Sunday, 12 October 2008

RESTAURANT REVIEW: BROWNS BAR AND BRASSERIE


LOVELY AND LIVELY

As patrons mingle in from the street, it seems as though Browns Bar and Brasserie is the place to be, and it feels great to be amid a vibe so vibrant on this Saturday night. It is my first visit here and I'm surprised that I never knew of the cool elegance abiding in this establishment all along.

The hostesses sweetly usher us in, give us a number and direct us to the bar where we must look out for our number to flash from above. Admittedly thirstier than hungry, this sounds to us a great plan. One Grey Goose martini in, and our cozy corner table beckons.

The flatbread at Browns comes in several tempting variations but we go for the prosciuto, chorizo, rocket leaves and roasted peppers drizzled with a sweet balsamic reduction. This is something our attentive waiter recommends, and I certainly can as well. It is gone in seconds and I have already determined that this alone is a reason to return.

My main is an even more sensational mix of flavours- crispy duck, watermelon and coriander salad with plum dressing. Watermelon, you ask? Yes, watermelon, and how genius to complement the duck with such a wonderful, subtle fruit that I rarely see on a menu, much less on a salad alongside other top notch ingredients. With each bite extraordinarily different from the next, it is officially one of my favourite dishes in town and I'm already planning my next attack.

My friend's seafood platter is huge: a chargrilled prawn skewer, smoked trout, sweet roll-mop, marinated anchovies, crab claws, smoked mackerel and Browns crab mix. All of these goodies prompt constant nods of approval, and we decide to share both mains since a. I want an anchovy and b. the many varieties of fish on her palate need a break every now and then.

No room for dessert really but we greedily manage the tart trio (rhubarb, lemon and chocolate), which hits all the right taste buds.

Did I mention we weren't really that hungry? Well maybe we were wrong but thirsty still, a couple of espresso martinis sends us off merrily and with aplenty satisfaction.

Browns Bar and Brasserie
131-133 George St
Edinburgh, EH2 4JS
0131 225 4442

OPENING HOURS
Mon - Fri 8 am-11pm
Sun 9am-11pm
Fri and Sat 8am-12pm
Bar open everyday until 1am

Friday, 10 October 2008

RESTAURANT REVIEW: CAFÉ ANDALUZ


Share the experience, but not the pudding

IN A DARK, WOODEN, BEAUTIFULLY-CARVED BOOTH IS WHERE YOU CAN EXPECT TO MAKE YOURSELF AT HOME IN THIS AESTHETICALLY EXQUISITE RESTAURANT. DETAILS ARE THE ORDER OF THE DAY WITH GORGEOUS HAND-PAINTED PLATES DE ESPANA LINING THE WALLS AND DRAMATICALLY DIVERSE CHANDELIERS DECORATING THE AIR ABOVE EACH TABLE. PILLOWS AND CUSHIONS PROVIDE WEE NESTS AND THE DEFINING ASPECT OF CAFÉ ANDULUZ'S PERSONALITY LENDS ITSELF TO ITS TILED WALLS, AN IMPRESSIVE EXTRAVAGANCE SAID TO HAVE COME FROM THE SPANISH REGION, ANDALUZ, ITSELF. IT IS THE MOST STUNNING DINING ROOM I HAVE EVER LAID EYES ON.

A bowl full of olives with bread and very olive-y oil arrive while I admire the Sunday evening ambience buzzing inside, a deserted and mute George Street outside. On our table rests gargantuan wine glasses that beg to be filled with one of the many wines available on the exclusively Spanish and highly informative list. While I pour over the abundance of choice, a perfect glass of Sangria keeps me happy with flashbacks of warm nights spent at Barcelonian street cafés.

The tapas menu is exciting as it promises the sampling of six to eight things for two people, a tradition for which Spain is adored. The patatas bravas (£3.45) is a nostalgic hit to anyone who has been to the country. The indigenous staple of potatoes are fried with a rich tomato sauce; a cool dallop of soured cream takes the heat off nicely. The berejenas rellenas de pimiento (£4.25), an aubergine freshly filled with cous cous and peppers in herb tomato with melted Manchego cheese, is light but superb.

The pollo rebozado con miel (£4.95) is a highlight - chicken lightly battered and coated with Spanish honey and grain mustard. A Spanish meat feast ensues with the tabla Imberico (£7.95), a plentiful platter of Serrano ham, aged Iberico chorizo and Lomo & Manchego cheese. Our seafood choices include the calamari, or calamares (£4.25), and gambas rebozadas (£5.25), black tiger prawns in a coriander batter, both dishes deliciously alive with squeezes of lemon.

