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| invited for review* |

I’ve been really lucky in my time as a food blogger – not only to be invited along to wonderful restaurants that are run by wonderful human beings, but also that I’ve rarely had a bad experience. It makes things much easier to write about when they’re positive but it’s positively a JOY to write when you have a truly spectacular evening. I had one such night at the relatively new addition to Stockbridge: Merienda, a Mediterranean inspired restaurant which doesn’t just use Scottish ingredients, but actively promotes and creates dishes around them to make them sing.

You might have seen recently that I shared their news that they’re offering a “build your own” tasting menu concept. Jay Rayner, who has bemoaned the tasting menu setup for some time would love this. It’s essentially small plates, which you can pick and choose. They’re all of a similar size and come from the kitchen as and when they’re ready. They leave the menu on the table so if you’ve ordered six dishes and decide you want to make that up to ten, you can. You’d be forgiven for thinking this is “just tapas” but when you see the plates, you’ll soon realise that this is so much more than that.

Quite simply, this is one of the best meals I’ve had in Edinburgh. It’s up there with Le Roi Fou, The Kitchin, The Table and 83 Hanover Street for me. This unpretentious neighbourhood place isn’t going chasing for stars, which results in excellent food without the pomp.

Let me start by saying, the food tasted as good as it looks. This was one of the easiest meals to photograph as the plates are so beautifully put together.

Homemade focaccia with basil oil

Basil oil is one of my favourite dipping oils and worked beautifully with this light focaccia bread laced with sun dried tomatoes.

Bresaola with marinated artichokes

This dish, for something so simple, was divine. The bresaola (salted, air dried beef) paired perfectly with the artichokes which are dressed in a marinade taken from the owner Campbell’s time at a West End restaurant in Edinburgh in the 80s. It has stood the test of time – and converted my boyfriend into loving artichokes as much as I do!

Tobermory trout with spicy crème fraiche

As soon as I saw this on the menu, I knew I needed to order it having spent an evening with the producer of Tobermory Fish Co, Sally, and knowing this is the best smoked trout on the market! Merienda serve it chunky for maximum flavour atop a Pollock-esque spicy creme fraiche** with scorched cucumber and a cucumber gel. No style over substance here, the spicy creme fraiche just livened up the trout and brought out the best in it.

Seared tuna with radish and mojo verde

In a word: exceptional. This dish was perfection – delicious, fresh tuna rolled in dulse (a seaweed from the shores of Scotland) served with thinly sliced purple radish and on a bed of mojo verde. The mojo verde, a Canarian version of a salsa verde, was fresh, summery and didn’t overpower the delicate tuna while the wasabi mayo brought a kick. Tuna is one of my favourite fishes and my boyfriend, who doesn’t normally like raw fish, declared this as one of the best dishes of the evening.

Loin of veal with golden oyster mushrooms

Served on a garlic croute, the veal loin is cooked sous vide then finished briefly on the stove; the result is perfectly cooked, tender meat sitting proudly on some golden oyster mushrooms which have been grown locally by an Edinburgh taxi driver! The garlic croute keeps this dish summery but I could also see it working well in winter on some creamy pomme puree. Delicious.

Tenderstem broccoli with romesco sauce

A bit of green to balance out the distinct lack of vegetables in our choice of dishes! Nice addition to our meal, but didn’t sing to us.

Pork belly and barbecue sauce with warm potato salad

Another sous vide dish of pork belly which was as soft as a duck feather pillow, coated with a light barbecue sauce and a homely, creamy potato salad. If this was what got knocked up on the barbecue, I’d be having one every week.

Herb crusted lamb and bonbon with ratatouille

This is the softest lamb I’ve ever eaten, just look at how perfectly pink it is. The herb crust was tasty and added a lovely crunch to the buttery soft lamb. A little tower of ratatouille which I can only assume is the ratatouille recipe from the film of the same name as it’s certainly the best ratatouille I’ve ever had. The bon bon was a touch dry but tasted delicious and the red wine jus was sublime.

