Dram and Smoke

Dram and Smoke – mini review

7th August 2016 7pm

http://dramandsmoke.com/

Known for pop up projects, Dram and Smoke have taken up residence for the festival at the Biscuit Factory. As such, this is a mini review as it is a temporary offering.

Cocktail - Dram and Smoke

Cocktail – Dram and Smoke

We were given precise instructions to arrive at 7pm and were would be eating our first course by 7.45. We arrived at 6.55 and couldn’t be let in until 7, which was a shame as it was chucking it down with rain and windy. However, we soon piled in and followed a stream of stencilled bird feet though the building to our first stop to get a cocktail with a whisky base. This was surprisingly refreshing and went down well. Dram and Smoke is based on communal dining. So we found a board which told us what table we would be sat at on the floor above. This might not be your bag if you are not the sociable type. Luckily, our table had good chat which led to a very pleasant evening. The venue  itself is of the warehouse type but somehow it really worked, even if we had the odd drip from the ceiling. The dining area had a bar so you could get more drinks and also an open kitchen so you could have a nosey at the food being prepared.

Dram and Smoke

Dram and Smoke

The first course  was smoked ham hock and haggis terrine, with capers and pickles and a tattie scone on the side. The slices of terrine were presented on a large board, which looked impressive. We all helped ourselves to slices. The terrine was not too cold and had carrot and spring onion through it. I am not sure the haggis was very identifiable apart from a peppery taste but it was nice enough nevertheless. The pickles and capers were optional and could be left on the board if you preferred.

Smoked Ham Hock and Haggis Terrine - Dram and Smoke

Smoked Ham Hock and Haggis Terrine – Dram and Smoke

The second course was a pearl barley risotto with spoots (razor clams), chorizo and mushrooms. I love risotto and this was lovely. However, the spoots were hidden somewhat. There was much discussion round the table about whether the spoots should have been presented in their shells but I enjoyed the dish regardless. The mushrooms were surprisingly lemony but some of the other flavours were a little lost.

Pearl Barley Risotto with Spoots - Dram and Smoke

Pearl Barley Risotto with Spoots – Dram and Smoke

Third course  was the braised beef brisket. This was brought to the table on a board with a large piece of horseradish for grating (way more than was needed for the table) and a parley sauce. This did require someone to dish up but luckily we had willing volunteers. The brisket was fatty in places but it provided very tasty meat. The sauce was surprisingly fresh and made a nice alternative to gravy. Alongside the meat were hasselback potatoes, leeks and a green bean and celeriac salad. The salad in particular was excellent as it was fresh, vibrant and had a lovely wholegrain mustard running through it.

We were running late at this point. The final course – dessert – was rhubarb and custard with heather honeycomb. We were given little pots of rhubarb and custard whilst the honeycomb was brought out on a board with a little hammer. Again, a volunteer smashed it up into bits for the rest of the table. This dessert seemed to split the table. Some loved the honeycomb whereas others thought it bitter. Some loved the rhubarb and custard and others found the rhubarb sharp and the custard not vanilla-y enough. I thought it was a solid offering.

As it was a school night and it was running a bit behind, we left at this point but music and dancing is also offered for those who like to party, once the food is consumed.

The experience was fun and worth checking out. Dram and Smoke is running through the festival at a cost of £40 for a four course meal and a cocktail.

Please note that whilst this was complimentary, views expressed are my own. Thanks to Paul from Dram and Smoke for arranging.

Something a little different: Borders Food and Drink tour

22nd March 2016 1.25pm

www.scotrail.co.uk/scotland-by-rail/borders-railway/borders-tours

Scot Rail and Rabbies have joined forces for a number of tours which involve the recently opened Borders railway. I should say from the start that these tours are still in their pilot phase and we were invited to see what it was all about and opted, naturally, for one of the food and drink tours.

Borders Tour

Borders Tour

Our journey started at Edinburgh Waverley as we boarded the train. At this time of day (1.30) it’s not busy so doesn’t inconvenience those dealing with the hectic commute at the beginning and end of the day. Although not overly scenic to begin with, once we left the Edinburgh suburbs the greenery flanked either side of the train tracks, winding rivers, castle towers and wildlife – we even spotted deer. We were fully relaxed by the time we arrived in Galashiels. An easy hop across the road to the bus interchange and we were met by our Rabbie’s tour guide Audrey. We were the only two on the tour that day but that allowed for an informal feel to the proceedings which was right up our street.

