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Saturday, 9 October 2010

A Towering Disappointment

Let’s get this straight, I know that I’m lucky to eat out as often as I do and as well as I do; even luckier when we remember that I’m often a guest of a very generous father-in-law. Has this led to my developing a jaded palate or unreasonable expectations? I don’t think so – a cheap lobster & frites lunch at Chez Jules has been one of my best meals of the year, but I do get angry when restaurants take the piss; a case in point – The Tower, Edinburgh.


In case you don’t know, the Tower sits atop the National Museum of Scotland, it was opened as a sister restaurant to James Thomson’s Witchery (don’t get me started on the Witchery) and has always been styled as the more modern, cosmopolitan of the 2. It’s also been pretty reliable, expensive yes but quality food and service in exchange.

Something’s happened, and not for the better.

Recently, I was steered towards a starter of hand dived scallops with crispy pork belly and a yellow pea sauce. If I was the diver who’s gone down to harvest the scallops I’d have been furious at how they were treated, poorly cooked, served with a slick of dhal which was inferior to that of a bad Indian take-away and accompanied by something which may or may not have been pork scratching. Urgh. This cost £15.00. For a starter. The other starters were equally unimpressive.

Mains? I had guinea fowl which was catastrophically under-seasoned and served with bullet-hard pearl barley; father-in-law takes his steak medium well so no test of skill there but the accompanying béarnaise was poor with little flavour and the “thick cut chips” looked more like some roast potatoes I spotted in a kebab shop late one night.

The worst crime against customers however was the “rack of lamb” which my wife and mother-in-law both chose; if you buy a rack of lamb in, say, Tesco, you’ll get a piece of meat with 7 or 8 ribs for the princely sum of about £7, if you buy the Tower’s rack of lamb, you pay £24 for two very meagre chops, some braised shoulder the size of a £2 coin and some indifferent veg. I reckon the food cost was about £3.50 on that plate so they’re making some lovely margins.

The cheese was fridge-cold (and unidentified, the waitress didn’t even know what they were), the wine list holds little for those looking to spend less than £50 a bottle and our table was tucked in a corner which would have been better housing the hoover.

What really galls is the prices they have the audacity to charge, if you’re going to price your dishes along with those of Restaurant Martin Wishart or The Kitchin then they damn well better deliver on quality. The Tower didn’t.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Pimp my Beef

I was in Tesco recently and noticed that a “beef roasting joint” was on special offer for £8, not £8 per kilo but the (unspecified) joint was £8 in total; I think it was silverside and was about 1.8 kilos. For £8.

This triggered a bit of a challenge, I wouldn’t normally buy it, and certainly not roast it but was there anything I could do to funk it up? Well, yes – this:

  • 2 big cloves of garlic
  • 1 tsp cumin seed (or 2 if you like)
  • 1 unwaxed orange, zested and juiced (in that order)
  • Fresh or dried chilli to taste
  • Salt & Pepper

Roughly chop the garlic and chuck it into a mortar, if you don’t have one then you’re reading the wrong blog. Smash it up with the cumin, some salt (not too much though) and a big lot of pepper before adding the chilli, grind it again. We’re making a paste here so don’t worry about it being too dry.

Add the orange zest and grind for the last time, once you have the paste, add the orange juice and mix well, add a little rapeseed oil if it looks too dry (but remember this is a paste, not a marinade).

Score the beef all over with a sharp knife, not too deep – a couple of millimetres at most, and place in a foodbag; pour the marinade in and leave to soak for a minimum of 8 and a maximum of 24 hours in the fridge.

And then? For best results barbecue for 7 to 10 minutes on each side and then close the BBQ lid and roast for 30/40 minutes depending on the size of the joint or griddle/sear in a pan for a similar time before chucking in a 160 degree oven for 40 minutes – though increase that if have a big joint or you like wrecking your beef by serving it anyway other than rare

Rest for a minimum of 15 minutes and serve with a roasted veg cous cous (surely you don’t need a recipe for that, email if so) and a roasted tomato and red pepper salsa to enjoy...

Review - The Vinter's Rooms

The Vintner’s Rooms have been an Edinburgh institution since 1985, sitting in a stunning building underneath the Malt Whisky Society and pre-dating the Leith culinary renaissance and Restaurant Martin Wishart.