Potato and pea presse with pea puree

I love that food can transport you through time – and this clever and innovative dish of pea and potato puree did just that. It took me to Summer 2004 when I worked for a catering company and the salad of the..

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| invited for review |

Mumbai Diners Club is a fine dining Indian restaurant conveniently located in the West End, just a few minutes between Princes Street and Haymarket. It offers quality Indian dining with carefully sourced produce and expert cooking. In addition to their a la carte menu, they also offer an tasting menu which, as far as I’m aware, hasn’t been done anywhere else in Edinburgh with an Indian menu.

Due to my dairy and egg free diet, we decided to go a la carte and try out a few different dishes to share.

We shared some papadoms with the homemade chutney tray – with a lime pickle that was worthy of knocking your socks off.

For starters we ordered paneer tikka, the crispy calamari and the mussels and scallops. My friend adored the paneer tikka – of homemade cheese in fragrant marinade in particular the tandoor char which added to the flavour. It comes served with a salsa verde style dipping sauce which she really enjoyed. Her verdict: “really delicious”.

We had the crispy calamari to share. We ordered it in the hope that it would have an Indian spin on calamari rings that are common across of lots of menus, so we were both disappointed to find that it was just deep fried calamari rings. There wasn’t anything wrong with it – the batter was light and the calamari was cooked well, we just wanted a little something else, perhaps some spicing in the batter would give it that extra boost.

I had the scallops and mussels, served in a coconut and curry leaf sauce. Expecting to prefer the scallops – given that they’re one of my favourite shellfish – I was pleasantly surprised to find the mussels were the star attraction as they had a gorgeous caramelised coating which went particularly well with the decadent coconut sauce. The scallops were lovely, if just a touch overcooked. There is such a fine line when it comes to scallops!

Continuing my evening of seafood, I went for the monkfish curry (another of my favourites) which was served in a coconut based sauce of medium heat which was made up of cashew nuts, onions and tomatoes. The flavour layering comes from curry leaf and mustard seeds. Just the right level of heat for this delicate fish, it was deeply flavoured without being too rich. The monkfish was cooked perfectly – this meaty fish really works well in a curry when it’s executed expertly.

My friend’s lamb chops looked so appetising when they arrived, nicely charred and so aromatic. They’re marinated in garlic, ginger and honey before being grilled. The meat was lovely and soft, sweet as you’d expect from the honey but not overly so. We both thought you could tell the meat was of really good quality and treated with the care they deserve for cooking.

We shared rice and a roti with our main courses – the roti a lovely dairy free replacement for a naan bread which I tend to order in Indian restaurants. It’s particularly good for mopping up sauce. Delicious.

Where they really excelled though, were the desserts. My friend ordered the saffron poached pear which was filled with mango shrikhand (an Indian sweet made from strained yoghurt called dahi) and served with homemade cinammon ice cream. In her words this was “uh-may-zing – really unexpectedly delicious.” The pear was poached to perfection and the cinammon ice cream “the most delicious”. The tuille added a lovely crunch and wasn’t overly sweet.

I’ve said a few times that I’m all sorbeted out! But these were lovingly made and the pay off is worth it. I felt quite bad as the pastry chef was eager for me to try his fresh one that he’d made that day but it had rose water in it which is just not my cup of tea! I was pleased with these choices – the mango was the best mango sorbet I’ve ever had; it was like they’d just frozen a mango and changed its consistency! The lime and mint was lovely and would be great as a palate cleanser (which I’m sure they do on their tasting menu). I can’t actually remember what the third one was now, as it paled in comparison to the other two flavours. Served in a sesame tuille basket and with a mango puree garnish, it was the perfect end to my rich meal.

The service was attentive and both waiters who served us were knowledgeable, enthusiastic and felt invested in the restaurant and the customer experience which always enriches any visit to a restaurant for me.

