‘The Chiperones are a bit bigger than usual’

So said the manageress of the Bodegon Las Tapas (Avenida Maritima, 29, Playa Blanca, Yaiza, Lanzarote) and she wasn’t kidding.


These ‘baby squids’ were about the size of a ten-year old’s shoe and must have been more like teenage squid. They were still delicious though with a squeeze of lemon.

We had been expecting them to be tiny wee things and had also ordered some sardines in raincoats (battered sardines),


Sardines in Raincoats

Sardines in Raincoats

pimentos de padron, catalan toast and a bean stew, however the portions in Bodegon Las Tapas were a bit on the huge size for tapas. Despite a valiant effort it was all too much and I’m afraid one of those squid gave their life to provide a meal for someone else.

P1100121  With beers, water and coffee it clocked in at about €65 for two, good value for such wonderful food with a view over the sparkling blue Atlantic.

Photos copyright QueenMab/Shipscook Photographic. contact simon.ball3@btopenworld.com for commercial reuse

Mojo Sauce – How Hard Can it Be?

I love the cuisine of the Canary Islands and one of my favourite dishes is wrinkly spuds with Mojo sauce.

Best little restaurant in La Palma

Best little restaurant and chef, in La Palma the one man El Sabrosito Tapas Bar

The sauce comes in red and green varieties and the best (and I don’t mean most expensive) restaurants make their own. Personally I like the red sauce best so I usually make a point of buying a few overpriced jars of it at the airport on the way home. Now having just polished off the last jar from our trip to La Palma I thought let’s see if I can make my own.

First things first: some little spuds in their jackets were soaked in salty water, traditionally the islanders use seawater, before being bunged in the oven.

Wrinkly spuds

Wrinkly spuds (plus peri peri chicken)

Now from the label on the jar I had deduced that the Mojo sauce contained: red pepper, garlic, salt, olive oil and vinegar. So into the hand blender’s jug went two red peppers, four garlic cloves a pinch of sea salt and a small glug each of olive oil and vinegar. I let rip with the blender and ended up with a fairly liquid red sauce which I ladled over the spuds.

Mojo daubed spuds

Mojo daubed spuds

Well did it taste authentic? Yes it did even if it was a bit more liquid than I had hoped. I think the fresh peppers in our supermarkets must have a higher water content than the Canarian sun ripened ones, but on the whole I was pretty pleased with the result. The Mojoed spuds went great with the Peri Peri chicken and salad

Tenerife 2013 – Food, Drink, Golf and Fountains in Los Christianos

Maybe not quite as memorable a title as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but you have got to do at least two of them. One of the problems with any place that does the mass tourism thing is finding a place to eat that isn’t trying to cater to absolutely everybody and the resort area of Los Christianos is full of places knocking out burgers, steak, pizza and pasta, plus Indian, Chinese and Mexican themed joints, but very little in the way of authentic Spanish cuisine

Fountains at the Safari Centre Los christianos

Fountains at the Safari Centre Los Christianos

Now I’m not knocking burgers and pizza etc, because when they are good they really hit the spot as was the case at the Country Bar Caribe on our first night. One place we had tried before was the Restaurante Tapas and Wine  in the Avda Santiago Puig. The quality of the food was really good, particularly the sizzling hot plate of spicy chorizo sausages (€7.50), but I thought the portion sizes of the tortilla (€3.25), bacalao (salt cod balls €4.75) and the pimento de padron (€4.75) were a bit stingy for the price we paid. With wine and water our bill came to €75.44 for four people.

Further down the Avda Santiago Puig was Linares IV. Again we had eaten in here before and found it to be quite good. Linares does a good paella at €19.05 for two persons, but they now have an entertainer and we found ourselves squeezed into a table beside his electric organ. Resident entertainers of variable talent knocking out rock ‘n’ roll classics, C & W murder ballads and Irish drinking songs are now endemic in most restaurants and bars on the island and the fellow in Linares put me in mind of the Vic Reeves pub singer as he proceeded to murder Route 66 and I Can’t Help Falling in Love Again.

Oh no, it's Michael Buble tribute time

Oh no, it’s Michael Buble tribute time

And not just in the restaurants, when we stopped off at the Cafeteria Plaza in the main drag of Los Christianos for a nightcap we were confronted with a nightly tribute act that included Mickey Bubble, Tom Jones and Vegas Elvis complete with red jumpsuit, shades and Mancunian accent! However their Lubumba (hot chocolate with lots of rum) is very good, which of course it should be for €8.

