Sunday, 18 May 2008

Review: The Villiage

The Village / 16 South Fort Street, Edinburgh EH6 4DN 0131 478 7810

Buried in a quiet Leith neighbourhood is a bustling and friendly little pub, The Village, with its stylish purple exterior and a reputation for being a remarkable wee venue too. Leithers aren't exactly hurting for a quaint place to bang back a bevy, but it's always good to get acquainted with any unsuspecting gems that carry on right around the corner. My flatmate and I make our way there on foot using a tip or two from Google Maps on one of the nicest evenings of the Spring. We arrive pleased with our discovery and make our way to the bar to begin the casual and relaxed evening. Tonight's indulgence involves one (okay, maybe three) Guinness (2.75) and one (or two) large white wine (3.75) served by not one, but two cheeky bartenders. This pub immediately feels like home with a couple of faces in the room that I recognise and banter going around from the ones I don't. We mingle through to the adjoined room with local photography that lines the walls, several cozy leather sofas and a good two dozen live acoustic afficionados listening intently to the entertainment the Leith Folk Club has to offer tonight. It's a sweet sight and it's confirmed that this is the perfect place to enjoy some of the acts lined up for the upcoming Leith Festival that will feature 150 events in 50 venues within a one mile radius. Over the course of the night, rumours make their way around of the special guests coming soon and they include New York Americana folksters, Sherman (June 4th), Kevin Mongomery - son of a couple involved with Sun Records (June 5th) and Tommy Allsup, a man that they say played with Buddy Holly (June 5th). The festival runs from May 30th to June 8th and The Village in particular plans to host a healthy amount of appearances by various Leith Folk Club artists plus an evening with East Coast Bluegrass on June 10th along with a long list of other acts. The Village is a crackin' little joint that is an obvious fan of its community and all it has to offer. Go to for a complete guide to all the upcoming festivities. OPENING HOURS: Mon-Sat 12pm-1am Sunday 12.30pm-1am

Also in Bite Magazine June 2008

Food Review: La Cerise



Sex on a Plate!

La Cerise/199 Great Junction Street, Leith, Edinburgh EH6 5LQ 0131 555 6065

As owners Martin Wilson and Claire Coussmaker like to contend, Great Junction Street just got "even sexier!" With the recent unveiling of their baby, La Cerise patisserie, Leith gets a titillating taste of pure, sugar-coated pleasure.

The new bakery is wall-to-wall eye-candy from its beautiful refurbishings to the darling confectionary window displays. Lime green and red walls with funky lighting give it a trendy edge that invites you even before beholding the dainty art of the bakery itself. "We wanted to create more than a product but a place just as appealing to be in," Martin said.

La Cerise is a sweets boutique full of pretty things like passion fruit and lemon tarts, carrot cake, mousses and Fruits of the Forrest cheesecake. Fresh savouries including quiche, tortillas and soup are healthy alternatives to the ordinary sandwich. The shelves are full of other products they love such as Isabella's preserves from Aberdeen and croissants from The Breadwinner in Bruntsfield. And coming soon, homemade ice creams (think black currant, chocolate and strawberry flavours) will help us revel in every bit of Scottish sunshine we are lucky to get!

During my visit, I was amazed by a homemade scone topped with Isabella's strawberrry preserves and cream, the perfect afternoon treat. The cream itself was one of the best things I have ever tasted, just one of chef Claire's genius accomplishments. Martin gives her credit for everything from business ideas to the chocolate twirls that decorate their cakes!

It's obvious that they both take pride in everything La Cerise. Their commitment to quality is evident in their products being additive-free, organic and fair-trade. Here, you'll find no flavour enhancers, artifical colourings or preservatives. Even ingredients like yogurts and buttermilk are made in-house as an even greater sign of the craftmanship that can be found here.

La Cerise and its cherried logo sit sweetly on the corner of Bangor Road and Great Junction Street with an invitation for all to stop in and hang around for a bit of culinary seduction!

OPENING HOURS: Tues-Sat 8am-6pm

Also in Bite Magazine May 2008

Review: Forth Floor Brasserie @ Harvey Nichols

REVIEW FORTH FLOOR BRASSERIE Summer in the city Forth Floor Brasserie, Harvey Nichols / 30-34 St Andrew Square, Edinburgh EH2 2AD 0131 524 8350 If you've ever crossed the street just to walk in the sun, then you're also probably the type of person that gets excited about summery culinary fare. Now that it's becoming feasible to feast outside on sun-splashed balconies, Harvey Nichols' Forth Floor Brasserie has a new Summer in the City prix fixe menu on offer that perfectly complements the warmer weather we're having.

