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Kick off your Bank Holiday Weekend at the Slug and Lettuce Gin Festival: 25 – 28 May 2018

It’s the last weekend in May and time for the Spring Bank Holiday weekend.  The weather forecast looks fabulous with a mini heatwave across the British Isles.  Time to chill out in the sunshine with a refreshing, ice cold G&T.

So congratulations to Slug and Lettuce which has planned their very own Gin Festival across 77 venues.

Slug and Lettuce, Tower Bridge

If you don’t know the brand .. here’s the low down: “Slug & Lettuce, in a nutshell  —we are dozens of bars across the country who love to serve great quality food, fabulous cocktails and delicious wines, world lagers and beers in a comfy, safe, welcoming environment.  From a relaxed daytime we transform into a lively night time venue perfect to meet friends, dance, hold parties, listen to great music – whatever you fancy.”

So what a great idea to host a nationwide Gin Festival to celebrate Springtime and heading into Summer mood.

From 25th – 28th May, party goers can visit their local Slug and Lettuce in Bath and Bristol, Edinburgh and Glasgow, Leeds and London, Manchester and Milton Keynes, Woking and Worcester  et al, to sample a selection of prime gins, creatively combined with a sparkling Fever Tree tonic, ice and a slice.

The S and L mixologists have invented some summery concoctions with various herbal, floral, fruity and citrus flavours so that you can experiment with your gin own tasting to find a personal favourite cocktail.

Spanish sun in a glass

A speciality gin on offer is the Tanqueray Flor de Sevilla, which oozes the warmth of the Spanish Mediterranean sunshine with the bittersweet tang of Seville Oranges. Fragrant botanicals and the fresh citrus flavour is well paired with Fever Tree Tonic and a slice of orange.

The classic cucumber sandwich is the epitome of British Afternoon Tea which would be perfectly complemented with Hendrick’s Gin, topped up with Fever Tree Elderflower and the essential garnish – cucumber. Juniper and floral tones enrich this much loved Scottish gin,  with subtle infusions of cucumber and rose petals.

Bloom Gin is a perfect summer tipple creating the scents of a country garden: camomile, pomelo and honeysuckle botanicals create a delicately flavoured gin ideally served with Fever Tree naturally light and a sweet strawberry.

Plenty of Vitamin C can be found in Tanqueray No. 10 when partnered by Fever Tree tonic and pink grapefruit. The citrus gin is distilled with hand-picked, fresh fruit and botanicals, including white grapefruit, orange, lime, juniper, coriander and camomile.

Tanqueray 10 with grapefruit

If you are planning a barbecue or picnic over the holiday weekend, just make sure there is no slug in your lettuce.  Instead, head over to Slug and Lettuce to join in the Gin Festival fun.  I shall head off to my local S and L on George Street, Edinburgh.

Slug and Lettuce – cool and contempory decor and drinks for party time with friends.

The Slug and Lettuce Chin to Gin Festival runs Friday to Monday over this Spring Bank Holiday weekend. Tickets are just £13* per person. (note that the price vary across individual venues).

As they say Chin Chin!

Check out your local Slug and Lettuce Gin Festival details here –






Revolutionary, hot and happening – @ Pizza, Edinburgh is Where it’s At!.

“Be the Revolution” is the motto of @Pizza which claims to make the World’s Fastest Pizza so my partner Ken and I went along to check  out this record breaking achievement for ourselves.

Revolutionary re-imagined Pizza design

In 1889 during a visit to Naples by Queen Margherita of Savoy, Chef Esposito created the iconic pizza named after her – Basil, Mozzarella, and Tomato, the colours of the national flag and put the humble savoury flat bread in the spotlight.  Today Pizza is beloved the world over and chefs have always tried to replicate or even improve upon the original Neapolitan classic.

@PIZZA is the brainchild of founders Bhasker Dhir and Rupert Lyle who experimented, researched and sourced ingredients and recipes to re-invent their own healthier, calorie-counted style of pizza for the 21st century.

As Bhasker believes “The essence of Italian cooking, in fact any cooking, is great ingredients and this has been the basis of our development. We set out to create the best pizza possible, not just once, but every time”.

And they have also re-imagined the typical Pizzeria in the UK to create a new, revolutionary casual dining experience, perfect for a meal out with family and friends. “ The concept has been designed to be simple, .. our vision is to change the way people eat pizza by changing the way it is served.”  Rupert Lyle.