Born In The Borders - Borders Tour

Born In The Borders – Borders Tour

As we headed to our first foodie destination, Born in the Borders, our guide regaled us with the history of the area, which was really very interesting. Upon arrival we were hungry and just managed to catch the end of lunch service. I got a bowl of bacon and lentil soup and my friend went for a chicken and stuffing sandwich. Whilst we waited for food we admired this beautiful building filled with branches covered in twinkly lights. We had a quick hello from the owner John, who had his hands full working on the microbrewery which is situated on site. When the food arrived, I was amazed at how generous a size my soup was. The bowl was the size of my head! It was very tasty with plenty of bacon through it. On the other side of the table, the sandwich was being thoroughly enjoyed. We were both pleasantly surprised at the level of this food. The food plus a couple of soft drinks came to just over £14. We then had a mooch around the rest of the site, getting some cute Salt Pig salt in the deli. The microbrewery seems to be popular and we got to sample some beers (not my thing but my friend particularly enjoyed one called “Foxy Blonde”). I liked a raspberry vodka that they have for those less beer inclined. There were also riverside walks and a small play area on site for children. However, time waits for no-one and after an hour here we set off to our next destination.

Teviot Smokery - Borders Tour

Teviot Smokery – Borders Tour

We then stopped off at Teviot Smokery and Water Gardens before we went to Jedburgh. This place had a lovely range of smoked goods as well as gifts, plants and a cafe. I bought some smoked cheese, my friend got some crackers and even the tour guide got some smoked chicken. We had a nice chat with the owner who told us lots about the smoking and how they source their fish. They also sell their produce online, which is good to know as you might not want to have smoked fish on the tour bus for the rest of the day!

Then off to Jedburgh. This is where we started to realise that the tour needed to have its times tweaked. We didn’t stay as long here as planned as we arrived after most of the town had closed for the day. Whilst we still got to see the outside of the abbey (which was impressive), the Mary Queen of Scots house and the high street, we couldn’t really make the most of the place as we couldn’t go inside anywhere and we weren’t ready for more food at this point. There did appear to be a cute little chocolate shop but it was closed so we couldn’t get anything there either.

Kelso - Borders Tour

Kelso – Borders Tour

So we went onward to Kelso. A pretty little market town, with another abbey ruin. We were recommended to try the Cobbles for dinner. After a quick look at the menu we were sold and popped in. We luckily got the last table available in the restaurant area. We’d only eaten about 3 hours earlier so we ended up choosing lighter options but there was a great choice with 3 different menus; a bar menu, a restaurant menu and because of the time we were there, an early supper menu. We were told by the helpful waiter we could mix and match. I went for the goats cheese and beetroot salad and my friend went for mussels. I was really happy to see such a pretty salad arriving. I was also pleased to see the goats cheese not one lump in the centre of the plate. Little discs of cheese had been grilled. Nasturtiums decorated the plate with a vivid purple colour, almost putting the beetroot to shame. Candied walnuts and sesame seeds were scattered through to add texture as well as more flavour. A very delightful plate of food. The mussels were also enjoyed and the bacon, cream and garlic sauce was great and the garlic had great punch. The accompanying bread with the meal probably isn’t worthwhile though. These plus a glass of wine and Diet Coke came to just over £30.

Back out and to the train station after having a fun outing. The Borders has plenty to offer and with a bit of tweaking, this tour could really be worthwhile for exploring.

Cost £35 for the tour and train travel per person (comped). Food costs are listed in the body of blog were paid by ourselves.

 

Please note that whilst part of this trip was complimentary, views expressed are my own. Thank you to Ashley from Wire Media for arranging.

Elliot’s (Apex)

18th December 2015 – 7pm

 www.apexhotels.co.uk/apex-waterloo-place-hotel/dining

We booked one of the function suites at the Apex Hotel on Waterloo Place for our office Christmas do, therefore whilst I am still reviewing the food, please bear in mind that this was mass catering for 26 people and is reviewed as such. The room we had was beautifully laid out, with our own Christmas tree, music and mini bar. The usual crackers were laid out but we also had some fun hats to wear which certainly got everyone messing around and posing for photos from the off set. We’d all pre-ordered our food so no perusing of menus but each course had a choice of three dishes.

The first course came out and we all tucked in. I had chosen the chicken liver pate. This was nicely presented. The pate itself was incredibly smooth and had great flavour. The accompanying chutney worked very well with it, although there was an unexpected kick at the end, not that it was unpleasant. As usually, the toasts provided were deliciously but not enough for the pate, which was a shame but not the end of the world. The other two options were a parsnip soup, which went down well with those that chose it, and a smoked salmon roulade, which again was enjoyed and deemed a great dish.

