Archive | November 2014

Scotch and Soda: a magical, musical Circus Cabaret comes to town at Edinburgh’s Christmas


A madcap troupe of Australian musicians and acrobats has arrived in Edinburgh to offer a distinctly different style of entertainment at the Paradiso Spiegeltent, St. Andrew’s Square. Company 2 from Brisbane is a multi-talented bunch of performers who specialise in what they call New Circus .. evolving the form.”

No Nelly the Elephant or red nosed clowns here although there are classic trapeze acts, “wildlife,” and comic turns along the way. The classic Big Top is the perfect venue with ringside seats for the best close up view of the action.

The ensemble of 19th century-styled Strolling Players wander on to the stage, or perhaps stagger, with a couple of guys swilling from a whisky bottle. Dressed in a strange assortment of ragged trousers held up with string, khaki shorts and vests, they look like a cross between boy scouts and Mid Western hobos.

All very theatrical but like a typical circus, there’s no spoken dialogue – music is the lyrical language of the show. The Crusty Suitcase Band, led by composer Ben Walsh, play an eclectic live score blending cool jazz, gypsy, hip hop and bluesy beat on woodwind brass, double bass, percussion and  inventive) calypso drumming.

The Crusty Suitcase Band

The Crusty Suitcase Band

We are treated to a succession of amazing circus tricks with extraordinary agility. Moses with his wild beard and wide eyed expressions, is a true showman, “a magnificent man on the flying trapeze.” With no safety net, he is then joined by Chelsea McGuffin who throws herself around, swinging, somersaulting with gay abandon like a rag doll.

Some of the fast moves are jaw droppingly scary, with the audience oohing and ahhing,  half watching, hands over eyes, terrified of a catastrophic head-first fall to the stage.

All the fun of the circus

All the fun of the circus

David Carberry and Daniel Catlow are masters of the art of balance using an array of suitcases, bottles, boxes and also a bicycle … all part of this crazy Cabaret of music, magic and daring feats of physical theatre.

Balancing on Champagne Bottles - don't try this at home!

Balancing on Champagne Bottles – don’t try this at home!

Household pets are included in this performance but not harmed in any way.

Rather like Crabbie’s Alcoholic Ginger Beer for grownups, Scotch and Soda is a fizzing, sparkling punch of a show (with an amusing scene of full frontal nudity), offers alternative Pantomime Festive fun for teenagers and adults.

Scotch and Soda, presented by Underbelly Productions with Company 2 is a UK premiere

Show times – 21st November to 21 December, 2014.

Check out the booking details on Scotch and Soda, Christmas Party nights with dinner, Booth Seats for 10;  Paradiso Spiegeltent family shows and full programme of Festive entertainment and events across Edinburgh.

Paradiso Spiegeltent shows for children include Stickman, Baby Disco and the Brat Kids Carnival.

Hot Ticket News! EH Postcode Discount: If you live locally with an EH postcode, 20% discount on ticket prices.


Experience a fabulous, fun city break in Manchester

My sister June lives in South London and I am in Edinburgh. As we were not going to be meeting up for Christmas this year, she suggested that we plan a Girly weekend – in Manchester. The perfect destination roughly half way between our two homes.

Transpennine Express - Scotland and North of England

Transpennine Express – Scotland and North of England

I set off on the Transpennine Express from Edinburgh Waverley at 10.08am on Friday 14th November, heading south west via Lockerbie, Carlisle, Preston and on to Manchester in just over three hours. It was a long snake of a train en route to its final stop at Manchester Airport.

A comfortable journey all the way, during which I had morning coffee and bagel breakfast and later,  an egg and salmon sandwich with a tiny 37.5ml bottle of wine for a picnic lunch. The time passed quickly as I read my murder thriller.  Scenic views too across the Border country and Lake District with its wild moorland dotted with grazing sheep.

Meanwhile my sister had taken a Virgin train from Euston and we both arrived around the same time, early afternoon.  Our rendezvous at Manchester Piccadilly Station worked well.

Doubletree by Hilton,  Manchester

Doubletree by Hilton,

The Doubletree by Hilton is a fashionably smart, modern hotel just five minutes walk from the Station – a perfect location for the weekend. The lobby is bright and spacious with rainbow coloured sofas; two bars and City Cafe restaurant are also on the ground floor.

The hotel lobby

The hotel lobby

Our standard Twin Room was compact in size but offered all facilities for a short break: shower-room (baths are available in the Suites), quality toiletries, bathrobes; Mac TV, fridge – bottled water, Tea and Coffee tray.

Standard double room

Standard double room

Armed with a map, we ventured out for a stroll to get our bearings. Just ten minutes up Piccadilly is Market Street, the pedestrianised shopping area.  It is very easy to walk around – there’s a free city centre hop on hop off bus too.