@Pizza – chic, sleek, modern, minimalist design

Intrigued at what this revolutionary concept is all about, we arrive at the smart, sleek restaurant on Charlotte Lane, a cobbled street of bars and bistros at the West End. Formerly an office block, the interior design retains an industrial look, all clean lines furnished in wood and steel,  café chairs, bar stools and banquette seats with small and large tables to suit couples, friends and families.  Ceiling lights rigs are like a theatre stage or art gallery and the paper napkin dispenser looks like a toaster. In muted colours of grey, black and white, it’s modern, minimalist – designed with function and purpose.

@Pizza – Open kitchen for casual, stylish fast food

Central to the space is the open kitchen with a long counter where diners queue up to order their Pizza. Yes folks, be prepared for self service but it’s much more fun than your usual fast food place.  It’s not just a case of ordering from the menu, you design your own from an enticing array of ingredients covering meat, fish, vegetables, sauces and spices. This is so inspirational giving the freedom to choose exactly what you want on your pizza, with no rules that you cannot mix,  say, chorizo and pineapple or broccoli with bacon. You are your own chef as it were, artistically mixing and matching to create a colourful culinary feast.

@Pizza making by numbers

First choose the base, (which is long and oval in shape), either sourdough or ancient grain which is 100% spelt flour, which are both slow-proved 48 hours in advance, here in the kichen. Then select a tomato or perhaps a smoky barbecue sauce, cheese (including Scottish vegan),  and all the toppings of protein and vegetables. The servers behind the counter do all the actualpizza  preparation (it is not DIY!), and will advise on the selection and what you might like to add to ring the changes.  Then when your masterpiece is complete it is popped into a High Tech oven heated to a temperature of 600 degrees F, to bake each pizza in just 90 seconds.  Then for the final flourish, add perhaps a drizzle of basil oil, chilli flakes and salad leaves to jazz it up to perfection.

It is best to study the choice of ingredients at your table and have an idea of what you might like, before lining up as you might not wish to rush the decision making.  The menu clearly states vegetarian and vegan food as well as the calories for each topping.

Happy Pack of @Pizza makers

Ken and I enjoy this process: I select sourdough with tomato sauce, Scottish mozzarella, mushrooms, roast peppers, a smattering of fresh Jalepeno chillies, spinach and king prawns. Once baked, I ask for a few olives and garlic oil for the final garnish.   For Ken, he selects his favourite  fish –  Tuna, with pesto sauce, red onion and a pile of rocket leaves drizzled with chilli oil.

Ken’s pizza – tuna, feta, rocket & more

The thin dough is soft and foldable – best eaten with your fingers – and as we had devised our own personalised pizza, we could not quibble with the choice of ingredients. Every bite of my seafood, cheese and veggie Pizza was simply delicious. And artistically created in record time – just a few minutes from start to finish.

Red pepper, prawns, olive mozzarella and rocket

The Bar Drinks menu has been carefully selected for quality rather than quantity. Have a mini bottle of Prosecco or a Mojito cocktail as an aperitif perhaps, and then one of the local craft beers – Paolozzi Lager is light and so refreshing, or an Italian wine, (Chardonnay, Merlot or Rose) served in individual “vegi-plastic” glasses.

Minivino individual glasses of wine

A wider choice of wine and also served by the carafe or bottle would be welcome – after all this is a sharing kinda place.  Interesting choice too of non-alcoholic Sodas, iced tea, lemonade and low sugar fruit juices.

Paolozzi beer is perfect with pizza

For those who cannot decide on how they wish their Pizza to look or taste, there are eight Designer recipes including, of course, the classic Margherita, called the Icon and ‘Eat Meat Repeat’, rich in Pepperoni, spicy sausage, ham and beef meatballs.  ‘At Tiffany’s’ is cleverly devised like a full Scottish Breakfast, with bacon, sausage and egg, but not quite the same as the coffee and croissant enjoyed by Audrey Hepburn standing outside the famous Jewellery store in New York in the movie.

Audrey Hepburn “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”

Another welcome aspect to the @Pizza style of dining is that all the Pizzas are priced at £9.95, whether created by yourself or designed by the Chef.  (Just a wee charge of £1.50 for the succulent, juicy King Prawns).  The quality ingredients are locally sourced as well as speciality produce from Italy and packaging is environmentally friendly with excellent waste aware process.

The staff  – known as the Pack – are super friendly and enthusiastic –all selected and trained by the management to ensure a consistent, professional approach to service.  The ambience is casual and relaxing, perfect for families with kids, (who will love making their own pizza), as well as cabaret-style Open Mic music gigs on Sundays each month, and students can enjoy a half price feast on Wednesdays.