The mains were turkey, sea bream or roasted butternut squash. I went for the turkey as it was a full week before Christmas so I was confident I wouldn’t feel I’d overdone it on the Christmas dinners. It was quite a nice dish. I heard some of my colleagues saying that whilst the turkey was tasty it was a bit dry but I didn’t really notice it to be that way. The potatoes were delicious and were seasoned to perfection. The Brussel sprouts, which I love, were of a sort of mashed variety, which was good for those who were less fond of a sprout. The cranberry sauce was also lovely. I sadly couldn’t finish all mine (I blame the drinks before the food!). Those with the sea bream seemed to gobble it all up within seconds and they all were really happy with the food. Sadly, there seemed to be a mix up with our gluten free diner (which I don’t think was the fault of the restaurant) but they got something sorted for my colleague very quickly and reassured her, which was highly impressive stuff. I didn’t get to chat to anyone who had the butternut squash sadly but if it was up to the standard of the rest of the food, I am sure it was delicious.

The desserts were Christmas pudding, a cheesecake or cheese. I had gone for Christmas pudding, which surprisingly came as a slice. I thought this was ingenious. and felt far less heavy because of it. Some poached fruits were placed on top which also lightened the dish. The sauce from the fruits and a light custard were drizzled across the plate which set it off nicely. Everyone raved about the cheesecake and the cheese (which I seemingly didn’t photograph) all disappeared quickly from plates. I couldn’t fit in the mince pies offered round at the end but again, everyone seemed to think these were nice.

Overall, we had an enjoyable meal. The credit though should really go to the excellent hosting staff, who were polite and incredibly helpful, particularly considering it was a Christmas do. I’ll be interested to come back at some point to see what dining for a small number of people is like.

Food – 7.5/10
Service – 9.5/10
Atmosphere – 8/10
Value – 9/10

Overall – 34/40

Cost – £28.95 per head for three courses, mince pies and unlimited bottled still and sparkling water (in a private room with crackers, hats and music)

Elliot's Restaurant and Bar - Apex Waterloo Place Hotel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Magnum

16th December 2015 1pm

 www.themagnumrestaurant.co.uk

We booked here for a team Christmas lunch/away afternoon for team building purposes. A couple of us had been meaning to try The Magnum for ages, so were looking forward to visiting. The Magnum is a nice venue and seemed bigger on the inside than it appeared on outside and is serenely decorated. We were all struggling to pick what to have from the menu as much of it sounded yummy. In the end as we had all eyed up the baked Camembert to share, we got two of those between the four of us. Then I went for the sausage of the day, which was lamb and thyme, another colleague went for tempura battered haddock and the other two went for the beef and rosemary burger. One of my colleagues had dithered on whether to get the burger as she was worried it would be big so asked the waitress for advice. She tried to describe it as best as possible to help her make a decision, which I thought was good service.

Camembert - The Magnum

Camembert – The Magnum

The Camembert arrived and was impressive. The cheese was studded with garlic and rosemary and none of us could wait to get our gnashers in. The accompanying ciabatta was plentiful so there was no real worry about running out. It would have been nice to have a bit more of the onion confit, particularly as we were sharing, but the whole lot was delicious. I am drooling just writing about it now. I would come back here for this course alone.

Sausage of the day - Magnum

Sausage of the day – Magnum

The mains came out in good time. My lamb and thyme sausages were delicious. They were cut in half lengthways which was a little odd but I didn’t really mind. The green beans still had some crunch and being wrapped in prosciutto was a nice touch. The mash was super buttery which was lovely and possibly some of the best I’ve had and the gravy brought it all together. The fish actually was two pieces, which was incredibly generous, but perhaps a little too much for lunch. The batter was light and the hand cut chips were crispy how she liked them. The broccoli and chilli salad was lacking a bit more chilli but was still good. The accompanying sweet lemon and gherkin aioli was really good but my colleague thought some extra pickles in it would make it sharper. The burger was bigger than described but was claimed by one colleague as possibly the best burger she has ever eaten.. The other colleague didn’t rave quite so much about it though, so it’s a preference thing I think. The relish was good and the meat juicy. The focaccia bun worked well but was filling.

We were all stuffed so abandoned idea of dessert but weren’t hurried out whilst some of the team finished their drinks and we did some team building chat. We had a good experience here and apart from a few minor niggles (the sauces that were offered at ordering didn’t appear until re-prompted and my colleague who ordered a Coke got a Diet Coke – but was offered a change) service was very good. We all left saying we’d be back again.

