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.

More Curry and Beer – A Return to Theydon Bois

We had originally intended to go into London this weekend, but good old London Transport had decided to close most of the Central Line into town down. However we were not going to let a little thing like that get in the way of a bit of fun, so we took the tube outward to the Essex town of Theydon Bois again.

The Bull as seen from the Green, Theydon Bois

Arriving in the daylight we went for a walk on the Green where we met some very chatty ducks by the pond, before decamping to the Victoria for a pint of AK Bitter and then to the Bull where to my delight Young’s Special was the guest ale.

Theydon Bois has three Indian restaurants and we had already tried the Indian Ocean, which was a bit variable on the quality of the food and a bit flashy of decor. The Theydon Bois Balti House (Station Approach) on the other hand from the outside looks as if it has been caught in time warp. Black glass windows behind twisted columns, very old school curry palace, but it had been given a glowing recommendation by my physio who has her practice in the town.

Stepping inside we found a light green interior, fresh white table linen and a very well-kept tropical fish tank. The staff were very welcoming and there was that really great Indian food smell wafting from the kitchen. It was also rammed solid with other diners, so it was just as well we had booked a table.

For starters Mab had the Mulligatawny soup,

Mulligatawny Soup

Mab slipped me a taste and it was very good, obviously homemade with a fresh coriander garnish, I had the Seekh kebab,

Seekh kebab

while Nick had the Shammi kebab, both of which were delightfully spiced.

Shammi kebab

The main courses consisted of a Chicken Jalfrezi Balti for me, Mab’s Chicken Vindaloo and Nick’s Lamb Jalfrezi, along with Tadka Dahl (lentils), Motor Panir (cheesy peas), Sag Aloo (potatoes with spinach), onion rice and a Keema (spicy lamb mince) stuffed Naan.

Lamb Jalfrezi, Sag Aloo and Motor Panir, Keema Naan and chapati in the background

The food was really excellent and really well presented. The curries were garnished with fresh chili and coriander, the meat tender and well-flavoured. The Vindaloo was particularly good with a subtle heat, that gradually increased in intensity rather than blowing your head off. All in all top quality traditional Indian restaurant cuisine

Tadka Dahl, Chicken Jalfrezi Balti and Chicken Vindaloo

Needless to say that there was far more than we could eat, but we made a valiant effort. Over some very welcome complementary digestifs the manager came over to talk to us. We mentioned how much we had enjoyed our meal and he explained how he had chosen to stick with the original menu of basic Indian favourites like Vindaloo, Balti, Persian and Madras curries with either chicken, lamb or prawns, since opening the restaurant in the early 90s. No fancy new dishes with duck or fish for example. It’s obviously paid off for him, as the place was stuffed with happy eaters and we shall certainly be visiting again.

So what’s the damage? For three with papadoms, starters, mains, three vegetable dishes, two portions of rice, Naan bread, chapati, one bottle of Chilean white, two pints of Cobra, and water £76. Pretty good for three stuffed and happy diners.

Beer and Curry in Theydon Bois

Even though it’s just two stops east on the Central Line from where we live, I had never been to the Essex village of Theydon Bois until about a month ago. Until recently it was just another point on the London tube map, but thanks to my elbow injury I was refered to see a physiotherapist there. Now being the sort of person who likes to make the best of any new situation I thought I’d see what else Theydon Bois had to offer and discovered two pubs and three Indian restaurants all within five minutes walk of the station. This bears future investigation I thought.

Before we go any further here’s a wee bit of history. the second part of the name is generally pronounced ‘boys’ and is derived from the Norman French de Bosco family who held the local manor in the 12th and 13th centuries. The spelling was only standardised as Bois in the 19th century when the Great Eastern Railway needed it for the station signs.

So where to eat? Well The Indian Ocean (Coppice Row) seemed to top the local recommendations, so reservations made we headed to the tube station. On arrival the first thing that struck me was that it was very dark. This is because the local villagers have consistently voted against street lighting  to maintain the local ambience and keep their council tax bills down. Whether this leads to more accidents and burglaries I don’t know, but it does mean that the night sky is very clear, so you can see plenty of stars.