I would absolutely recommend Mumbai Diners Club, it does feel different to other Indian restaurants I’ve tried in the past and their tasting menu concept sounds really good. I’d definitely try in future when I can enjoy it, one day when I can have dairy again!

Mumbai Diners Club, 3 Atholl Place, Edinburgh, EH3 8HP

* I was invited for a complimentary meal to review, but as I always clearly state – all words, thoughts, opinions and gushings about the food, particularly the desserts, are entirely my own and my friend’s!

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To celebrate the famous Wimbledon Grand Slam tennis tournament (1-14th July), Jannettas gelateria in Fife, St Andrews, will serve up not one, but two delicious limited-edition ices.

Opt for the refreshing Pimm’s sorbet, made with Pimms, Lemonade & Fresh Mint or dive into the indulgent Strawberries and Cream gelato made using the freshest possible local strawberries grown by the family-run Pittormie Fruit Farm. Priced at £2 for a standard cone or tub these delicious creations are available for a limited time throughout July.

Jannettas is an institution in Scotland, having been founded more than 110 years ago by Bennett Iannetta. Four generations on, and the family business is run by his great-granddaughter Nicola and her husband Owen. The gelateria in the seaside town serves ice cream to take away along with an eat-in ice cream parlour for visitors, as well as catering for events and wholesale.

With a staggering 54 flavours of ice cream, Jannettas also serves up classic favourites including Mint Choc Chip, Vanilla and Chocolate as well as seasonal specialities using local produce – including heritage pear; a seaweed and lemon; and whisky marmalade. The rich and creamy milkshakes and ice cream floats are also popular throughout the summer.

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Stockbridge restaurant, Merienda, are introducing a “build your own tasting menu” to the Edinburgh food scene this month.

Traditionally, restaurants who offer a tasting menu offer a set six courses for their guests, to provide a sample of their cuisine, or to take advantage of fresh seasonal ingredients. However, Mediterranean restaurant Merienda are launching a new concept for their summer menu, offering flexibility for diners, where guests can choose from twenty eight dishes from their menu to create their own taste experience.

Co-Owner Giselle Mickel comments:

“We think it’s important to provide guests with the chance to design their own sensory experience. Each vibrant plate that comes out of the kitchen invites one to taste with their eyes first, before proceeding to experience the complex, delicious combination of flavours. So it’s important to let guests create their own journey and let them explore”

Merienda change their menu monthly to ensure that the ingredients are in season and local. To try June’s concept, please call 0131 220 2020 to book!

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This recipe came about as I saw something on Instagram and thought it sounded lovely, but it was from a test kitchen so there was no recipe accompanying it. I highly doubt that this tastes anything like Ottolenghi’s (particularly as I didn’t have any of the relevant ingredients to try and properly make his which included harissa) but it turned out to be a delicious, hearty, vegan if you use dairy free spread, recipe which is great for a mid-week dinner as it can be prepared ahead of time and then just thrown in the oven when you need it.

Ingredients (serves two)

  • One small-medium cauliflower (including the leaves)
  • One tin chopped tomatoes
  • Half a tin of water
  • Knob of butter (the more butter the better, but depends on how healthy you want to be!)
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp ginger (optional but it gives it a nice little zing)
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • Sea salt

Method

  • Melt the butter in a small saucepan on a medium heat
  • Once melted, add the cumin seeds and lightly fry for a minute or two until they start to foam
  • Add the rest of the herbs & spices and fry for a further minute or so until they are all nice and fragrant
  • Add the chopped tomatoes, fill the empty tin to halfway with water and bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer
  • In the meantime, start prepping your cauliflower by removing the outermost leaves, if they’re in good condition, set them aside. In particular keep the nice layer of leaves and set those aside. When you get to the head of the cauliflower, slice it into either “steaks” or wedges – both work well
  • Arrange the cauliflower and leaves in an oven-proof dish, the leaves work best on the top so they go all crispy and crunchy in the oven
  • Your tomato sauce should be ready now, so pour it all over your prepped cauliflower
  • Add a generous sprinkling of sea salt just before placing in the oven
  • Bake in the oven (fan assisted) at 160° for 40 minutes then increase to 220° for the last 20 minutes
  • Serve with rice and a spoonful of sour cream or oat crème fraiche
  • Enjoy!

