Edinburgh – Sampling Deep Fried Black Pudding and the Kama Sutra

That got you going didn’t it? Read on and all will be explained.

Day two of our Edinburgh adventure and the Sun was shining as we set out from Dr Caligari’s in search of breakfast. Despite the promise of square Scottish sausage, No.1 High Street was still closed, so we decamped to the Circus Bistro (8 St Mary’s Street). This is a new venture by our friend at the Turkish restaurant Empires at No.24 St Mary’s Street, and very nice it is too. With a nice bright naturally lit interior the early morning food is fairly standard cafe fare, breakfasts, pastries, cakes and coffee etc, but of excellent quality and competitively priced. the omelettes are particularly good very light and fluffy. The evening menu is a bit more adventurous and unlike Empires it is licensed so you don’t have to bring your own booze. I suspect we might investigate further in the future.

The Dome wrapped up for Christmas

Lunch was a much grander affair as it was the daughter’s birthday. We trekked over to the neo-classical splendour of the Dome in the New Town (read more about the Dome and its history here) . Now in the lead up to Christmas you can’t make advance bookings so we got there nice and early so that we could enjoy the splendour of the Grill Room that used to be the banking hall.

The Grill Room, very seasonal

Having got there early we fell foul of Edinburgh’s prissy Sunday drinking laws and had to wait until 12.30 before we could get stuck into the celebratory cocktails, but at least it was pretty. The Christmas menu was pretty good too with some Scottish favourites like Haggis and Neeps and Mince and Tatties.

Deep fried Black Pudding

And this is where the Deep-fried Black Pudding comes in. This starter could have all gone horribly wrong,  but the pudding was crispy on the outside and soft and yielding within. On top a layer of sharp beetroot chutney, three balls of deep-fried white pudding and some weeds. The white pudding was really crisp and not at all fatty, which I had been a little worried about, but the combination was as near perfect as could possibly be. Can’t think of a better use for blood! Certainly better than letting sparkly vampires drink it

Dome Burger

I do like a good burger and my Dome Burger was just that. It was pretty substantial too! There was no way that was going into my mouth without some serious surgery to cut it down to size. Nick was forced into submission by the Mince and Tatties, ‘Good, but very rich’ was his opinion, but I can not offer an opinion on the ladies’ haggis, not my thing at all. The Dome’s cocktails are pretty good too and they have quite a kick. My Manhattan was made with white vermouth over red, hence it was a lovely graduated pink sinking towards the girly glace cherry at the bottom.

Considering we all had starters and mains, plus coffee and seven cocktails between the four of us I though the bill not unreasonable at around £150.

It was that evening we decided to try out the Kama Sutra. It wasn’t the first time either. Way back in the late 90s Mab and I had used the first generation Kama Sutra in Glasgow and found it to have a very imaginative menu. Now there is a branch in Edinburgh at 105-109 Lothian Road, about 20 minutes from Dr Caligari’s. We were soon settled inside out of the cold with a couple of ice-cold Cobras to warm us up.

Of course you can always have haggis pakora if you want to go local, but I started with pan-fried scallops with ginger and coriander, it was melt in the mouth heaven.

Pan fried scallops

Mab had the tandoori lamb chops, she let me try a bit, it was very tasty.

Tandoori Lamb Chops

For the mains I tried the Chicken Taka Tak, this was something I hadn’t tried before and I wasn’t disappointed, very tender chicken in a spicy tomato, ginger and chili sauce. Mab’s Masala Dosa was the perfect antidote to all the meat she had so far consumed over the weekend.

Masala Dosa

Just as well she hadn’t opted for the mountain of meat that was Nick’s Kebabi Khazani.

Kebabi Khazani

Just like the previous night we had over ordered a bit, forgetting that the daughter’s Biryani also came with rice, however the evening wasn’t over when the food was cleared away as our waiters snuck up with a chocolate pudding and a chorus of Happy Birthday for our birthday girl. What a nice gesture, we hadn’t told them, one of them must have just overhead us talking about it. So thank you very much boys!

Edinburgh’s Kama Sutra is every bit as good as the Glasgow parent. Our bill came to £108.45 for four including starters, mains, two lots of rice, two naans, three sides (Excellent Ajwani Bhindi it was too), four beers, two lassi and a bottle of Chilian Cabernet, but we got a walloping 20% off (£18.05) with the Kama Sutra discount card I had taken out from their website. We will certainly try it again.