Food – 8/10
Atmosphere – 9/10
Service – 8/10
Value – 8/10

Overall – 33/40

Cost £98 for four starters, mains, a bottle of prosecco and two soft drinks.

The Magnum Bar & Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Michael’s Steak and Seafood Bar

8th December 2015 6pm

http://michaelsteak.co.uk/

Michael's Steak and Seafood Bar

Michael’s Steak and Seafood Bar

In the former site of Bar Rioja and Iggs (and possibly the Mussel and Steak bar for a brief amount of time) Michael Neave has opened a new restaurant. I already love Michael Neave’s Kitchen and Whisky Bar (I must do a visit for a blog post at some point) so when I heard he was behind this place I had to give it a whirl.

The restaurant is beautifully decorated in blues and light wood and also has a fancy glass feature in the floor. There are also lovely booths to section off parts of the dining space, so the dining experience is spacious yet cosy. Lovely staff got us started with drinks – although we were not offered tap water. I went with still water whilst my friend went for wine. As you would expect, the menu covers steak and seafood. However, I reckon there is less seafood on there than would be expected. Not that it mattered as there was still some choice. I wanted to try both meat and seafood elements, so went for highland venison carpaccio followed by a kilo of mussels and a side of fries. My friend chose smoked haddock and saffron potato terrine and a beef and oyster pie.

Firstly, the starters. My venison had great flavour and the meat was incredibly soft. A light seasoning on the meat made the most of the taste. The accompanying potato and radish salad, whilst full of chive, missed a bit of seasoning but was pleasant. The drizzle of balsamic glaze was the only thing that gave the dish a bit of sparkle. Other side of the table the terrine was enjoyed and the smokiness came through well.

We had a little wait for our mains. I was given a side bowl with hot water and a lemon for my mussels, which was good to see but there was a long wait after that before the food actually appeared. Mussels good (apologies for the duff photo but I am just proving I had them!). The mussels were plentiful and juicy. The sauce I had chosen for them a shallot, white wine and garlic cream. Unusually, this lacked acidity of something such as lemon but strangely this was still yummy. The side of fries was a good call as they were gorgeous, crispy and had good flavour. On the other side of table the pie looked fab. It was hot with plenty of meat. The carrots were also good. However, my friend felt the mash a bit too cold in comparison with the pie , which took the shone off the dish.

We plumped for desserts. I went for a chocolate mousse with raspberry sorbet. My dining companion chose vanilla panna cotta with a berry soup and shortbread. The mousse was very rich but the sorbet and fruit helped cut through it, which resulted in a deliciously moreish dish. The two miniscule blobs of coulis seems superfluous though. The panna cotta was lacking wobble but other than, tasted good. The fruit soup and shortbread also were of a good standard.

I found that they were a bit slow to take our dessert order and clear our plates afterwards but overall it was a nice enough experience. I did find the restaurant lacked the buzz found in Michael Neave’s Kitchen and there was nothing good enough to wow me to go out of my way to come back, but everything was decent enough.

Food – 8/10
Service – 7/10
Atmosphere – 7/10
Value – 7/10

Overall – 29/40

Cost £63 for 2 x 3 courses, bottle still water and a glass of red wine

Michael's Steak and Seafood Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Copper Blossom

2nd December 2015 6pm

www.copperblossom.com

Copper Blossom

Copper Blossom

Copper Blossom is a stunningly beautiful bar. Some stuck in a stereotypical mind-set may call it ‘girly’ but regardless, it is right up my street. Adorned with pretty lighting outside, we welcomed into a gorgeous place full of warmth, hidden from the gazes of pedestrians on the street above. We were shown to our table. We had pre booked and had kindly been given a table for four for the two of us, which was a nice bonus, considering there were a fair few other patrons that evening.

Cocktails - Copper Blossom

Cocktails – Copper Blossom

Once seated, we were informed that one starter and one main were not available, which was a bit disappointing as not only was the main the one I would have chosen but there are only a small number of dishes in the first place so that left little choice, as there wasn’t a substitute offered for the missing dishes. Also we had arrived at 6pm so it is unlikely they should have run out. Anyway, ignoring that niggle, I went for chicken liver parfait followed by Parisian gnocchi. My dining partner for the evening went with cider braised pigs cheeks followed by chicken caesar salad. We also could not miss the opportunity to try a cocktail each. I opted for the Lady in Pink, which was a vodka, Chambord, apple juice combo and my friend went for a White Lady, which was gin, Cointreau, lemon and sugar. These arrived in a timely fashion, which is often rare for cocktails. Mine was nice. My friend pulled a face but that was just because hers was a bit sour but she actually liked it.

