The British custom of Afternoon Tea was invented by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford around the 1840s. With a long wait until dinner, every day around 4pm, she felt ” that sinking feeling” and requested a pot a tea and light snack during the afternoon. She then began inviting a few friends to join her sociable soiree. This innovative idea soon spread, with ladies hosting afternoon tea parties where guests enjoyed a perfectly poured cup of tea, slices of cake and lively gossip and conversation.
As popular today as ever, traditional Afternoon Tea continues at many luxury hotels around the UK: In Edinburgh, it is served in elegant style at The Sheraton, The Balmoral and in the Peacock Alley @ Waldorf Astoria, Edinburgh.
Warmly recommended is the colourfully-designed Cucina at the G&V Hotel, George IV Bridge, to sample a mini feast of tiny savoury sandwiches, scones, clotted cream & jam and patisserie, served with speciality leaf teas. And do indulge yourself with an ice-chilled, beautifully crafted Cocktail or a delicious sparkling Prosecco.
What a delightful, leisurely way to spend the afternoon, far from the madding crowd and cultural buzz of the Festivals this August. On sunny days, there’s an outdoor terrace outside Cucina, for a special summertime treat.
And, of course, you can always book a table here anytime .. . not just through this National Afternoon Tea Week!
Cucina @ G&V Hotel, 1 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 1AD
Experience the Oyster Happy Hour for a sophisticated taste of summer at the Galvin Brasserie de Luxe, Edinburgh
Kick off the Summer and Festival season in Edinburgh with a sparkling celebration of Oysters and Fizz evenings at the Galvin Brasserie de Luxe.
It is nearly five years since the much beloved Caledonian Hotel was imaginatively restored after a glamorous, art deco design facelift to be reborn as the luxury Waldorf Astoria and join the elite collection of elegant hotels around the world from New York to Paris. As part of the new look, Michelin-starred chefs, Chris and Jeff Galvin took over the fine-dining Pompadour Restaurant and also created the classic French Brasserie de Luxe offering authentic Parisian cuisine, style, service and atmosphere – recently named the Best Informal Restaurant (Edinburgh) for the third time at the Scottish Hotel Awards.
An innovative idea, just launched for summer in the city, is an indulgently, romantic Oyster Happy Hour.
During the week, Monday to Friday, from 6pm and 7pm, it’s now Champagne O’Clock combined with Lindisfarne Oysters, (at the value price of just £1 a shuck). Pop in with a few colleagues after work or meet family and friends for an appetising pre-dinner aperitif and shellfish “canapés” to celebrate the long, light evenings.
Take a stool at the Island Bar in the Brasserie and share a platter of the freshest oysters, served on ice with traditional accompaniments – Mignonette (shallot vinegar), spicy Tabasco and a squeeze of tangy lemon. And on the side, what could be better than a flute of chilled Galvin Champagne, a glass of wine (choice of house wines on tap), or your favourite cocktail. A dry Gin Martini might hit the spot!
Lindisfarne Oysters, a family business in Northumberland, produce these Pacific oysters (Crassostrea Gigas) grown along the seashore within the Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve. Starting off in a hatchery, they are later placed in mesh bags on oyster beds, and then can take up to four years to mature.
Historical records show that these oyster beds were established by the Monks of Lindisfarne Priory in 1381, after they bought an oyster boat for 100 shillings.
Having sampled a few of these silky soft little molluscs, the oysters are expertly “chucked” so that no utensil is required to extract the oysters – just add your preferred garnish and they slide out of the craggy shell, then swallow in one mouthful to relish that salty-sweet flavour. Simply delicious.
Guy de Maupassant
There’s a casually relaxed mood in the Brasserie, with cool, jazzy -blues on the soundtrack, blending with the buzzing chatter of diners.
Of course, after sampling a few oysters and a couple of drinks, this will be the ideal Appetiser and you may well be tempted to stay on for dinner in the Brasserie .. if there’s a table available! (Reservations highly recommended).
Oysters were first introduced in Britain during the Roman times – shells have been found at many archaeological sites from the Roman Fort in Richborough to Hadrian’s Wall. After this period, it would take centuries for the oyster to become popular again. By the end of the 18th century, they were the typical food served in Public Houses, washed down with a pint of strong Stout, as cheap, readily available shellfish was part of the staple diet of the working class.
“The poorer a place is, the greater call there seems for oysters …when a man’s very poor, he rushes out of his lodgings and eats oysters in regular desperation.” Charles Dickens, ‘The Pickwick Papers’ (1836)
How social class, food and diets have changed since then!. Today prime shellfish, lobsters, scallops and oysters are synonymous with a luxury lifestyle and gourmet cuisine.
