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I saw a tweet today that said:

‘If I have three-fruit marmalade on my toast, does that count as three of my five-a-day?’

As a committed marmalade maker (recipe here), this made me think just how thickly would you have to spread marmalade on your toast to get 1 recommended serving of fruit per day.  So I did some rough calculations based on my normal marmalade recipe.

In my experience, 3kg oranges + 4 lemons + 3 kg sugar makes about 20 jars of marmalade

The number of oranges depends on their size but usually there are between 15 an 20 oranges in a batch of marmalade. Lets assume that an orange or a lemon is 1 recommended serving of fruit and there are 20 fruits in 3kg. Conveniently, this means that we need to spread a jar of marmalade on a slice of toast to get 1 serving of fruit.

Now the area of toast on which you spread your marmalade obviously depends on the size of the bread, how close to the edge you spread, etc. But let’s assume a spreadable area of toast of 12 cm by 10cm, giving an area of 120 sq cm.

The jars we use are decagonal (10 sided) and tapered so it’s not trivial to calculate their volume exactly but they are not a million miles away from being a cylinder. The mean diameter is about 7cm and the filled height of the marmalade is about 8cm, giving a volume of marmalade of about 308 cubic cm.

This means that to spread a jar of marmalade on a slice of toast, the marmalade would have to be about 2.6 cm – about an inch-  thick.

So, the answer to the question above is:

‘yes of course, so long as you spread it about 3 inches thick’

I suspect that spreading marmalade so thickly would challenge the structural integrity of the toast but I will leave that as an experiment for readers.

BTW: spreading marmalade 3 inches thick would deliver about 15 times the recommended daily sugar for an adult so is roughly equivalent to drinking 12 cans of Coke.

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Attracting mentions in blogs is now an established marketing strategy and as a blogger, albeit very minor, I get invitations to various events and offered trial versions of products. I am very wary of these, in general, as I think freebies inevitably affect your judgment, however much you try to be unbiased. If I dislike something, I want to be able to say so honestly.

I was invited to a tasting event at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society as was my daughter Jane who blogs much more articulately than me at Edinburgh Etiquette.  As I love malt whisky there was no possibility of me disliking the product so I decided that it wasn’t an integrity compromise to go along to the tasting with Jane.

The Scotch malt whisky society (SMWS) buys whisky in cask from various distilleries, bottles these and sells them to members. These are rare and unusual whiskies that you can’t buy in the shops. Rather than use the distillery names, whiskies are identified by number such as 26.115, where the first number identifies the distillery and the second the specific cask. However, if you want to know where the whisky comes from, you can google to find a list of distillery numbers.

Numbered bottles

Whiskies are cask strength, which is stronger than normal and often quite rare so don’t expect to pay high street prices. They are significantly more expensive so are for whisky aficionados or for a special occasion present.

Anyway, back to the tasting. There was an enormous range of whiskies on offer and we were invited to try as many as we wanted (with a sensible warning that we shouldn’t overdo things).

Range of whiskies

The range of whiskies on offer. Apologies to the friendly server – she wasn’t really leaning over but I couldn’t show them all without a tilt

The tasting notes identified a number of ‘flavour profiles’ such as ‘Young and Spritely’, ‘Spicy and Dry’, ‘Juicy Oak and Vanilla’ and ‘Heavily Peated’ and so on.

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The malt whisky flavour profiles

The whiskies were given rather daft names such as ‘Grannies Behaving Badly (and Madly)’ and ‘A Comforting Hug in a Mug’ and there were panel tasting notes which were so over-the-top that you really had no idea what to expect. My favourite whisky was described as:

“…Ginger nuts, young rum and bananas gave way to a whisky sour cocktail and some melted brown sugar. One stirred porridge and honey on the stove whilst another discovered the more savoury edge of sautéed mushrooms….”

Silly but harmless. This 20 year-old whisky (35.139), which actually had a descriptive name – Punchy Spice Explosion, was superb. I’m no expert but I got cinnamon, ginger and Christmas pudding from it – definitely not mushrooms.