The first course came out. My parfait looked a little underwhelming and toasted brioche was burnt at edges. However, the dish as a whole tasted quite good and the side salad with pomegranate was a fun addition. On the other side of the table, the pigs cheeks were ok but bland and under seasoned. It was also not quite what she expected. It was a little bit of a disappointment.

The mains came as quickly as the starter plates were taken away. My main, gnocchi, was surprisingly luscious. I often don’t opt for a veggie choice but I didn’t miss the meat here one bit. The bed of pureed butternut squash, crispy shallot rings, kale and salsify worked in harmony with the gnocchi for a decent dish. My dining partner found the chicken salad light but generous on chicken portions, resulting in an enjoyable dish. We’d opted for an additional side of chips. These string fries were really good. However, I found the bloody mary ketchup a little harsh.

Sticky toffee pudding - Copper Blossom

Sticky toffee pudding – Copper Blossom

For dessert we both had sticky toffee pudding. It was nice, light but too big. My friend thought it was not really a proper sticky toffee pudding as it was ‘not toffee enough’. Ah well, I enjoyed it!

Copper Blossom is a great. The food is decent but I feel that it is still trying to find its feet, not knowing quite where to pitch itself. I would love an evening burger option (which was only available in the day) or just to have a fuller menu. I’d quite happily pop in again though.

Food – 7.5/10
Service – 8/10
Atmosphere – 9/10
Value – 8/10

Overall – 32.5/40

Cost – just over £60 for two cocktails and two three course meals.

Copper Blossom Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Whigham’s Wine Cellar

27th October 2015 6.15pm

www.whighams.com

Cullen Skink - Whighams

Cullen Skink – Whighams

Yet another voucher deal (we seem to have had a few of these lately), this time for Whighams. A colleague at work had said the deal seemed good value. So, a friend and I decided to give it a go. The deal consisted of a starter and a main plus a glass of prosecco for two for £26. I had never been to Whighams before. The venue is well established, set just off Charlotte Square. Inside, it has two distinct areas. One is all nooks and crannies from what I assume were cellar areas and the other section is much more modern. We were taken to the modern part for our dinner. The waitress who served us was very pleasant and helpful. I believe from my friend that the prosecco was very good. As I couldn’t have that, I was able to swap my prosecco to a soft drink (which was offered as an option on the voucher) and we were left to peruse the menu. Much of the fish and seafood had supplements on them for the deal as, unsurprisingly, did the steak. If you didn’t want to pay the extra this did limit the options a bit. However, in the end I plumped for the chicken liver pate followed by fish cakes. My dining partner went for Cullen skink followed by breaded haddock (although she had the choice of battered or grilled too so it was nice to have choice). We got given some bread, albeit a little dry, to keep us going but it wasn’t needed considering how quickly the starters came out.

Chicken Liver Pate - Whighams

Chicken Liver Pate – Whighams

So, let’s talk about the starters. The chicken liver pate was accompanied by a shallot marmalade, oatcakes and a small salad. The pate was smooth but was a little overpowered by the added herby flavours. The shallot marmalade was nice but there was not nearly enough of it to go with the pate. The oatcakes seemed a little small and fiddley to put the pate on (or maybe that’s me and my fat fingers!). The salad was pleasant enough and the dressing was nice but perhaps applied too liberally. The Cullen skink on the other side of the table looked appetising and did the job but nothing more.

Fish cakes - Whighams

Fish cakes – Whighams

The mains came out not long after and I do have to say I was underwhelmed. This looked like poor standard chain pub food. Sadly, the taste really wasn’t much better. My fish cakes, whilst had plenty of fish in them, where incredibly dry and were only saved by the wetness of the side of tartare sauce. The salad that came with it was the same salad that had appeared with my starter. Whilst I was pleased it had no cucumber, it really didn’t feel like it was part of the dish and it was still overwhelmed by the dressing. This could almost been another starter dish had it not been for the size of the fish cakes. On the other side of the table, another underwhelming dish. The fish was ok but nothing special. The chips seemed to be deep fried oven chips rather than freshly prepared (and if they weren’t, they certainly tasted like it). The samphire looked limp on the plate.

Haddock - Whighams

Haddock – Whighams

My perception of a voucher deal is to wow the customer when you get them through the door so they will either buy extra or come back again and pay full price. Whighams sadly managed to do neither. We couldn’t face having a disappointing dessert too so left….and we won’t be going back.

Food – 5/10
Service – 7.5/10
Atmosphere – 7/10
Value – 6/10

Overall – 25.5/40

Cost – £26 for the voucher deal for two.

Whigham's Wine Cellars Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato