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La Favorita – the favourite Pizzeria in Edinburgh .. and the best in the UK.

Classic Margherita Pizza

Who doesn’t like pizza?  The original, classic fast food created in Naples from the late 19th century, transferred across Europe to America and is still a perpetual favourite dish around the world.  Baked in a variety of thick or thin methods, with a myriad of toppings,  the modern concept of pizza is largely inspired by the Neapolitan version: the base should be soft and pliable, yet charred and chewy around the edge.

The city’s famous Da Michele pizzeria opened in 1870, with just one choice, Pizza Marinara – tomatoes, garlic and herbs. After Queen Margherita visited the region, the chefs invented a new recipe– tomatoes, mozzarella and basil – the popular Margherita of today.  The best pizza should have the perfect balance between a soft chewy dough and crispy crust and eaten within five minutes of coming out the oven, or it will become soggy and spoilt.

Since 1970 the Crolla family has built a reputation for Italian food at their group of restaurants – Vittoria, Divino Enoteca  and also La Favorita which opened in 2005. As a third-generation Italian family restaurant, their motto is all about preparing and serving the finest pizza and pasta fish and meat dishes, as well as delicious ice-cream and desserts.

The multi award winning La Favorita, located half way down Leith Walk, is a well established Pizzeria.  The warm and welcoming ristorante featuring several small dining rooms, is colourfully decorated with painterly murals, pictures of sunflowers, artwork, with seating for two or large booths for families and friends.

The ‘master pizzaioli’ uses the freshest, authentic ingredients –  the ham comes from Brescia, parmesan from Bologna, tomatoes from Campania and flour from Padova.  Chicken is corn-fed.   The dough is handmade daily, with no additives and left to mature for 48 hours. The log fired oven has a temperature of 300 degree centigrade to give the pizzas a special crispiness, soft base and rustic smoky flavour.

My partner Ken and I visited La Favorita a couple of weeks ago.  The menu is so extensive to suit all tastes, appetites and ideal for children too.  An extraordinary selection of Pizzas take centre stage, not surprisingly – under titles such as Classic,  Sfiozse (Specials), La Blanche (no tomatoes), and Cambiare – (something different), with highlighted “Recommended” varieties. For special diets, the chefs can prepare vegetarian, gluten/ nut/ lactose-free food including Vegan cheese pizza.

As we sipped a glass of Prosecco and studied the menu, we nibbled fat oily olives and deep fried pizza balls.  For starters we shared a fishy feast of delicious, tender Calamari Fritti and a dish of Crocchette di Merluzzo – Salt cod fish cakes.  These were both superb in quality, texture and taste.

Pizzas with every delicious dream topping

Then I ordered a softly baked Pizza Genovese (prawns, peppers, sun dried tomatoes) while Ken selected the Puttanesca pizza, (anchovies, olives, capers).   There is a choice of a 10 or 14 inch pizza, but chatting to the couple beside us, they advised that a 10 inch was perfect unless you were very, very hungry.  After appetising gourmet Starters and (10 inch) Pizzas, no room for dessert.

The Wine List is very informative with a map of Italy to show region and grape variety.  We selected a bottle of Primitivo Salento from Puglia (juicy fruity plums).  We ended our meal  with a sharp tasting shot of Lemoncello, the perfect Digestif.

Definitely the best Pizza in town in our opinion but also voted the best in the UK according to PAPA (Pizza & Pasta & Italian Food Association) at their annual industry awards. In 2014, 2015 and in 2016, La Favorita was presented with the Gold Award for Best Independent Pizza Restaurant in the UK.

Visit La Favorita soon for a fabulous meal with your lover, friends or family.  The Restaurant is also a perfect place for a private dinner party, up to 25 guests.  Alternatively the fleet of cute little Fiat yellow cars will deliver your favorite La Favorita pizza to your home. Ciao!

The “La Favorita Delivered” Fiat cars

 Happy Diners, April 2017

I’m a sucker for a good Italian restaurant and I would have stayed in La Favorita all night if they hadn’t needed the table back. My pizza was the nicest I’ve ever had and my partner’s pasta was delicious. If you’re in Edinburgh, go – you will not be disappointed.

Happy friends – Happy Kids, April 2017

Our group of 10 – 6 adults and 4 children – had the best service. Our waiter was great, patient, helpful and attentive.  Everyone enjoyed their meal – the desserts were mouthwatering.  Lovely & relaxed.

La Favorita,

325 – 333 Leith Walk,

Edinburgh EH6 8SA

tel.  0131 555 5564

“Funny Girl the Musical” comes to the Edinburgh Playhouse: Sheridan Smith is a shining superstar in this fabulous 5 star show

It is extraordinary how the storyline of many Musicals is about the fine art of show business.  “ A Star is Born,”  the hit movie about an aspiring actress, Esther Blodgett who arrives in Hollywood to make her name;  “42nd Street”  tells the story of Peggy Sawyer, a talented young performer with gets her big break on Broadway;  “Cabaret” where Sally Bowles tries her luck in a Berlin nightclub; “A Chorus Line” dramatising the tough audition for 17 hopefuls to be cast in a Musical …. the list is endless.

Fanny Brice

“Funny Girl” is based on the true life of Broadway star,  Fanny Brice (1891-1951), who was born Fania Borach, daughter of Jewish Hungarian immigrants, from the lower East side, New York City. When she was just 13 years old, she won a talent contest at Keeney’s Theatre, soon leading to a long, successful career on the Vaudeville stage.

The premiere of “Funny Girl” opened on Broadway in March 1964 with Barbra Streisand as Fanny,  a dazzling performance which won her an Oscar as best actress in the film version. After phenomenal 5 star reviews for the recent revival of the Musical in London, Sheridan Smith brings her equally dazzling performance as Fanny in this touring production at the Edinburgh Playhouse.

Sheridan Smith as Fanny Brice

The action begins is 1927, in Fanny’s dressing room at the New Amsterdam Theater, New York. Sitting in front of a brightly lit mirror, she reminisces on her long journey to stardom.  We travel in flashback to her childhood home, where her mother observes the young Fanny, in pigtails, baggy sweater and knickerbocker pants, day-dreaming a life in showbusiness. But Mrs Brice believes this is out of her reach.  “Fanny, when people buy a ticket for the theatre, especially the male element, they want something to look at, …. if a girl isn’t pretty, like a Miss Atlantic City, all she gets is pity and a pat.” 

But undeterred, she has a passion for life in the spotlight: “That’s where I live, on stage,” says the young wannabee,  “I’m the greatest star, I am by far, but no one knows it.”

Fanny Brice trying to join in the dance ensemble

At an audition for a show, compared to the prettty, slender, size zero chorus dancers, Fanny is smaller, plumper and ungainly, as she attempts to join in a slick ensemble number. Sheridan is simply marvellous, with flailing arms and clumsy footwork, her dance steps are out of time and kilter.  But she has a cookie, quick witted talent as a bright, bubbly comedienne.

“Being a funny person does an awful lot of things to you. You feel that you mustn’t get serious with people. They don’t expect it from you. You’re a clown.”  Fanny Brice.

The narrative follows her struggle on and off stage, trying to be treated seriously as an all round  Burlesque – Music Hall performer at Keeney’s Theatre, Brooklyn, then moving on to be leading lady at the Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway.   Her unconventionality as a natural entertainer warms her to Producers and audiences alike.

Fanny (Sheridan Smith) and Nick (Darius Campbell)

She also attracts the dashing Nick Arnstein, a successful (or so it seems) gambler dealing in cards, dice and the horses, brilliantly portrayed  by Darius Campbell as a sophisticated, suave, smooth operator. In an hilarious seduction scene,  Fanny tries to escape his clutches on the velvet “casting couch”,  but quickly falls for his charm, reflected in a deliciously romantic duet “You Are Woman, I Am Man.

The entire company is excellent with some delightful cameo character roles (e.g. Mr Ziegfeld, Mrs Brice and her card sharp friends, Mrs Meeker and Mrs Strakosh),. Slickly directed and crisply choreographed, the fast paced scene-changes are neatly done, from restaurant to railway station, with luggage, tables, sofas and  stage props magically sliding on and off, with a wardrobe of glamorous costumes shifting through time from c.1910 to the late twenties.

Fanny and Nick with the company

From the opening bars of the Overture, the melodious score flows along  with several well known numbers such as ‘People”  and the stunning torch song, ‘Don’t Rain on My Parade’.  While Fanny’s story is dramatised as a light and frothy comic caper, the heartfelt songs bring a truthful poignancy, unveiling the mask of a clown to show her private feelings through a lifetime of memories.

