap and cheerful version (well, let's say 'affordable'; either way, 'cheerful' definitely applies) and after one visit, your friendly neighbourhood reviewer might well have left it off his list of regulars. The service was good, but the pizza was little more than ok. A toss of a coin on the way home (a common ritual for the indecisive but peckish) changed everything. Fancying a quick pasta dish meant the seafood linguine was selected without the need for further aleatoric devices. And how good that it was. The plate overflowed with marine delights, huge prawns, clams and, sharing every mussel shell with its original inhabitant, the tentacles of a tiny squid (what in Andalucia would be called a puntillita).
Beautifully prepared and presented, accompanied with a mixed salad and washed down with a large glass of verdicchio, it guaranteed a return to check out more of the varied bill of fare — or just another plate of linguine ai frutti di mare. They pride themselves on being child-friendly, a fact this old curmudgeon will try not to hold against them, but which may mean you'd prefer to go when most of the little monsters are tucked up in their beds.
At this point on the bustling thoroughfare, we should take a small detour, but not without mentioning one of the two 'offices' in which the staff of Lucidity Ltd (all one of them) spend the day, trying to summon up the energy and will to do something vaguely productive. The original Clock Café still does a bustling trade in Morningside, opposite (well…sort of) the eponymous clock tower; but Murat Aksakalli is not a man to rest on laurels, and has repeated the formula (and the name) in Dalry Road and now on the Shore in Leith. A simple set-up, a cut or two above yer greasy spoons (much as I love a good greasy spoon), with hearty and extremely affordable food, and efficient and friendly staff. Add free wifi and a cast of eccentric regulars, who can make even your correspondent feel normal, and you have a combination of comfort and distraction that's hard to beat.
But today we are going a little further, risking life and limb in the Telfer Underpass, to a strange and easily overlooked stretch of Fountainbridge, at the point where Dundee Terrace branches off Dundee Street and Victor Paris sells bathrooms. Sadly, the Curry Café came and went before I could sing its praises, but in its place has opened something far more unusual for Scotland, Tugas Amor, a charming Portuguese diner, with an interesting and varying menu and, for those that like that sort of thing, live music of the strumming and singing variety, with Lusitanian and Brazilian sabores.
There's one dish here which your lardarsed correspondent would not revisit too often; the francesinha ('Little Frenchie' because it was an attempt to adapt the croque-monsieur to local tastes!?) is basically a sandwich which originated in Porto. But what a sandwich: a slice of bread topped with a piece of steak, then smoked and fresh sausages, then cheese, then ham, then, atop the next slice of bread, a melted cheese and a fried egg. Over this is poured a hot sauce made with beer and tomatoes; and to make sure you don't go hungry, it's all accompanied with a huge bowl of chips. I worry that the Scots will adopt this dish, but only after deciding it needs to be dipped in batter and fried before serving. It's certainly a cholesterol delivery system fit to rival the deep-fried mars bar supper. But, glad to say, science has finally worked out that it is sugar content, not fats, that set us up for the cardiac slaughter, so you can eat this with a clear conscience. You still won't be able to move for a week though. Your reviewer can't wait to go back, bearing a bottle of finest Duoro or vinho verde, and have some of the more subtle and flavoursome dishes. The swines kept posting amazing pictures on facebook, like the seafood dish above, which could not be resisted for much longer, try as one might.
So back went Wullie-nae-mates and had the tenderest, tastily-grilledest piripiri halfhalf chickenchicken he's ever eaten. It does the heart good (even if the chips don't) to know that the big chains like Nando's are as inferior gastronomically as they are objectionable culturally and economically — and no cheaper either.
And a nata (Portugal's improvement on the custard tart) was compulsory for pudding, with a small but strong pingado coffee, ie an espresso with a plasticene tv penguin dissolved in it (or maybe a dash of milk, like the Italian macchiato). Having sampled the pastéis de nata in the original shop, Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém (pictured on Tugas' wall), your correspondent can state that this was almost as good, only marred by the fact that the view of a Fountainbridge bathroom shop cannot compete with one of the mighty river Tagus and the historic Belem Tower ..
This gutbucket has often claimed to benefit from a form of gastronomic serendipity. Drop him in any city and give him five or ten minutes without hassle, and he will usually zero in instinctively on some delightful eatery. Heading for somewhere, only to find it closed or to realise one has come to the wrong side of the wrong town altogether, need not cause concern, for this happy knack will simply treat it as an opportunity to find something new. So arriving at Tugas Amor a week before it opened, thanks to a cock-up on the timing front, led to the discovery of a charming little place just along the terrace, called Piatto Verde, tempered (because every silver lining has a cloud) with the surprise that it has not been found before, seeing that it had been there six years when the Great Move North took place.
So many restaurants, so little cash!
There is now a feeling of hunger, but also a slight pang of guilt that there isn't time, space, money or appetite to try, much less write about all the other snackeries of EH11.
We must squeeze in a mention for B&D's Kitchen, so far down Dalry Road it's almost in darkest Gorgie. Most pedestrians, like the busy traffic, rush by, heading to or from the bright lights and shops of the city, and risk not even noticing this 'hidden gem', which is everything its website promises. Charming hosts and some interesting variations on the familiar Cantonese menu, like slow-braised Hakka dishes and hot sand roasts, make it a mistake to follow Dionne Warwick's advice to 'walk on by'. Well, what does Burt Bacharach know about good eating, huh? Follow the link, check out the menu: read it and drool.