Jody Avirgan tweeted this photo with the tagline “ My daughter just tried pizza for the first time”  showing her expression of rapturous glee, which went viral.  To date, it’s been liked 265,994 times and retweeted 64,397 times. Viewers tweeted back “I still do this!”.

The first glorious taste of pizza

“It’s where it’s at” is an idiom meaning a place that’s fashionable, popular, hot or where the action is.  So visit @PIZZA soon whether with your partner, group of friends on a lively night out or family treat and you might tweet photos of happy eaters like this little Pizza lover!

@PIZZA ,  4 Charlotte Lane, Edinburgh, EH2 4QZ

Opening hours: Sun-Thur, 12 noon – 10pm; Fri & Sat, 12 noo – 11pm.

Tel. 0131 285 5940 

Website –

Vapiano Edinburgh – casual, creative Italian wining and dining for a healthy, happy life

“Chi va piano, va sano e va lontano” is an Italian proverb which roughly translates as “slow and steady, wins the race,” or more philosophically, it means with an easy-going, relaxed attitude, you’ll enjoy a long and healthy life.

The kitchen brigade making the freshest pasta dishes to order

This is very much the motto behind the Vapiano group of Italian restaurants. First launched by Mark Korzilius in October, 2002 in Hamburg, Germany, it is now a global franchise brand with around 200 restaurants in more than thirty three countries on five continents, and many more planned for the future.  The Euro-chic, casual cafeteria-style Vapiano concept of freshly made pasta and pizza has clearly caught on.

As early as the 14th century, Italian chefs were cooking up ravioli and macaroni with spices and parmesan cheese in Aristocratic kitchens but later pasta, as well as cheap pizza, became the staple diet for poor communities especially in Naples and Sicily.

Two boys munching macaroni, Naples, c. 1900 (Library of Congress)

In 1787, Goethe, the German Poet tasted the local speciality with gusto:  “This macaroni was exquisite … The pasta seemed unparalleled to me in its whiteness and fineness.”

Macaroni makers drying the pasta in the sun

Seen as an exotic dish, spaghetti with tomatoes was first invented in the 1840s.   Around fifty years later, during a visit to Naples by Queen Margherita of Savoy,  Chef Esposito named the iconic pizza after her, featuring Basil, Mozzarella, and Tomato, the colours of the national flag which put the humble savoury flat bread in the spotlight.

Margherita Pizza

At this time millions of Italian immigrants were forced to travel for work across Europe and to USA, bringing recipes with them. During the 20th century, Americans in particular developed a love affair with pizza and of course pasta – on the big screen, spaghetti played memorable roles in films such as Disney’s Lady and the Tramp.

The Lady and the Tramp

Vapiano Edinburgh is a very smart, spacious, three floor venue on South St. David’s Street, located between The Ivy on the Square on the corner, and T K Maxx.

Vapiano Edinburgh

Enter the glass doors to be welcomed at the central Reception desk where you check in with the host/ess and given a credit-style card, like a room key.  No you can’t stay overnight!.  This is used to scan the price of your selected food and drinks throughout your meal, and then use it to pay.

Ken and I were shown around by Jackson, the duty manager, who explained the system of ordering your selected dishes – pasta, pizzas, antipasti, salads, desserts – at the separate theatre kitchens on three levels.  First, time to settle down and relax;  we are shown to a table at the end of the mezzanine level, the location of the Bar (very handy!), with a long banquette as well as armchairs with small, low tables.

Bar level with city of Florence backdrop

On the far wall is a huge mural of  the skyline of Florence, the Italian city twinned with Edinburgh.   Elsewhere, throughout the restaurant, there are long oak communal tables with stools like a wine bar, ideal for groups of friends, families or to create a sociable ambience meeting other diners. With cool music on the soundtrack there’s a party vibe at Vapiano.

The extensive menu covers Pasta (vegetarian, with meat, fish and green ingredients), Risotto, Lasagne, Insalata, Pizza, (same range as Pasta), garlic bread, sides and extras. The beauty of the Vapiano style of eating is that everything is prepared freshly for you: at each service station, give your order directly to the chef, mix and match your favourite ingredients to create your own special salads, pizza and pasta.  As Jackson remarked, the cleverly creative Vapiano concept combines “Italian freshness with German precision.”

First stop is the Bar for an aperitif – perhaps a Vapiano G&T, (Hendrick’s with cucumber and rosemary) or a classic Aperol Spritz.  We had an ice cold glass of Prosecco each to kick off our Italian meal.

