Archive | February 2017

Contemporary Italian Tapas-style dining at the fashionably re-styled Contini, George Street, Edinburgh

The ornate entrance to Contini, 103 George Street

The ornate entrance to Contini, 103 George Street

Since Victor and Carina Contini opened their Ristorante in 2004, (previously named Centotre),  Contini George Street has established a fine reputation for the best Italian food in Edinburgh.  The interior is just stunning, an ornate, pillared 18th century Georgian ballroom-like space, formerly a banking hall.

A fashionable, classy revamp has recently transformed the former Cafe area at the front into an elegant Coffee House and Cocktail Bar for all day drinking and eating from Breakfast to Aperitivi, sitting around comfortable booths.

The classy Cocktail and Wine Bar

The classy Cocktail and Wine Bar

The Ristorante beyond has also benefitted from a better layout of seating with long banquettes in soft grey leather, white tables and colourful velvet wrapped chairs.

Chic new design

Chic new design

Colourful striped chairs

Colourful striped chairs

Feature walls are colourfully decorated with Italian Baroque frescoes.

The fabulous Fresco wall art

The fabulous Fresco wall art

To complement the refreshed design, a new menu is based around the modern concept of a small plate dining experience, Italian Tapas – Meze-style:

“When we first opened, our menu was a reflection of hearty meals like lasagne, pizza, and carbonara.  Now,  rather than ordering a traditional starter, main course and pudding, we have created a menu with sharing in mind, which showcase the very best Italian ingredients and the pick of Scotland’s larder. ”  Carina Contini

As followers of the Slow Food Movement philosophy, the Continis take pride in promoting small-scale producers, and using good quality, locally-sourced, sustainable food.  The motto is fresh, simple, seasonal, specialising in quality Italian produce ~ Amalfi lemons, Olive oils, cheese, cured meats, sausage, honey ~ fine Scottish seafood, venison and chicken as well as hand picked fruit, herbs and vegetables from their kitchen garden at their home in Lasswade, just outside Edinburgh.

Carina explains that this is very much the modern Italian cuisine which the Continis ccook and eat at home with their children, especially for Sunday Lunch.

The choice of Primi dishes and Insalate are healthy, light for the perfect appetisers, served on lovely blue plates – select two or more to share with your dining companion/s:  Begin with an ice cold glass of Prosecco as you nibble a chunk of the softest, home-made Ciabatta dipped in Tuscan olive oil.  Then from the choice of “starters”, Salame Calabrese paired with aubergine, pomegranate and pistachio, and a divine, creamy Mozzarella di Bufala with ripe figs, drizzled with honey,  served with paper thin toasted sourdough. And of course, there’s pasta:  Agnollotti, for example, organic egg pasta ravioli stuffed with spinach and ricotta, with a butter and basil sugo sauce.

Mozzarella di Bufala and figs

Mozzarella di Bufala and figs

On to Secondi, and again the dishes are innovative culinary concoctions such as Cod poached  in cold pressed olive oil with fennel, samphire and chilli. This unusual cooking method does not make the fish oily at all, as one might expect, but delicately tender.

Merluzzo, poached cod

Merluzzo, poached cod

A stand out, signature salad is Finocchio, with crunchy fennel, slices of sweet Tarocco orange, salty green olives, creating the most perfect match of texture and flavour.

Finocchio insalate - fennel, orange, olives.

Finocchio insalate – fennel, orange, olives.

Other seafood includes Fritto Misto (squid, langoustines with courgette),  and Cozze, fresh mussels.  Carnivores are in for a treat with such dishes as Venison haunch, slow cooked Oxtail, or Charred Lamb with anchovies.  The vegetarian Risotto sounds divine – butternut squash with thyme, mascarpone and pear.  I shall have to return soon to sample this ….

To finish, I personally recommend the classic Tiramisu, (Genovese sponge soaked in espresso and layered with Marsala mascarpone cream), as light as a feather it could be zero calories.

Light as a feather Tiramasu

Light as a feather Tiramasu

The Carta dei Vini offers around 40 wines by the bottle and per glass, from Pinot Grigio delle Venezia to Nero d’Avola from Sicily. Diners have the option to purchase their favourite wine, at a Takeaway price, to enjoy at home.  Cocktails include the classic Italian Negroni made with Edinburgh Gin,  Campari Arancio, and “Ferrari’ Gin & Tonic with a shot of Contini espresso on the side. And of course there’s Italian Fizz:  V&C Prosecco Spumante extra dry, Ca’ di Alte, Veneto,  has a light straw yellow colour, the taste described as summer pear, very dry and fresh.

Visit Contini too for Breakfast –  a most enticing menu to start your day the Italian way:  fruit juices, organic porridge with apricots and banana;  what could be healthier than Poached eggs with smashed avocado, chilli, samphire and spinach?;

Breakfast - Poached egg with avocado and spinach

Breakfast – Poached egg with avocado and spinach

Also a traditional full Scottish,  pancakes,  pastries and of course, strong caffe.  And why not indulge in a Morning Cocktail – a Prosecco Mimosa or a Bloody Mary to begin the day with a kick.