Edinburgh Weekend – No Tapas, but we Sink a Gurkha

Our Edinburgh weekend didn’t get off to a good start, when the idiot genie kicked in at King’s Cross Station. Here’s a message for the management of the station’s WH Smith branch, if you don’t want people to queue on the ‘wrong’ side of the barrier thinking it’s for the till staffed by a real person, block it off – don’t employ some bossy little squirt to tell us we are in the wrong place. Once you have done that you can try making the self-service tills actually work. That’s why you lost two potential book and magazine sales to Waterstones on Saturday . On the positive side we did have some very good pasties from The Pasty Shop, which I thoroughly recommend.

After a relatively uneventful journey to Edinburgh (although I did spot some hares around the border) we arrived with about half an hour to spare before the 3.pm check in at the Travelodge of Dr Caligari (to be fair the most recent refurb took care of most of the wonky fittings that gave the interior the look of a 1920s German expressionist film). What to do? Should we fork out an extra tenner to check in early or invest it in beer? See if you can imagine what won.

And the lucky £10 winner is No.1 High Street

This boozer on the corner of the Royal Mile used to be called The Tass and did a nice line in live entertainment for people of a certain age. Despite the recent refurbishment, I couldn’t see any difference inside other than the new name printed on the menu. The menu looked pretty good though and from what I saw of the burgers coming out of the kitchen I’m sure a return visit for lunch will be in order soon.

Gear dumped at Caligari’s our plans for the evening began to unravel. We had booked a table at Alba Flamenca’s El Bar (6-8 Howden Street)  for tapas, but the restaurant had unexpectedly closed until Christmas.  As Barioja, the only other proper tapas bar we know in the city, had let us down so badly on our last visit, Spanish was off the menu, added to that Saturday afternoon was rapidly slipping away so a desperate search for table for four at a decent restaurant ensued.

Eventually we settled on The Gurkha Cafe in Cockburn Street as it had some good Tripadvisor reviews and I’m glad we did.

The Gurkha Cafe

It’s a bit shabby inside, but I was immediately sold on the knives which were shaped like Gurkha kukris. This is only the second Nepalese restaurant I have eaten in, the first was also called the Gurkha Cafe only it was in Reading. Having had a long and frustrating day we got stuck into some drinks, the ice-cold Gurkha lager was just the thing I needed while the Everest Paradise cocktails were deceptively strong and pretty good value at £4.95. I started with Piro Khukura, marinated chicken cooked with onions and green peppers and followed by Bhutteko Khasi a dish of lamb, green chili and garlic. Both were absolutely delicious as was Mab’s Lamb Choila, basically a lamb shank braised in sauce, so tender that it that just falls apart under the fork. The bhindi (okra) side was pretty good too. The portions here are pretty big and we certainly over ordered judging by what was left on the table when we had finished.

The staff are very pleasant and the manager dealt very effectively and kindly with the member of Edinburgh’s street community who let himself in for a spot of begging. Complete with a bottle of Pinot Grigio, two beers and two cocktails, rice, naans and three sides the bill came in at £129 for four, which isn’t bad value for a city centre restaurant.

Travel A to Z – Xcellent View to Zealous Sports Fans

So the A to Z grinds to its close and no matter how hard I worked ‘my little grey cells’ I could not come up with a better way of using the alphabet’s most problematic letter. Let’s face it unless you have a travel xylophone or become the captain of a xebec (small three-masted vessel used by Algerian pirates) there are not that many applications of the letter other than having your flip-flops screened for plutonium by some airport jobsworth or a visit to casuality on a ski holiday.

Right what is the most excellent view I have ever beheld, having thought about it I decided that you can’t really beat raw Scotland.

Castle Urquhart, Loch Ness

This is Castle Urquhart on the banks of Loch Ness. The photo was taken from a boat and I think it has just the right balance of natural beauty and a man-made edifice.  It was also the place that I got something decent to eat after the epic fail of our lunch stop that day, plus a tot of rum, which may also have had something to do with the choice.

We also got to meet Hamish the Highland Coo that day

Hamish

We were told he was a film star, having been in Entrapment with Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta Jones, think I’d rather have seen her kiss Hamish than Sean!

Y for Years spent travelling

My first overseas trip was to Sitges in Spain when I was a toddler so I reckon about 52 so far.

Z for Zealous sports fans

Right I don’t do sport, but can remember vividly being in Cyprus when France won the 1998 World Cup Final. There were a lot of French guests in the hotel and all of them, plus several bystanders, staff and the manager’s dog ended up in the pool.