Vapiano Edinburgh with bar and kitchens over three floors

Time to order our starter and we went off to view the selection of cold dishes and salads at the Counter where we asked the chef for a Vegetarian antipasti to share.  We were given a small “pager” which would beep when this was ready for collection.  A few minutes later Ken collected a huge platter of grilled vegetables, artichokes, mozzarella, pesto, fat olives, and chunky bruschetta:  fresh, colourful ingredients for the summery taste of the Mediterranean.

Superb Antipasti salads

Bruschetta Gambertti

After a breather, time to consider ordering our main course  -it is all so leisurely as you plan your meal, course by course, in your own time.  We were both keen to try a Pizza and the menu lists all the favourites but, of course, you can adapt these by adding your preferred toppings to create your own style.  The pasta and pizza dough is made daily on the premises and all management staff are trained to be able to assist the chefs with rolling out the dough in case extra staff are required.

Upstairs at the Pizza kitchen, Majid, the French Algerian Pizzaoili was most helpful with suggestions – I ordered Gamberetti e Rucola. King prawns, rocket, olives, mozzarella and tomato sauce, while Ken chose his favourite Tonno, Tuna with red onions, tomato and mozzarella with extra rocket. I asked for mine to be extra soft so that the crust is not too crunchy.  Again we were given a timed pager to alert us when the Pizzas were cooked.

From the wine list we selected a bottle of Montepulciano (a very reasonable £16.95), rich in spicy berry fruits.  Within a few minutes, the pager beeped and we were off again to collect our pizzas. Mine had been taken out a minute early that the normal baking time for a softer texture – and we carried these back to our table.  This self service concept is fine to a degree, but I didn’t really like having to clamber down the steep stairs with my plate in one hand, and clutching the hand rail in the other, expecting to trip any second!.   On the tables are bottles of olive oil and fresh basil plants so that you can add herbs and flavour to garnish your dish.

Pizza with king prawns, olives and rocket – yum!

Sipping our wine and munching our delicious fishy pizzas, this was a feast, especially after a huge salad to start, so I asked if it were possible to take half of mine away. No problem and it was quickly boxed up.  Good news – Vapiano offer a take away service so that you can enjoy this freshly made, seriously good food at home.

Our passion in the UK too for Italian cuisine has no sign of falling out of favour and a global favourite of all ages so no wonder Vapiano are opening more and more restaurants across the globe.  The opening in Edinburgh was the first in Scotland, (fifth in the UK), with a Glasgow restaurant just recently launched too.

Vapiano, 7 South St David Street, EH2 2BD Edinburgh

tel. 0131 285 6123

Mon. – Thu. 11:00 am – 11:00 pm
Fri. – Sat. 11:00 am – 11:00 pm
Sun. 11:00 am – 11:00 pm

Pizza to take away too

The Lido, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis – a chic, sleek American Diner-Pizzeria-Restaurant for superb Italian cusine with the taste of the Hebrides

Luskentyre Beach, Isle of Harris

For the great escape, the Outer Hebrides offer the visitor a distinctively different, magical destination,  rich in ancient history and cultural heritage.  These beautiful islands are easily accessible by plane and ferry, where the visitor will find a wild, natural landscape, long sealochs, stunning sandy beaches, and the warmest hospitality.

Stornoway is the main town and port on the Isle of Lewis, the perfect start or end point as part of an exploration further afield to Harris, Uist, Barra et al – but do stay in town for a while.

Hebridean wildlife boat trips

Stroll along the waterfront of Stornoway Harbour packed with fishing boats as well as wildlife boat trips for a thrilling seafaring adventure.

Lews Castle, Stornoway

Surounded by lovely gardens and woodland, the turreted,  19th century Lews Castle,  on a hill overlooking the town, has been transformed into the Natural Retreats – luxury, self catering accommodation. Next door is the marvellous Museum nan Eilean with its historical treasures including the Lewis Chessmen.

After an energetic tour around town, time for good wholesome sustenance.  For lunch and dinner, highly recommended is The Lido, a most welcoming, family run, Italian-Scottish Café-Bar-Bistro with the cool, casual ambience of an American Diner.

While I’ve not actually been there, it reminds me of Katz Deli Diner in New York, made world famous in the wonderful romantic movie, “When Harry Met Sally” with its hilarious lunchtime sandwich scene.