Centre stage is the brightly shining Sheridan Smith, who  acts, dances, sings, and makes us laugh out loud.  This very Funny Girl is utterly flawless, an incomparable actress, comedienne and musical superstar; Sheridan Smith is the new Judy Garland of our age.

Funny Girl,  Edinburgh Playhouse, 18 – 22 April, 2017

UK Tour


“The Man & the Monarch” – Sir Edwin Henry Landseer unveiled @ Waldorf Astoria, Edinburgh – The Caledonian

Sir Edwin Landseer (1802-1873) is synonymous with the powerful depiction of animals, from Queen Victoria’s hounds and horses to lions and polar bears. However, more than any other animal, the Highland Red Deer is most associated with his art, notably ‘The Monarch of the Glen’, painted in 1851.

“The Monarch of the Glen” Sir Edwin Landseer

This majestic portrayal of a royal stag against the moody backdrop of misty mountain peaks led to numerous reproductions, engravings and marketing images from whisky to shortbread and even butter,  spreading the image worldwide.

An early advertisement for Dewar’s Whisky

Shortbread tin

This iconic image of Scotland’s wild, natural landscape encapsulates its sense of tradition, heritage and romance.  As one critic noted, ‘Landseer may be said to have mastered other animals, but the deer mastered him”.

Having been on loan for seventeen years to the National Gallery of Scotland, in 2016 the owners Diageo, decided to put the painting up for auction through Christie’s, which sparked the very real threat of a sale to an overseas gallery or collector.

Following an urgent appeal by the NGS to save the Monarch for the nation, Diageo agreed a partnership deal offering a £4 million purchase price, half its market value. Financial support came from Heritage Lottery Fund, Art Fund, Scottish Governnent,  private trusts and an international fundraising campaign (#loveitdeerly), with generous donations from art lovers around the world.

On 17 March 2017, it was announced that Landseer’s famous Stag had been secured, now in public ownership to remain in the permanent collection at the National Gallery of Scotland.

To celebrate this extraordinary painting, an exhibition entitled “The Man and the Monarch” is on display throughout April in a pop up gallery at the Peacock Alley, the Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh, The Caledonian.

The Art Consultancy firm, Artiq advises on and selects works of art for private homes and public spaces.  Companies and clients can also lease artworks on a regular revolving basis. It is the perfect opportunity for restaurants and hotels to enhance ambience and decor for the benefit of guests:  “In the hospitality industry, a great piece of art can leave a lasting impression and resonate on a deeper level than any other aspect of design or service.”  Hotels which have collaborated with Artiq on art collections include London Heathrow, Marriott, and Gleneagles, Perthshire.

Katie Terres, art consultant, with Franck Bruyere, Deputy Manager, Waldorf Astoria, delivering a Landseer painting to the hotel.

Kate Terres, an Art Consultant from Artiq,  is the enthusiastic curator behind this fascinating showcase of prints, photographs and portraits with works by Landseer, John Ballantyne, Albert Mendelssohn and eclectic range of contemporary artists.

A stunning, stark photograph is “White Stag” by Kristian Bell. Perhaps snapped at dusk, the pure white of its coat illuminates the soft tones of green and brown foliage with the two central deer staring directly at the lens.

White Stag, Kristian Bell

As Kristian explains “I had heard a few rumours of a white stag hanging around the Arne RSPB in Dorset so was pretty pleased when we came across a group of deer including two white stags…. they were flighty and this was the closest I could get.

The award winning London-based German artist, Alma Haser specializes in carefully constructed portraits using imaginative paper-folding techniques which distorts the face, Picasso-esque style, such as in her series Cosmic Surgery.

“I hope that people find them beautiful but at the same time are taken aback because they are so awkward and weird. I just want them to look closer.”  Alma Haser

Thistle Face, Alma Haser

Haser also alters the shape of a head and facial expression with decorative adornments in a series entitled Brainstorm, and here you can see her powerfully enigmatic portrait “Thistle Face,”  showing  a man’s face obscured by the flower of Scotland.   Landseer suffered bouts of depression throughout his life and this vibrant image of sharp, spiky leaves and purple tone, subtlely reflects the blocked mind and dark thoughts of mental illness.