Casanova, who allegedly seduced over 100 women, used to breakfast on 50 oysters, due to their aphrodisiac qualities to improve his virility and performance. Recent scientific research has proved they are rich in rare amino acids which increase levels of sex hormones and stimulate libido.
So if you are planning a special date or romantic night out with your partner, this Happy Hour with Oysters and Champagne is sure to be the perfect start to your evening with a stylish sense of Joie de Vivre.
“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and succulent texture, drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy! ” Ernest Hemingway
I think Hemingway would approve of Oyster Happy Hour at the Waldorf Astoria.!
Oyster Happy Hour, Monday-Friday, 6-7pm
Galvin Brasserie de Luxe, Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh – The Caledonian
Princes Street, Edinburgh EH1 2AB
tel. 0131 222 8988 www.galvinbrasseriedeluxe.com
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.
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!
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.
325 – 333 Leith Walk,
Edinburgh EH6 8SA
tel. 0131 555 5564
Contemporary Italian Tapas-style dining at the fashionably re-styled Contini, George Street, Edinburgh
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 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.
Feature walls are colourfully decorated with Italian Baroque frescoes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?;
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.
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: www.contini.com
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.
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.
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.
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.!
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:
“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.
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.
“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.
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.
As 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 www.crackingwine.co.uk
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!
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Best Theatre in Scotland
“I can’t rate this place highly enough. It’s a repertory theatre so you can see different shows each night, and two shows on matinee days. The standard is excellent, there’s a lovely restaurant and always delightful staff.”
The comments of a happy theatregoer this summer who clearly shares my passion for Pitlochry Festival Theatre, which I have been visiting since a young teenager during summer family holidays at Loch Tay; we would drive over to see a matinee, (such as a thrilling performance of “Rebecca” by Daphne du Maurier), followed by fish and chips in town and then head back to Kenmore. Happy memories!.
Latterly, I have continued to visit most years to see a few productions from the usual culturally diverse programme – the wit of Oscar Wilde, sizzling satire from Noel Coward, bittersweet romance from Somerset Maugham, murder mysteries, (more please!), American drama, (ditto), whimsical fantasies by J M Barrie and contemporary Scottish plays. Artistic Director John Durnin balances period classics with comedy and a lavish musical to suit both the local residents and visitors who flock to Pitlochry every summer.
The PFT’s Repertoire Season 2016 featuring an ensemble cast of eighteen actors, kicked off on 27th May with Rodgers & Hammerstein’s musical, “Carousel” which quickly proved a hit with theatre-goers .. “Carousel was absolutely marvellous – acting, singing, costumes, set, orchestral music could not be faulted.”
and Critics …“The opening production of Pitlochry’s 2016 season has set the bar high for the rest of the year with a sparkling version of Carousel”. The Stage
Ayckbourn’s trilogy, “Damsels In Distress” offers three comedies – GamePlan, FlatSpin and RolePlay – featuring totally different characters and plots but sharing the same stage set, a smart Docklands penthouse apartment, and performed by the same seven actors. Each play can be enjoyed on its own, see two or three, and if you fancy a farcical feast, a trilogy marathon in a single day.
GamePlan – “The set is sumptuous – a riverside apartment with large sliding doors leading out to a balcony with an impressively realistic view across the Thames”. RolePlay – ” Vintage Ayckbourn performed by a capable cast – the highpoint in Pitlochry’s ambitious three-play revival.” The Stage
5 star visitor review: “We were in Pitlochry for 3 nights. Game Plan and Flat Spin were excellent and the theatre restaurant a good place for a meal before the show“. 27 July, 2016
“Thark” is a vintage Ben Travers classic from 1927, an hilarious comedy of manners in a country house featuring a disparate bunch of English stereotypes, the philanderer Sir Hector Benbow, who fancies the delectable, sweet Cherry Buck; but his romantic plans for the weekend are scuppered by the unexpected arrival home of his wife.
Noel Coward is back with a timely revival of his family saga, “This Happy Breed” in which he starred himself in the 1942 premiere.
In contrast to his inimitable, romantic encounters between fashionably glamorous martini-sipping socialites such as in “Private Lives” and “Design for Living,” this play observes the gritty suburban life of the lower middle class Gibbons family between the wars, illustrating heartfelt patriotism with warm affection.
The final summer season production is “Hard Times” based on the novel by Charles Dickens, a master chronicler of Victorian life and family strife; set in 1870s Lancashire, Thomas Gradgrind is a retired merchant and schoolmaster, who abides by his philosophy of rationalism and fact, lacking any sense of imagination much to the despair of his children and his young pupil, Sissy.
The wonderful, romantic history of the Festival is all due to a passionate vision to create a Theatre in the Perthshire town by its founder, John Stewart.
“When staying in Pitlochry during the early part of the war, I chanced to see a stately house with a fairly large garden, quite close to the town. I at once realised that here my dream theatre might well be established in this fashionable resort right in the heart of Scotland”
His dream did came true, and in 1951, the launch of the Pitlochry Festival Theatre took place in a huge tent in the garden at Knockendarroch. The house became the theatre headquarters and the home of Kenneth Ireland, the Artistic Director.
A tea room and box office were built and soon after, the tent was replaced by a more permanent Marquee where the theatre remained until 1981; on a gloriously sunny May day, with bagpipes heralding the occasion, the new spacious, sleek, glass-fronted theatre opened in such a perfect location on the banks of the river Tummel.
The tranquil Highland setting is surrounded by gardens, woodland and hills, yet an easy walk from the town centre. The Theatre has recently been shortlisted as one of Scotland’s favourite buildings of the past century as part of the Scotstyle Festival of Architecture.
2016 marks the 65th anniversary of the founding of the Theatre and 35 years since the opening of the new auditorium. In recent years, the summer season (May to October), has gradually been extended with a Christmas-time Musical, the Winter Words Festival as well as a concerts, talks and shows on Sunday evenings.
In the Autumn, the entertainment continues with “Para Handy” by Neil Munro about life on board the Vital Spark puffer, featuring stories, songs and a live band. And then it’s time for the Musical, which this year is “Scrooge”, based on A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. Having been wowed in recent years by “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Miracle on 34th Street”, this will once again offer a great Festival show for all ages.
With an international reputation for high quality productions, over 100,000 visitors every year have the opportunity to see six or seven plays in six days. The theatre with an art gallery, shop, Restaurant and café bar, is a buzzing social hub day and night. Pitlochry is the ideal holiday town with a wide choice of hotels, award winning B&Bs, cafes and restaurants, (see below); shops galore, (gifts, tweed, country clothing, jewellery, arts and crafts), and Edradour whisky distillery. Perthshire is an outdoor playground for hiking, biking, river rafting, hill climbing and scenic drives around Loch Tummel.
The PFT is now looking ahead to its 70th birthday celebrations and has launched a £25 million fundraising scheme, “Through the Vision 2021,” a major project to establish a national centre of theatrical excellence in Perthshire. Across several phases over the next five years, the plan is to extend and improve the front of house, refurbish the auditorium and build a full height fly tower.
In addition, to create a second, smaller auditorium as well as a national centre for production services for skills training, set design, costumes, lighting, sound, technology, which would be available to other theatres. The architectural design includes new riverfront terraces, landscaping, improved access and an enlarged car park.
Pitlochry Festival Theatre is already one of Scotland’s leading cultural tourism destinations, which economically for the local community, is far greater than any comparable UK theatre, and in Scotland, second only to the Edinburgh Festival. By 2021, with a longer season running from Spring to Winter and two auditoria, it is estimated that theatre attendances will rise by 40% to around 140,000 annual visitors.
The PFT aims to play more of a significant and key role within the performing arts sector in the UK through partnerships with other theatres, producers and venues. It will programme the best touring work across theatre, opera and dance and in turn, tour a selection of own productions around Scotland and further afield. The artistic programme will be increased and greatly diversified with more drama, concerts, events and tours year-round.
“Through the Vision, 2021” is a challenging and exciting development, which preserves the legacy of John Stewart and his inspirational dream to establish a Theatre in the Hills.
” ….if you’ve never been to Pitlochry Festival Theatre, you really are missing out. Just try it!”. Theatre visitor, July 2016.
Pitlochry Festival Theatre, Port na Craig, Pitlochry, PH16 5DR. 01796 484626.
Recommended places to stay and eat:
Craigatin House & Courtyard – Guesthouse of the Year, 2016, Scottish Hotel Awards
Craigmhor Lodge – Best Breakfast award, 2015, Scottish Hotel Awards
Fisher’s Hotel – Old Coaching Inn near the train station; 2 bars & restaurant, lovely garden.
The Old Mill Inn – Scottish Inn of the Year, 2016, Scottish Hotel Awards
Killiecrankie Hotel – Charming, luxury country house with first class, homely hospitality.
Fern Cottage Restaurant – 10 minutes walk from PFT, perfect for pre-theatre meals.
Victoria’s Restaurant – Morning coffee, lunch and dinner – open all day.
On Monday 30th November, 2015, Channel 4 is broadcasting a documentary entitled, “The World’s Most Famous Train” – a behind the scenes view of life on board the Venice Simplon Orient-Express.
If you have never taken this iconic journey, this will be an enticing taster.
If like my partner Ken and I, you have had the pleasure to indulge in its leisurely, luxurious lifestyle, the film will be an opportunity to learn about the fine art of preserving its traditions and hospitality. To step on board this very famous train is a dream journey, travelling back in time to the exquisitely elegant era of train travel.
Watch the Channel TV documentary on 30th November, 2015 … and please do read all about our experience of this most romantic 28 hour train journey from London Victoria to Venice.
Plan your journey here:
To step on board the Venice Simplon Orient Express is a dream of journey and an exquisite privilege to step back in time to the glamorous era of train travel.
“I would like to say that I was born on the Orient Express as my mother took her bi-monthly trip to Istanbul, or that I was smuggled out of China as a tiny baby wrapped in silk and hidden in the guard’s van in a trunk of geological specimens” Lisa St. Aubin De Teran – Off the Rails.
Like Lisa who is a self-confessed train addict, I have a passion for the gracious, golden-era of train travel. My partner and fellow world traveller Ken and I have been fortunate to experience several classic railway journeys – the 1920s vintage Al Andaluz around Andalucia, Spain, Belmond Northern Belle (for dinner), Belmond The Royal Scotsman for a marvellous tour from Edinburgh to the Highlands and West coast of Scotland, and an enriching few days on board the Belmond Eastern and Oriental, right across the Malaysian peninsula from Bangkok to Singapore.
But now it was time for a truly aspirational adventure: the excitement began when our Orient Express Venice-Simplon Travel Journals arrived, like a slim novella full of facts, city guides, photographs and official train tickets from London to Venice:
“Welcome …You are about to embark on a journey like no other, travelling across Europe in a fashion redolent of the glamorous 1920s…… to rediscover the sheer pleasure of elegant rail travel.
The first part of the journey is from Victoria Station, London to Folkestone, on board the Belmond British Pullman departing at10.45am on Thursday 26 June. We therefore take the very comfortable East Coast train, First Class, from Edinburgh to Kings Cross the day before, to ensure we are there in a timely manner.
The Guoman Grosvenor Hotel at Victoria is a grand Heritage Railway hotel, where train travellers have stayed, wined and dined since 1862. The Reunion Cocktail Bar is the former First class Waiting room. The next morning, the concierge takes care of our luggage and personally escorts us out the side entrance directly onto the concourse and over to Platform 2 on the far side.
Here is the red carpet and box trees outside the Orient Express Lounge where we check in at Reception. Passengers may have a small overnight bag in their Wagon Lit suite, while all other luggage is stored in the Guard’s van until we reach Venice … rather like trunks on a transatlantic crossing which were labelled, “Not wanted on voyage.”
A few guests dressed appropriately in 1920s – 30s, ladies in vintage frocks and veiled pillbox hats and men in cream blazers and panamas. We are very smartly dressed for a summer’s day, but had not thought of such theatrical flair (next time we shall!).
“ Everyone was smiling, chattering, wrapped up in the romance and the glamour. They had all dressed for the occasion, and were groomed and coiffed and polished. The air was heavy with scent and cologne and expectation”.
Vernonica Henry “A Night on the Orient Express”
Dashing past us are the daily commuters, day trippers and shoppers, pausing briefly to observe, perhaps rather enviously, this distinguished group of travellers, as the magnificent chocolate brown and cream Pullman train, pulls gracefully into Platform 2.
Within a few minutes, the doors in the glass partition open and with uniformed staff directing passengers, we are soon walking along to find our compartment, named Gwen. Now we feel like time-travellers, stepping not so much on board, but back to the Edwardian era. Settling into velvet armchairs, we can admire the plush furnishings, brass, glass lamps decorative pearwood and marquetry of this 1932 carriage.
Our table for two is elegantly set with white linen, OE-crested crystal glasses, silverware and fine china; A waiter serves Bellinis, Prosecco with fresh peach juice, invented at Harry’s Bar, Venice – the perfect taster to herald our final destination.
We enjoy a delectable Brunch – fresh fruit, Scrambled Egg with Scottish smoked salmon, pattiserie dessert and coffee – as we saunter at a gentle pace through the Garden of England, via Canterbury and finally reach the White Cliffs of Dover.
Folkestone is a pertinent port for the next section of the journey. This was the first link between London and Paris from 1843, when the SE Railway company launched the paddle steamer for the 26 mile crossing to Boulogne. From the Channel Tunnel terminus at Cheriton, we are whisked through the Channel Tunnel by coach on board the dark, windowless freight trains, which is rather surreal.
The anticipation is almost over as we arrive at Calais station to see the gleaming Blue and White OE V-S wagons-lit cars, the team of staff standing in military precision at each carriage door. The traditional royal blue frock coats with gold buttons uniform for the Stewards was designed by Balenciaga.
Our reserved Cabin Suite is Carriage D, Cabin 3 and we are welcomed on board by Rupert Aarons, our ever smiling and attentive steward for this iconic journey to Venice.
The exquisite woodwork, fabrics and furnishings is all so authentic, especially the vintage porcelain washhand basin hidden in a cupboard complete with fine toiletries and crisply laundered towels. With just an overnight bag we unpack quickly and settle down in our comfortable compartment. A bottle of champagne awaits our arrival. Bliss.
Don’t think about booking a ticket if you cannot be bothered taking part in the time-travelling experience. It’s like being extras in a Noel Coward play or a Marple or Poirot film (although hopefully there is not likely to be a murder in the night!) – you don’t have a script to learn, just look the part. As part of maintaining tradition, you are expected to wear formal attire for dinner.
And it’s such fun dressing up in our glad rags and jewels as the train speeds through the French countryside towards Paris; at around 6.30pm we make our away along to the Cocktail Bar where like us, the majority of men in smart Tuxedos and the women in cocktail dresses and evening gowns, with a few in 1920s flapper frocks and boas.
The pianist plays all the familiar American song book tunes, while Walter, the senior barman and his team are shaking and stirring delectable cocktails. Ken sampled a speciality martini called Guilty 12, inspired by Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express”, a mystery concoction of twelve ingredients.
“All my life I had wanted to go on the Orient Express, Trains are wonderful, to travel by train is to see nature and human beings, towns and churches and rivers – in fact to see life”. Agatha Christie, My Autobiography.
Like a house party, we mix and mingle with other guests, many of whom are celebrating a special occasion – 50th birthday, honeymoon, 25th wedding anniversary – couples of all ages and nationalities; everyone agrees this is a Bucket List trip of a lifetime.
Le Diner is grand, gracious and leisurely: classic French cuisine, (Lobster, Beef Carlois, Fromage, Chocolate noir et creme brulee), artistically presented dishes, beautiful plates, silverware and crystal glasses matched with exemplary service.
After a night cap in the Bar, we eventually retire to our small, yet luxurious Suite where Rupert has transformed the daytime sofas into two lower beds with soft pillows, white linen, bathrobes and blue embroidered slippers.
The adventure continues as we slumber, fitfully with the rocking movement, whistles and signal stops, through eastern France and into Switzerland. Raising the blind around 6am the view is of green fields, grazing cows, chalets and mountain peaks.
Breakfast, served in our cabin, is Swiss-themed, creamy yogurt, fresh fruit, Emmental cheese with bread, coffee. We enjoy a lazy morning browsing the route map and seeing panoramic views of lakes and mountains all the way.
12 noon and time for a Bloody Mary in the Bar, followed by a pre lunch aperitif – an ice chilled glass of champagne – to keep up this glamorous lifestyle.
Lunch is a late, leisurely affair after we have crossed the border featuring distinctly Italian cuisine …Caprese Salad, San Daniele ham and melon, Eggs with truffle, Aubergine cannelloni, Pan fried Turbot and king prawns, Black and Red berries & gelato ).
6pm – the train glides gracefully into Santa Lucia Station, Venice on schedule, as stewards and staff rush around assisting passengers with luggage and onward travel arrangements. The journey is over but the ethereal beauty of Venice awaits as we step aboard a gleaming teak motor launch to be whisked off down the Grand Canal to our 5 star hotel, the Danieli. Slow, slow, elegantly sophisticated train travel is the way to arrive in La Serenissima.