Katz Deli Diner in “When Harry Met Sally”

The equivalent to Katz Diner in Stornoway is sleek and chic, all shining grey marble and silver chrome with a central theatre kitchen, long bar counter with stools, banquette seating around the walls, Bentwood chairs and neatly spaced dark wood tables.

Smart interior design at The Lido

Launched in May 2017, The Lido is run by an entrepreneurial couple,  Emma, the Manager,  her partner Lee as Head Chef and their friendly young team of staff.   The design is really superb with decorative lobster crates and collection of vintage photographs of Stornoway through the decades to give a charming sense of Island heritage.

Vintage photographs of Stornoway

I visited for lunch (very wisely served to 3pm for hungry tourists),  with a most enticing menu on offer. Chunky Ciabatta sandwiches, Burgers (lamb, chicken and Chick pea/beetroot), and several healthy but hearty salads, a key speciality here are the unique home made Pizzas. Depending on the season, there’s a varied choice with some seriously inventive creations: what about Butter Chicken Curry, or Salami, Prosciutto & Peperoni Pizza?

Italian meatball ciabatta

I selected a vegetarian Pizza with creamy mozzarella, tomatoes, sprinkled with red onion and colourful peppers.  Onions and peppers can often be left raw and crunchy but these were roasted well.  The hand stretched dough is super thin, lightly textured with a slight salty flavour – just perfect to roll up a triangular slice and eat with fingers!.

My perfect cheese, tomato, green pepper Pizza

To accompany my delicious pizza, I sipped a glass of crisp cold Pinot Grigio: a well selected, reasonably priced Italian wine list as well as share a bottle of Prosecco sparkling fizz.

No wonder the Lido is popular when Cocktails are being shaken up not stirred. The House cocktail – Smirnoff Vodka, Blackberry and lemon zest sounds divine, alongside classic tipples,  Martini, Mojito and the girl’s fave, the  Cosmo.

Colourful cocktails galore

Quality Beers too, and gin lovers should try the local Isle of Harris Gin scented with sugar kelp to give a whiff of the sea. Harris Gin is also used in desserts such as a creamy Pannacotta to give it a spirited kick.

Salt see flavoured Isle of Harris gin

In the evening, The Lido transforms into a romantic Restaurant with beautifully set tables (tea lights, black napkins) for a casually sophisticated ambience.  Locally sourced produce is emphasised in the modern Scottish cuisine such as an Indian spiced Stornoway Black pudding croquettes, and the freshest, crate to plate Scallops for starters. For main courses, Venison and Partridge Pie with red wine gravy and vegetables, Pork steak with haggis bon bons, Salmon served with seaweed polenta fitters.

Shellfish linguine

Local seafood  is proudly celebrated with catch of the day specials such as classic Lobster Thermidor. Talk about the taste of the Hebrides!.

Lobster – fresh from crate to plate

Superb Vegetarian dishes too such as Goat’s Cheese salad and Spicy Moroccan Sweet potato cakes; to finish your meal, homely puddings, Chocolate brownie and Gelato.

Vegan, gluten free banana muffins – yum!

Call in here for coffee,  tea and home made cakes, rum and raisin scones and Vegan gluten- free  banana muffins while Pizzas are available also for Take-away.

Browse their colourful Facebook pages with topical news, menus, dining  and drink offers and special Pop Up events such as Valentine’s, Mother’s Day and Easter treats for the kids.

Cromwell Street is a quiet, pedestrianised lane, so on warm days, sit outside for an alfresco feast with a view down to the harbour.

Due to its terrific fan base (local and far and wide), The Lido has been voted into the top ten in the category of best Newcomer in the forthcoming Scottish Entertainment and Hospitality Awards 2018, the winners announced on 29 April.  Good luck!

As you will see from the comments below, don’t just take my word for it. The Lido is a brilliant dining concept, fresh, home made Italian dishes with a Scottish accent and flavour.  It is almost magical how it changes in character and style, day to night from coffee house, Pizzeria,  Cocktail bar and fine dining Restaurant.   With Spring and Summer around the corner, new seasonal menus are coming soon, to entice local residents and island visitors to call in for a superlative snack, drinks, lunch or dinner.

For their artistic and culinary vision,  passion and commitment in creating their new business, Emma and Lee deserve great success.  Visit Stornoway soon and be sure to reserve a table at The Lido.!

The Lido

5 Cromwell Street,  HS1 2DB Stornoway,

 Open daily, 11.30 – 3pm; 5pm to 9pm.   Tel.  01851 703354

What other diners say:

Best pizza in town by a mile. In fact, best pizza I have had in years. Thin, crispy, light and really tasty.