Market Street shops

Market Street shops

Friday night we had tickets for “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” at the Royal Exchange Theatre, the classic 1950s American play by Tennessee Williams. First, supper at Annies nearby at 5 Old Bank Street. The logo is a top hat over the capital A of Annies.  Founded by the actress Jennie McAlpine (Fizz in Coronation Street),  no wonder it has a showbiz mood.!

Jennie McAlpine and Chris Farr, owners of Annies

Jennie McAlpine and Chris Farr, owners of Annies

I warmly recommend Annies – for coffee, lunch, afternoon tea, evening meals. Upstairs is a cosy café and downstairs, restaurant and lounge bar where we sat in comfy armchairs for a cocktail as we studied the menu.

Homely British pub-grub at Annies

Homely pub-grub at Annies

The cuisine is traditional British hearty food. Soup, Prawn Cocktail, Lancashire Rarebit, Sirloin Steak. I selected Fish and Chips with mushy peas – delicious, lightly fried fish and fantastic hand cut chips. June had Annie’s Hotpot, chunky lamb and vegetables followed by Sticky Toffee Pudding.  We sipped a couple of glasses of House white wine.

Casual ambience, good soundtrack (Michael Buble, Jazz, Blues) and friendly service. And well done, the Ladies Loos have small towel flannels, (not a blast of hot air!). Live Music on Friday nights, Cocktail deals and seasonal menus.

The Royal Exchange theatre is like a glass and steel Spaceship inside the historic Great Hall. We had excellent seats near the front of the stage for a perfect, close up performance. (See review on separate page of Smart Leisure Guide).

Royal Exchange theatre

Royal Exchange theatre

Saturday, 9.30am – Hotel Breakfast. We were to be out all day so needed extra fuel to keep us going. Buffet for juices, fruit, cereals and hot dishes. Alternatively, your choice of eggs and omelettes, freshly made to order.

Time to hit the shops: Christmas markets near City Hall – arts, crafts, toys, candles, woolly hats, Festive Hog roast, mulled wine.



Manchester is fashion shopping heaven from Primark and H&M to Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Armani and Vivienne Westwood and all very near each other and if it’s a cold wet day, go inside the Arndale Centre with dozens of stores under one roof.

From Market Street, it was just a short walk to Spa Satori, the Holistic Health & Beauty Retreat. (112 High St).  Our therapists, Devon and Maria took us to a warm, candlelit room with two beds for our treatment.

Massage and Facial at Spa Satori

Massage and Facial at Spa Satori

We experienced a relaxing and rejuvenating 90 minute Massage and Facial each with silky Eminence Organic oils and lotions. Perfect pampering!.

From the Spa, it was then off to Bill’s (8-12 John Dalton Street) for a late lunch. You may have come across another branch of Bill’s café-bar-bistro-delis across the UK, which have the tag line, “Serving delicious food from breakfast to bedtime”.  Industrial design with funky, vintage decor sets the scene.

Bill's Cafe Bistro Deli.

Bill’s Cafe Bistro Deli.

The menu is mouthwatering, a fusion of Mexican, Greek, American and British. We had two fantastic dishes, Mac ‘n Cheese with butternut squash, and Smoked haddock fish cakes with avocado salsa and chunky chips. This is seriously fresh, healthy and global home cooking with pizzazz.   Please open a Bill’s Bistro in Edinburgh!

Later on after more shopping, back to the hotel for a breather and then glammed up with lippy and posh LBDs.  Next port of call was Cloud 23, the ultra cool Cocktail bar at the Hilton Deansgate on the 23rd floor of Beetham Tower.

Cloud 23 - sky high cocktails

Cloud 23 – sky high cocktails

Reservations are recommended – often essential at night – as this is a sassy, stylish place for a drink with a skyscraper view.  Very romantic for a couple – or reserve a corner lounge area for a small party of friends.

Signature Cocktails feature five iconic drinks to celebrate historic people and places of Manchester. The Stratospheric blends Tanqueray 10 with passion fruit and Champagne for a sparkling celebration of the Hotel’s Tower. Gold Phantom (Cognac, Honey, Pineapple) commemorates Henry Royce and his famous motor car.

Night view from our window seats

Night view from our window seats

Described as a Forgotten Classic, June sampled the 1930s Cosmopolitan – the original version of the Vodka and cranberry cocktail made famous by Carrie Bradshaw on the girls’ night out around Manhattan.

Cosmopolitan - Carrie's cocktail

Cosmopolitan – Carrie’s cocktail

At Cloud 23, this is a pretty pink Gin with Raspberry Cosmo and tastes divine.   Non-alcoholic drinks too such as the refreshing Cloud 23 Lemonade. The Bar-tender will make anything you fancy, such as my fresh, tangy Marguerita, (Tequila with fresh lime) and a Dirty Martini, straight up with a twist – which hit the spot.