Plan your luxury Belmond journey here:
London to Venice
Paris to Istanbul
The Magnum is a well established Restaurant and Bar – it opened in 1981 – on the corner of Albany Street and Dublin Street in Edinburgh’s New Town. This is very much a “local” across a wide neighbourhood from Dundas Street and Abercromby Place down the cobbled hill to Drummond Place and the Broughton-Belllevue area. Ideal too for city visitors staying in hotels and guest houses nearby.
Its longevity and popularity is probably very much due to its location and to the quality food emphasing Scottish beef, fish and game as well as popular Bar dishes. Chef Paul Dow has been here for eight years which ensures a consistency in the standard of cuisine.
My friend Fiona and I were shown to a spacious window table overlooking Albany Street. The décor and furnishings give a smart yet casual ambience – comfortable leather chairs, polished wood tables, dark grey and red panelled walls. Artwork (for sale) has a maritime theme – perhaps reflecting the seafood on the menu.
And of course the name of the Restaurant is illustrated with giant champagne bottles decorating the Bar. The celebration of drink and hospitality is also captured in quotations such as “Wine is Bottled Poetry” accredited to Robert Louis Stevenson, the poet, novelist and adventurous world traveller, who was brought up just a short walk from here, in a townhouse on Heriot Row.
So what to choose for dinner? First a glass of Prosecco as the perfect aperitif to sip as we chat and browse the menu – Rabbit Terrine, Cullen Skink, Rib Eye Steak, Sausages, Beef Burger, Venison, Trout – there’s certainly a wide choice, (7 starters, 10 mains) but very limited for Vegetarians.
Fortunately, I am a Pescatarian … and cannot by-pass any kind of Smoked Salmon, so I select the platter of Beetroot cured Gravadlax – this has a rich, sweet flavour and artistically served with celeriac aioli and beetroot puree. The pumpernickel bread is rather dry, but we also had a basket of chucky soft bread which works better.
Over the table Fiona is enjoying her Vegetarian Haggis, creamed potatoes and neeps, drizzled with a whisky cream sauce. This looked rather a hearty dish as a starter, but she assures me it’s light in texture and more importantly, delicious.
The wine list is well selected with many by the glass. We share a bottle of House Wine, a smooth blackberry Chilean Merlot (a reasonable £ 16.95), which partners our food well. Rather than a bottle of water, we have a jug of tap water – unfortunately it’s tepid in temperature so need to ask for glasses of ice to chill it down.
On this Thursday evening, the Bar is buzzing next door and the restaurant is pretty well booked out with happy diners all around, as well as couples sitting with drinks outside on the patio terrace in the late summer sun.
My next course is Pan Fried Sea Bass with King Prawns – with a side order of Hand cut Chips. The fish is delicately pan fried while the spicy prawns, coated in lemony sumac, are served cold – tossed into the lettuce and red pepper salad. This would be a superb healthy meal – if I had not ordered the big fat chips.!
We are ladies who wine and dine (rather than leisurely ladies who lunch) and after a day’s work, we do have an appetite. But after this fine feast – with generous portions – we could not manage a Dessert. The menu offers everyone’s favourites, such as Lemon Tart and Cranachan Cheesecake …
Cheese – Scottish & European with oatcakes, crackers, chutney, grapes and celery.
As well as Dinner, why not call in to sample the excellent value Lunch and Pre-theatre set menus at just £ 12.95.£14.95 for 2/3 courses. With offices nearby around St. Andrew Square, it’s a handy pitstop for a business lunch or after work drinks with colleagues. There’s a private dining room catering for up to 26 guests, ideal for a birthday party or celebration with family and friends.
With a comprehensive wine list (17 by the glass), champagne, beers, ales and spirits, the Bar has over 70 whiskies from smokey Islay Malts to Highland, Lowland and Speyside Scotch. The Restaurant owner, Chris Graham, has a motto for the Magnum -“good food, good wine, good time.” Following our experience, this is certainly a fact. With a friendly welcome and lively banter in the bar, no wonder drinkers and diners, visitors and locals, have been coming here for nearly 35 years.
“Delicious Cullen Skink – very creamy yet distinct with the flavour of the flakes of smoked haddock. I also had haddock fried in tempura batter, fresh and crisp. Much enjoyed”
“Enjoyed our first dinner in Edinburgh in this New Town restaurant. My husband had steak and I had duck, – a great start to our Scottish culinary experiences!”
“Fantastic pub / restaurant. I had steak, the best I have had for quite a while. The pudding was heavenly – chocolate sponge with chocolate ice cream on top. Great meal”.
1 Albany Street, Edinburgh EH1 3PY.
Tel. 0131 557 4366 http://www.magnumrestaurant.co.uk