The Bull, Theydon Bois

Our first stop was The Bull (Station Approach, Coppice Row). The building dates back to the 17th century when it used to be a private residence, but today it’s a fairly large and traditional village pub. Just the sort of pub we like really, music not too loud and a happy atmosphere, mind you any pub that does not need to have a goon on the door on a Saturday is alright by me.  It’s a Charles Wells brewery pub and the real ales on tap on Saturday, included Bombardier and The Governor. I had a pint of the latter and very pleasant it was. The food looked good, with generous sized portions too.

Next stop was The Queen Victoria (Coppice Row). This is a McMullen’s pub serving AK and Country bitter from the hand pumps. We opted for the cosy Victoria Room, much favoured by the local dog owners, rather than the bar,

The portal to the Victoria Room

where I enjoyed a pint of Country in front of the blazing log fire before the main event.

Now we had heard a lot of good things about the Indian Ocean and getting a table had been quite difficult. The restaurant is very contemporary in design and features a huge set of screens where air is pumped through water to constantly changing coloured light. I made a mental note not to sit facing them ever again as it was a bit like  watching the opening credits to a 1970s edition of Dr Who for the duration of our visit.

Dr Who Screen

So what was the food like. A bit mixed really Mab and I stated with the Harryali Kebab, tender char grilled chicken breast dusted with mint, coriander, garlic and chili which was delicious, but Nick’s Shami kebab was tasteless and bland. For a main I had the Rajeshwari chicken. Consisting of chicken cooked in tomato, peppers, coriander and garlic it was very good, Mab’s Dalcha Gosth (shredded lamb cooked with green chilis and coriander) was also a success, but Nick’s Duck e Roshidi (tomato, garlic, green pepper, coriander and onions) was again a bit bland in flavour. The side dishes Tadka Dahl, Aloo Gobi, Keema Naan and Sag Paneer were all excellent especially the Sag Paneer, which can often be a disaster in the wrong hands.

With wine beer and water the whole meal came to around £76 which I thought was pretty good value, despite the disappointment over some of the dishes selected.

Edinburgh Weekend Friday – A Tale of Celebrity, Cheap Grub and a Pukka Night Out

Our Edinburgh weekend got off to an early start, with a 6am breakfast at Le Pain Quotidian in St Pancras Station. I think that the new Eurostar terminal at St Pancras is a much nicer place to kick off a trip to Scotland that the nearby Kings Cross Station as it has a better selection of shops, places to eat and best of all free to pee toilets. It was here that we had our celebrity encounter spotting TV chef Brain Turner enjoying a Costa Coffee. I wonder where he was off to?

Edinburgh Castle

Thankfully our journey up arrived on schedule, so it wasn’t long before we were tucking into an excellent curry at the Mosque Kitchen (33 Nicholson Square). The Mosque Kitchen used to operate out of the Edinburgh Central Mosque (AKA the King Fahd Mosque and Islamic Centre of Edinburgh) on the other side of Nicholson Square in Potterow. There the volunteer staff had been serving up a limited selection of basic halal dishes since 2004, with all the profits going to charity. Don’t let the idea of the basic cuisine put you off though, because in 2010 it was shortlisted for the Best Indian Restaurant in the Scottish Restaurant Awards and was only pipped at he post by the quite awesome Mother India. The secret according to Mohammed Akbar is using two year old basmati rice as it cooks better.

OK it’s basic, you queue up to get served your dish on a paper plate, but the portions are generous, very tasty and incredibly cheap. I had a small mountain of rice with a chicken curry and a side dish all for £4.50, I don’t think you can knock that for value. Obviously there is no booze on sale, but that’s fine for lunch in my book. There is also an ‘eat as much as you can buffet’ offered downstairs for the bargain price of £12.

Edinburgh New Town by Night

By contrast we pushed the boat out that evening with a visit to the Indian Cavalry Club (22 Coates Crescent) . I have written about this rather swanky restaurant in Edinburgh’s New Town before and as expected the food was exceptionally good. I had the subtly spiced Mulligatawny soup (yellow not the alarming orange that you get in so many restaurants)  to start followed by a chicken Bori Massalum, a piquant curry cooked in yogurt. Of the side dishes the Muttar Paneer and the delicate Keema  Naan certainly deserve honourable mentions in dispatches.