To complement a fine print of “The Monarch of the Glen” itself, there is also “Scene in Braemar – Highland Deer”.  In 1888, this Landseer painting was purchased  at Christie’s for 4,950 guineas by Sir Edward Cecil Guinness, remaining in the family, (on loan to the National Gallery of Dublin) until sold to a private collector over a century later. The dramatic painting, nearly 9ft high, portrays the artist’s most familiar subject, the Red Stag, surrounded by young fawns and a cute little hare with a soaring eagle overhead against menacing grey storm clouds.

‘Scene in Braemar, Highland Deer” Sir Edwin Landseer

This small yet comprehensive exhibtion captures the essential spirit of Landseer’s life and work: a violent scene of eagles attacking three swans, portraits and photographs which illustrate his close association with Queen Victoria (who commissioned numerous pictures), and his epic project to model the lion sculptures for Trafalgar Square.

It would have been fantastic to have also included a print of Sir Peter Blake’s own striking interpretation, “After The Monarch of the Glen” (1966), hanging side by side Peter Saville’s dynamic tapestry, “After, After, After The Monarch of the Glen,” (2012).

Within the former Caledonian Station concourse, the Peacock Alley is a most elegant Salon for hotel guests and non residents to relax over afternoon tea or a coupe of champagne. The Bartender has invented a special Scotch Whisky, Earl Grey and orange-flavoured “Monarch” cocktail, the perfect tipple as you browse around this artwork.

It makes you wonder that if Landseer were alive today, he would be invited to work for fashion houses and jewellers to create promotional advertisements .. you can just visualise Landseer’s Stags, dogs and lions joining Cartier’s Panther as a symbol of artistic style and luxury.

Peacock Alley, The Waldorf Astoria, Edinburgh, The Caledonian,

“The Man and the Monarch” is on show until the end of April 2017

The Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh – The Caledonian

Princes Street, Edinbugh EH1 2AB.   tel. 0131 222 8888

“Hay Fever” at the Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh: a sparkling, sassy, social comedy of (bad) manners.

“”Hay Fever” is considered by many to be my best comedy .. and is far and away one of the most difficult plays to perform.  To begin with, it has no plot at all, and remarkably little action. Its general effectiveness therefore depends upon expert technique from every member of the cast.” Noel Coward

Hay Fever, 1925 premiere with Marie Tempest as Judith.

Set in the 1920s at a country house near Cookham, Berkshire, this is a comedy of (appallingly bad) manners in the company of the eccentrically Bohemian Bliss family – Judith, a recently retired stage actress, her husband David, a reclusive novelist, and their grown up, over- indulged children, Simon and Sorel.

The pared-down timber design features the shabby chic lounge with piano, gramophone, drinks cabinet, staircase and garden backdrop.  A battered Chesterfield sofa is the focal point for a series of intimately dramatised scenes, starting with the two siblings curled up amicably, sketch pad and poetry book in hand respectively.

Rosemary Boyle (Sorel), Charlie Archer (Simon)

With her blonde curls in a virginal white dress, Sorel is a vain, pretty young thing, while Simon in his stained pyjamas, vest and old socks expresses a lazy, louche personality.  It transpires that both have invited a friend, an older lover, for the weekend, much to their mutual annoyance.

Gliding serenely in from the garden, Judith blooms like a herbaceous border in a flowery, orange kaftan, floaty palazzo trousers and straw hat,  not forgetting green welly boots.

Susan Woolridge as Judith.

Hearing that the scullery maid has toothache, she responds with egoistic vagueness,  “Who is Amy?”  before revealing that Sandy, her latest admirer, is coming to stay.

Judith, Simon and Sorel

To cap it all, David emerges from his hideaway study to announce  that Jackie, his literary muse, will soon arrive at the station.

The Japanese Guest room is beginning to look a tad crowded.!

Each guest is “greeted” at the front door with a disdainful glare by Clara, the housekeeper (well played with grumpy dourness by Myra McFadyen),  and carefree abandon by other family members.

First of all is the elegant Sandy in brown and white spats, expecting a romantic tryst with the unattached Judith. “My husband – he’s not dead, he’s upstairs, ” she admits, leading him out to the garden.

Simon (Charlie Archer) and Myra (Pauline Knowles)

Then the glamorous, bob-haired Myra, struggles into the house complete with suitcase, hat box and tennis racquet. She is soon ravenously embraced by Simon, portrayed with languid pout and poise by Charlie Archer, his matinee good looks and camp manner, reminiscent of a youthful Rupert Everett.