One of the things I most enjoyed about this experience was introducing my daughter to whisky and trying different types with her. Between us, we tried 14 different whiskies and made a point of each having the same ‘flavour profile’ at the same time, so we could make comparisons. The differences between different types, even within the same flavour profile, were remarkable.

Juicy, oak and vanilla whiskies

Juicy, oak and vanilla whiskies

I have always been of the opinion that there is no such thing as a bad malt whisky.  Even cheap malts, such as Aldi’s £18 Glen Marnock, are perfectly drinkable. However, there’s a huge difference in depth and complexity between high street brands and the drinks that we tasted. If you want to experience the enormous range of whisky tastes and experiences, the SMWS is the place to go.

I attended the whisky tasting in Edinburgh as a guest of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society.

 

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Bennets Bar in Tollcross and the Cafe Royal in West Register Street are two of the city’s most beautiful pubs. They have retained their traditional decor and gantries and have been Edinburgh institutions for many years.

Bennets Bar, Edinburgh

Bennets Bar, Edinburgh

Cafe Royal bar, Edinburgh.

Cafe Royal bar, Edinburgh.

 

The Cafe Royal has had an associated seafood restaurant for as long as I can remember but, until recently, Bennets has simply provided cheap and filling pub food. Recently, however, what used to be called the Green Room has been repurposed as a small restaurant called La Petit Mort.

It’s acquired a good reputation and we visited for the first time last week. It’s a small, cosy space with a very interesting, short, regularly changing menu.  I never like it when a small restaurant has a long menu as you know then that lots of things will not be freshly prepared.

The menu when we went last Friday looked great and I started with Pasta Nero Cullen Skink Ravioli with seared chorizo.

Pasta Nero Cullen Skink Ravioli

Pasta Nero Cullen Skink Ravioli

A few minutes after ordering, our starters were delivered which made me a bit suspicious that the ravioli had been pre-cooked then re-heated. The filling was great but the pasta really wasn’t good – it was rubbery rather than light and the spicy chorizo overwhelmed the subtle smoked haddock. If it wasn’t pre-cooked, it was badly cooked and rather a disappointment.

However, others had a vegetarian starter – breadcrumbed parsnip brûlée and said it was excellent.

My main course was Pistachio Mousse Stuffed Tandoori Guinea Fowl Breasts, Naan Bread, and Haggis Dahl with charred little gem lettuce.  This was a creative and interesting dish – well executed and tasty and made up for the disappointment of the starter.

Tandoori Guinea Fowl breasts with haggis dahl

Tandoori Guinea Fowl breasts with haggis dahl

 

Others had venison haunch and pollock fillet and were equally happy with their choices.

We were about £35 each for two courses with starter drinks and wine which is now middle of the range for Edinburgh. Our waitress was friendly and efficient and the atmosphere was good.

I wish that La Petite Mort had lived up to its name and had been a yes-yes-yes but it was a maybe-maybe-maybe. I hope that my experience with the ravioli was a blip and I’d certainly be willing to give La Petite Mort another try.

A couple of days later we were in town – it’s about time we updated our TV so we had a look at what was in offer in John Lewis. It was lunchtime and raining but the prospect of eating in John Lewis’s restaurant did not appeal. So, we went round the corner to the Cafe Royal bar, a place that I hadn’t been in for years.

I have an instinctive liking for the Cafe Royal as it’s the only pub that I know of decorated with pictures of engineers. There are six pictures on the wall, made from tiles, of famous inventors.

 

Tile pictures of inventors in the Cafe Royal

Tile pictures of inventors in the Cafe Royal

I had fish stew, one of their signature dishes, which was absolutely fabulous. My wife had crab gnocchi, which was equally good.

 

Fish stew

Fish stew

A super lunch with good service in a lovely environment. If you’re at the east end of Princes Street, it’s worth the effort of seeking out the Cafe Royal (turn up the lane by the Apple store, past the Guildford Arms, another beautiful pub, and it’s round the corner).

I paid for meals in both La Petite Mort and the Cafe Royal with my own money.

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We’ve had a couple of trips recently to the village of Cullen on the Moray Firth. It’s known as a good place to see the Moray Firth dolphins and we hoped to be lucky. Unfortunately, we didn’t see a sign of a dolphin and simply settled for a walk on the beach.