At the end of the day, call into the Bar for an Aperitivi, classic and modern Italian cocktails to revive the spirits: a Sofia Loren, Edinburgh gin with cointreau, lemon juice, Bellini, Prosecco with peach puree, or a Limoncello Martini, shaken not stirred with a lemon twist.  The Bar also serves Beer (Paolozzi, Peroni et al) and range of spirits.

Campari Spritz

Campari Spritz

For special occasions, Contini George Street also has a downstairs private dining room which can be booked for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Victor and Carina are passionate, pedantic and purist about seriously good Italian food and wine and this new contemporary approach to Italian dining is an inspired, artistic vision. Since 2004, Contini Ristorante has been the D&G, the Ferrari, the Versace of casually sophisticated eating and drinking and now enhanced with fashionable style.  Bellisimo!


Recent guests have enjoyed the new small plate experience at Contini.

This is a beautiful and welcoming place for any meal. I had Pomodori, thyme and smoked garlic insalata, Lardo cured salame with thyme roasted grapes and Italian creamy goats cheese, then finished with an Affogato”.

“We had a wonderful lunch .. very nice to share food. The poached cod with fennel dish was a winner.   The venison with kale and pickled figs was a firm favourite,  Ox-tail and gnocchi, and hand made ravioli”.

“A lovely relaxed atmosphere with friendly staff.  Tried a prosecco cocktail with a strawberry liqueur”   

Contini George Street, 103 George Street, Edinburgh EH2 3ES.  t. 0131 225 1550

For more information, menus, opening hours and bookings:

Aflresco summer dining at Contini

Aflresco summer dining at Contini



“Moments” – Seascapes, Still Lifes and Portraits capture a sense of time and place at Dundas Street Gallery, Edinburgh

Three artists from Fife – Colin Joyce, Roy McGowan and Ken Young – have curated a joint Art Exhibition at the Dundas Street Gallery, from 18 February to 25th February, 2017.

Covering Scottish seascapes, travel journeys far and wide, portraits and still life, there are around 60 original works of art, representing their individual style and subjects. The attractive, well lit basement gallery is an ideal space with separate walls and sections for each artist.

Describing himself as a realist artist Ken Young specialises in painting boats and harbours along the curving coastline of the East Neuk of Fife.  The picturesque fishing villages of Pittenweem, Crail and Anstruther are a painter’s paradise.  There are some colourfully evocative paintings here, such as “Still Water”  where you can almost feel the salt sea air.

Ken Young - Still Water

Ken Young – Still Water

As Ken describes the artistic process for this work,  “This is Dysart Harbour on a quiet evening as the light fades. The water is very still, reflecting the colours of the sky. I was aiming for a forlorn atmosphere  .. at the end of a day.”

I am also impressed by his Still Life paintings such as the detailed texture of glistening glass and crimson cherries.

Ken Young - Cherries and Glass

Ken Young – Cherries and Glass

After taking early retirement from work in the financial business, Colin Joyce is now relishing a new mid life career as an artist. He also writes articles for Leisure Painter magazine and teaches art on cruise ships.

I love to travel – my sketches and photographs recall the sounds and smells of the place.  I often create a painting on location, “en plein air” inspired by light, the way it changes the landscape day by day, hour by hour.”

Colin Joyce - North Bridge, Edinburgh

Colin Joyce – North Bridge, Edinburgh

Painting in either Watercolour or Oils, there is great clarity in the cityscapes of Edinburgh, a sense of movement of buses and cars on a rain drizzled street; the iconic shape of the Bass Rock and the towering structure of the Forth Bridge; in contrast are charming views of Venice, with the bright sun on dappled water and ochre stone.

Colin Joyce - Light Effect, 5pm, side canal, Venice

Colin Joyce – Light Effect, 5pm, side canal, Venice

Roy McGowan returned to his love of art later in life, having enjoyed painting in his youth. For thirty five years he never picked up a paintbrush which he regrets but is clearly making up for lost time in the studio today.   His collection of oil paintings cover his eclectic interest in seascapes, figurative studies and still life.  My eye was particularly drawn to his exquisitely drawn “Blue Jug and Apple,” reminiscent of Cezanne.

Roy McGowan - Blue Jug and Apple

Roy McGowan – Blue Jug and Apple

Like his fellow artists here, Roy is a master at depicting the atmosphere of a quiet seashore and distant horizon with painterly precision.

Roy McGowan - a charming seascape

Roy McGowan – a charming seascape

Meeting Ken, Colin and Roy, three seriously talented artists from Fife, reminds me of the classic comic tale, “Three Men in a Boat(to say nothing of the dog)”, by Jerome K Jerome. The boating adventures of Jerome and two ship mates, cruising along the River Thames from Kingston to Oxford and back again, was intended to be read as a serious travel guide.


I can just imagine these three friends taking a similar trip – perhaps a barge trip along the Caledonian canal, or a cruise around the Hebrides, with their sketchbooks in hand to capture loch and sea views, beaches, boats and wildlife en route.

Following in the footsteps of Jerome and his friends, on such an artistic journey would make a fantastic exhibition and indeed a stunningly illustrated book!

For more information on this exhibition and the artists: (Roy McGowan)

Rent the Musical – La Boheme re-imagined for the Aids generation on 20th anniversary UK tour


Rent the Musical, with book, lyrics and music by Jonathan Larson,  opened off Broadway in February 1996, running for two months before it transferred to Broadway where it ran for 12 years.  Tragically, Larson died of an aortic aneurysm shortly after the dress rehearsal for what would become a hit show, winning four Tony Awards including Best Musical, the Pulitzer prize for drama.  The New York Times called it an “exhilarating, landmark rock opera.”

Jonthan Larson

Jonthan Larson

This 20th anniversary UK touring production roared into the Festival Theatre this week, attracting a large fan base, who applaused the energetic cast with a standing ovation.

The show,  inspired by Puccini’s romantic opera, La Boheme  (1896), about a group of Bohemian artistes in 19th century Paris, with the plot shifted to New York a century later. In a run down loft apartment in the East Village, Manhattan, a group of friends struggle to make a living due to homelessness, unemployment,  drug abuse, HIV/AIDS, social and political unrest.

The towering, multi-storey, industrial scaffolding stage set, with flashing Café and Don’t Walk signs, represents the Urban Jungle where life is rough and tough for the junkies, druggies, drop outs and bag ladies,  as envisioned by Jonathan Larson:

“In these dangerous times, where it seems the world is ripping apart at the seams, we can all learn how to survive from those who stare death squarely in the face every day and we should reach out to each other and bond as a community, rather than hide from the terrors of life at the end of the millennium.”

Puccini’s characters have been re-imagined for the late 20th century: the poet Rodolfo becomes Roger, the songwriter, Marcello the painter is now Mark the filmmaker.  Tom Collins a gay anarchist is based on Colline the philosopher, and Schuanard is now Angel Schunard, a transvestite street drummer.  Musetta is Maureen, a bisexual performance artist and Mimi, the poor, TB-stricken seamstress is cast as an exotic, erotic dancer. (Perhaps a fashion designer would have been more apt!).

Billy Cullum as Mark. (photo, Matt Crockett)

Billy Cullum as Mark. (photo, Matt Crockett)

The narrative opens on Christmas Eve and relates the lives and loves of this group of housemates over the next year, which Mark is capturing on film for a social documentary.

December 24th, 9pm, Eastern Standard time, from here on in, I shoot without a script.. first shot Roger, tuning his fender guitar he hasn’t played in a year”. 

There’s plenty of drama for Mark to film, first reporting on Roger, who is HIV positive and trying to compose a significant song as his legacy, and their neighbourhood rent strike against the landlord now planning to evict them.

Phillippa Stefani as Mimi (photo credit, Brian Roberts)

Phillippa Stefani as Mimi (photo credit, Brian Roberts)

Lying on a mattress upstairs in this squat is Mimi, a tiny doll of a girl, diagnosed HIV positive through drug abuse.  Frail and vulnerable from lack of food, desperate for heat and light, she asks Roger to “Light my Candle”, their brief encounter leading to a rocky, romantic affair.

Living an impoverished existance on the edge of society, the friends exist from day to day.  In a rousing choral anthem “Seasons of Love,” they reflect on how to measure the 525,600 minutes in a year. “In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee, in inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife, how do you measure a year in life?

Seasons of Love (photo Matt Crockett)

Seasons of Love (photo Matt Crockett)

Another theme the musical explores is the discrimination of artists, homosexuals, and others whose lifestyles go “against the grain, going insane”, as described in the song “La Vie Bohème.”   There’s some vivacious dancing throughout such as a fabulous Tango sequence with Mark and Joanne strutting their stuff with pin point precision.

However, as this is a through sung musical, there is no dialogue, and the over amplification from the stage band drowns out most of the lyrics. Without the essential narration,  it is extremely difficult to follow the plot and to empathise with the characters and their individual dilemmas.

La Bohème oozes with the life affirming notion of love and romance, despite the students’ hard times.  In contrast, Rent portrays a permanent dark mood which is angry and negative.  Twenty years on since the premiere, the tragic plight of the Aids generation today appears rather dated.   What is missing in this rather raucous rock show, is a true sense of emotion.  Following the self-destruction of several characters, it’s hard to connect and feel sincerity and truth behind their sad, wasted lives. At its core, there is little heart.

Les Miserables managed to bridge the gap turning the story of The Glums into a richly dramatic, heartfelt musical.


More akin to Puccini’s  “Che gelida manina” (Your tiny hand is frozen) is Roger and Mimi’s soulful duet, “Another Day” – “There is no future, There is no past, I live this moment as my last, There’s only us, There’s only this, Forget regret, Or life is yours to miss, No other road, No other way, No day but today”

These lyrics more than any other sum up the underlying theme of Rent, and punch home Jonathan Larson’s prophetic message, Carpe Diem, seize the day.

Rent the Musical, 14 -18 February,  2017 – Festival Theatre, Edinburgh.

UK tour dates until 27 May 2017-