Saturday Night up the Gay Hussar and Drinks at the Coach

Despite spending most of my working week in London’s west end, with a bit of free adult time there really isn’t anywhere else I’d rather hang out.  It has been a few weeks since our last expedition to Soho and at the risk of being predictable first stop was the French House in Dean Street for a couple of pastis. Now while I like the French House it does get very crowded so after two we headed down through Soho to

Hurrah!

The Coach and Horses for a pint before wandering up Greek street to the Gay Hussar

Huzzah for the Hussar

The Gay Hussar has a really interesting story. The founder Victor Sassie was half Swiss and half Welsh, but trained in Budapest (where he worked for MI6 during the Second World War) where he married a local girl. The Hussar used to be the watering hole of choice for the Labour Party, back when they believed in that little thing called socialism, and the walls are festooned with caricatures of people like Robin Cook, Michael Portillo, Mo Mowlam, Will Self and  Keith Waterhouse. George Brown, the former Deputy Leader of the Labour Party was once chucked out of here for being pissed and groping a lady customer, but its place in history (and infamy) was assured when Tony Blair was offered the leadership of the Labour Party there after the death of John Smith in 1994.

Anyway on to the food. To start I had the Pacolt Hering (herring is sour cream), a beautiful proper herring fillet unlike the sprats they serve in Loch Fyne garnished with red, yellow and green peppers, Mab had the Hortobagyi Husos Palacsinta (chicken pancake in paprika sauce) while Nick had the Liba-Sertes Pastetom (pork and goose pate). My fish was really nice. for mains Mab and I had the Fustolt Libamel (smoked goose with solet and red cabbage)

Fustolt Libamel

The goose comes on top of the solet, which is a bean paste and both are served in a deep fried potato basket. It was really delicious with the red cabbage providing a sharp counterpoint to the goose. Nick had the Kacsasult (crispy roast duck) which came in a very generous helping and looked delicious.

Kacsasolt

For me the meal was finished off with Chestnut puree laced with rum while Mab had the Turos Palacinta or sweet cheese pancakes, followed by a glass of apricot palenka, otherwise known as Hungarian firewater.

Complete with service, a bottle of house wine and coffee the damage came to £122 after the 20% discount for our loyalty card. (apply at the Hussar’s website.

As the pubs were still open when we waddled out of the Hussar we went back to the Coach and Horses for a pint. Things were beginning to swing around the piano despite Betty’s absence. Aside from old favourites like The Lambeth Walk and My Old Man, her substitute manged to pull off a rousing Bohemian Rhapsody, which is no mean feat for a pub pianist!


Rude Veg – childish but still funny

I bought this today. It’s some horse radish root

Horse Radish Root

I know what it looks like.

It’s destiny is to be grated and steeped in vodka for a month or so to create horse radish vodka, which will hopefully be  similar to the one we had in the Shinok Restaurant in St Petersburg where these lovely Ukranian women sang a song to us, which also may have been quite rude.

Lovely Ukranian women at Shinok in St Petersburg

Edinburgh New Town – Cathedrals and Curry

Whenever we travel we always try to cram in as much experience as we can, since our time on this planet is so limited. However one of the drawbacks of cramming so much life in as you get to a certain age, is remembering the finer details. This is one of the reasons for my blog, but catching up with everything I want to write about takes time and stuff has got out of its chronological order. But then I did say Shipscooksstuff was going to be unstructured, so random stuff about Edinburgh and Cyprus will be turning up over the next couple of weeks.

Anyway let’s go back to Edinburgh. Being based at the Haymarket end of the New Town meant that there were a few new places to explore. In Palmerston Place, quite close to our chosen hotel was the rather magnificent Cathedral Church of St Mary the Virgin, which is the see of the Episcopalian Bishop of Edinburgh and the largest ecclesiastical building in Scotland.

Interior of St Mary’s

It was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, who also designed the Albert Memorial in London, in the Gothic style and construction began in 1874. It was finally finished in 1917 under the watchful eye of his grandson Charles Marriott Oldrid Scott. Another of Scot’s grandchildren, Giles Gilbert Scott, designed the old Post Office telephone box, but that is another story. Aside from the interior’s Neo-Gothic splendour, within I was fascinated by some turn of the century brass memorial plaques that utilised Arts and crafts style typography, but then maybe I have been hanging around with designers for to long.

There is also a memorial to a Captain James Dundas VC of the Royal Engineers, who was killed in action in Afghanistan in 1879, age 37, some things don’t change do they?