Recently Silvio Praino has bought into the business, bringing a wealth of wine expertise and arguably the best host in Edinburgh to the party. The website describes the food as “Mediterranean Cuisine” and I wonder if Silvio has brought any Italian influence to bear in the kitchen as well..

And so, to the food – Silvio suggested we place ourselves in his hands (I’m not sure if this was standard practice, our companions know Silvio). Hmm, just counted the owner’s name 4 times in 3 sentences, perhaps time to stop using it.

We kicked off with a Parsnip Velouté topped with a brunoise of veg; I do like veloutés but parsnip was a poor choice – it gave a grainy texture and not much to tantalise the palate. It was a bit under seasoned too.

Then came our starter of Sea Trout, served just seared so mostly rare and sauced with a reduced soy dressing, the tout was ordinary and the dressing needed to be reduced more and then spiked with caster sugar and lime juice (or ponzu if you really want to be authentic).

What followed was tortellini of braised green lentils with sautéed wild mushrooms on the side, an entirely misconceived dish – both lentils and pasta need some moisture to accompany them and this sauce-less offering was bland to the extreme. The mushrooms were lovely however, if only the tortellini had been stuffed with them and served with a generous slick of wine/butter sauce (stick some lentils in that if you really want).

Then the ladies were served Monkfish (not too well received) and the gents Veal; the veal was well sourced and cooked (though would have benefitted from a sprinkling of salt) and was sauced well but was accompanied by a bizarre concoction of pommes savoyarde (I think) served in a pie casing. Far too dry and ruined the tatties.

By now the ladies passed on desert and the gents enjoyed the cheese; this was by far the best course – well chosen manchego, pecorino (with chilli) and a great blue whose name I forget. Lovely, and the wines Silvio chose were perfect compliments.

Talking of the wine, Silvio chose a cracking Chilean Tarrango and an amazing Montepulciano (far better a MonteP’ than we’re used to); great choices from an amazing list.

So, conclusions? A crashing disappointment. Remember we were there on “friend” prices, we were charged only £10 per head for the first two courses, but we were also charged £28 each for the main – that’s more than Martin Wishart charges for some of his dishes and this certainly isn’t anywhere near his Michelin starred standard. This review feels a bit wrong, we were there as guests of friends of the owner yet we still felt overcharged for what we had.

I want to say nice things about the Vintners Rooms, Silvio is a lovely chap and great host and the building is stunning (the wine and whisky lists are beyond amazing with some real treasures for those who ask – and can pay – for them); but the food is just pants. Really, I can do better for a dinner party and as there was only 1 other table in the restaurant, I know I’ve cooked better and for more.

Sad really; we so wanted to like this and I’d love to help Silvio. Perhaps I could recommend a good Chef... Here’s a thought, isn’t Sean Kelly looking for a new role? Employ him and I’ll be there every other week.

Chez Roux at Greywalls

So, I’d been looking forward to visiting the new restaurant at Greywalls Hotel in Gullane, East Lothian, since it was announced a few months ago that it was going to be run by Albert Roux under his “Chez Roux” operation; I’d never been fully sold on Greywalls as a dining venue, it’s a truly stunning building but I’d always found both the food and service were just too dated to be enjoyable.


So the arrival of Albert could only help improve things, yes? Well, yes and no.

To start with the food was pretty good for the price - £245 or so for 4 of us, and that included £120 of wine and an automatic 10% service charge (I don’t like these but at least it’s not the more usual 12.5%) so we’re coming out at roughly £25 per head – that’s less than a main course elsewhere.

We kicked off with Crab Tian, Pike Quenelle and Pea Velouté with a Poached Egg; the Crab was pronounced “sublime” and from the little I got to try, it certainly was pretty nice, the Pike was nice but the recipient looked jealously at the Crab and the Velouté had good, clean flavours which could only have benefited from more confident seasoning.

Next along was Seabass for the ladies and Guinea Fowl for the gents, both cracking and certainly no seasoning issues.

And then we finished with the Omelette Rothschild and Crème Brulée; I have to admit that I wasn’t taken with the famed omelette, nothing wrong with the execution but the sweet, soft, egg-white texture just isn’t to my palate. The Crème Brulée was quickly demolished so must have been good.