A cab back to the Doubletree by Hilton hotel for dinner at the City Cafe. First a glass of bubbly in the gorgeous little Blue Bar which is a hidden gem. Gorgeous black and white portraits,  soft sultry lighting, it has a touch of class.

Ice cold Champagne in the Blue Bar

Ice cold Champagne in the Blue Bar

After our aperitif we were taken next door to the Restaurant and seated at a window table. The Terrace outside here is popular on warm days for alfresco wining and dining.

The A la Carte menu is small but select.  We shared a platter of bread and olives as a starter. For my main course I loved the seafood pasta – thick pappardelle ribbons with a mountain of prawns, squid and mussels. Across the table, my sister had an imaginative Chicken and chorizo Risotto. And to finish – Cheese and crackers and Pear Tart.

After our buzzing day of retail therapy, beauty treatments, cocktails, good food and wine, we were ready for bed before the bewitching hour.

Sunday morning, after a Continental breakfast (coffee and croissants), it was soon time to pack, check out and make our way back to the station for our train journeys home – north to Edinburgh and south to London.

Tried and tested on this trip, Manchester is a fun, friendly, Cosmopolitan city for the ideal short break. With traffic-free shopping areas, theatres, arts festivals, buzzing bistros and style bars, it has a lively European Café society style; with sleek trams trundling around street corners, we felt we were in Amsterdam.!

Wishing you a marvellous, magical time in Manchester ….wherever you may wander.

City signposts to help tourists explore the city

Street signposts help tourists explore the city

Quick Facts – Manchester Piccadilly – Colourful city guide – Bills Restaurant. at Hilton Deansgate, Manchester

A cool and classy revival of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” at the Royal Exchange, Manchester

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,  original Broadway production

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,
original Broadway production

First performed in 1955, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was a huge success, running for 694 performances on Broadway. It won Tennessee Williams his second Pulitzer Prize.

cat - tennessee 2

Williams was a master playwright, creating real, living, breathing characters within a family environment, dramatising conflicts in relationships and compassion for the outsider facing moral prejudice from conventional society.

I’m trying to catch the true quality of experience .. ..that cloudy, flickering, effervescent interplay of live human beings in the thundercloud of a common crisis”. TW, Act II.

Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando in Streetcar

Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando in Streetcar

In his earlier play, A Streetcar named Desire, the flighty, flirtatious, femme fatale, Blanche DuBois appears to be delicate, refined, innocent, but it’s all a mask to escape the ghosts of her past, “After all, a woman’s charm is fifty percent illusion.”

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is a brutal, brittle family drama – where the emotional discord and sexual tension, shrouded from reality through secrets and lies, is about to be shattered through the revelation of hard hitting truth.

The setting is a glossy white furnished bed-sitting room of a palatial Mississippi Plantation House, the estate of “Big Daddy” Pollitt. It’s his 65th birthday and returning home are his son Brick with wife Maggie, his elder son Gooper, his wife Mae and their five children, to be joined by other local friends.

The opening scene is brilliantly filmic: Fans whirr overhead in the shadowy twilight, as we see Brick in the shower, washing in real water.   Maggie rushes in, undressing quickly down to her silk slip. When he emerges wrapped in a towel, one leg is in plaster with a crutch under one arm.

Trying to relive the happy days of his sporting youth, he has broken his leg attempting to jump hurdles at the High School.

She explains that one of Gooper’s “no-neck monsters” – as she refers to his noisy, undisciplined kids – has spilt something on her blouse and she has to change. Brick ignores her and hobbles over to the Cocktail cabinet. “Did you say something, Maggie?” he asks, dismissively, while she whines on in a monotone voice.

Within just a few minutes of this intimate scene, you can sense his cold bitterness and simmering anger, while she maintains an effusive charm as if all is hunky-dory.

Mariah Gale and Charles Aitken as Maggie and Brick

Mariah Gale and Charles Aitken as Maggie and Brick

Naked to the waist, Charles Aitken has broad muscular arms, slender athletic body, short blond hair, all rather reminiscent of Beckham – an apt comparison as Brick is a former football player.  Having seen Ian Charleson in his breathtaking performance in this role (NT 1988), Aitken captures a similar haunting look in the eyes expressing the pain of mental torment.

The first Act focuses on Brick and Maggie, as she tries to break his mood of despair and encourage him to get ready for the birthday party.   She is the Cat of the title, catty and spiteful in manner, desperately jealous of Mae, (pregnant again), while she is childless in a sham of a marriage.

Brick is a broken man – emphasised by his leg in plaster – grieving the tragic death of his best friend, Skipper and his only solace is a stiff drink. Alcohol is his other crutch.