Cactus Garden a haven away from Elvis

Cactus Garden a haven away from Elvis even if it involved crazy golf

Some respite from the pub singer could be had in the Cactus Garden behind the Cafeteria. If you have ever wondered what would happen if Antonio Gaudi had been asked to design a crazy golf course you will find the answer here with the mosaic bordered cactus beds separating the windmills and rockeries. It has a bar too.

The Safari Centre is the place to go to catch the free nightly fountain and light shows, nestled amongst the expensive designer shops and international restaurants. Avoid at all costs watching it from Harry’s Bar, which of course is no relation to Hemingway’s Parisian hangout. It is the place to go if you fancy an expensive watery cocktail served by a miserable waitress while listening to a pretty dire sax player though.

Sadly the Mojo Picon family restaurant that we enjoyed so much back in 2009 seems to have gone, but we did find this fantastic little place El Paladar (C/ Noella Alfonso Cabrera) just around the corner from the Columbus.

El Paladar

El Paladar

It was not really on any of the main tourist drags and it didn’t look much from the outside, but we did notice the area under the green awning was always full of middle aged Spanish men watching football, smoking, arguing, drinking beer and generally having a good time. Well that looks like the sort of place that will do decent tapas I thought . I wasn’t wrong either.

Inside El Paladar

Inside El Paladar

We liked this place so much that we ate here three times during the week. Stand out items were the fresh tuna steak, the sizzling prawns, the Russian salad, the Canarian baked potatoes and the battered squid rings which were seasoned to perfection. There is no entertainer and the proprietor also insists on that old-fashioned nicety the complementary digestif. For a meal with wine, beer and water we paid between €55 and €80 depending upon how greedy the four of us were. It was also one of the cheapest places to get a pint of beer in resort at €2.20, no wonder so many old Spaniards hung out there.

More Deer, Beer and Tapas – Richmond-upon-Thames

On Saturday a friend suggested going for tapas and there really are not many restaurants that can beat Don Fernandos’s in Richmond. Naturally no visit to Richmond is complete without visiting Richmond Park to see the deer, even if you do find yourself trapped in the midst of  three testosterone charged red deer stags at the height of the rut, like we did last October (more about that trip and Don Fernando’s here). By this time of year things have calmed down a lot and it wasn’t long before we got a sight of some of Britain’s largest land mammals happily noshing away at the grass.

Red Deer Richmond Park

Red Deer Richmond Park, you can just about make out the tower of Canary Wharf far to the east in the background

The deer appeared fairly nervous, which I put down to a number of large dogs being walked in the area, let’s face it they are not that far removed from the wolf. As the light was starting to fade and the park gates are closed at dusk we decided to bid the deer farewell and head back into Richmond for a few beers at The Roebuck as the Sun set. I was feeling a little disappointed that we hadn’t really got very close to the deer when as we approached the gates, a movement to the left caught my eye.

Fallow Deer stags

Fallow Deer bucks

It was a pair of fallow deer bucks, their dappled coats almost perfectly camouflaging them from sight. Fallow deer are smaller than the UK’s indigenous red deer and were probably introduced to Britain by the Romans. I was delighted to get a few shots of these beautiful animals before the light faded. It was the perfect end to our visit to the park.

Light and dark varients of fallow deer bucks, Richmond Park

Light and dark variants of fallow deer bucks, Richmond Park

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!

Cuisine ~ The A to Z of Travel Moves on

Now where had we got to?

Covered Food Market Barcelona

oh yes:

And so C is for Cuisine (and Catalonia and chorizo)

This one’s easy. Spanish or perhaps more specifically Catalonian Spanish cuisine is definitely my favourite kind of dining. The heady aroma of smoked pimenton, sea fresh razor clams, paella, chipirones (deep fried baby squid), spicy chorizo sausage, stuffed pimentos, Manchego cheese and patatas bravas, washed down with Estrella lager, chilled rose wine and a brandy seasoned in Jerez sherry casks, all of these things take me back to happy meals shared with family and friends in places like Barcelona, Cambrils and Ibiza. The sharing, wit and conversation as important an element as the wine, food and sunshine.


Strange thing is that despite spending many of my childhood and teen holidays on the Costa Brava, I never sampled real Spanish cuisine until I went back to the country as an adult in my mid twenties. Back in the 1960s and 70s, the package holidays we went on tended to be full board with the dreaded ‘international cuisine’, as the hoteliers competed to supply menus they thought would appeal to the mass market Brits, Germans and Scandinavians who descended on the new resorts along the Costas. As you would expect trying to provide a gourmet experience on this kind of basis was doomed to epic failure. My overriding memories from these trips tended to involve watery soup, breaded pork and quite indeterminate meat dishes in gloopy sauce.