Richard Greatham, Sorel’s “suave, polished, debonair diplomatist “  arrives at the same time as Jackie who are left standing in the hallway, with no option to sit down and make small talk.

This exquisitely stilted scene succinctly pinpoints the precise nuance of language, attitude, accent and astute observation of social class.  To the diplomat’s volley of comments about the beauty of Spain and Italy, the sweet, young ingénue is like a rabbit in the headlights, quivering with nerves, her cheeks turning bright pink with embarrassment at her cultural ignorance of world travel. A trip to Dieppe, she realises to her shame, does not quite compare.  Hywel Symons and Katie Barnett create a masterly comedic double act with subtle gesture and perfect timing.

Hywel Simons as Richard, Katie Barnett as Jackie.

Expecting a quiet weekend in the country, the four guests unwittingly become embroiled in the family’s private world of make believe; orchestrated by Judith, life is a masquerade where reality slides easily into fiction.  Enter this artistic household to find that “All the world’s a stage,  And all the men and women merely players, They have their exits and their entrances …”  

Parlour game after dinner

An after-dinner parlour game of linguistic Charades, performed strictly to family rules, confuses the guests while the hosts relish the role playing, which spirals into exaggerated emotional outbursts with melodramatic flair. As Sorel tellingly admits, “We none of us every mean anything”.

The sequence of outrageous antics, frivolity and fun around the house is choreographed by director, Dominic Hill like a fast and frantic eightsome reel as they each swing around between partners, an  innocent bedroom farce acted out behind the closed door of the library and the shrubbery in the garden.

Eccentric, unconventional behaviour perhaps, but Coward based the Blisses on the life and loves of close friends, visiting Hambleton Hall for weekends to be entertained by Mrs Astley Cooper, her equally dotty husband Clem and artist son Stephen.  He would jot down snippets of dialogue, which inspired him to pepper the conversation in “Hay Fever” with such lines as “People have died from hiccups, you know.”  and “This haddock’s disgusting!,‘ during an hilarious breakfast scene.

Laurette Taylor

Judith is also very much modelled on the American actress, Laurette Taylor, who was sharply witty, intolerant and entirely devoid of tact; her family played parlour games on Sunday nights, disapproving of any self-conscious guest who didn’t play their part.

Susan Wooldridge is meticulous in combining Judith’s winsomely warm personality with her cool, capricious nature hidden behind broad smiles and hearty laughter.  Her tone of voice shifts from high pitched merriment to a deep throated growl to express feelings of delight and anger.

With a performance in similar vein to Sybil in Fawlty Towers, she likes to be a centre of attention and ignores her husband David,  played by Benny Baxter-Young as a quietly idiosyncratic intellectual with nonchalant charm.

Teatime at the Blisses

Each member of the cast is spot on – a character parade of studied demeanor and facial expression – creating a slick, quick, energetic ensemble.  A wardrobe of beautifully authentic costumes from summer frocks to glittering ballgowns and Tuxedos all adds to the vintage period with stylish aplomb.

The bamboozled guests soon realise that their hosts are “artificial to the point of lunacy .. I believe they’re all mad!”   and decide to take matters into their own hands and plan the great escape with hilarious results.

A sparkling, sassy and sophisticated revival illustrating once more Coward’s inimitable talent to amuse.

Hay Fever by Noel Coward

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh 10 March – 1 April, 2017

The Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, 5 – 22 April, 2017.

(Production photographs – Mihaela Bodlovic).

Judith, Simon and Sorel



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-


An Absolutely Fabulous Fizz Festival is coming to Edinburgh – Cheers!


Cracking Wine was set up early last year by Janet Harrison afer having spent over 15 years visiting wine producing regions and vineyards. She is also professionally qualified to an advanced level by the Wines and Spirits Education Trust.

Cracking Wine tasting events: "Women who drink Wine"

Cracking Wine tasting events: “Women who drink Wine”

Wine tasting events are held around the North West of England – such as a wittily marketed series entitled, “Women who drink wine.”  And then Janet had the innovative idea to present a Fizz Festival which was held in Altrincham, Cheshire last November.

Cracking wine - Fizz Festival 2015

Cracking wine – Fizz Festival 2015

Perhaps unsurprisingly, knowing the Brits passion for bubbly, it was a sell out success.

The good news is that in parnership with Diana Thompson, (Thompson PR, Edinburgh), Cracking Wine is bringing this sparkling event to Edinburgh.  The Fizz Festival, (the only consumer wine fair in the UK dedicated to Champagne and sparkling wine), will take place at The Edinburgh Academy, Henderson Row,  on Saturday 29 October 2016.  What a perfect time to learn about and sample an eclectic range of wines, purchase a few bottles and perhaps order a box or two well before the fizzing Festive season.

fizz-festival-cork“I only drink Champagne when I’m happy and when I’m sad.” Lily Bollinger

The UK has held the record as the world’s largest Champagne market since 1996 and shipments grew 4.5%  last year with a total of 34.2 million bottles.  Pehaps those crazy ladies, Patsy and Eddy, cracking open another bottle of Bollinger (for breakfast) and shaking up Stoli -Bolli cocktails, may have had someting to do with this.!

Ab Fab Patsy enjoys a sip of Bollinger

Ab Fab Patsy enjoys a sip of Bollinger

Sales of Prosecco and Cava here too have increased by 80 per cent in the past five years, and latest figures for 2015/16, show we consumed 31.6 million gallons of sparkling wine from Italy, France, Spain and England.

Janet Harrison had a clear objective in the creation of this new event:

champagne-diet“The festival will have a modern approach to the usual wine fairs with no snobbery and a fun and informal atmosphere. With the massive rise in sales of sparkling wine due, in part, to the popularity of Prosecco, it seemed a great time to organise a festival dedicated to fizz.”

This one day event will feature the opportunity to taste up to 75 different champagnes and sparkling wines, as well as personally meet the wine merchants and experts to learn everything about Fizz but were afraid to ask.

The thirst quenching line up of Exhibitors will include Vino, Oddbins, Majestic wines,  Good Brothers Wine bar, From Vineyards Direct and Zonin 1821 Prosecco.


To complement the drink, there’s a market place of Scottish food producers too from Damn Fine Cheese to fresh shellfish from the Oysterman.

The Oysterman

The Oysterman

There will be two ticketed sessions: 12pm-3pm and 4pm-7pm.  During these times, visitors can take part in special Masterclass events hosted by three true professionals:  Doug Wood of Woodwinters (Bridge of Allan & Inverness), named 2016 Wine Merchant of the Year, will be introducing The Wines of Ferghettina from the renowned Sparkling Wine Region in Italy, Franciacorta.  Woodwinters like to encourage a sense of adventure and share the magic, not the mystery, of great wines.

Franciacorta - The "Champagne" region Italy

Franciacorta – The “Champagne” wine region Italy

“All aboard the Fizz Line”  by Nikki Welch. owner of Convivium Wine, will explain different styles of sparkling wines to demonstrate the easy way to navigate wine around her amazingly creative WineTubeMap, tempting the taste buds from Pink Fizz to Vintage Champagne.

WineTubeMap - by Nikki Welch

WineTubeMap – by Nikki Welch

A rather glamorous event is sure to be the Taittinger masterclass with Master of Wine, Mark O’Bryen presenting a prime selection of superlative Champagnes from one of the largest and oldest family-owned Houses in France.

taittinger-champagneAs an exciting new venture, Taittinger is soon to produce English sparkling wine after investing in a collaborative vineyard business in Kent. The UK is Taittinger’s biggest export market and they wanted to “create something special to show our appreciation.”

The new wine Domaine Évremond (named after Charles de Saint-Évremond, who inspired 17th-century Londoners to quaff champagne) will certainly be a Grand Alliance Fizz to launch with a splash.!

“I only drink Champagne on two occasions, when I am in love and when I am not” – Coco Chanel

In Festival spirit, it will be a Cracking day out!   Competitions and prizes, exclusive discounts and The Fizz Festival People’s Choice Awards.  There are three categories – Best Champagne,  Best Sparkling Wine,  UK and Best Sparkling Wine, Rest of the World.

From the shortlisted selection nominated by the exhibitors, visitors are the judges voting on their top choices with the Awards ceremony taking place in the evening as the finale of the Fizz Festival.

And you can be assured of a lively, buzzing, fizzing atmosphere – just take a look at this video from last year!.

Diary Date: Fizz Festival 2016 Edinburgh – Saturday 29 October, 2016

Edinburgh Academy, 42 Henderson Row, Edinburgh EH3 5BL  (in the New Town between Stockbridge and Canonmills)

Fizz Festival Tickets: £ 25,  now on sale at

Masterclasses:  £ 5 – £7.

The Fizz Festival People’s Choice Awards Ceremony, 7.15pm with oysters and fizz: Tickets £ 5.

“Hey, did you ever try dunking a potato chip in Champagne. It’s real crazy!

Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch

Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch

Cote – relaxed, all day dining at this authentic French Brasserie in the centre of Edinburgh

Cote, Edinburgh

Cote, Edinburgh

A true taste of French cuisine arrived in Edinburgh this summer, and from guest comments, it’s been a trail-blazing success. Within days of opening, there was a buzz about it, after friends rushed along to check it and quickly passed on ecstatic recommendations.

Cote - comfortable banquettes

Cote – comfortable banquettes

Cote,  a modern, French-style, city-dining initiative was created in 2007 by clothing-turned-hospitality entrepreneur Richard Caring. Today the casual all-day dining concept has developed into a collection of over 70 Brasseries across the UK.

At the address of the former Aga shop, it is quite in keeping that now, instead of traditional stoves for country houses, there is a real kitchen here creating a feast of classic French dishes.

First, you can expect the warmest of welcomes at the Host desk and escorted to your table in one of three separate Salons – the front area, a smaller narrow central hall or through the back with its spacious dining room, all furnished with dark burgundy-brown leather chairs and banquette seating.

Cote - a spacious salon in the Brasserie

Cote – a spacious salon in the Brasserie

The walls are painted in soft, subtle shades of grey enhanced with gold.  Outside, there are tables on the pavement patio which was doing a roaring trade on this lovely day and right through the Festival.

Setttled in our booth, as Ken and I studied the menus (A la carte, Lunch/ Early Evening and Specials), we were immediately brought a ceramic flagon of ice cold water.  The attention to personal service continued in this fashion throughout our meal.  For my starter, I selected Calamari followed by Moules Frites while over the table the order was for Tuna Rillettes, and Butternut Squash Cake with a poached egg – both from the set price Lunch menu.

We sipped a glass of ice cold Blanc de Blanc Brut – which is also offered as Kir Royale with Cassis.   At around 2.30 in the afternoon, the place is still buzzing with locals and city visitors with a relaxed ambience due to the laid back jazz music on the soundtrack.

Cote - crispy Calamari

Cote – crispy Calamari

The Calamari was served on a wooden board accompanied by a green salad and tartare sauce: superb, crispy squid sauted in garlic and lemon. Ken enjoyed the flakes of Tuna, in an onion and mustard sauce, served with toasted sourdough.   From an extensive wine list (12 served by the glass), we selected Lagarde Blanc, described as fresh, green apple and citrus fruit.  Deliciously crisp and light.

Next, my freshly steamed, juicy, tender Mussels in white wine, cream and garlic, were perfectly cooked and accompanied by thin straw fries.

Moules Frites - a classic

Moules Frites – a classic

The Butternut Squash cake was like a veggie burger, served with a spinach salad, mustard sauce and a poached egg with the yolk  drizzling over the veggie “cake”.  Yummy!

The Desserts all sound yummy if you have a sweet tooth – Chocolate Pot, Creme Caramel, Peach Crumble, Ice Creams. Instead we enjoyed a glass of Belgian Jenever, a juniper-instilled liqueur with a delectable honeyed flavour of apples and pears.  With our digestif, we sipped a strong, hot double espresso served in tiny glasses, with a jug of hot milk on the side.

Other dishes from the extensive and appetising menus include French Onion Soup, Steak Tartare, Breton Fish Stew,  Escalope de Veau, plus Ribeye, Sirloin and Fillet steak.

Prime steak - ribeye, sirlon and fillet

Prime steak – ribeye, sirlon and fillet

Prices are excellent value – two courses easily to be sampled under £ 20.   The Lunch and Early Evening menu is brilliantly priced at £10.95 (2 courses), £12.95, (3).  With Blanc de Blanc at just £4.25/£ 22.50,  house wine from under £ 16 a bottle,  as well as a superlative wine list,  phone a few friends and plan a meal here soon.

Visit Cote  for Le Petit Dejener too!.  Coffee and croissants, French Toast, Scrambled egg, Bacon Baguette, Eggs Bendedict/Royale/Florentine and much else besides.