Mariah Gale and Charles Aitken as Maggie and Brick

Mariah Gale and Charles Aitken as Maggie and Brick

But what was the full nature of their relationship? Maggie demands to know the truth having been so jealous of Skipper, guessing that it was a secret love that dare not say its name.

Mariah Gale as Maggie has a neat, brunette perm,  perfects a slow, Southern drawl and sultry look, perhaps modelled on Elizabeth Taylor in the film version. She is cat-like, flouncing around the bedroom from chaise longue to the double bed, trying to tease and entice her husband. He merely hops over to the whiskey bottle and ice bucket to freshen his drink, again and again.

Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor as Brick and Maggie

Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor as Brick and Maggie

In one of the most electrically-charged scenes, Maggie becomes more and more hysterical – she’s lonely, rejected and, despite wearing a sexy basque and stockings,  no longer desired by Brick.  He can only retort that his friendship with Skipper was honest and real. “The one great good thing in his life which was true.”

A clever directorial moment is when Big Daddy, Mamma, Gooper, Mae and children, suddenly wander half way down the aisles around the stage as if listening to their private conversation. “ The walls of this house have ears” comments Maggie.

After dinner, all the family arrive to join Brick and Maggie for birthday cake celebrations. While Big Mamma bustles around in jolly party spirit, conversation turns to Big Daddy’s health and Gooper’s devious plans to take control of the Plantation.

Daragh O’Malley portrays Big Daddy, strutting about as the powerful Patriarch, puffing on his cigar, with a bullish, bullying presence. His heart to heart – man to man chat with Brick about Skipper becomes more heated as more whisky is consumed.  They are both in denial about the truth, lingering guilt, shame, the fear of mortality.

Daragh O'Malley as Big Daddy

Daragh O’Malley as Big Daddy

But O’Malley’s incessant, raucous shouting is more akin to an overacted TV soap opera, rather than expressing the “cloudy, flickering, effervescent interplay” – the ebb and flow of William’s poetic dialogue.  Less is more.


The original play was structured with two intervals to give each Act the space to breathe. In this revised two Act production the first act is too long, strangely breaking for the interval half way through the conversation between Big Daddy and Brick. (My sister and I were getting cramp and four people crept out after 70 minutes).   While Brick was presumably drinking iced tea not Bourbon, the men seem to be smoking real cigars, the smell penetrating around stage side seats.

Directed by James Dacre with a languid pace, the star turns are the very watchable Charles Aitken and Mariah Gale in the central roles.  Matthew Douglas is rather comical as the bumbling Gooper as is Victoria Elliot as the vivacious Mae as part of an impressive cast.

Music by Charles Cave – (the soundtrack played rather too quietly) – adds a soupcon of moody tension to the atmosphere. The theatre-in-the-round is perfect to create the claustrophobic space for the intimate close-up  performance of this blisteringly hot and heartfelt drama.

Show Times:

Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester  30 October – 29 November, 2014

t. 0161 833 9833

Experience a taste of romance, luxury and tradition in the beautiful world of Belmond Hotel Cipriani, Venice

Vintage glamour and glitz from London to Venice

Vintage glamour and glitz from London to Venice

Having previously visited Venice by car and by ship, this year the arrival was the most magical. My partner Ken and I travelled in vintage luxury from Victoria Station London on the British Pullman and then in Calais Ville, we boarded the Venice-Simplon-Orient Express for our exuberantly romantic journey to Venice.

Champagne lady

Champagne lady

Marcel Proust apparently delayed going to Venice because for him cities were like women, and the best confined to his dreams. But when he arrived he was not disappointed and he described it lovingly and at length.

The surreal, dreamlike panorama of Venice

The surreal, dreamlike panorama of Venice

Writers, artists, actors, musicians have always been enticed like a magic spell to visit Venice. In no particular order, Balzac, Byron, Claude Monet, Somerset Maughan, Noel Coward, Peggy Guggenheim, Cole Porter,  Orson Welles, Maria Callas, Truman Capote, Ernest Hemingway, …. George Clooney, Woody Allen.

“Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go” – Truman Capote

Giuseppe Cipriani outside Harry's Bar

Giuseppe Cipriani outside Harry’s Bar

It was the entrepreneurial vision of Guiseppe Cipriani (and a generous loan from Mr Harry Pickering), which launched the quirky, quintessential Harry’s Bar on May 13 1931 at Calle Vallaresso in 1931. Beloved by the artistic and literary elite of the day, sipping Bellinis (white peach puree & Prosecco),  and lunching on Beef Carpaccio, today the art deco bar remains one of the most famous watering holes in the world.

Hemingway would order a Montgomery. This very dry Dry Martini, (15 parts gin to 1 part dry Vermouth), is named after Field Marshal Montgomery who liked a 15 to 1 ratio of his troops to teh enemy  on the battlefield.  A typical lunch for Orson Welles was shrimp sandwiches, washed down with two bottles of Dom Perignon!