Cullen on the Moray Firth

Cullen on the Moray Firth

On our first visit, we had no idea where we’d have lunch but parked beside a wee cafe called Rockpool (http://rockpool-cullen.co.uk/) on the Seafield Road, the main street. It was a bit cold so we didn’t look any further for lunch. We were lucky to get the last table in the place.

Cullen is, of course, famous for Cullen Skink, a fish soup made with potatoes, onions and smoked haddock. So, there was no need to spend much time looking at the menu – I ordered a large bowl. My wife Anne is not so keen on fish soups so she had the heritage tomato salad.

The Cullen Skink was very good – not too creamy with good chunks of fish. I would have preferred a few more potatoes but it was certainly in the top 25% of Cullen Skinks that I’ve had. The heritage tomato salad with buffalo mozzarella and garlicy bread was delicious. I finished with coffee and one of the best pieces of walnut cake I’ve had.

Cullen Skink - smoked haddock and potato soup

Cullen Skink – smoked haddock and potato soup

Heritage tomato salad

Heritage tomato salad

A few weeks later we were back at Cullen and, this time, we’d booked in advance. The menu had changed that day and I was intrigued by a new menu item – a squid and prawn burger. I’ve never had such a thing before so, in spite of warnings that it could be rubbery, I had to go for it. A great decision – it was superb; moist and succulent, fishy tasting without a hint of rubberiness. It was served with excellent chips. It was a substantial meal so there was no room for cake.

A Rockpool squidburger

A Rockpool squidburger

The burger itself

The burger itself

Rockpool was a great find – they use local ingredients and suppliers wherever possible. If you are in Cullen, don’t miss it. Maybe you’ll be lucky with the dolphins.

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I wrote a while ago that I thought that the quality of food in France had declined and that, at the same price point, the food in Scotland was as good as the food in France. Food in Scotland is pretty good but as the pound has strengthened against the euro, it is considerably more expensive to eat well here than it is in France.

We had a short holiday this summer in the Dordogne. The weather was so warm and the food from the markets so good that we mostly ate in the garden of the house that we rented but we did have one ‘special occasion’ meal to celebrate my daughter’s birthday and engagement in a local one-star Michelin restaurant – La Tour des Vents.

La Tour des Vents sits on a hill overlooking the Dordogne valley, with magnificent views from the terrace.It’s just outside the town of Bergerac in with Monbazillac wine growing region. We were lucky to go there on a warm evening and had what I think is the best outdoor table on the terrace with views across the garden to the Dordogne valley.

 

Our table on the terrace

Our table on the terrace

 

I chose the fixed price 60€ menu (about £43), which was quite fishy. Others had this menu and the 44€ menu. There are no Michelin star restaurants in Scotland that I know of that have such a reasonably priced dinner menu. Canapés were served while we made our choices and we had a beetroot themed amuse-bouche.

 

Canapes

Canapes

 

A beetroot themed amuse-bouche

A beetroot themed amuse-bouche

My starter was I think perhaps the most interesting starter I have ever had. Served on a bed of creamed purple cauliflower, I had haddock mousse, what was called a summer roll which included crab and an unusual and wonderful oyster sorbet. This looks grey and rather unappetising in the photo but it captured the freshness of oysters without the sliminess that you sometimes get when eating them raw.

 

Starter

Haddock mousse, summer roll and oyster sorbet

 

My main course was monkfish served with a langoustine in a tempura batter. sob noodles and fondant potatoes. Again, it was absolutely superb – beautifully cooked fish with a subtle thai sauce.

 

Monkfish and langoustine

Monkfish and langoustine

 

My dessert was simple – a strawberry tart with lemon sorbet, served with a crumble accompaniment. I didn’t think the crumble really added much and, although very good, the dessert was perhaps the weakest part of the meal.

 

Strawberry tart

Strawberry tart

 

What is good about local French restaurants, whatever the price bracket, is that they sell local wine at reasonable prices. I must admit I get pissed off in British restaurants to be charged £30+ for what I know to be a £10 wine but here we had excellent Bergerac wine for €24 per bottle.