Mind you Z is also for Zebra and I really like this photo I took at Edinburgh Zoo

Life in line zebras at Edinburgh Zoo

Only you can’t look at it for too long or the vertical hold in your brain goes.

Edinburgh – From the Fringe of Madness

We made our annual trip to the UK’s top cultural festival over the past weekend to take in some spectacular shows, spot a few celebs and take a few drinks.

Teetering on the Brink at Edinburgh’s Fringe

The Shows

The first show we had booked was Marcus Brigstocke’s the Brig Society at the Assembly’s Rainy Hall. As you would imagine from the show’s title, it riffs off the Tories big con-trick The Big Society. Coming from a privileged background himself, Brigstocke ably demonstrated how the present government feathers the nest of its own members at the expense of everyone else, exposing the hypocrisy of cuts designed to hurt the least well off in society while millionaires like UK Prime Minister David Cameron (personal fortune £30 million) just get richer. I particularly enjoyed the way he showed how bankers caused the financial crisis by borrowing money from the audience. Lots of great jokes (which I always have trouble remembering), I liked this one on Scottish independence “Alex Salmond likens the Scottish economy to a Celtic tiger, that’s like a normal tiger only with type two diabetes”.

Naturally Brigstocke also enjoyed telling us that the present UK Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has decided that the UK should, in the wake of the success of the 2012 Games, host an annual cultural festival with dance, music, literature, poetry and art. Must be news for the organisers of the UK’s annual International Arts Festival that has only been going on in Edinburgh since 1947! Shows how out of touch the idiots running the UK are, either that or they consider Scotland’s independence a done deal.

Brigstocke’s show finished at 10.20 so we had to beat it across Edinburgh to the George Square Theatre to catch Reanimator the Musical at 10.40. If you haven’t seen Stuart Gordon’s 1985 movie of HP Lovecraft’s classic tale of how medical student Herbert West brings corpses back to life, you are probably at a disadvantage, as the show is packed full of gags based upon it.

The cast, which includes George Wendt (Norm from Cheers) as Dean Halsey were brilliant, the musical score is somewhere between 70s prog rock and Gilbert and Sullivan and the effects, achieved with minimal props excellent. If you ever get the chance to see it, the first three rows are the splatter zone, you will get squirted with fake blood and other fluids. You have been warned.
Sunday’s main events were both at the very intimate Pleasance Cabaret Bar. We knew what to expect from The Tim Vine Chat Show and the Not Going Out comic did not disappoint, quick fire gags like this,

were supplemented by chats with volunteers from the audience, although Formula One engineer Ross Brawn didn’t put himself forward, Vine managed to get laughs even from an accountant who admitted that accountants were boring!

Hardeep Singh Kohli was in the audience for Reginald D Hunter‘s Work in Progress. More observational than quick fire gag riffing Hunter’s show took us from his family in the deep south of the USA to people’s reaction to his so-called celebrity status in Britain and then on to a tabloid newspaper attempts to honey-trap him and the duplicity of blackmailers. Very relaxed, laconic delivery as you would expect from his Have I Got News For You appearances.

We also watched part of a free show by a singing accupuntuarist at the Meadows pub. It was different.

What we ate
Food is always an important part of our Edinburgh weekends. Our first meal was very disappointing and sad to say it was at somewhere we have recommended in the past. Lunch at Barioja (19 Jeffrey Street)  has usually been very good, but on Saturday it was dreadful, the tortilla boccadillo might just as well have been stuffed with instant mash there was so little egg in it, the meat in the Mixta boccadillo could have soled an army boot, the waitress was inattentive and there was no draft beer. The tapas bar’s next door cousin Spanish restaurant  Igg’s was recently featured as a business in trouble on Channel 5’s The Restaurant Inspector. On the basis of our experience on Saturday I’m not surprised.

Shamoli (105 High Street) in the Royal Mile, was somewhere we had often passed but never ventured inside before. On Saturday night the first floor Indian/Thai restaurant was packed . I thought the food was OK but not that remarkable. It was also a bit pricey at £99 for four with a bottle of cheap white and the service was a bit lacklustre.

Breakfast at retro diner Mums  (4a Forest Road) on the other hand was superlative. Three full Scottish (eggs, sausage, black pudding, bacon, potato scone, beans, mushrooms and toast) with tea and coffee all for just £26.70, all served with a smile, plus a complementary fruit salad and blackjack retro sweet for everyone. To top that there was someone dressed as a reindeer at the next table, that’s one of the reasons I love Edinburgh during the Fringe.