Giuseppe Cipriani

Giuseppe Cipriani who invented the Bellini

Its legendary enduring success was due to Cipriani’s philosophy: quality, a smile, and simplicity, to ensure genuine hospitality, fine food and drink. By the early 1950s it was time to develop more ambitious plans:

“In 1953 my father bought a piece of abandoned land next to a dilapidated workyard on the island of Giudecca. My father often went there. He stood among the wild undergrowth and looked out at the broad calm lagoon. He firmly believed it was a perfect spot for a hotel.”Arrigo Cipriani

Once again Giuseppe was assisted by a wealthy benefactor, Lord Iveagh (the owner of the Guinness brewery) and Hotel Cipriani opened its doors in 1958.

Belmond Hotel Cipriani

Belmond Hotel Cipriani

For those seeking peace and privacy of a romantic island retreat, the Cipriani became the address for VIPs, honeymooners and anyone in search of a taste of luxury.

Vintage image of Hotel Cipriani

Vintage image of Hotel Cipriani

In 1976 it was purchased by Orient-Express Hotels – and now renamed Belmond Hotel Cipriani  (the exciting rebranding of Orient-Express collection trains, cruises and hotels) –  preserving the high standard of gracious comfort and Venetian hospitality since the 1950s.

Courtesy Motor Launch take guests to Belmond Cipriani

Courtesy Motor Launch take guests to Belmond Cipriani

During our visit to Venice this summer, Ken and I took the opportunity to visit the legendary resort, taking the courtesy motor launch over to Giudecca. We arrive at 5pm, Aperitif time at the Gabbiano Bar, overlooking the swimming pool and surrounded by lush greenery and fragrant flowers.

Gabbiano Bar

Gabbiano Bar

The charming Head Barman, Walter Bolzonella is the star turn here – for 37 years he has been blending Bellinis and shaking Martinis with exemplary care. His ethos is Hospitality with heart. The Gabbiano is like his home, the guests, treated with the warm welcome of personal friends.

Walter Bolzonella, Head Barman

Walter Bolzonella, Head Barman

Lounging on our well cushioned Rattan sofa, we browse the Bar Menu with a mouthwatering choice – Watermelon Spritz, Hemingway Daiquiri, Cipri-Ami Martini, Ferrari Perle Fizz, Dom Perignon, wines, spirits, beers and dozens of signature Cocktails.

Gabbiano Bar Menu, illustrated by Lele Vianello

Gabbiano Bar Menu, illustrated by Lele Vianello

The Buona Notte was invented by Walter for George Clooney (a regular hotel guest), to celebrate his movie Good Night and Good Luck at the Venice Film Festival, 2005. On the night it was created, “100 people came to the bar to experience the new cocktail,” Bolzonella recalls, “It was a disaster!”.

Buonanotte cocktail

Buonanotte cocktail

This is the perfect choice for Ken: A cool refreshing concoction of cucumber, lime, fresh ginger, angostura bitter, vodka, cranberry with crushed ice, it’s like a sophisticated Cosmopolitan with a sharper kick.

A few years later, Walter asked Clooney to suggest a name for his new Elderflower, passion fruit and Prosecco Cocktail. La Nina’s Passion was born, named after Clooney’s mother.

La Nina's Passion

La Nina’s Passion

Fresh, fruity with the sparkling taste of summer, it’s elegant and ladylike to be sipped slowly. With our drinks, we are served a platter of delicious Ciccetti,  bar nibbles, fat green olives, smoked salmon blinis.

Fast forward to August 2013 and the gorgeous George arrives back at the Cipriani; to ensure he has his favourite tipple in Venice, he brought a crate or two of his own specially distilled Tequila.  Clooney, with his friends Rande Gerber and Mike Meldman, are the creators of Casamigos premium tequila made from hand-picked Blue Weber agaves grown in the Highlands of Jalisco, Mexico – which he describes as, “ the best-tasting, smoothest tequila around.”

Casamigos Tequila with delivery boy, Mr Clooney

Casamigos Tequila with delivery boy, Mr Clooney

Originally intended for their own personal use at home, it is now marketed by the slogan “brought to you by those who drink it.” Casamigos is now gaining wide recognition, winning Gold Medal at the Los Angeles International Spirits Competition.

The Gabbiani bar is the first in Europe to serve the Casamigos Tequila and to celebrate the occasion, Walter Bolzonella is the master mixologist behind his new cocktail, BuonaNotte Amigo.

Buananotte Amigos  cocktail

Buananotte Amigos

As a partner to the original Buonanotte, into the shaker goes crushed lime, ginger, orange bitter, cranberry juice and Reposado Tequila – a fresh, citrusy punch of a cocktail with a hint of Mexican spice.