I first spied the Indian Cavalry Club from the Edinburgh Airport Bus and have wanted to give it a try for some time. Situated in Coates Crescent in one of the New Town’s  larger Palladian houses, its interior is very much as you would expect a Raj officer’s mess to look, crisp white linen, military portraits and attentive waiters in smart uniforms. I had the paneer pakora (deep-fried Indian cheese, well it is Scotland after all) to start with before choosing my main course. The Cavalry Club menu prices it’s curries by the meat or fish selected and you choose the sauce. I had a methi lamb and it was delicious, as were the dishes selected by my companions and the side dishes. Now Edinburgh has some very good Indian restaurants, but I have to say that I have seldom enjoyed a curry as much as the one I ate here.

What’s the damage?, well not for the faint hearted £170 for the four of us, but that did include starter, main course, aperitifs, beer,  a bottle of wine (£18) and service.  We also joined the restaurant’s Pukka Club which will give us a 10% discount when we next return.

Cricket bats signed by the Indian, Pakistan and Bangladesh teams at the Indian Cavalry Club

One place I won’t be returning to is the Clifton Fish Bar on Clifton Terrace near Haymarket Station. Very bland and greasy small doner, plus soggy chips with thin tasteless curry sauce for £7. Just because people are a bit merry after the pub, it’s no reason to rip people off, avoid at all costs .

Jack the Ripper the Musical

When I discovered that out local operatic society was putting on a musical based upon a vicious serial killer who horribly mutilated the prostitutes he murdered, I was intrigued to see how it would be done. The tickets were only a tenner so we thought why not make a night of it.

I have to say I actually enjoyed it very much. All of the cast and the band were very good and were obviously having great fun performing, while for an amateur company the costumes, make up and props were excellent. The musical itself was by Ron Pember and Denis de Marne and is mostly set within a Music Hall where the songs and sketches enact the story of the ripper murders. Some quite serious social points about the filth and poverty of the East End and how the working girls of Whitechapel were held in contempt by the upper classes were made, but there were also some laughs to be had. I particularly enjoyed the prostitute and music hall barker’s parody of Queen Victoria and her commissioner of police, while the policemen dressed as women complete with helmets and moustaches was as good as anything the Two Ronnies had ever done. A very naughty touch was the trial where the suspects included a Prince Albert, Duke of Clarence who was wearing a Prince William mask.

What with a couple of very generous glasses of wine from the Lopping Hall bar and a tasty kebab from Loughton BBQ on the walk home we had a super night out for just under £40, so well done Loughton Operatic Society.

Folkies, Goths, German Lager and a Cinema – A Few More Edinburgh Pubs

While we are in Edinburgh it won’t come as a surprise that we like to try visit a few pubs.

Me at the Captains

On Friday night we went to the Banshee Labyrinth in Niddry Street. This is reputed to be Edinburgh’s most haunted pub. Part of this boozer is the subterranean vaults formerly frequented by Edinburgh’s cut throats and thieves, while the rest was part of a house owned by Lord Nicol Edwards, the richest man in Edinburgh. Inside are seven rooms, including three bars and a cinema, and there is regular free live rock music, which keeps Edinburgh’s Goths and rockers happy. We could only stay for one as we had a table booked at Mother India (see Beer and Curry Tapas for details) but I think the Labyrinth will repay a further visit.

Oddly enough the Labyrinth is the sister pub to one we know fairly well, The Black Rose Tavern on Rose Street. This place is much smaller but has a decent choice of music (Zeppelin, REM, Prodigy etc) and hosts an open mike rock karaoke which can be quite funny. Not much of a choice of beer though, unlike The Black Cat (168 Rose Street) which has some excellent ales, including West’s St Mungo lager, which is brewed to German purity laws in Glasgow of all places. It also has an interesting menu which I think makes a future visit quite likely.

On Saturday afternoon we had a drink in The Captain’s Bar in South College Street. We first discovered this boozer during the Festival last year.

The Captain's Bar

It’s quite an eccentric little pub serving McEwans and Deuchars, that still has many of it’s original working features like these taps on the bar.

Just the thing to add water to your whisky at the Captain's Bar

It is also home to a vibrant folk music scene and can get quite packed of an evening. Not far from the Captain’s, in Drummond Street we found the Brass Monkey.

The Brass Monkey

Now this really was the discovery of the weekend. It does not look much from the outside, but we were pleasantly surprised to be welcomed by the strains of AC/DC as we entered and settled down with a pint of Red Stripe and a soup with homemade humous roll combo (£3 ). As we supped our ale we could not but help hearing explosions and gunfire over Mr Jimi Hendrix. It turned out that this pub also has it’s own cinema and was showing From Dusk till Dawn, which was just coming to it’s end. So picture over we popped in for a look and found what must be the most comfortable cinema in the UK.