So if the food was good, why isn’t this an improvement? It’s taken me a while to puzzle this one out, but I’ve concluded it was a mismatch between the styles of food and service; the food is really well executed bistro grub (and priced accordingly) but the service is stiltedly formal – the Velouté arrived in a copper pan and was poured over the egg and broad beans in the soup plate by a waiter (nice touch in a high-end joint but the effect’s lost slightly when the waiter splashes it over the rim). The staff are dressed in a throwback to the ‘80’s and the other diners are dolled up to the nines, suitable for Le Gavroche perhaps but a bistro? All in it made for a slightly uncomfortable atmosphere.

So I guess Dr Ross prescribes a more relaxed attitude, and perhaps a few more lower priced wines on the list; but will I go back? Certainly – it’s on my doorstep, cheaper than Ducks at Kilspindie and far better.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Ross's Party Lamb

Let’s skip the preamble in which I wax lyrical about some boyhood reminiscence or other inspiration and cut to the chase; of late I’ve been quite inspired by North African flavourings and also entertaining a lot and this is the (easy) way I’ve been doing it:


Barbecued Moslem Spiked Lamb with Roasted Veg Cous Cous – Serves 10

• 1 Big Leg of Lamb, butterflied (get the butcher to do it)

• 4 Garlic Cloves

• 1 Lemon

• 1 Preserved Lemon

• 3 Tablespoons Cumin Seeds

• 1 Onion (red or sweet white)

1 week before the party; smash the garlic with the flat of a knife, toast the cumin seed and chop the preserved lemon, put it all in a mortar with a healthy pinch of salt and smash it about into a rough paste. Grate the onion and add it with some peppercorns, oil and a bit of tomato paste to the mortar before grinding it all together some more, add the juice of the lemon and mix through.

Take a sharp knife and lightly score (in a hatched fashion) the lamb on both sides and then put the lamb into a large freezer bag. Tip the marinade in, seal the bag and massage it like a drunken teenager attempting foreplay.

Let the meat marinade for a few hours before popping into the freezer.

36 Hours before the party; take the meat from the freezer and let defrost in the fridge. The freezing is only for convenience and can be omitted as long as the lamb gets a 24 hour marinade.

The day before the party; finely chop/cube/dice:

• Red onions

• Assorted peppers

• Courgette and Aubergine

Toss in oil and roast for half an hour then pop in the fridge.

The day of the party; take a good handful of fresh Mint, Oregano and Chives and chop well, stir into some Greek yoghurt along with some garlic paste, add a pinch of sugar and salt and mix well – check for seasoning, perhaps some white pepper or some more salt, but not too much sugar.

You might also want to spoon some harissa (to taste) into some more Greek Yoghurt to make an alternative, spicy sauce.

Make a pile of cous cous and when drained work through a healthy knob of butter and the roasted veg – ideally so it’s still warm for service.

So now, barbecue the lamb, keep an eye on it so it doesn’t char too much – spray down any flare ups and turn often so it doesn’t burn, it’ll probably take 30 minutes. If you have a lid on the barbecue you might want to build the coals at one side and initially char it there before moving the lamb to the other side and covering it to let it roast through.

Now carve the lamb for your guests and let them help themselves to the cous cous, the yoghurt sauces and a green salad (bought mixed from any supermarket).

It’s easy for the cook, tastes great and looks really impressive. But mainly it tastes great, according to 3 of my cousins and 2 of their children it was the best lamb they’d ever had.

Well, except for Heather (aged 6) who didn’t like the charred bits. Little critic. Still, Uncle Ross doesn’t mind, and he certainly will have forgotten by Christmas. Probably.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Pork Chop Night

I grew up in the 80’s, a kid of 2 working parents and consequently a lot of indifferent, frozen food featured heavily in my upbringing. Not everything was frozen though, on Pork Chop night things were freshly cooked, the chop dipped in egg-wash, then bright orange Ruskoline breadcrumbs and shallow fried, served with apple sauce from a jar, tinned peas and bland boiled potatoes. I’m shuddering at the memory even now; given all the wonderful things you can do with pork, I can’t understand why anyone would’ve chosen that.