Venice is the most romantic city in the world”  Woody Allen

Over the weekend of 26- 29th September, 2014 George Clooney and Amal Alamudden reserved the Hotel Cipriani exclusively for their wedding celebrations with family and friends. A few Casamigos Tequila shots and cocktails were sure to be consumed. !

Hotel Cipriani expressed all of my father’s splendid, intelligent experience. It was the embodiement of luxury service, sincere people providing simple service “ Arrigo Cipriani.

This manner of traditional Italian hospitality continues today with the same sense of personal pride and passion with which the Hotel was created, nearly sixty years ago. Casually glamorous in style, it’s as cool and classy as the cocktails at the Gabbiano Bar.  Salute Giuseppe!

Fast Facts

Belmond Hotel Cipriani & Palazzo Vendramin,  Giudecca 10, 30133 Venice, Italy
Tel: +39 041 240 801
UK Reservations: 0845 077 2222

Accommodation: 39 guestrooms and 26 Junior Suites, 14 Suites, 1 Palladian Suite.  Pallazzo Vendramin.
Complimentary courtesy motor launch for guests to and from St. Mark’s Square.
Yachting Marina; Private Boat Tours
Oro Restaurant – Italian and Venetian cuisine. Cip’s Club – Dining Room & Terrace. Gabbiano Bar,  Porticciolo Pool bar
Wellness Centre and Spa; Olympic-size saltwater heated swimming pool; Tennis court; Children’s Holiday Club. Hairdresser; Boutique.

The Water of Leith Bistro sails upstream to Canonmills, Edinburgh

The Water of Leith Bistro.

1 Howard Street, Canonmills, Edinburgh, EH3 5JP

Telephone: 0131 556 6887

Opening times: Tue–Sat 10am–5pm; Sun 10am–4pm; closed Mon. 

water of leith front window

Ana and Mickael Mesle work together as the ideal culinary dream team: Ana, with a long career as a restaurant manager, including Skippers, with her husband Mickael, formerly Chef at La P’tite Folie and Daniels have created the ideal professional partnership.

In 2009 they opened the Water of Leith Cafe Bistro, a very successful business for five years enticing regular diners and rave reviews.

“ Ana provides the warmest greeting front of house while classically trained Breton chef Mickael whips up French dishes – the Croque monsieur is justifiably legendary – and a dazzling array of cakes and desserts”.

But a few months ago, the lease on the property in Coburg Street came to an end. But as they say, when one door closes another opens and the Mesle family has now sailed just a few miles along the Water of Leith to take over the former Luigi’s Trattoria at Canonmills.

The Mesle family sail upstream from Leith to Canonmills

The Mesle family sail upstream from Leith to Canonmills

A change of address perhaps, but what was so fortunate – they could keep the same name for their new Restaurant,  along with the image of a cute hungry duck wearing a bib as their menu logo.

The Canonmills Clock

The Canonmills Clock

1 Howard Place is located right beside the Bridge just along from the landmark Canonmills Clock.

Step inside and enter the sunny yellow, wood panelled Café: With chestnut-coloured tables, comfortable cushioned chairs and banquettes, it’s all freshly decorated with a 1950s-style dandelion wallpaper and mini gallery of affordable artwork (for sale). Two large windows overlook the River. It’s all very welcoming and homely.

Fresh, flowery and artistic decor

Fresh, flowery and artistic decor

The Bistro is open for Breakfast and Lunch, serving an extensive menu of French-Scottish dishes, as well as coffee, home-baked cakes and pastries.

As I live in Stockbridge and my friend Fiona near the Botanics, the Bistro was the ideal equidistant place to meet for a leisurely lunch last week.

The Afternoon menu offers a selection of Gastropub favourites, soups and sandwiches, fish cakes, burgers and steak to suit all appetites. The legendary Croque Monsieur (grilled cheese and ham toastie), served with salad and fries looks like a feast in itself.

For those intrigued by the derivation of classic food names, this famous French sandwich first appeared in a Parisian Brasserie in 1910 and soon mentioned in Proust’s In Search of Lost Time.    … ” en sortant du concert …. ma grand’mère et moi, pour échanger quelques mots avec madame de Villeparisis qui nous annonçait qu’elle avait commandé pour nous à l’hôtel des croque-monsieur et des œufs à la crème…”

Marcel Proust with coffee cup

Marcel Proust with coffee cup

Add a fried egg on top and it’s a Croque Madame (invented around 1960),  which you can also sample here.

We are spoilt for choice as there’s also a Blackboard of Daily Specials –Beetroot & Goat’s Cheese Quiche, Chicken Terrine, Fried Pollock with Mash, basil & rocket veloute. All very enticing. …

I could not resist Moules Frites, especially when cooked by a chef from Brittany.!  (I vividly recall first tasting this dish in the mid 1990s, sitting outside a beach front bistro in the charming resort of Dinard – French fast food in a kilo pot!).