Comfy sofas at the Brass Monkey's cinema

With sofas lining the walls it has all the comforts of home without the washing up!

Beltane Fire Festival – Edinburgh

It was only a week after taking part in the Greek Orthodox Easter celebrations in Cyprus that we found ourselves at something rather more primal up on Edinburgh’s Calton Hill – the annual Beltane Fire Festival. For anyone who doesn’t know Beltane is a pagan festival that marks the passing of winter, represented by the Holly King into the summer, the time of the Oak King. And it just so happens that Beltane is around the time of Easter making it dead easy for the Christian church to assimilate the pagan festival into it’s own, but that’s another story.

About 12,000 gathered on Calton hill to watch the ceremony kick off from the Scottish National Monument (designed by William Henry Playfair as a monument to Scottish soldiers who fell in the Napoleonic Wars, but never completed due to the money running out in 1829).

Fire Festival kicks off at the Scottish National Monument

Accompanied by the massed processional drummers and torchbearers the May Queen’s Court assembled ready to depart and visit the elemental points around the hill before arriving at the domain of the Reds.

Red Fire Dancer

The spirits of misrule who attempt to disrupt the procession with lewd behavior.

Red Fire Dancers

Some lovely lewd behaviour

The old year’s Holly King (note his walking stick which denotes his aged state) is tempted to join the Red fire dancers

The May Queen and the Holly King arrive

as they cavort around to the hypnotic beat of the Red Beastie Drummers.

Red Beastie Drummers

Eventually the Holly King sheds his winter garb and stick and is reborn as the Oak King bringing new fertility and light to the land after the winter, however as we were unable to get close enough to witness that part of the show here is a shot from last year.

The Green Man is reborn

It’s a great show and all the performers are volunteers who design and create their own costumes or lack of them!

Tickets were £6 in advance or £8 on the night.

Sam’s Chop House – Leeds

Aside from clocking the exuberance of Leeds’s Victorian architecture the other week I was also looking for somewhere interesting to eat. I have to admit that, in the town centre, I was beginning to worry that I would be unable to find anything more exciting than chains like Jamie’s Italian or Gaucho.

Then I happened upon this place in South Parade.

Sam’s Chop House

This is Sam’s Chop House, yes it is part of a chain, but only of three. I believe the other two are over the Pennines in Manchester. This particular branch is located in the former offices of the Pearl Assurance Company and I’m sure it makes much better use of the space. Designed by William Bakewell it was completed in 1911 and was one of the first buildings in Leeds to be built of Portland stone.

A quick nose through the menu, packed with traditional British delights like fish and chips, braised pig cheeks and lamb hotpot convinced me it was worth coming back to investigate later that evening. I’m glad we did because the meal we had was quite superb. I started with the pork pie.

Pork Pie

This was served warm with a salad and piccalilli . The pastry was crisp while the meat succulent and juicy, absolutely delicious. My partner had the roast black pudding with lentils and Wensleydale bacon. She let me try a mouthful, it was delightful.

For the main event I went for the corned beef hash. this came with a poached egg and yet another slice of Wensleydale bacon.

Corned Beef Hash

Reputedly ten days in the making the corned beef blended with sauteed potato and creamed onions really was melt in the mouth stuff, absolutely delicious, as was my partner’s lamb hotpot. For desert neither of us could resist the Trio of chocolate. Comprising of a brownie, orange chocolate sorbet and white chocolate cheesecake it was just the thing to round off our night out before wobbling back to the hotel.

Trio of Chocolate

So what’s the damage? Meal for two with coffee £60 service included. We had bought drinks from the bar at pub prices while waiting for the table.

If you ever find yourself in Leeds give it a try and you will discover that British food can be every bit as good as any other cuisine.

Vodka, Tequila and Zapata – Another Edinburgh Night Out

Our second night out in Edinburgh took us to Arcade in Cockburn Street.

Old man's pub downstairs, trendy vodka bar upstairs

I know it’s not much to look at from the outside, but once you get past the old man’s pub downstairs (I’m not knocking old man’s pubs by the way, I’d rather drink in one than a trendy music bar any day) there is a Polish vodka bar up the stairs. This place was stuffed with the local Polish community, which I take as a measure of quality and we were probably the only non Poles drinking there. Since there were five of us the five shots for £10 offer was an absolute bargain too. Sampled were: apple, black currant, bison grass and home made ginger. Much better than fake vodka bar dives like Revolution in my opinion.

Just over the road from Arcade is Viva Mexico.

Viva Mexico

Decked out with photos of Emiliano Zapata and the Mexican revolutionaries, this has to be one of the most fun places to eat in Edinburgh. Starters include things like stuffed chilis, bean  or tortilla soup and ceviche (fish cooked in lime juice – delicious) while for the main course you can choose pork, beef or chicken to be made into burritos, fajitas, tacos or chimichangas, you choose. The only drawback is a very limited tequila menu.