The brasserie is adjacent to the restaurant, with no apparent differentiation apart from the white table linens a few feet away. I'm politely seated at a window revealing a brilliant view of the castle that gets more magnificent during sunset. I can imagine that in a matter of weeks, the deck on the other side of the glass will be packed full of sun-seekers and cocktail drinkers feeling the euphoria of sunshine and city-wide festivities.

Already pleased with great company and a great seat, my friend and I celebrate with a stunning glass of the 2005 Alain Geoffroy chablis while we decide on the rest. This is a menu that exhibits not just your ordinary recognition of summer with a vegetable here and a fish dish there; there's actually some imagination and class that has gone into creating a list of foods I'd gladly come back for, perhaps with a visitor needing a refreshing view of the city.

It's not hard to decide on my chicken and sunblushed tomato terrine with roast corn and avocado to start. The texture is perfect, not heavy at all and so good that I know it's my favourite before I am brought anything else. My friend's summer veg antipasti is refreshing with small sheets of fresh parmesan making the dish all the more delightful. For my main, I'm all up for the summer beans fricassee accompanied with roast sweet peppers and crispy shallots-the additional crunchy factor proves a big winner (recommended with the Tavel Rose £6). My friend's grilled trout fillet over a sea of shrimp, capers and wilted greens is a bewildering mix of flavours prompting a moan here and there to signal she's a fan (with the recommended Spice Route chenin blanc £5.70). The only part of the meal that is as memorable as the terrine though is the mull cheddar and oatcakes with honeycomb, simple but sensational. The creme brule is okay but I imagine some fruit or sorbet would have been better. The menu (2 Courses £13.95 or 3 Courses £16.95) is definitely a great value but the experience is surely at its finest when sat at a table that makes the view seem like your very own. OPENING HOURS: Mon-Sat 10am-10pm Sun brunch 11am-5pm

Also in Bite Magazine June 2008

Review: The Orangery Restaurant at Dalhousie Castle and Spa


Inside the castle and adjacent to its luxury spa is The Orangery Restaurant, a casual dining room with an ancient but modern quirkiness about it. Entirely windowed, it protrudes onto the landscape to make you feel like you're sitting in the center of a postcard.

My friend and I are led into this room from the spa one afternoon still wrapped in our comfy dressing gowns. We're sat at a table with a picture-perfect view of the castle grounds, the kind of backdrop that makes you forget the task at hand...oh yes...the food!

While awaiting the starters, we're brought a few slices of gush-worthy chorizo bread. Moments later, I get the starter portion of a grilled tuna ni├žoise salad mixed healthily with a light vinegar, peppers, eggs, haricots verts and anchovies (£7.10). Meanwhile, my friend enjoys smoked Scottish salmon (£7.50) with a citrus mayo and the unlikely hero of the dish, beetroot.

My main is a roast sea trout (£17.30) with dill and lime butter, prepared to perfection. This is my first sea trout and am surprised and pleased at how similar it is to the Atlantic salmon. The creamed polenta accompanying the dish is mind-bogglingly good and something I know I will never forget. My friend gets to steal a bite or two of my polenta while feasting on an enormous bowl of herb risotto, baby spinach and an expertly poached egg (£6.50).

It’s all washed down with my melon-soaked, remarkable glass of Spy Valley sauvignon blanc along with my friend’s lunch-time pinot grigio staple by Zenato (£5.25).

To wind down and break the routine, get on a bus and stroll over to The Orangery for a relaxing and tasty venture.

Also in Bite Magazine May 2008

Review: Roti


Relish it!


My friend and I begin the night in the bar as I'd heard its praises sung before. The bartender, Danny, has concocted a menu of intricate cocktails – each with exotic infusions such as coriander, jasmine and saffron (all £6.50). We decide on a mango lassi and a passionfruit mule to start but know we'll be back later on!

After drinks, we're seated in an oddly music-less dining room that is later filled with a Saturday night buzz. A medley of toppings ranging from mild to spicy await us with crunchy crumbs of naan bread. Soon we're sharing a tandoori jhinga starter (£8) of king prawns that look too pretty to eat but we manage. We also devour the aloo nazakt (£6), a crispy potato filled with cashews, raisins and coriander.

My main is a mound of lemon rice with sea bass (£17) lying enticingly over it in a Goan fish curry with bits of fried okra that are sublime. Meanwhile, my companion brags of how her lamb rogan josh (£17) falls tenderly from the bone. Her accompanying masala lentil is a bit cool but still good and we wish we could take a bag of the delicious deep-fried lotus stems home with us.

For dessert, the kesari kulfi (£6), a delicious cone of mango and cardamom parfait, arrives with a sesame donut rung around the top for a picturesque presentation along with chocolate chilli truffles (£3.50 served with coffee) that leave a bizarre but nice burn in the back of the throat.