Piled up in a huge bowl, my mountain of mussels were cooked in a creamy leek and cider sauce, with perfect crisp thin French Fries on the side. Across the table, Fiona selected the Sweet Potato, Coconut and Chick pea Curry with basmati rice. This was artistically presented in a large round platter and looked most appetitising.

And the verdict?   “ My curry was just right – a bit of a kick but not too spicy, for me anyway” she said … adding, “ I love the decor and atmosphere; the food is delicious.”

Over our main courses, we shared a bottle of Sicilian dry, slightly fruity, white wine. The list of about half a dozen wines (served by the glass or bottle), is written on a blackboard on the side wall.  I found this rather awkward, having to get up and walk over to read it.   However, Ana explained that the wines can be changed regularly rather than having a printed list.

Wines by the glass and bottle, including lovely Bubbly

Wines by the glass and bottle, including lovely Bubbly

The place was busy and buzzing this Friday lunchtime, and it had only been open for three weeks. Local residents as well as tourists en route to the Botanics have been quick to find it  and already its pretty popular.  Two women at the next table had driven over from Leith, having been regulars at the original  Coburg Street Bistro.

Families with children and babies are not forgotten – kids will enjoy home-made Fish-fingers, mini Gilmore sausages, chicken goujons, beans on toast …. The bag of  emergency nappies on the loo door is, as Fiona commented, “ a stroke of genius!”.    Ana is a mother of a young boy so clearly understands all necessities for a family outing.

Well behaved dogs are also allowed with their owners offered tables at the window near the front door.

Dogs welcome at window tables

Dogs welcome to sit beside owners at window tables

I shall certainly be returning soon to sample Breakfast. It is after all the best meal of the day – Full Scottish, Vegetarian, Bacon rolls, Poached Eggs, or Bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon. Call in for morning coffee and a croissant or Afternoon Tea with scones and fine Patisserie.  A glass cabinet is filled with tempting tartes and gateaux….

Afternoon Tea and Scones

Afternoon Tea and Scones

The Bistro is also open in the evening for occasional private dinners – an excellent idea as we head into the festive period of socialising and parties with family and friends. The special Christmas menu features, amongst other choices, Celeriac and pear soup; Pan friend Hake, prawn bonbons, saffron sauce; Gateau Breton, apple compote, salted caramel ice-cream.  Reserve your private dinner soon!

Perhaps early next year, once the Bistro is well established at its new address, Ana and Mickael may decide to open for dinner. Meanwhile, I sincerely recommend that you take a trip to Canonmills beside the Water of Leith any time of the day for seriously good food.   A warm, friendly ambience awaits to complement the hearty, authentic Auld Alliance cuisine.

I think Marcel Proust would love this little French cafe.   Bon Appetit!

Homely style with classic French bistro food.

Homely style with classic French bistro food.




La Fete du Cinema: The 22nd French Film Festival, 7 November to 7 December, 2014


The birth of cinema is credited to two Frenchmen, Auguste and Louis Lumière who, in 1895, filed a patent for their Cinématographe, although they saw it as just a passing fad. “The cinema is an invention without a future,” said Louis Lumière.

Nevertheless, France has continued to be a pioneering movie-making nation and its output today is surpassed only by India and the United States. Heavily subsidised by the State, French cinema is recognised the world over for its quality, sophistication and creative diversity.

fff logo

How fortunate we are that each year in November, La Fete Du Cinema offers an inspiring cultural collection of French movies.  Curated with passion and artistic flair by the Co-founder – Director, Richard Mowe and Ilona Morison, (deputy director),  the popular and ever- growing Festival now visits nearly a dozen towns and cities across Scotland and UK.

A cultural programme of premieres and vintage classics

A cultural programme of premieres and classics

Romance, drama, comedy, animation, politics, documentary and shorts cover every style, storyline and setting, from premieres to vintage classics.  This feature can only cover a mini selection of the numerous films and special events – for the full Festival programme see website below.

Highlights picked from the Cannes Film Festival this year include 9 Month Stretch, described as a black comedy Court-room caper; this won the best actress Cesar for Sandrine Kimberlain.

Nominated at Cannes for Best Film is Turning Tide, about a yachtsman facing the challenge and dangers of a solo sailing race.

Turning Tide

Turning Tide – En Solitaire

Based on the 1964 novel by Georges (Maigret) Simeonon, The Blue Room follows the liaisons dangereuses between a vain, womanising married man and his manipulative mistress who meet for afternoon encounters in the blue room at the Hôtel des Voyageurs.