So what’s the damage? Starter and main plus beers and tequilas rolled in at £120 for all five of us.

Beer and Curry Tapas – An Edinburgh Night Out

With our daughter at the University we spend a lot of time in Edinburgh. I like the city very much, it’s rich in history and the centre is relatively compact and easy to walk around. It has some great pubs and restaurants too.

Our latest trip started with a beer at Greyfriars Bobby’s Bar in Candlemaker Row.

The Bobby

This boozer is named after the faithful little Skye terrier who kept watch over his master’s grave for 14 years, until his own death in 1872. The grave of Bobby’s owner, policeman John Grey is in the yard of Greyfriar’s Kirk nearby. It’s worth a visit if only to say that you have seen the final resting place of Scotland’s (and some would argue the world’s) worst poet William Topaz McGonagall.

Final resting place of William Topaz McGonagall

To give you a measure of just how bad a poet he was here are some lines from the Tay Bridge Disaster written to commemorate the night the first Tay Railway Bridge collapsed with the loss of 75 lives in 1879

And the cry rang out all round the town,
Good heavens! The Tay Bridge has blown down.

 

See what I mean.

Bobby himself is imortalised in bronze just in front of the pub and is popular with tourist’s who like to rub him for luck.

Greyfriar's Bobby himself

The pub itself is split on two levels thanks to being built on a steep hill and has a good range of beers, lagers and malts. I have always found to to have a nice friendly atmosphere and it does do very good pub grub at lunchtime.

However we had something a bit special to celebrate so our next stop was Mother India’s Cafe (3-5 Infirmary Street, tel 0131 524 9801) . The idea behind Mother India’s is an Indian tapas bar. It’s not as crazy an idea as you might think. The individual dishes come in small portions to the table, just like they would in a Spanish tapas bar, everyone can share and you don’t end up with mountains of uneaten food when everybody is too stuffed to fit a wafer thin mint at the end of the meal. The crab fish cakes and the Archari chicken cooked with pickles are especially good.

What’s the damage? Enough for four, plus beer clocked in at £72.

And with that we wobbled off to our beds.

Pilsen Restaurant – The Municipal House, Prague

Pilsen must be my favourite restaurant in Prague. It is also inside one of my favorite buildings in the city, the Municipal House.

The Municipal House

Completed in 1912 the Municipal House is bang in the centre of Prague on Namesti Republiky 5. It was designed by Osvald Polivka and Antonin Balsanek in the Art Nouveau style and it was from here that Czech independence  was declared in 1918. The Art Nouveau scheme continues inside with mural, metal and glass work by several important Czech designers including Alfons Mucha (yes him of the Laurent Perrier champagne labels)

Within the Municipal House is the Smetana Hall (named after Czech composer Bedrich Smetana) and a number of other rooms used for events and conferences, cafes and restaurants and an information centre. Top tip – in  city where public loos often charge, the information centre has a free to pee toilet.

While the ground floor French restaurant is rather expensive the vast cavern in the basement that is Pilsen, is in my opinion very reasonable

The vast cavern of Pilsen

Laid out as a European beer hall, the food is typical hearty Czech fare, stews and roast meat with the ubiquitous dumplings to soak up any gravy

Roast Duck with Red Cabbage

I started with a smoked sausage which tasted a bit like a chip shop saveloy. No disrespect meant to to the sausage at all, I rather like chip shop saveloys and this sausage was mostly meat. For the main course I had the roast duck with red cabbage and dumplings. It was fabulous but vast. Although maybe not quite as big as the pork knuckle that Nick had!

Nick hides behind his knuckle of pig

Of course for the the spirit music is a natural accompaniment to food.

Musical entertainment by Josef Jehlik and Alena Penzenstradlerova

and the house band are the duo Svejk, Josef Jehlik on accordion and Alena Penzenstradlerova on double bass, playing traditional Czech folk songs.

Band master Josef Jehlik takes the salute

So what’s the damage? Four people starters, mains, aperitif and beers about 2400 Czech Crowns, a ridiculous £85 UK for what we had.

Sadly during our visit the American Cocktail bar

Ameriky Bar, Municipal House

in the Municipal House’s basement was closed for refurbishment, which was a shame because it is rather gorgeous inside.

Ameriky Bar, Municipal House

As you can see from the photos from our 2009 visit, it could easily be the place where Poirot does the big reveal.

The Ameriky Bar

Not to mention the fact that they mix a really mean gimlet

Meanest Gimlet in town

Cheers