Absolutely brilliant, Staying in Stornoway we loved “The Lido” so much, we returned twice.  Amazing food – highly recommended.

We absolutely love the Lido. The best Smoked Salmon and Lemon Risotto I’ve ever had!

5 stars!.  Chicken liver and Harris Gin Pate with plum jam to start – excellent. My friend had the scallops and black pudding – great! The lamb burger with sweet potato fries was also superbly tasty with crisp fries. Chocolate brownie dessert topped it off. 


The Waldorf Astoria, Edinburgh and Laings “Diamonds & Pearls Afternoon Tea”: a truly sparkling, romantic, luxury experience

The original Caledonian hotel 1903

The magnificent, pink Permian sandstone Caledonian Hotel, Edinburgh opened in December 1903, to offer a taste of opulence from décor to hospitality. The Telegraphic address was simply “Luxury Edinburgh”.  After a lavish re-design, the hotel was launched anew as the world class, 5 star Waldorf Astoria in 2012  reflecting the glamorous art deco ambience of the original Railway Hotel. The old station clock hangs in the magnificent, glass-roofed  Atrium, Peacock Alley,  the place to see and be seen for morning coffee, a light lunch, champagne, cocktails and traditional Afternoon Tea.

Peacock Alley

Diamonds and Pearls, cakes and candies

A dazzling Diamond and Pearl themed Teatime has been created to celebrate Valentine’s Day.  To add authentic sparkle, Laings, the famous jewellery company has been the inspiration for this event as well as VIP diamond-themed weekends with champagne and special gifts.

The partnership between the Waldorf Astoria and Laings is the perfect match, both sharing a sense of traditional heritage oozing the epitome of luxury. Established in 1840 by two brothers James and William, Laings is Scotland’s oldest family jeweller, with a collection of boutiques for memorable birthday and wedding gifts as well as bespoke diamond Engagement rings –  a girl’s best friend!

And so with a Springtime mood of Love in the air, on a cool February day, my partner Ken and I arrived at the Peacock Alley to experience this sparkling Afternoon Tea.  Sitting in huge comfortable armchairs, the ambience is elegantly casual with soft music on the soundtrack.  The table is set with white crockery, silverware and crisp white linen napkins, wrapped in a Laings blue silk ribbon.

Perrier Jouet Champagne flute

We are presented with menus packed with information on the wide choice of teas, finger sandwiches, pastries and cakes.   Our waiter than offers a glass of Perrier Jouet Champagne, served from a neatly designed drinks trolley. The unique PJ Champagne  bottles and the pretty flutes are both hand painted with pink and white flowers, which are simply fabulous.

I select the fragrantly smoky Lapsang Souchong tea while Ken is keen to try the Peacock Alley, Waldorf Astoria’s own blend, a secret combination of teas, fruit, spices and herbs.  Both are most refreshing and full of flavour.  Then a tall sandwich and cake stand arrives featuring a wonderful array of sweet and savoury treats –  Goat’s cheese mousse & red pepper cannoli, Smoked salmon and avocado,  Asparagus and green pea torilla, Smoked chicken and mushroom on rye toast – all deliciously light canapes for a contemporary-styled Afternoon Tea.

Tradition is preserved with Scones, (rather too large!) with thick clotted cream and strawberry jam.  Another cup of tea is poured as we slowly move on to the colourful cakes. First a tiny white frosted Red Velvet Cupcake:  the Waldorf Astoria, New York City claims it is the birthplace of the iconic Red Velvet cake, a popular menu item from the 1950s, (although research reveals the original flavour was invented in the 1920s by the Adams company).

Waldorf Red Velvet cupcake

Chocoholics will be in heaven when sampling the selection of artistically decorated pastries, from white chocolate cheesecake to a triple chocolate dome.   The Oreo Chocolate Truffle is wrapped in a sugar-coated, (edible), red Ruby ring to reflect Laings gorgeous gems and jewels.

Oreo Chocolate Truffle with Ruby ring

As part of the “Diamonds & Pearls” event, all guests are given a voucher for an exclusive diamond cleaning session at one of the Laings stores.  While there, you can view the range of jewellery and watches covering the most famous, fashionable global brand names from Rolex and TAGheuer to Cartier and Chanel.

Laings fashionable jewellery and time pieces, 1840 – 2018

Over three hours, we nibble little egg sandwiches and taste rose petal macaroons, sipping delicious tea, and an indulgent flute of ice-cold Perrier Jouet champagne.  Gracefully served, Afternoon Tea at the Peacock Alley is the perfect opportunity to meet family and friends (or of course your loved one) for a leisurely and relaxing sociable experience.