Breakfast choices for meat eaters, pescatarians and vegetarians

Breakfast choices for meat eaters, pescatarians and vegetarians

Since opening in the summer, 2016, Cote in Edinburgh has received excellent on line comments from their happy customers.  Just browse a few of these below to see that I am not the only fan.


51 Frederick Street, Edinburgh, EH2 1LH
0131 202 6256

Monday to Friday 8am – 11pm
Saturday 9am – 11pm
Sunday 9am – 10:30pm

5 star reviews from recent diners ..

Unhurried, professional staff .. the food was outstanding without any caveats. Chicken chasseur, the moules provençale, and pot au chocolat All these were on the fixed price menu. Rosé wine was also excellent.

Great service, great food. Really welcoming, nice feel to the place. Food was perfect.

 Best mussels and seafood linguine. 

 Fabulous and really great value .. very impressed and would highly recommend this restaurant for food, service and ambience.

 Reliably good food, excellent staff – what more could you want? We were in Edinburgh for the Festival and by far the easiest decision we made was to eat at Cote every night. We were never bored, always delighted. You will be too.


Solo Performance, Exhibition by Laura Gill, Whitespace Gallery, Edinburgh

Laura Gill graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 2011 with MA (Hons) Fine Art. In this exhibition, Solo Performance, her acrylic paintings, ink drawings and giclee prints specialise in figurative work to capture the human body as expressed through the media of music, dance and physical movement.

Poised - Laura Gill

Poised – Laura Gill

Her Degree Dissertation was on the Scottish Artist J. D Fergusson (1874 – 1961), whose broad repertoire covered life drawing, portraiture and vivaciously bold landscapes, as a key member of the Scottish Colourists.

Les Eus

Les Eus

In 1907 Fergusson settled in Paris, joining the flourishing and pioneering community of Impressionist artists including Picasso, Matisse and Derain.  Portraits of women and nude studies had always been his subject matter but in 1909, a performance of Les Ballet Russes caught his imagination to combine his passion for the feminine figure, motion and dance, with his dramatic use of colour and light as seen here in Les Eus, 1910.  And then a chance meeting with the 22-year old English dancer, Margaret Morris, led to work with Margaret’s dance company where he perfected his vision of feminine sensuality and the wild freedom of modern dance.  This was a turning point in his life, when the expansiveness of this theme in his art took over and, as lifelong partners, their careers become intricately intertwined.

Margaret Morris

Margaret Morris

Laura Gill is clearly inspired by her academic study of Fergusson’s work, in developing her own unique, simple, abstract figures which capture a moment in time, a pause in the flow of dance steps and music.

Serenity - Laura Gill

Serenity – Laura Gill

In her fine selection of paintings are violinists and harpists with their bows slicing on strings, ballerinas “en pointe,”  jugglers, an acrobatic handstand and a humorous homage to Vettriano’s  The Singing Butler waltzing on a beach, in a giclee print, “Umbrellas at Dusk”.

Umbrellas at Dusk

Umbrellas at Dusk

The classic cartoon-like technique of overlayed figures neatly reflect the movement of legs, arms and the rotating spin of a dancer. Ink drawings are delicate sketches, just a few broad, Fergusson-esque lines on paper, but equally show muscular physicality, energy and elegant poise.  There’s a powerful sense of shifting shapes and meticulous timed rhythm in the concentration of these performers on stage.

Orcadian Dancer

Orcadian Dancer

To vary the theme, here too is an acrylic work, “Chasing Waves”, five yachts with billowing sails – you can almost feel the wind blowing over the beach; but unfortunately, the group of people on the shore distract the eye from this evocative blue-tinted seascape, which in itself should be subject.

Laura certainly has a talent in portraying the intimate, passionate world of the performer, from circus to contemporary dance, which is her forte. In order to focus and enhance her stylistic method, it would be a wonderful opportunity if she were able to be offered the role of Artist in Residence with Scottish Ballet, for instance, or at Dance Base.  This would be a most pertinent tribute to the joint artistic legacy of J. D. Fergusson and Margaret Morris.

Laura Gill Artwork – Solo Performance

Whitespace Gallery, 25 Howe Street, Edinburgh.

2nd to 7th July, 2015.

Studies of dancing girl Fergusson

Studies of dancing girl