The one exception to this was the churros, which we discovered at the chip shop in Estartit. Little did we know at the time that these strings of deep fried pastry made the perfect breakfast with a cup of thick chocolate for dipping. Many years later I watched an English holiday maker spoon baked beans on top of churros at a breakfast buffet in Lanzarote, I suspect he thought the Spaniards were a bit mad!

It wasn’t really until the 1980s that I discovered just how much I actually liked real Spanish food. My own pet theory is that Spain went through a resurgence of confidence in its cultures following the Fascist dictator Francisco Franco’s death in 1975 and this was reflected in the attitude to its cuisine. This was particularly the case in Catalonia where brutal repression of culture and language had taken place. Then in the warly 1980s groundbreaking TV cooks, like the irrepressible Keith Floyd introduced the cuisine to a TV public eager for new experiences and flavours.  And before you say ‘Surely not’, don’t forget it was only in the 1950s that Elizabeth David’s cookbooks introduced French and Italian food to the greater UK public.

La Barca , might not look much but it's home to the best seafood tapas in Cambrils

Now after saying all that, my favourite restaurant is a Hungarian one on London’s Soho!

Huzzah for The Gay Hussar

Lego Trees, Tapas and a Big Chill – Edinburgh Frost Fair

It’s become a bit of a tradition in the Cook’s household, that the weekend before Christmas takes us to Edinburgh. So 9am Saturday we wandered into London’s St Pancras Station for our breakfast to behold this.

Lego Tree St Pancras Station

Well what’s so special about a Christmas  tree at this time of year I hear you ask? Well it turns out that this particular item is made out of Lego bricks, trunk, branch, needles and decs, not only that it’s also the biggest Lego tree in the world.

Up Close Under the Tree

Now the trains to Edinburgh go from Kings Cross, which is the station next door to St Pancras, but (top traveler tip) St Pancras has better places to eat, a branch of Foyles and free to pee toilets, which makes it a much more civilised place to start our journey.  The more eagle eyed of you may also have noticed the Olympic rings by the clock at St Pancras, this is to remind Londoners that they will be paying for the 2012  Games for many years to come.

I enjoy the train journey to Edinburgh much more than flying. From home to the city centre it takes about the same amount of time, but it’s much more pleasant without all the palaver that accompanies air travel. At this time of year the countryside is often quite magical with scatterings of snow and white horses breaking on the Northumbrian coastline on the stretch between Newcastle and Berwick upon Tweed.

One of the highlights of my journey this time was just as we left York, where we saw The Dominion of New Zealand getting up some steam just outside the National Railway Museum. The Dominion of New Zealand was one of five A4 Pacific Class locos, similar to the streamlined world speed record holder Mallard, that were designated Coronation Pacific Class for the crowning of Edward VIII that was due to take place in 1937 had Edward not chosen Wallace Simpson over the crown. The loco is now in the heritage train business hauling luxury trips up and down the UK and we noticed her in the sidings outside Kings cross on the way back on Sunday.

The Dome Done up for Christmas

Bags dumped at Dr Caligari’s, we met up with the daughter and headed for The Dome in the New Town hoping to get a Christmas cocktail, only to find the queue out of the door. Instead we paid a visit to the Parish Church of St Andrew’s and St George’s opposite.

Back in the 18th century Captain Andrew Frazer and Robert Kay designed, what was then, St Andrew’s and the building was completed in 1784. It was the first church in Britain to be built to an elliptical plan and in 1843 it earned a place in Scottish history, when it held the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. A third of the ministers present, alarmed at what they saw as civil meddling in church affairs, walked out to constitute the Free Church of Scotland. This became known as the Disruption. In 1964 the congregation of the Church of St George’s joined St Andrew’s. The original building of St George’s Church is now used by the National Archives of Scotland.

Douglas Strachan Window

St Andrew’s and St George’s has some fine stained glass windows including works by Alfred Webster and Douglas Strachan although these are much later than the church itself.

Edinburgh’s Frost Fair takes place in Princes Street Gardens. It’s funny to think that at one time Princes Street Gardens was Nor Loch, a foul stinking lake filled with the sewage and effluent run off from Edinburgh Old Town’s tanneries and slaughter houses. It was only at the beginning of the 19th century that Nor Loch was drained.

Edinburgh's Winter Wonderland

In the run up to Christmas the place is transformed into Edinburgh’s Winter Wonderland, with a funfair, skating rink and German market. It was packed solid, especially around the stalls serving mulled wines fortified with liquors.