Laings bridal jewellery

This joint venture to celebrate Valentine’s Month is an imaginative concept.  The ethos of Laings is based on the fact that everything they do is for a memorable occasion.

Likewise at the Waldorf Astoria, where the fine hospitality revolves around exemplary wining and dining from the cocktail bars and Galvin Brasserie de Luxe to the Pompadour Restaurant. Following the romantic connection, Weddings are also a key speciality!.

“Laings share our passion for creating truly unforgettable moments for our guests” Dale MacPhee, General Manager, Waldorf Astoria

Diamonds and Pearls Afternoon Tea:  9th – 28th February 2018.   12 noon – 5pm.  £45 per person.

(A new Spring menu for Afternoon tea will thereafter be served at the Peacock Alley)

A luxury, romantic weekend break –

For information on accommodation, bars and restaurants, private events:

Laings –

72 George Street, Edinburgh EH2 3BX – tel: 0131 225 4513

(also in Glasgow, Southampton and Cardiff).

Laings,  72 George Street, Edinburgh

The Bistro at Brunton Hall, Musselburgh, East Lothian: a warm welcome, wonderful food (and a fine theatre too)

Musselburgh on the seashore

Musselburgh is a charming, historic market town named after the mussel beds along the shore of the Firth of Forth. The Coat of Arms depicts three mussels and three anchors referring to the 12th century fishing port – still a prime spot for landing seafood today.

Musselburgh Racecourse is the oldest in Scotland,  the 9-hole Musselburgh Links (1672)  is the oldest Golf club in the world,  and there’s also the Championship Golf course, both members of the Golf Coast, East Lothian

As child, my family visited North Berwick holidays as well as regular day trips to the beaches at Yellowcraigs, Longniddry and Gullane.  We would never drive through Musselburgh without stopping for ice-cream at “Luca’s” which has a fascinating heritage: Luca Scappaticcio left his home in Cassino, Italy and moved to Scotland in the 1890s, working as a  hotel chef  which inspired him to create his own special ice-cream. In 1908, he and his wife Anastasia opened their first ice cream parlour in Musselburgh. It is probably, 110 years later, the creamiest ice-cream you may ever taste.

Brunton Hall

Another reason to visit Musselburgh is The Brunton Hall, a well established Theatre, staging a year round programme of drama, comedy, music,  dance, children’s shows, Christmas pantomime and films.  There are two well designed venues which canm be transformed into function halls for private and corporate events, weddings, dinners and conferences.

Venue 1 Theatre

The Bistro at Brunton Hall is a very popular place for coffee and cake, soup and sandwiches,  lunch or evening meal. It was founded in 2006  by two friends, Norma Buchan and Zandra Borthwick  as an innovative development from their successful catering business. They manage a large team including Head Chef Ron Park and his kitchen brigade as well as the front of house waiting staff.

The bright and spacious Bistro

Before a marvellous production of Noel Coward’s “Private Lives” by the London Classic Theatre Company, Ken and I arrived at 5.45pm to enjoy a pre-theatre supper.  The reasonably priced menu (£11,00/16.95/£19.95 : 1/2 / 3 courses), offers a choice of fish, meat and vegetarian starters and main courses, emphasising fresh, local seasonal produce and creative homely dishes.

First a large bowl of Cauliflower soup with chunky brown bread for Ken, while my Belhaven Smoked Trout on a nest of delicious roasted golden yellow beetroot and salad leaves.

Smoked trout salad

The Wine list is well selected with House Wine (Chilean Sauvignon Blanc & Merlot) priced at £4.00 (175 ml glass) and £15 (bottle).  Mini bottles of wine (18.7cl) is a great idea too, as well as Baby Prosecco for one.  Beers and ciders too.   With our meal, we sipped a crisp, ice cold South African Chenin Blanc.

Time for the next course: Coley Fillet with a herb crust,  drizzled with a seafood Thermidor sauce on a mound of mashed potato, all artistically presented (as shown here), with a cute wee prawn perched on the top.

Coley with crab and prawns

The vegetarian option for me was simply perfect – a tasty nut roast smothered in a red pepper coulis and a baked, soft and fluffy sweet potato.  These were both generous portions of hearty good food.  No dessert for us but there was Rhubarb and Ginger crème brulee or Cheesecake.