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This weekend (Saturday 15th and Sunday 16th of June) sees street food vendors from across Scotland gather in Edinburgh to compete to be named the country’s favourite.


L-R, Hal Prescott, Robin Strigner, Laura Hope, and Wilson the Dalmatian. Photo credit: Stewart Attwood

The Scottish Street Food Awards, supported by Hellmann’s, are hosted by street food venue, The Pitt, will see 16 Scottish vendors serve their wares to thousands of visitors over the weekend.

From crispy haggis bao buns to venison pastrami sliders, the event promises to showcase a range of flavours from Scotland’s thriving street food scene.

Invited to vote for their favourite trader whilst sampling the dishes on offer, visitors will cast their vote alongside guest judges, Ben Reade, of Edinburgh Food Studio and Scott Smith of Fhior.

Speaking of the awards, founder of The Pitt, Hal Prescott, said:

“Scots know great food, and the creativity that street food vendors bring to table is nothing short of brilliant.

Come and cast your vote for Scotland’s street food favourite – with such a brilliant trader line up, this is a foodie weekend you won’t want to miss.”

The winner of the Scottish Street Food Awards will go on to compete at the British Street Food Awards, with a view to making it to the European finals, held in Malmö, Sweden.

The Pitt opens from 12 noon, entry at £3 on the door, or £2 purchased in advance via https://www.citizenticket.co.uk/event/scottish-street-food-awards-2019/

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To coincide with World Gin Day, Real Mary King’s Close, the five-star visitor attraction located underneath the famous Royal Mile in Edinburgh, is teaming up with local herb and gin experts – The Old Curiosity Distillery – to offer unique gin-tasting tours.

Paying homage to the famous illicit gin trade of 18th century Edinburgh and the plague doctors who used botanical to ward off disease, the late-night tour will be an opportunity to learn about the origins of gin production in the city while enjoying a range of exclusive and specially selected Old Curiosity gins, deep underground in the historic city.

Visitors will learn about why the Dutch traded genever (gin’s precursor), the adventures of local smugglers, and the distilling innovations that led to Edinburgh’s lengthy love affair with this chameleon spirit. They will get the chance to explore the life and times of Edinburgh’s first plague doctor – Joannes Paulitius – to discover why herbs were thought to protect the doctor from deadly plague epidemic and why he wore the distinctive beaked mask.

The late night 1.5 hour guided tours cost £35 and will take place every Wednesday in August and Saturday in September. Accompanied by a gin expert, visitors will be given four gins to taste, including: Apothecary Rose, Lemon Verbena, and Chamomile & Cornflower, followed by a plague doctor inspired Lavender & Echinacea gin cocktail.

Paul Nixon, General Manager from The Real Mary Kings Close, said: “Given Edinburgh’s unique history and connection with gin, hosting an Old Curiosity Gin tour with their award-winning range, all made right here in Edinburgh, made perfect sense. There is a wealth of stories waiting to be told about the illicit stills, plague doctors and their connection with herbs and botanicals, including their characteristics, flavours and supposed magical properties. The Real Mary King’s Close is a truly unique attraction and this tour allows visitors to explore these underground streets in a totally different context – bringing history alive while discovering the fascinating origins of gin.”

Francesca Martin, Events and Marketing Manager at Old Curiosity adds:

“We’re delighted to be partnering with The Real Mary King’s Close. We can’t wait to share the interesting history of gin and showcase our creations in a unique setting.”

The Real Mary King’s Close is a five-star visitor attraction located on Edinburgh’s historic and world-famous Royal Mile. Visitors are taken on a journey into a warren of uniquely preserved 17th century streets, which were once home to a thriving community.