The finish is the chocolino (£4.95), a pot of dense, velvet chocolate mouse with traces of Tia Maria. Word of advice? Defy the tradition, get your own. This baby wasn't born to be shared!

Café Andaluz
77b George Street
Edinburgh
EH2 3EE
0131 220 9980

Also in the November 2008 issue of Bite Magazine


Thursday, 9 October 2008

OUT OF TOWN REVIEW: MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE USA














Memphis blues, barbecue and dreams come true
I suppose you can't really be 'born' an Elvis Presley fan, but I've seen every cheesy Elvis film with my big sister, listened to my daddy's records and relived mama's swooning recollection of the Ed Sullivan Show appearance for as long as I can remember. For this reason, I call myself a lifelong fan, and since I could never overdose on the big E, it was, of course, necessary that I pay a visit to my mothership: Memphis.

With an allegiance also to soul, dirty blues and rockabilly, I needed to see the sites of Sun Studio and Stax Records. And as a devoted foodie, it was high time I get back to my southern roots and feast on as much barbecue and fried foods as humanly possible.

From the moment we pulled up to the hotel and heard One Night With You blaring outside on Elvis Radio ('where we don't just remember Elvis, we never forgot'), mama and I giddily knew that we had arrived. On our way to the Elvis-styled room with 24-hour Elvis movie channels, we walked past the guitar-shaped, yes, guitar-shaped pool, by which I would spend many glorious moments listening to the likes of Suspicious Minds and thinking of how incredibly enviable I must be to those traipsing around an already winter-worn Edinburgh.

Sun Studio was the first stop in the dreams-do-come-true tour. Next door we discovered the first of many fifties-style diners kicking around Memphis. I had an old-school, glass-bottled cream soda before beholding the scene that gave birth to legends like Elvis, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis. Spine-tinglin' stuff.

We left Sun in search of grub, so on to Beale Street we went, where the smell of smoky ribs and barbecue permeates the air and the sound of the delta blues spills out onto every corner. Jerry Lee himself was performing for a cool 150 quid at the neighbouring Blues Ball on this particular eve — a heartbreaking rumour, it has to be said!

We settled for a walk through the famous street as the night had a pleasant warmth and a breeze from the truly spectacular Mississippi River. Soon our noses led us to Rendezvous, a recommended no-frills joint and Memphis institution. It's a simple-but-enormous place . I had a vanishing heap of pork shoulder drenched in BBQ sauce, and washed it down with the Champagne of the South — sweet iced tea.

Day two got even better with the tour of (drum roll) Graceland. It's a mighty-fine home on a hill with the ghosts of good times emanating all around, especially inside the kitchen. The man of the mansion's appetite is certainly no secret and no one knew better than grandma Minnie Mae. She catered constantly to his gastronomical extravagances, including his fave sammich: A mashed-up banana with peanut butter on buttered toast, pan-fried. Yum! Shocked that this isn't offered in the on-site Heartbreak Hotel Cafe, we decided to dine on more ever-faithful barbecue with baked beans and ate it all inside a real 1950s Cadillac! Later on, yet another jukebox-fitted diner called the Shake, Split and Dip served up plenty of giant ice cream cones that relieved us from the scorching Memphis sun before we toured the Lisa Marie, the Presley jet plane named after his one and only child.

On our last night, we dined in true Memphis style with a pink limousine Cadillac picking us up from the hotel and driving us down Elvis Presley Boulevard to Marlowe's Restaurant and Ribs, an old Elvis haunt. Wary of nothing, I had the voluminous Blue Suede Shoes Burger topped with one huge fried onion and lots of blue cheese. We also had a side of fried okra and a basket of some truly unrivalled fried pickles. Careful not to make us feel guilty, the menu proudly says that 'because we love y'all, we use fry oil with zero transfat!" The staff was sweet as pie, the owner's daughter chatting away to us about how racism still reigns so blatantly in many parts of Memphis, apart from inside Marlowe's.

On the final morning before my departing flight back to Auld Reekie, we made time for some reflection at the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King Jr's assassination changed the spirit of both the city and country. What happened there also reflected the kind of soul coming out of Stax Records, just a few miles up the street inside a neighbourhood rich in character but otherwise, very poor indeed. There we saw Memphis Slim's ol' shack of a house and managed to spot a gorgeous fifties automobile pull up in front of the Stax marquee for just a moment, long enough to impress upon me a surreal snapshot back in time.

One week later, I'm stuck inside my flat with the Memphis blues again. What's a girl to do when the dream is done? What else but put on my Elvis Sun Sessions record, sip on some tea from my Jailhouse Rock-singing coffee mug and thank the heavens that at least I'm not a herd-about tourist anymore — just your average, local Elvis freak.