So, now I’m a parent I’m avoiding the horrors of my youth and instead doing pork chop night thus:

Pork chops, thick cut and preferably from a rare breed like Saddleback or Old Spot – 1 per person, I get mine from Ballencreiff pigs or the Gosford Bothy .

Floury potatoes

½ an apple per person

½ red onion per person

So stick the oven on to 180° and a griddle pan on to a high heat, score the fat on the chop (this stops it twisting the meat when it shrinks) oil the chops well with something like groundnut or rapeseed oil and season well (seriously, pork loves salt).

Cut the apple into 1cm dice and toss in a little oil then stick on a tray in the now hot oven.

Dice the potato and boil in well salted water and then wait a few minutes.

Grill the chops for a couple of minutes and then turn 90° in the griddle pan and grill for another couple of minutes to give you a nice cross hatched pattern, turn over to cook the other side.

While that’s cooking, dice the red onion.

The potato should be cooked, drain it and let it steam dry in a colander, take the pork out of the griddle and put in the oven, beside the apple.

In the pan you cooked the potato, dump a lot of butter and start softening the onion, after a few minutes add the apple and cook gently to let the flavours infuse – you should have a lot of melted butter in the pan at this point, if not then add more butter.

Now would be a good time to check the pork (probably 12 minutes or so since it went into the oven), press it to see how it yields – it should be tender but not too spongy, if you’re happy with it then remove from oven and leave to rest, if not back into the oven...

So, once the pork is out and resting, return the potato to the pan with the apple and onion and stir well to mix and work the melted butter in, it’ll break up a bit but that’s not a problem. Check for seasoning.

Now, serve a big spoonful of the potato with the chop and whatever steamed green veg you have to hand (seems to go very well with broccoli) to some happy campers.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Could be fun...

So, following some furious Twitter action this morning, plans are being hatched for an Edinburgh Foodie's Tweetup (for those that don't speak Geek, it's a meeting organised over social media) sometime in September.

We're going to be working on details soon but already there's a Whisky tasting mooted and I might even have heard someone mention a charity supperclub at some point in the future.

Stay posted for details and get in touch if you'd like to be involved.

Meat Free Monday

So, according to the Meat Free Monday campaign, we should all abstain from eating meat on Mondays to help save the planet by cutting down on, ahem, harmful emissions from the raising and production of livestock.

Fair enough and nice in principle but frankly, they’re missing a trick a bit.

Now, I’m not adverse to the odd bit of vegetarianism as this previous post attests but Meat Free Monday is crazy, and against the natural order of things; life should go thus: on Sunday you have a roast and then on Monday you use the left-over meat in a shepherd’s pie, risotto, fajitas, it’s a long list.

This is the way things have been done by thrifty ancestors for years, getting at least 2 meals out of a cut (or bird) and if you have enough bones a stock as well (and you can use left over veggies in the stock too).

So wouldn’t it be more sensible having meat free Tuesday? By my calculations, that gives you at least 2 days where you’re not using any fresh animal protein – and surely that’s better than 1.

Right, enough advocacy of vegetables, I’m off for a burger.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

The Wonders of Google Analytics

So, readers. It turns out that I have some. Wow.

When I installed Google Analytics, I really didn’t expect to find that anyone read this but seemingly quite a few people do – kinda regularly as well – and I post with terrible infrequency; I have no idea who you all are, especially those of you in America, Sweden, Japan and Australia, but thanks for reading.

Seriously, I’m touched by your interest. Please leave a comment or email me (itinerantappetite@googlemail.com ) to let me know if there’s anything you’d like from this blog, more recipes, more reviews or more general rambling?

I’m also really glad to hear from Sean Kelly, ex-head chef of Abstract in Edinburgh and, in my view, a serious talent; Sean’s one of the guys I would love to have heading up the kitchen if I ever manage to get enough cash together to open my dreamt of Restaurant with Rooms in East Lothian.

Now, while we’re talking of readers, I’ve heard a rumour that some doctors forum has been debating my review of Ducks at Kilspindie; once again I’m glad you’ve got an interest in my hobby-blog-type-thing but please do remember that this blog is a hobby. I’ve got a real job, two brilliant but exhausting kids and when I go out for a meal I pay for it and want to enjoy it; it doesn’t matter if someone’s father was a respected GP – if you work in hospitality and then take my money, I’d like to be fed reasonably and served pleasantly. Not too much to ask, you’d think.