La Chambre Bleue -  Mathieu Amalric, Stephanie Cleau

La Chambre Bleue –
Mathieu Amalric, Stephanie Cleau

But their passionate affair leads to a nightmare of tragic consequences. Directed by and starring Mathieu Amalric (Quantum of Solace, Grand Budapest Hotel), this vintage Simenon tale is sure to be an atmospheric, psychological thriller.

On a lighter note, Gazelles, written and directed by Mona Achache is a kind of French Bridget Jones’ romantic comedy about a a thirty-something single girl. Marie and Eric are childhood sweethearts and after 14 years together are about to buy their first apartment when Marie has second thoughts ….. “ An ode to womanhood and freedom, Gazelles is a joyous but realistic girl-power statement.”

Gazelles - a French  Bridget Jones-style romantic comedy

Gazelles – a French
Bridget Jones-style romantic comedy

The great news is that both Mona Achache and leading actress Camille Chamoux (Marie) will be appearing at the screenings of Gazelles in London, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

A key feature of the Festival is the added bonus of Guest Artistes taking part in Q&A sessions following the films which always add a fresh and illuminating dimension.

In several UK cities, Director Lionel Baier will introduce his film Longwave, an entertaining road movie about the 1974 Carnation revolution in Portugal. Marie’s Story relates the true story of a blind and deaf girl and a caring young nun and the film’s Director Jean-Pierre Ameris will also be visiting the Festival.

Weekends in Normandy

Weekends in Normandy – director,  Anne Villaceque

Location, location, location: during the Festival you can take a virtual journey across France – Paris, Provence, Normandy, French Riviera, Marseille, and from West Africa to Argentina.

French Riviera

French Riviera – starring Catherine Deneuve

The centenary of the First World War is commemorated, ranging from Wooden Crosses, a moving 1931 anti war film, to Life and Nothing But, (Bertrand Tavernier) which illustrates the aftermath of the Great War through the heartache of thousands of grieving mothers and widows. It won best Foreign film at the Baftas, 1989.


The Festival features such acclaimed actors as Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert and Jean Reno, with directors including Jean-Luc Godard, Anne Villaceque and the late Alain Resnais.

Alain Resnais - New Wave film-maker

Alain Resnais: 1922 – 2014

A master of New Wave cinema, Resnais moved from documentaries to musicals and sci-fi, inspired by classic drama, pop culture and farce. As a tribute, there’s a screening of Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959), a fictional love story set between post-war Japan and France which won the International Critics prize at Cannes.  “A meditation on memory and heartbreak, the opening montage of lovers’ entwined hands is breathtaking even today—in 1959 it was truly, elevating cinema.”

hiroshima mon amour

Resnais died aged 91 earlier this year – with impeccable timing – following the premiere of his film, Life of Riley at the Berlin Film Festival.  Based on a typical melancholic comedy of manners by English playwright, Alan Ayckbourn, the plot illustrates problems in relationships, love and marriage.

Belle et Sebastien

Belle et Sebastien

Children’s entertainment too – a new version of Belle & Sebastien based on the enchanting TV series, and an animated fairy tale, Wolfy, the Incredible Secret about a young wolf and a rabbit. Check out the programme for details of L’Ecole du cinema and the schools programme at selected cinemas taking part in the FFF.

For those in or around London, a very special CineConcert will take place on 9 November at the Barbican. Studies on Paris, a black and white silent documentary from 1928 is a stunning cinematic portrait of the city by Andre Sauvage.  To accompany the screening, the Prima Vista Quartet will perform the film score, Studies on Paris, composed by Baudime Jam.

A vital and valuable section of the French Film Festival is to promote new, young talent. Short Cuts will highlight the work of seven directors representing diverse cinematic styles.

Mr Hublot

Mr Hublot – Oscar winning Short film

Mr Hublot won an Oscar for Best Animated Short. It sounds like a charming, if rather surreal animation about an eccentric house proud man and his new pet dog.

Looking Glass - an imaginative Gothic drama

Looking Glass – an imaginative Gothic drama by film-maker Max Markus

Edinburgh based film-maker, Max Markus has a great interest in history, legends and magical realism. His new film Looking Glass, set in late 19th century France, is a five minute atmospheric Gothic drama, artistically inspired by the romanticism and sensual beauty of Pre-Raphaelite portraits.

Markus has also created the fast paced and enticing Festival Trailer – a tasty amuse bouche to preview some of the cinematic treats over the next month.  Click on the Link below

I think the Lumiere brothers would be impressed with the line-up for the French Film Festival 2014!

French Film Festival 7 November to 7 December, 2014.

Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee, Inverness, Kirkcaldy, London, Cambridge, Newcastle, Warwick, York.

The FFF programme, information on films, venues and tickets  – see

Festival Trailer for a sneak preview ..

Programmes available now in participating cinemas.