· Ticket Price: £35pp

· Every Wednesday throughout August (Time: 21:45 – 23:15 (1 hour and 30 mins)

· Every Saturday throughout September (Time: 21:15 – 22:45 (1 hour and 30 mins)

· Dates: The tours start on Wednesday August 7th2019.

· Over 18s only (ID may be required)

· Advanced booking is recommended, and tickets can be booked online or at the venue.

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| invited for review |

I’m from the Borders originally and I don’t know how many times I’ll have travelled up and down the A68 over the years – thousands, probably.

Despite passing it countless times, I’ve never been to The Stair Arms before until recently when I was invited along to review. They’ve just undergone a major refurbishment having had the business in the family for over 25 years. The furnishings are have a modern country feeling and it has been done sympathetically to retain the coach house feel.

Originally a Coaching Inn, dating back to 1831, The Stair Arms prides itself on a warm welcome whether you’re a passerby, an overnight guest or hosting your wedding in one of their function suites.

Being from Lauder, I met my mum and granny there during the week for a wee lunch treat as it’s almost halfway between us – the hotel is just half an hour from Edinburgh.

We were greeted jovially by one of the daughters of the front of house, whose uncle runs the kitchen. It really is a family affair here!

Browsing the menu, whilst waiting for my mum and Granny May to arrive, I wasn’t blown away by the choices but also being dairy and egg free meant that there were very few things on the normal menu that I could actually have. However, the specials menu gave it the boost it needed. Our waitress had a list prepared of things that I could have, or that they were able to adapt for me, which was a great personal touch and one I’m sure they’d do if you noted any dietary requirements on your booking.

My mum and I decided to share the scallops to start followed by the burger for her and the fish and chips for me. Granny May went for a coronation chicken sandwich with chips.

Whilst waiting, we were served some lovely fresh bread (a saviour for any parent trying to placate a baby who just wants to run around the place!) with some yummy dips – a tomato one and a red Thai one. Both unusual accompaniments for some baguette but most welcome!

Let me start by saying, these were the best scallops I’ve had in a long time. They were cooked absolutely perfectly, and came with the coral which is arguably the most flavoursome part. Served with a pea purée, black pudding and crispy bacon it was priced so reasonably at £6.50 I felt it was a steal for the quality. I think my mum and I were both a bit sad we’d got them to share!

My granny really enjoyed her sandwich, although daunted by the world’s most gigantic chips which were borderline wedges! That said, they were so good she demolished them all and had no complaints!

My mum’s verdict on her 6oz Aberdeen Angus beef burger with cheese was “delicious” and she commented on how good the “real cheddar” cheese was. The brioche buns are even homemade.

My fish and chips, from the specials menu, was served in East Coast IPA beer batter with some of the aforementioned world’s largest chips, triple cooked. If I thought the chips were oversized, I hadn’t seen anything until the fish came out – it was huge! Fresh, local fish delivered that morning in a crispy, slightly beer tanged coating. Served with homemade mushy peas which makes such a difference to being served those horrible powdered things that I’ve been served even at high end establishments before, and tartare sauce (which I had to forego due to the eggs). This was on the menu at £13.50 and again, for the quality and size, they’re really underselling themselves by Edinburgh prices. I suppose being a bit further out, the prices are a bit lower but this was another steal. By size, it should have been about £16 and I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid.

There was no way we had room for desserts, not even my granny could be tempted by the S.Luca ice cream counter at the front of the restaurant or the homemade cakes that adorn the till area.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting much before we went – perhaps because I’d passed it so often it had blended into the scenery for me. But we were all so pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food and the level of service went above and beyond what I’d expect. I now understand how this one business has been in the same family for over a quarter of a century – they know how to do this and they do it so well.

The Stair Arms, Pathhead

* I was invited for a complimentary meal for the purpose of a review & they kindly threw in my granny’s sarnie too because they’re kind! But as always all the opinions are my own.