 

The food here is comparable in standard with 1* restaurants in Edinburgh such as Castle Terrace or Kitchin but it’s a lot cheaper – with aperitifs, wine, food and coffee our bill came to about £55/head. When you add the views and the ambience, this was a bargain.

 

Lavender and the Dordogne

Lavender and the Dordogne

 

 

At one time, I spent a lot of time visiting Edinburgh on business and ate out in lots of places on expenses. I was conscientious in blogging about my eating experiences and some people have said that they found these reviews helpful. We still eat out in Edinburgh but no longer on expenses so I’ve become a bit more selective about looking for value for money.

When I started, there were hardly any Edinburgh food blogs, now there are lots of reviewing bloggers and I’ve become less inclined to write about individual restaurants. Others do it more eloquently than me. So, rather than write about individual places, I’ll cover about half a dozen places in this post where we’ve had good experiences and which are good value for money (although not always cheap).  This has a ‘south side’ bias as that’s where we stay. We don’t eat much in the centre of the city. The general rule that you get better food for less money if you get away from the touristy area applies in Edinburgh as it does everywhere else.

High-end

Castle Terrace (in Castle Terrace) is superb. We have been there for lunch and dinner and have never had a weak course let alone a poor meal. Definitely the best of the Michelin Star restaurants that we’ve eaten in although all of them are pretty good. It’s expensive but you won’t be disappointed.

Dessert in Castle Terrace

Dessert in Castle Terrace

Seasonal

Aizle in St Leonard’s Street focuses on seasonal ingredients so there is no fixed menu. Rather, each month, the restaurant choses what’s in season and offers a no-choice menu based on these. The menu board tells you that month’s ingredients and the dishes are a surprise. Some of the courses we had were absolutely superb, other’s didn’t work quite so well but overall this is an unusual and remarkable eating experience.

Aizle starter - oyster, Ajo Blanco and crab

Aizle starter – oyster, Ajo Blanco and chicken liver

(Gardener’s Cottage has a similar approach – we haven’t tried it yet but have a booking there in a couple of weeks)

French

For quite a long time, my favourite French restaurant has been La Garrigue in Jeffrey St. It specialises in the food of south-west France with dishes such as cassoulet and stuffed rabbit.  It would fit in well in a regional French town.  It has been around for many years and hasn’t changed much at all – but why should they change a winning formula.

Rabbit stuffed with black pudding in La Garrigue

Rabbit stuffed with black pudding in La Garrigue

Italian

Edinburgh has a lot of mediocre Italian restaurants and a few, expensive, excellent ones such as Contini’s in George St and Vin Caffe.  But, in terms of good value for money, I think the best places are in Bruntsfield – Osterio del Tempo Perso and Nonna’s Kitchen. When Osterio del Temp Perso opened, it was superb but they changed the menu and I don’t think it was an improvement. For this reason, I’d put Nonna’s Kitchen in Morningside Road as my top pick Italian resto. Always great fish and if you are lucky, Jimmy will recite the whole of the specials menu to you from memory.
Nonnas: Spaghetti alla vongole

Nonnas: Spaghetti alla vongole

Local bistro

The Three Birds in Bruntsfield is a wee restaurant with an eclectic selection of dishes. It’s impossible to classify – Scottish/French/Cajun fusion would be the closest I can get. Great value lunch menu. The Bia Bistrot, also in Bruntsfield is also pretty good. Definitely worth the taxi or bus ride to Bruntsfield.

Three Birds

Pub food

Leith has a great selection of restaurants but it’s a bit out of the way from Bruntsfield. However, on a Sunday we sometimes take an 11 or 16 bus and head to the Kings Wark in Leith for lunch. There’s no pretentions to fine dining – just hearty pub food and excellent beer.

Kings Wark: Smoked haddock, black pudding and poached egg

Kings Wark: Smoked haddock, black pudding and poached egg

Disclaimer
Apart from Aizle, where we’ve only been once, we’ve eaten in all of these restaurants several times and have always paid for the food and wine with our own money.  Some Edinburgh bloggers accept free meals in return for reviews on their blog – I don’t.