For the four of us the bill, complete with drinks, wine, water and coffee, came in at £157.60, but thanks to our Pukka Club membership a whopping great £31.52 (20%) was knocked off that. Definitely a must have in the Edinburgh tool kit!

Chinese Style Creamy Chicken Curry

I threw this little beauty together last night.

Creamy Chicken Curry

It’s quite a good dish to use up whatever leftover veg you may have in the house.

So into some hot oil goes one chopped onion, four cloves of smashed up garlic, a finger sized bit of chopped ginger and two green chilis. Once the onions had softened off a bit in went some green pepper and a diced up chicken breast with two teaspoons full of Chinese Five Spice powder.

Once the chicken was sealed, as I didn’t have any rice wine or sherry in the house, in went a splash of white vermouth to lift the caramalised juices from the pan and a bunch of sliced mushrooms and three teaspoons of Chinese curry powder. A good splash of dark soy sauce will draw the liquor out of the mushrooms before adding enough water to almost cover the contents of the pan, put it back on the heat and chuck in a chicken stock cube and some green beans.

Let the liquid reduce and shortly before serving add a pot of creme fraiche to give it that nice creamyness. Serve on a bed of rice.

It will also work with any other meat or seafood, leeks or peas are good too.

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.

Indian Tapas, Tequila and Beer – Another Night Out in Soho

As we had adults Saturday night this weekend, we decided to try out the new Indian tapas restaurant Imli, in Soho’s Wardour Street. Arriving in London’s west end a wee bit early we headed off to the Nordic Bar for a quick drink before meeting up with Mr Wolfe in the tequila bar downstairs at Wahaca.

I have often walked past the Nordic Bar in Fitzrovia’s Newman Street (no. 25) and thought “I really must try that place”, but never got around to it before. Situated in a basement, it’s pretty dark inside and the black walls don’t help to brighten the place up. Draft beers are Tuborg and that bloody awful Carlsberg, which isn’t very imaginative since they are both made by the same Danish brewer, but there are beers and ciders from other parts of Scandinavia in bottles as well as a selection of Swedish vodka. Prices are what you’d expect from a London pub so quite a lot cheaper than a real Scandinavian pub!

Next stop was the tequila bar downstairs at Wahaca where we met up with Mr Wolfe and tried the smoky Forever Oax reposado mescal with a Pacifico beer chaser, which went down well with some nachos and guacamole. We had just enough time to savour an old Marguay reposado tequila before legging it across Wardour Street to Imli (167-169) where our table was ready.

There has been a fair bit of noise about this place bringing the concept of tapas to Indian food recently, but Mother India in Edinburgh and Glasgow got there first. Still Imli’s menu is packed full of really tempting stuff. We took the easy option of going for the set menu B at £25.95 (there is a set menu A at £19.95 which is pretty much the same only minus some of the meat dishes). The first stuff to arrive were a grilled spicy chicken salad dressed with honey and ginger, Aloo Matar Tikki Ragda – a potato and pea cake served with a red onion and tamarind chutney and some deep fried spicy squid, all beautifully presented and quite delicious.

The next course to arrive was honey grilled duck on a bed of turmeric mash. although a bit on the small side it was really, really good and I could have eaten much more of it. This was followed by lamb rogon josh, plus a creamy curry of mushroom, baby corn and spinach and a Bombay alloo, accompanied with pulao rice, plain and cheese naans. Again all very nice. Finally a home-made fig and ginger ice cream finished off the meal perfectly. All in the food was very good and as with Mother India the smaller portions ensured that while nobody went hungry there was not any waste.

On the down side the drinks are a bit pricy (large Cobra about £7), there are no little extras like heated towels or even an after dinner mint after the meal and a 12.5% service charge is added to your final bill. I think that’s a bit cheeky given the extortionate price of the booze. On balance though it was a good night out despite the four of us all walking out £45 lighter.

There was only one thing left to do, so cutting down Old Comption Street we just had time for a couple of pints in The Coach and Horses before getting the tube home.

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 .

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.