Huzzah for Mums

We also ate at a branch of La Tasca (Omni Centre). I know it’s not a real Spanish restaurant, but the food was better than Barioja’s. With a discount card it came to £90 for four including sangria, coffees, two draft Estrellas, two brandies and two liqueur 43s.  My only criticism is the expensive poncy bread-board, I’d rather have a basket of bread.

Where we stayed

Because hoteliers get greedy and charge-rip off prices during the festival we stayed at the Travelodge in Egglington Crescent. Converted from a couple of Georgian terraced houses, this hotel offered a relatively cheap option even factoring cab fares in and out of the town centre during our stay (about £9 a go). We have stayed here a couple of times and have had the odd problem with noisy plumbing. This time we got a room on the third floor overlooking some very neat gardens, but the toilet flush had a knack to it that only I mastered. Lucky old me!

Scottish National Portrait Gallery and a pint at The Conan Doyle

When we went to see the pandas at Edinburgh Zoo the other week the bus passed this incredible piece of Gothic Revival architecture.

Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh

This is the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh’s  Queen Street. The photograph doesn’t really do it justice, but short of standing in the traffic I wasn’t going to get much better. The building was designed by the Scottish architect Robert Rowland Anderson, who was trained by the great George Gilbert Scott and built between 1885 and 1890. It was built specifically to house the collection of portraits founded by David Erskine the 11th Earl of Buchan and as such was the first custom-built national museum of portraiture. London’s National Portrait Gallery was founded earlier (I worked on Royal Mail’s 150th anniversary stamp products back in 2006), but didn’t move into its current location until 1896.

It is a bit of a wow moment when you step into the atrium.

William Hole frieze – Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh

The processional frieze below the balcony is by the English painter William Hole and depicts important Scots from Saint Ninian to Robert Burns and David Livingstone. The collection has lots of portraits of famous Jacobites like Bonnie Prince Charlie and Flora Macdonald as well as Kings, Queens and other worthies. Notable portraits include Raeburn’s Walter Scott and Nasmyth’s Robert Burns. Unfortunately the contemporary gallery is presently being rehung, so the only modern Scot on view John Bellany’s portrait of Billy Connolly.

We found the portrait of another famous Scot at the bottom of Queen Street.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – The Conan Doyle, Edinburgh

Hanging over the entrance to The Conan Doyle pub. The Conan Doyle has had a bit of a facelift since I last visited and the exterior is now a smart black rather than green. Inside it’s still packed with Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes memorabilia. The pub is just of Picardy Place, where in 1859, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born at number 55. Number 55 is no longer there , but I had a lovely pint of Belhaven stout, drawn from a hand-pump. It was better than Guinness, with no CO2 artificial fizz.

Customised pump badge at The Conan Doyle

The Bear Necessities – Edinburgh Zoo

I couldn’t help but be reminded of Baloo in Disney’s The Jungle Book when I saw this bear having a good old rub against the tree trunk in Edinburgh Zoo.

Sun Bear – Edinburgh Zoo

He wasn’t the only animal enjoying the Scottish sunshine, while London drowned over the Jubilee weekend.

Patagonian sea lion

This sea lion was having a kip, but just for a change the Amur Leopard (the world’s rarest big cat, there are only 38 in the wild) was pacing up and down its enclosure.

World’s rarest feline – the Amur Leopard from the Russo-Chinese borderlands

Which made a change from all the other big cats who were all having a nice lie down.

One-eyed tiger

‘Look it’s a rat-bear thing’ called a little voice.

Binturong

Actually that’s not a bad description as the binturong is also known as a bearcat. It’s not a bear but a relative of the civet and is found in forested parts of Bangladesh, Nepal, Malaysia, Indonesia and Indochina where it eats fruit, eggs and small rodents.

 

Edinburgh – Pandamonium

No it’s not a typo, on Sunday we got to see Tian Tian and Yang Guang at Edinburgh Zoo.

Oi where’s me bamboo

You have to book a special ticket at the Zoo website to get a slot. It does not cost anymore than a normal Zoo entry (£13.95 adult £9.90 nipper),  but they can be quite hard to get on busy weekends. Our slot was at 3pm and we had timed it perfectly as the male panda Yang Guang (Sunshine) had just woken up having heard the keepers getting his bamboo ready. Pandas strike me as a bit of an evolutionary oddity seeing that they eat  a plant that is both very low in nutrient value and packed full of deady cyanide. They have to spend up to 18 hours asleep everyday just to digest it.