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When I was a kid, everybody who had a garden had a rhubarb patch. The rhubarb grew to thick stalks in the summer and mums cooked it into pies, crumbles and fools. Then it went out of fashion and people grubbed out their rhubarb and you never saw it anywhere.

Now, it’s back in fashion and Yorkshire forced rhubarb, grown in the dark in caves, is an expensive delicacy.  I have a few rhubarb plants on my allotment and this year I thought I would try my hand at forcing it. I don’t have a cave at home so I decided simply to put a large bucket over a rhubarb plant and see what happened.

It wasn’t quite the delicate pink of cave rhubarb but I ended up with lots of delicate thin stalks.

Early rhubarb stalks

Early rhubarb stalks

Cooked simply with a splash of water and sugar to taste (no need for other spices like ginger when it’s this delicate) and then poured over some greek yoghurt. Who wants complicated puddings? Just sublime.

Rhubarb and yoghurt

Rhubarb and yoghurt

As the title of this blog suggests, my favourite type of restaurant is a bistro where you get reasonable portions of well-cooked food without too many fripperies and smears of this and that. So-called ‘fine dining’ is a style of cooking that I admire but it’s often a bit pretentious. I enjoy it now and again but always feel that it is a bit overpriced.

So why am I writing about Restaurant Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles, Scotland’s only 2 star Michelin restaurant. Well, our daughter’s very kindly gave us a present of a night at Gleneagles Hotel and, as I’ve never eaten in a 2* restaurant before, we really had to try it. And, to sum up, the food and service was fabulous – every course was a delight. It was a great experience but, given the cost, probably not one we will repeat for a while.

The restaurant has a choice of menu’s – an a la carte menu and two tasting menus. Our previous experiences with tasting menus has been that there’s just too much to eat but sometimes not enough of what your really like. Therefore, we went for the a la carte menu – 3 courses for £95.

We started with canapés – chicken pate on a crispy chicken skin, a savoury macaroon and what I call a cheese puff. This probably has a French name but I’ve forgotten what it was. The chicken skin was the best I thought, especially as my wife Anne doesn’t like the idea of eating skin so I had two of them.

Canapes

Canapes

Then, as seems obligatory in ‘fine dining’, we had an amuse-bouche, which was a feta mousse on a pea soup. This was just stupendous – I don’t know how it’s done but the flavours of the peas were like eating freshly picked peas from the pod. I suspect these were not from Birds-Eye. It also looked absolutely beautiful and our bouches were indeed very amused.

Amuse bouche

Amuse bouche

My starter was smoked lobster – something I’d never heard of or tried before. It was served very simply – half a small lobster with some herb butter. It was accompanied by the smallest salad that I have ever seen – but perhaps also the tastiest.

Smoked lobster

Smoked lobster with herb butter

Very small salad

Very small salad

I haven’t eaten a lot of lobster but I’m in no doubt that this was the best I’ve had – it was only lightly smoked so the smoke added an accent to the rich flavour of the lobster meat. Anne had scallops which she also thought were the best she’d had.

When it came to main course, I had food jealousy. Anne chose oxtail with foie gras which was simply wonderful – deep, intense flavours. I had fillet of turbot with mushrooms and braised lettuce, which was really very good but not significantly better than dishes I’ve had in good fish restaurants elsewhere, with lesser ratings.

Oxtail and foie gras

Oxtail and foie gras

Turbot with mushrooms and braised lettuce

Turbot with mushrooms and braised lettuce

 

There was the usual, in my view unnecessary, pre-dessert then superb desserts – I had orange and cointreau mousse with mandarin sorbet and Anne had pear mousse with pear sorbet.  Again, we marvelled at how expert professional chefs can tease such intense flavours from ingredients.  Neither were too sweet and both had a slight sharpness that accentuated their flavours.

Orange mousse and mandarin sorbet

Orange mousse and mandarin sorbet

We finished with coffee and petits fours, which I didn’t photograph.  To be honest, we were pretty full by then but there always seems to be room for another morsel of deliciousness.