More fun than you can shake a Santa on a stick at

Maybe that was because it was also freezing cold, so I was ready for some tasty tapas by the time we reached Alba Flamenca for our evening meal. The Alba Flamenca dance studio is tucked away in East Cross Causeway, not quite the centre of town, but well worth seeking out. Adjoining the studio, and also used by the dancers and performers is El Bar. For my money this is the best Spanish joint in Edinburgh, the food may not be quite as fine as Barioja, but El Bar more than makes up for that in atmosphere and value. Many of the waiting staff also perform so if you are lucky you might get some improvised Flamenco singing and dancing for free.

We settled into the sofas around our table and tucked into Serrano ham, Manchego cheese, olives, Patatas Bravas, Albondigas a la Jardinera (meatballs in a vegetable stew) , fried chorizo in wine, Escalivada ( cold roasted peppers, aubergine and onion in olive oil), spinach cooked with pine nuts, garlic and raisins and chicken croquettes, followed by churros and chocolate, washed down with Spanish beer and wine and a nightcap of Sol Y Sombre (brandy and anis,the Sun being the clear anis the shadow being the dark Spanish brandy).  Absolutely delicious and only £110 for the five of us.

It was all we could do to waddle back to our hotel!

Deer, Beer and Tapas – Richmond upon Thames

There’s something a bit primal in the autumn. As the leaves start falling from the trees the urge to create new life stirs in much of our wildlife and nowhere could have been more charged than London’s leafy suburb  of Richmond upon Thames this weekend.

Red Deer Richmond Park

Richmond Park is London’s largest Royal Park and home to around 300 Red and 350 Fallow Deer. At this time of year the does come in to season and the park reverberates to the sound of the stags challenging each other. Even close to the road it is quite easy to find yourself suddenly confronted by one of Britain’s largest land animals emerging from the bracken and spoiling for a fight.

Red Deer Stag

Fortunately it’s normally another stag they are interested in, but it’s worth remembering that these are powerful wild animals, especially if you find yourself surrounded by three of them, like we did. We just kept still and eventually the largest stag chased the two smaller animals off. It was rather like being in the middle of our own wildlife documentary and during the afternoon we saw loads of Red Deer. We also saw some of the shyer Fallow Deer running through the bracken close to the river bank.

We also saw rather a lot of these fellows.

Indian Ring Necked Parakeet

He’s an Indian Ring Necked Parakeet and there were hundreds of them enjoying the chestnuts. The parakeets at Richmond are one of three major breeding colonies in London descended from escaped cage birds. The others are at Eltham and Kensal Rise cemetary. Some people want to see these immigrants eradicated, but I rather like them.

The park closes at around 6pm so we went to have a drink at The Roebuck on Richmond Hill, where you get a splendid view as the Sun sets over the Thames meandering through Buccleach Gardens. Who would have thought you would get a view like this,

The Thames at sunset

about 45 minutes from central London by tube?.

We finished the evening at Don Fernando’s Spanish Tapas Restaurant (27F The Quadrant, 020 8948 8447), slap bang next to Richmond Station. this is one of my favourite Spanish restaurants, just opening the door a cornucopia of flavours assaults your nose from the open kitchen that runs along  the side of the seating area. It’s busy, noisy and the closest thing to being in Spain without actuually being there. We started with padron peppers and followed with spanish omelette, Patatas Bravas, prawns in garlic oil, flattened lamb steak, Albondigas (Spanish meat balls) Manchego cheese, Chorizo de la Plancha and aubergine fritters. despite this feast there we still had room for a desert. I had a delightful lemon ice cream, and a digestif.

A bit of Spain in Surrey, Don Fernando’s

For the six of us with water, beer and coffees the bill came to £133, amazingly good value for food of that quality and quantity.

Richmond is on the London Underground District Line, London Overground and Southern Region Railways. Richmond Park is about a 20 minute walk from the station and admission is free.

Edinburgh – Mist and Tapas at Barioja

While most of the UK was enjoying the hottest October for ages we were in Edinburgh for the weekend.

Edinburgh basks in the hottest UK October for ages, where's the castle gone?

Thanks to planned engineering works our East Coast train from London was delayed by one and a half hours, trundling from Newcastle on the east coast all the way to Carlisle on the west side of the country before making its way back over to Edinburgh on the east coast. According to the guard these engineering works had been known about for ‘about a year’ and it was as much a mystery to him as it was to us as to why our tickets had an arrival time of 12.31 printed on them when we were to eventually arrive at 1.58pm.