That’s all for now but I have a backlog of meals and recipes to write up which I’ll do as soon as work, kids and wife allow so expect more soon.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Duck’s Round 2 (or “a lesson in customer service”)

So, following my post on my experience at Ducks at Kilspindie, I received the following email from Malcolm Duck, Owner of Ducks at Kilspindie, Experienced Restaurateur and Chairman (for what seems like donkeys) of the Edinburgh Restaurateurs Association.

Mr Boyce,

I was absolutely aware of you last night while you were dining even though I was in Dublin. Here at Ducks we take what we do very seriously and the team has a great deal of pride in their work. Whilst you blog for fun we work for a living.

I take all comments, good and bad seriously and try to learn from them, we give every guest the chance to leave comments on the dockets which come with the bill. I read them this morning and as usual they made very pleasant reading.

I note your comments and I have discussed them with my staff. We will learn and move on. I will also take onboard the views of my wife who was there on the evening.

As you have made comments and published them about my business I will give you some constructive feedback which I hope you will also have the good grace to publish.

If you write and wish to be taken seriously, do your homework. The chefs at the bar had nothing to do with Ducks so your comments are wildly inaccurate and misleading, not to say offensive to those working hard in the kitchen. It also calls into question the validity of your entire essay! Serious reviewers do not announce themselves to all and sundry. Calling some one a 'prick' (Roy Bret review) is simply offensive, abusive and just plain wrong. There is a real danger some might just think the same of you!

I have copied my reply to my Wife and my general Manager.

Malcolm Duck

So, I guess that's me told; I gather that I'm wrong, the service was up to scratch and the food wasn't burnt.

Except, Malcolm, please do bear in mind that I have no pretentions to being a journalist (I couldn't take the pay cut for one thing) and as such I don't expense my meals; all visits, good or bad, are paid for meaning – and this might be a tricky concept for you – that I'm a paying customer.

So, attitude to customers noted Duck old bean.


 

Ondine - Update

I'm not going to review Ondine again, I promise.

Well, not for a while anyway, otherwise people will think I'm some cyber-stalker-blogger or summat; but I did pop in yesterday for lunch with my eldest (who tells me that, at three and a half, he's almost a grown up and will get to drive my car soon) and I thought I'd share a thought or two.

They were completely accommodating when we arrived, I asked if they thought the restaurant would be appropriate for a child and they welcomed him and made a fuss as appropriate but also seated us in a quieter corner so our chat didn't annoy other guests and meaning I wasn't bumping into anyone when helping Jamie cut his food which I appreciated. The food, as always, was very good (Jamie loved his "real" fish fingers and his Jelly though he wasn't too sure of the mushy peas) and the restaurant almost full which I liked to see (support you local sheriff chef) and the service was right on the money.

I'm really, really happy, patchy service was the only thing which let Ondine down previously and now we can but wait for showers of accolades to fall onto Roy and his team.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Review – Duck’s at Kilspindie