We finish in the bar with martinis (zaffroni and chai) while wondering why we're the only ones here. Not only are the drinks (and the gents making them) lovely but there's also a brilliant tiffin menu for anyone wanting to indulge in homemade, tapas-like bar fare.

Roti (all of it) is an indulgence not to be missed.

Also in Bite Magazine May 2008 issue

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Tipping: Inside the industry

Being a 10-year veteran of the hospitality industry, I am a compuslive tipper. When I lived in the States, I tipped every single person who offered me any kind of service from parking my car to pouring my wine. Tips are generally huge there as staff are paid well below the minimum wage and therefore an entire salary must be earned via the rewards of very hospitable service.

I knew it would be different here. Ten percent was the new standard from a 20 percent tip. And as a waitress, I expected to at least be paid fairly from my employer. What I have found is a series of restaurants across Edinburgh who deceive not only the wait staff but their customers as well.

Some restaurants do not pay the staff minimum wage. I worked for an Italian UK chain that refuses to cough up the legal minimum wage yet expect the staff to be super-servers capable of plating desserts, mixing cocktails, clearing tables, greeting the door and making the perfect cappacino all while ALSO keeping a section of eight or more tables happy even though they probably won't leave a decent compensation for your table-turning extravaganza. That said, the insanity is all part of the buzz of the business and at least I got to keep all of my tips.

The same can't be said of other local joints.
My flatmate worked for a reputable Eyre Pace establishment that let her keep her cash tips only. So where did all of those credit card gratuities go? To the owner, presumedly. She admittedly would skip through the leave-gratuity-phase when customers had to enter their PIN. This would force the guest to leave a much appreciated cash tip. And if no cash was on-hand, well it was better than the owner walking away with her hard-earned wages. Not that he was ever there, actually doing work.

I also did a trial-shift (another concept that is a total joke-working for FREE!) for a super-fine dining place on the Shore in Leith that apparently has this same policy. No one walks away with the tips they earn via credit cards and let's be honest here-if you have to fork out 100 quid on a lunch, chances are EVERYONE will charge it to the plastic. Where does it all go? Before I could even question it, a manager defensively said I'd have to speak to the owner to ask 'why' it goes back into the business. Something tells me he's been challenged before and perhaps I'm not the only one who did not return after my sneek peek into this warped world. After I'd heard enough and headed for the door, oh how I wanted to stop at the table of six Americans who would have undoubtedly put a healthy 20 percent tip into the pocket of God-knows-who, but certainly not their waiter.

I still tip and hope that everyone does too. It's just a shame that so many of us leave tips in good faith because we genuinely appreciate it when a server flashes a smile and sees to it that we don't go hungry or thirsty while under their attentive care.

Word to the wise:

Tip in cash as often as possible. Don't be swayed entirely from tipping on credit cards as not all businesses are bad apples. And just because you may ask the waitress if they will get to keep the tip for themselves, does not mean they will have the liberty of answering your question truthfully. Just beware. And bring some cash!

If you can offer some insight into these questionable practices, email or post them here.

Also in Bite magazine

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Andrew Bird @ Glasgow Classic Grande 27 April 2008

Possibly no-one was left unaffected amongst the lucky lot that made it to the Glasgow Classic Grand for Andrew Bird tonight in the final festive days of the Triptych era. The sheer purity of this one man symphony leaves a few eyes tear-swollen in an atmosphere likened to one’s own living room. Bird’s mostly-seated audience gazes on as this angelic virtuoso conducts the entire gig with his shoes kicked off, exposing a pair of colourfully-covered feet. Bird indeed confesses to being in “socks and slippers mode” and comfortably composes the songs as he goes along, looping everything from staggeringly beautiful violin verses to hand-claps to his own insanely perfect whistle that makes that surname of his all the more curious. This birdman is to whistling as Dylan is to his harmonica, an instrument that makes him and his music so distinguishable. When given the choice, the crowd begs for Sovay but he opts for the flawless ‘Armchairs’, a mix of melancholy and madness that has him screaming “You didn’t write, you didn’t call, it didn’t cross your mind at all” just before a quirky rendition of ‘Plasticities’ - both off last year’s Armchair Apocrypha. And as if in the company of old friends, Bird shares songs (’The Non-Animal’, ‘Section 8 City’) he confides to have recorded or written just recently. He’s soulful and he’s eccentric and he’s the sweetest thing I’ve heard or seen in a long time. I daresay I have never shed a tear at live show before but those tears were usually induced by a memory triggered, a person remembered and this time it’s the music alone; it’s Bird and all of the melodic and clever sounds he ingeniously makes while simultaneously melting the crowd with an amazing voice to boot. Who knows, maybe we’ll always remember Triptych and all the talent it has brought to Scotland but we will undoubtedly never forget this particular moment, ever.

Photo by Cameron Wittig