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63 Neal Street, That London, WC2H 9PJ
The times they are an-improvin'. After years of moaning about UK 'tapas' bars not serving tapa-sized portions, your reviewer suddenly finds two such places, albeit 400 miles apart, in the space of six months. What's a solitary billy-no-mates to whinge about? Don't worry, there'll always be something.
To my little corner of Andalucia in Auld Reekie, we can now add Pix Pintxos, where the cool bars of Bilbao spill into the West End of That London.
Basque pintxos (or pinchos in Castillian) are 'thorns' or 'spikes', and also a type of tapas, like the montaditos of Madrid, in which a beguiling array of ingredients are tastefully arranged on long oblique slices of baguette. The pintxo is also the long designer toothpick which serves the double purpose of holding the ingredients on the bread and, in this bar, showing how much you've had when it's time to ask for the faktura (la quenta). Te pricier the snack, the longer the stick, so a swiss army knife and whittling skills come in really handy (only kidding, guys).
The bar is covered with large plates of these delightful snackeroos, but so sparingly stocked that one has no doubts about their freshness. The diner is handed a plate onto which as many or as few of the tempting tidbits can be transferred — and of course, offered a drink. as a brunchtime treat, your indefatigably dedicated reviewer managed to limit himself to two, though it was a struggle to resist the assorted constructions in ham, cheese and aubergine. A wedge of beautifully moist tortilla de patatas (or whatever that is in Basque) accompanied a sort of mini all-day breakfast pintxo, slices of serrano ham topped with a lightly fried quail's egg. And all was washed down with a glass of one of the finest manzanilla sherries he has ever tasted.
It would be unreasonable to moan that one still can't find Spanish tapas at Spanish prices, of course. One can and does moan about the british rating and tax system that makes life so hard for small businesses and costly for their customers, but that's not a subject for this page. So your reviewer will say that in such a charming bar in the middle of Covent Garden, with such lovely (British) staff, a tenner for those three items was a tenner very well spent.
This writer also has his inbuilt preference for the small trader and dislike for the chains, while realising that almost every small coffee shop proprietor would jump at the chance of Mr Fastbucks' millions. Pix already has a branch in Notting Hill and is about to open a third in Soho. Something this good and, for British soil, innovative, deserves to do well, but it is to be hoped they never become a corporate entity and lose their personal feel.
Or, if they must, the sooner they open an Edinburgh branch, the better. I'll happily manage it ...
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da Spago, 6 Glendower Place, That London, SW7 3DP
"How the fuck", asked my hostess and friend, a veggie weirdo artist but none the worse for that, "do places like Pizza Express, let alone Pizza Hut, do such a roaring trade in this city when you can get real pizza like this for hardly any more cash?!"
And that is indeed a question that has troubled your indefatigable correspondent, dearest slobbering reader. On this all-too-brief visit to That London, time was found to renew acquaintance with two favourite Italian haunts.
Back in the day when said correspondent had a life and even a job, he would frequent and even paint a wonderful tapas bar in Pudding Lane, appropriately named Fuego. Sadly, my old mate, the then manager and later owner, had a rush of egotism to the head and renamed it Franco's but it remained still worth a visit. Until it closed for good. However, the current relevance is the diminutive camerera with the long hair standing with her back to the viewer (the artist himself features behind the till in a position he occupied so often that it goes a long way to explaining the banking crisis, let alone his current joblessness). Her name is Mercedes and despite being a lass from Northern Spainland, she went from there to manage the excellent Sapori in Drury Lane. Even when not there, her bubbly personality seemed to inspire all her charming staff and the food was always excellent in value and flavour.
At the very time when pundits were starting to comment on the fact that Italian restaurants were stuck in a stodgy 50s time bubble, Sapori and a few others (like the nearby Bertorelli's) were starting to present a lighter and more colourful version of traditional cucina. Not only were the pizzas crisp and deliciously topped but the pasta was imaginative and the main dishes gloriously varied.
So it is very sad for a gastro-gnome like your humble correspondent to see any much-loved eatery bite the proverbial dust. Sad to say, a fellow aficionado of this wonderful institution has written to say that it is there no more and to ask if further information was available as to (one hopes) a reincarnation elsewhere in That London?
Sadly, dear readers, the answer is no. The news came like a bolt from the blue, a week of mourning has been observed with black risottos and bitter chocolate, but no information is available from the frozen North. If anyone can shed any light, especially with the torch of hope, on the full story, it will be very welcome. now, brothers and sisters, let us bow our heads and observe a minute's silence, before going on to read about the hopefully still trading Spago...
At a similar time in the dim-and-distant, your reviewer was a regular visitor to the Henry Wood Promenade concerts at Kensington's Royal Albert Hall. and though the default post-gig eatery was the sadly-missed and gut-busting Daquise, haunt of expat Poles galore, the traditional meal for the penultimate night was da Spago, the very scene of my young friend's pizza-related outburst.
In quite a cool part of the city, this place manages to be both cool and cosy, with a family-run buzz about it that always puts the diner in a good mood. It was (but sadly no longer seems to be) the home of the greatest spaghetti al cartoccio, seafood and pasta cooked with tomatoes in a sealed wrapper of foil, which gave off the most delicious aroma when torn open. No matter, the other pasta dishes are still excellent and vongole made a fine substitute.
But the pizzas are the stars now, perhaps moreso because what was once a huge downstairs dining overflow area has now been cut in half by a huge, fuck-off, wood-burning pizza oven, churning out prime examples of Neapolitan art.
So pizza-lovers of the world unite — you have nothing to lose but your chains!
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