This was I think the best meal that I’ve ever had – there were simply no weak points to it. The presentation was elegant but unpretentious with no smears of this and dots of that on the plate and the service was understated. Nothing was disappointing and some courses were simply out of this world. The restaurant lighting was ‘atmospheric’ – rather too dim for good quality photographs unfortunately.

Was it worth the money – always an impossible question when you consider anything that’s inessential?  You can ask the same question about holidays, malt whisky or  attending premier league football matches. We are fortunate that we have enough money for some luxuries and we chose to spend this on food rather than exotic holidays or concerts to see the ageing rock stars of our youth.

This was a wonderful experience which would lose it’s magic if we did it often but I’m really glad that we did have the opportunity to try it.  I’d recommend this to anyone interested in an unforgettable eating experience.

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The Tolbooth, Stonehaven

The Tolbooth is a long-established fish restaurant overlooking the harbour in the north-east ‘food town’ in Stonehaven. It’s one of several great places to eat (Marine Hotel, The Ship, The Carron Restaurant, Mollys, The Bay) in town. Like all good fish restaurants, it’s expensive. We usually go there once a year in the summer when it’s light and we get a view of the harbour. However, the view on a February winter’s night (a birthday meal for me) has its own attractions.

Stonehaven harbour by night

Stonehaven harbour by night

The menu is fairly short with daily specials and I went for the specials on this occasion. Shetland mussels to start, followed by a whole grilled sea bass.

Shetland mussels

Shetland mussels

I’ve eaten mussels in a number of countries but, to my mind, Shetland mussels beat them all and these were no exception. Fat and juicy, with a tasty sauce. Sometimes, especially in France, you get an overwhelming number of mussels but the portion here for a starter was just right.

Sea bass with ginger mash

Sea bass with ginger mash

My main course was whole sea bass with a ginger mash. There were some unnecessary smears of something or other here but the fish was beautifully cooked and the mash had a nice hint of ginger. Ginger mash is an idea we’ll try at home. My wife Anne had the scallops, which were excellent.

Baked alaska

Baked alaska

I rarely eat sweets but was talked into it by my wife and daughter who wanted to try the baked Alaska. I didn’t much like it so was happy to give most of it away. It had a cloyingly sweet meringue coating around the ice cream centre. OK for those with a sweet tooth but the Lavender Creme Brûlée was much nicer.

We drank Muscadet sur lie and the overall bill worked out about £45 each.  About the norm for a good Scottish fish restaurant.

Service was excellent and, although not completely full, the Tolbooth had a good atmosphere. It is reliably good and definitely worth a visit.

Cafe St Honore  is a French restaurant, tucked away in a back street of Edinburgh. It has been around for a while so it must be doing something right. We’ve been there before many years ago but it was a night of a major international football match and, to be honest, the staff were not really focused on their work.

I was reminded of Cafe St Honore by a recent review so decided to go there for a family birthday meal. It was a Monday night so not the busiest night of the week but I guess about half the tables were occupied.

The decor is very French – none of your minimalism here – mirrors, wine racks, etc. The menu is certainly not French but Scottish with a French influence. They focus on using local produce and certainly some dishes that I’ve never seen in France. No smears or dots of this and that thank goodness. The lighting is low (not great for photography but iPhones are remarkably good in low light) but very atmospheric.

I started with crispy lamb belly, which is shredded lamb formed into a rissole. It was superb. Others had cheese tart, scallops and smoked haddock but actually I think I got the best of the bunch.

Crispy Lamb Belly

Crispy Lamb Belly

My main course was Perthshire venison haunch with red cabbage and black pudding. Like the starter, it was superb – perfectly cooked rare venison, intensely rich cabbage and crispy black pudding.

Perthshire venison, red cabbage and black pudding

Perthshire venison, red cabbage and black pudding

And there was no nonsense about miniature portions – as you would expect in a French bistro, the portions were substantial and we were too full for pudding. I was sorry to miss the new season Rhubarb crumble.

I’d certainly recommend Cafe St Honore – good service, great food and I think on a busier evening, the atmosphere would be buzzing. Not too expensive either- about £30 each for food.

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