Dear Malcolm Duck,
I understand you are away watching the rugby this weekend (great result wasn't it?) and so I thought I'd drop you a note to let you know how Ducks at Kilspindie runs when you're not around to supervise.
I suppose we should all expect people to take their eye off the ball slightly when the boss is away, but when one is a paying customer should we be the ones expected to compromise? Well at Kilspindie it seems the answer is yes.
The meal had an inauspicious start with the restaurant manager greeting us with the wrong name and then, when leading us to the table, stopping in the bar to chat to another party. Leaving us to stand in the middle of the bar waiting for their conversation to end.
When we finally got to our table the situation improved, a delightful waitress (Helen I believe) and an interesting menu which suggested ambition; the wine list was good, if a bit too biased to the pricier end of the spectrum, but it did hold a gem in the form of a Chinon of decent age for only £19 so we can forgive that.
So, decisions made and order taken we found our starters arriving quite quickly, before the wine in fact, with a couple of plates being passed over my head to the diners on the other side of the table. Service faux pas aside, the Gravadlax was pronounced very nice, the crab and shrimp tian fair and the quail bland and under seasoned.
Mains came, again with plates passed across the table as if serving to a chimps' tea party, and the slow-roast pork belly was promptly returned due to burnt crackling. Now, I know that most blogging, and most especially food blogging is an act of vanity on the bloggers' part and that the wide majority really don't care about our opinions but please, if I care enough about food enough to write about it as a hobby, perhaps I know a little. I certainly know the difference between cooked and burnt and so was more than a little offended when the same plate was brought back a minute later with the offending carbon scraped and trimmed from the crackling with an accompanying explanation that it wasn't over done and that was the way pork belly is cooked. I love pork belly, it's a luscious, meltingly tender piece of beauty when prepared properly; at Duck's it wasn't prepared properly. It may have been cooked slowly but not slowly enough and at too high a temperature, the fat hadn't rendered and the meat was tough and chewy; the accompanying braised shoulder was the best thing on the plate but too small, the dauphinoise potatoes underdone and the roasted shallot puree would have been a fitting sauce had the pork been edible.
The others all had the Duck (when in Ducks etc..) and found it uninspiring, not as tender as it could be and under seasoned.
Had dessert not been included in the carte (3 courses, £28) we'd probably have left at this point, but as it was paid for: the Ice-Cream was "acceptable", the apple tart was a semolina cake, the chocolate fondant underdone and burst before it hit the table and the cheese had been pre-cut and was beyond its best (with wrinkled, brown grapes accompanying it).
Funnily enough, we left on a positive note when our main waitress, Helen, embarrassed about the quality of the meal, asked for my card so the proprietor could contact me. I wonder if he will.
As we left, we noticed two chaps in chef's tunics sitting with a couple of pints at the bar; now I'm not certain they were the chefs from Ducks, but as the meal seemed prepared without love or pride, perhaps by someone who just wanted to get things done before starting their Saturday night, I have my suspicions. At £208 (plus tip) for four I'd rather not feel like an impediment to someone's drinking time.
So, will we be back? As Duck's at Kilspindie is the closest restaurant to me then I'm sure I will, probably when snow or storm have prevented me from making it into Edinburgh where I'll get better food and service for the same price.
Yours etc.
Ross
The Itinerant Appetite

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Well done Wales

And Wales now has 3 new Michelin starred establishments, that's 4 in total.

4 Stars eh?

Well done Wales.

Obviously Edinburgh has 5 stars alone, before we look at the rest of Scotland, but it's not a competition. Is it Glasgow (no stars for it's deep fried cuisine)?

Good News / Bad News

So, the Michelin list for 2010 has managed to be leaked in time for the weekend papers again, someone at the Guardian wrote, what a surprise.

Still, I don't think it really matters if we find out today or next Tuesday so let's start by congratulating Paul and Katie at 21212 on their Michelin star, well deserved - come to think of it, didn't I predict they'd get a star when I reviewed 21212 in May? Oh, I did; well done me.

A glaring omission is Martin Wishart from the ranks of 2* holders, every meal I've had at Wisharts in the past few years has been consistently as good, if not better, than many 2*s I've eaten at (specifically Hibiscus and Pied A Terre - and I enjoyed them). Shame on you Michelin.

In other sad news, the Edinburgh outpost of Abstract will not reopen for 2010; I know Abstract lost it's joie de vivre when Sean Kelly left (for reasons and to destinations unknown - does anyone know where he went? He was a talented chap and I'd like to try his food again) and then became a glorified steak and chop house but the food was good quality and the service excellent.

To finish on an upbeat note, well done to Tony's Table in Castle St. for it's Bib Gourmand; it's also 3 minutes from my office so is very handy for good lunches and well done to the Peat Inn for it's star.

Tweet, To-whit, Towoo....

So, I've now joined the microblogging ranks and am tweeting updates on what I'm cooking, eating and drinking as I cook, eat and drink.

So far there's also been a couple of sweary-rants (not my fault, honest; blame the Bastard Taxi Driver who soaked me the other morning), but I doubt many kids read this stuff so let's not worry about a watershed.

My tweeting can be found at: www.twitter.com/happy_appetite - seemingly "itinerant" was too long and I was in too good a mood to use "moody_appetite".

Also I can now be contacted at itinerantappetite@googlemail.com for praise, abuse and invitations to restaurant launches (please?)