Of course our well laid plans for lunch with the student were scuppered, but fortunately close to Edinburgh’s Waverly Station is one of our favourite restaurants, Barioja (15-19 Jeffrey Street, 0131 557 3622). A fairly casual tapas bar and cafeteria, Barioja is the partner of the much more expensive Spanish restaurant Igg’s next door. In the evening it has a fairly good selection of Spanish dishes like Bacalao (salt cod fritters), Albondigas (meatballs), Potatas Bravas and Chorizo and Salchicha, but for lunch they do really good bocadillos (Spanish sandwiches) .

The bread is really light while still having a good texture and the fillings are excellent. Mab and the student shared one filled with Spanish omelette, while I had a whole Spanish omelette one to myself, but then I had not had a plate of spicy bean fabada. Nick had one filled with Serrano ham and steak, which also looked pretty good. As if the boccadillos aren’t satisfying enough, they also come with a sizable portion of Potatas Bravas and a bit of salad. We also had a side portion of delicious Escalivida (Catalonian roasted vegetables) and some Paella rice. I also shared a rather good apple tart and ice cream with Mab as we watched Edinburgh outside gradually being enfolded in thick fog.

Complete with four pints of draft Estrella, water and coffees the bill came in at a respectable £60 odd quid, which I thought was quite reasonable for the amount of food we ate. My only beef is that  the tables are all crammed in a bit too much, where we were sitting by the window was on top of a set of steps, so maneuvering around the tables was rather difficult.

Our Edinburgh Festival Adventure

What a Lovely Bonny Baby

Now in my youth festivals meant Reading or the Monsters of Rock at Donnington. These usually ended up in a mudbath as the traditional English summer drought would inevitably break  for the duration of the event. Why should a month long festival in Scotland be any different?

True Festival Weather at Edinburgh

Well it wasn’t, although when we arrived after catching the Cheapo Ticket Express from Kings Cross, it had obviously dried out enough to strand this lovely creature.

Standed by a Rare Dry Spell

So after a meze platter lunch at Empires Bistro in St Mary’s Street we caught a few zeds at Dr Caligari’s (AKA the Travelodge, where the fixtures and fittings are as wonky as the scenery from the very best examples of German Expressionist cinema), before gearing up for the main events.

Both the shows we had tickets for on Saturday were at Dan’s Paleis in George Square, which was actually a massive tent complete with a bar.

Dan's Paleis

First up was Margaret Cho. I had been a bit concerned that Cho might have been a little heavy on the gender politics and light on laughs, but I needn’t have worried as she was hilarious – covering material as diverse as her appearance on America’s Dancing with the Stars with Bristol Palin (I totally get hating the mother’s politics but still wanting to sleep with her), the unwelcome effect of lubricating the vocal chords with olive oil and why the female orgasm requires a PIN number.

Cho’s show done we were back out in the rain to wait for the main event Al Murray the Pub Landlord’s Compete for the Meat Christmas Special.  You probably know how the TV show works and it wasn’t that different live, although for our £15, we got two hours of breakneck madness. The central auditorium of the Paleis had seats laid up as tables for the pub quiz and all the audience were the participants. We got of lightly, despite me being on the receiving end of a: “Fuck me it’s Captain Haddock!” however I was game for that. I was impressed by the way that Murray sized up his audience and left anyone he judged would be uncomfortable alone. Richard Herring put in an appearance as Mr Giblets and I got one of those brilliant Thick and Slow foam hands to take home too!

Thick and Slow

As we’d had a couple of pints of Murphy’s (Murphy’s, that’s what you drink when you can’t get Guinness,  nobody really likes Guinness, just like jazz (c) Al Murray) it was necessary to stop off at the Central Fish Bar before heading to the Auld Hoose for a nightcap.

The kilt came off before the knife juggling

The following Sunday after a leisurely Indian tapas lunch with the daughter at Mother India, we caught a bit of free street performance before seeing A Betrayal of Penguins at the Gilded Balloon. This was our Fringe wildcard and we had no idea what to expect, but the three guys from Dublin pulled off a blinding sketch show based around a wedding, a horse race and Oscar night. I particularly liked the racing commentators who were also spies, the Oscar night zombie security guard and the groom’s best friend who was clearly in love with him. I think they have the potential to go far, keep an eye out for them, you won’t be disappointed.

Our final show was Shappi Khorsandi‘s My Brother and I Holding Hands in Our Pants. Again I was worried that the show could have been overly sentimental or needlessly cruel, but no it was a delightfully funny ramble through Shappi’s relationship with her brother, from their childhood in Iran where the original photo of them holding hands in their pants was taken, to the recent recreation of the shot for the Guardian. Very funny lady.

So with just enough time for some Spanish tapas at Alba Flamenco (more about there later), before heading back to Dr Caligari’s. That was our smashing Edinburgh Festival weekend.