Ah that’s better

Needless to say about the first thing he did when he woke up was to have a massive poo followed by a handstand to rub his arse against the grill. Apparently this is scentmarking his territory and pandas are very territorial beasts.

We then moved outside to see Tian Tian (Sweetie), who was having a kip in her enclosure.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Now another evolutionary quirk about pandas is that the females only come into season for two days a year and when Tian Tian came into season earlier this year Yang Guang only cottoned on to what he was supposed to do by the time it was over. It’s hardly any wonder they are an endangered species!

When Tian Tian is not in season the animals have to be kept in separate enclosures because of their territorial needs. By the time we had finished taking pictures of the comatose Tian Tian, Yang Guang had moved into his external enclosure.

Get your noggin out of the way Mrs there’s some bloke trying to take a photo behind you

Where most of the time was spent hiding behind a tree noshing on bamboo.

Bamboo, my favourite.

It was a great day out and we were really lucky to see one of the pandas being active. The weather was brilliant unlike London where poor old Brenda had her parade rained on.

Edinburgh – Bring on the Jubilee with Hawkwind, Curry and Beer

While most of the UK seemed to be drowning over the Jubilee weekend we were enjoying the sunshine in Edinburgh. After checking in to Dr Jekyll’s Travelodge (Dr Caligari’s was booked out) it was off to the Mosque Kitchen for their amazing £10 all you can eat buffet before the evening’s main event.

I first saw Hawkwind at the Reading Festival in 1975, when they played to 50,000 people. Queen’s Hall Edinburgh on Saturday night was a bit more intimate, in fact it must be the smallest venue I have ever seen the band play in. It was built as Hope Park Chapel in 1823, but converted to a music venue in 1979. We nabbed a position on the raised seating area to the left of the stage and settled in for the night.

Syren, a predominantly female band that had its origins in Rockbitch opened the evening. They held their own, but it was Hawkwind’s primal trance inducing beat the audience was waiting for. I honestly can’t remember how many times I have seen this band and while they did have a bit of an off moment in the mid to late 70s, they have seldom failed to to provide anything less than a great night out with their lightshow and dancers. Saturday was no exception.

Opening with You’d Better Believe It, it was almost as if they had read my mind as to what I’d like to hear them perform, Assault and Battery/the Golden Void, Sonic Attack and a ripping Assassins of Allah were all trotted out before closing the set with Damnation Alley

An encore of Psychedelic Warlords and Silver Machine finished things off nicely.

Now despite it being 10.30, it still wasn’t completely dark out on Edinburgh’s streets as we headed for the Auld Hoose in St Leonard’s Street, for a few beers over a discussion on the most pressing item of the day. Namely what instrument should a T.Rex play? Given his stubby little arms’ it was agreed that a trombone would be out of the question and that he could never emulate Lemmy on bass. Perhaps a ukulele? I like the Auld Hoose, it has a Goth, Rock and Metal jukebox and Staropramen on draft.

I liked the Queen’s Hall too. It’s a nice venue, the people who work there are very friendly and the bar is very reasonable, in fact with lager at £3 a pint it’s cheaper than most local pubs. The videos of Hawkwind are not the present line up.

Watch the Birdie – Edinburgh Zoo

Or is he watching us?

Southern Cassowary

This is a southern cassowary from the rain forests of Indonesia, New Guinea and North Eastern Australia. Flightless like his cousins the ostrich and the emu, he’s a bad-tempered old bird and in the wild has been known to kill humans with his razor-sharp talons. However he is one of those rare birds who makes a good single parent dad, incubating the eggs and bringing up the chicks on his own.

Animals are Lazy II – Edinburgh Zoo

It’s one of those awkward questions many parents dread on any zoo visit.

“Why’s that monkey got such a big bottom Daddy?”

For most primates it’s a signal that they are ready to mate, but not for the gelada baboon from Ethiopia.

Gelada baboon, a fan of a nice sit down

These creatures spend so much time sitting on their bottoms that their chests have become the principle area of sexual display.

Male gelada baboon, waitng for a nice cup of tea and a biscuit

As you can see even the male has quite a cleavage!

Despite all this lazing around, he’s been quite a busy boy, as most of his wives have small bundles of joy. Geladas live in family groups with each male having up to twelve wives.

One of the harem

So twelve willing women and sitting on his bum doing nothing all day, living the male dream eh?