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| invited for review* |

We recently had a baby free date night at Voujon, just a little further past the main stretch of restaurants on Newington Road, the extra few yards are worth the effort for a classic Indian and Bengali restaurant with stiff white linens, smartly dressed waiting staff and expertly spiced dishes.

They were recently nominated in the 2019 Scottish Curry Awards and have previously been finalists.

It was quite quiet when we went on a Friday evening, we shared some poppadums with relishes and chutneys while we waited for our starters. My boyfriend was a little disappointed not to find any interesting IPAs on the drinks menu but settled for a Cobra.

After speaking to the manager about dairy free dishes, I decided to go for Murgh Chatt to start and king prawn bhindi curry for my main course.

Served as a mini curry, with a side salad, the tender pieces of chicken were flavoursome in a lightly spiced sauce with a hint of sourness. Fresh coriander finished the dish.

My boyfriend went for the crème de la crème of the starters – the assorted Voujon kebabs. At £5.75 this was excellent value, with little tasters the chicken and lamb kebabs as well as an onion bhaji and chicken pakora – he loved it all.

Main courses arrived shortly after and I was very pleasantly surprised with my king prawn dish. The Parsi gravy was just the right level of heat (I’d say a cosy medium) and felt fresh and light. The king prawns were all succulent and there was a generous helping of them while the ochra that was tossed through highlighted the freshness, it still had a lovely bite to it.

The lamb karahi my boyfriend went for had a deep warmth with tender pieces of lamb and caramelised onions in a rich sauce made with peppers, tomatoes, chilli, garlic and ginger. It was light on all these notes with none holding court over any of the others but just balanced in harmony with each other.

I’d like to say we managed pudding…but we didn’t. We were so full, neither of us could even contemplate another course!

Voujon have been serving up their customers with Indian and Bengali cuisine since 2005, so they’ve been around the block a few times and know their stuff. This is evident in the quality of their cooking and by the very fact that they’re still here in 2019 in the notoriously tough food industry.

Voujon translates as “invitation to dine” and you certainly feel welcome when dining there.

We were invited to review (just like their very name suggests!), but the prices are very reasonable with the starters averaging around £6 and main courses at £11. They also offer takeaways if you’d rather enjoy their food from the comfort of your own home!

Voujon, 107 Newington Road, Edinburgh

* This meal was complementary for the purposes of a review but all opinions are my own – as always!

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Highland Boundary’s founder Marian Bruce is celebrating today, after winning the Innovator Award at Sunday night’s Scottish Women in Business Awards ceremony held in Glasgow. The Innovator Award is awarded for exemplary innovation in products, services or service delivery and reflects the efforts Marian has made founding Highland Boundary Distillery which uses only wild Scottish botanicals to create a new generation of Scottish spirits. The first release from the distillery, Birch and Elderflower has a unique but authentically Scottish flavour and is distilled and bottled at her farm distillery in Alyth, Perthshire.

Designed to recognise and celebrate Scottish women who have made a mark in their chosen field, and one of only seven winners on the night, Marian has said of the award, ‘I am delighted to be recognised by female business leaders in Scotland for the innovative, collaborative approach that we have at Highland Boundary.’ The award was presented by Angela Andrews, Director of Arrow Corporate Promotions who sponsored the award.

All of the botanicals used in the production of Highland Boundary are picked by hand, with an emphasis placed on seasonality and sustainability – all electricity used in the manufacture of the spirit comes from solar panels on the founders’ farm roof; whilst their offices are heated using biomass and the cooling water from the still comes directly from a natural spring and is recycled through their wildlife pond once it has cooled, continuing the water cycle.

The award is yet another accolade for Highland Boundary, who received a Gold Medal at the prestigious San Francisco World Spirits Competition last month.

Highland Boundary can be served neat, straight from the freezer, mixed of club soda, or used in a variety of cocktail recipes. It is priced at £29 per bottle, and is available for purchase at https://www.highlandboundary.com

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