The Bistro serves Breakfast, (croissants, rolls, scrambled eggs – 9am – 12 noon),  morning coffee, Lunch –  ranging from Soup & sandwiches, to Haddock and chips, Burgers, Macaroni Cheese etc.,  traditional Afternoon tea, (2pm – 4pm), pre-theatre supper and also early evening meals with an a la carte menu.

Afternoon Tea

On the night we were there,  The Bistro was bustling with theatre goers – the most relaxing way to start an evening out. The friendly attentive team of waiters rushed around ensuring everyone was fed and watered before curtain up.  With a warm, welcoming atmosphere, this is a popular social hub for the community and visitors to town, day and night.

The Bistro girls

So, if you are booking tickets at the Brunton Theatre,  coming to Musselburgh for a round of golf or attending a Race meeting, do call in to The Bistro for a superb choice of seriously good food and bar drinks.  Be sure to book a table in advance!

Happy diners at The Bistro. 

“We are regular visitors to The Brunton Bistro at lunchtime. The soups are the star of the show, full of flavour and wholesome. Freshly made sandwiches as well as scones and cakes. A selection of substantial main meals too. Excellent”.

The Bistro at Brunton Hall, Ladywell Way, Musselburgh,
East Lothian,  EH21 6AA

Tel: 0131 653 5250


Opening hours from 9.00am – 7.30pm, Monday – Saturday; (until 5pm if theatre is closed)

Sundays – closed except on performance days.

Private events welcome.

Gluten free cakes

Tempt your taste buds with a feast of global cuisine at the Edinburgh Restaurant Festival 2018

Returning for the fourth year, the Edinburgh Restaurant Festival 2018 offers locals and visitors a marvellous opportunity to dine around an eclectic range of bars, bistros and brasseries.  Following the colourful Christmas lights and Hogmanay street party, it’s the ideal time to celebrate to brighten up the winter season.  This popular initiative is created by Essential Edinburgh to showcase our first class dining destination and superb Scottish hospitality:

The Festival is a wonderful way to highlight our blossoming restaurant scene and showcase the diversity on offer. In Edinburgh, you really can go on a culinary journey around the world, and the city is bursting with different styles, flavours and menus, all served up to a world class standard.’ Roddy Doyle, Essential Edinburgh

The theme of the 2016 Festival was to entice people to try something new and it’s certainly the motto again with the focus on new places to eat as well as great global cuisine.  To promote the launch of the Festival, a group of chefs and restaurateurs paid homage to the iconic New York ‘Lunch Atop a Skyscraper’ ..

Lunch atop a Skyscraper

…transported to a girder here with a backdrop of the city’s architectural landmarks.

Sky-high dining in Edinburgh (2018)

The Edinburgh Retaurant Festival line up shows Kandice Rosser, eteaket, Andrei Doja, Gusto, Eric Garnier, The Ivy on the Square, Anand Ghotikar, Dishoom, Jamie Robertson, Gaucho, Mateusz Warzocha, 1780, Raymond Sutherland, Badger & Co. Natasha Goldie, Las Iguanas, Fraser Spratt, Jenners and Dawid Rompca, Wahaca.

The Festival runs from 5 – 25 February 2018, with a fabulous programme of food and drink events to tempt your taste buds around a couple of dozen or so cool, contemporary and classy restaurants.  Scottish, British, Indian, Italian, Thai, South American and hot Mexican flavours can be sampled around town from Amarone  – via Browns, Chaophraya, Contini, Element, Hard Rock Cafe, Rosehip, Tigerlily, Taco Mazama – to the Voodoo Rooms.

Eteaket – elegant cups for tea and treats

Each partner restaurant is offering special discounts, Festival menus, speciality cocktails and delectable desserts.  Good food for gourmands is complemented by inventive cocktails, wine, beer, fine teas and tipples along the way.

So, what’s Cooking?

The Moveable Feast is back after sell out success last time.  Embark on a magical mystery tour on foot to enjoy five delicious courses touring around five locations – starting with fizz and canapés, then starter, main course, dessert and a final nightcap, served up around the city centre.  The feast sets off on 6, 13 and 20 February. Advance Booking essential.

Having experienced this brilliant and highly entertaining concept at the ERF 2016,  some Restaurants suggested that it could run year round or certainly through the summer season. (Essential Edinburgh, please take note!)

New for this year is the Secret Dining Experience on 15 February where lucky guests who grabbed a ticket, meet at St. Andrew Square and are then escorted to the undisclosed and surprising dining venue.

An innovative Pop Up “Movies and Shakers” cinema will be on offer at Harvey Nichols Forth Floor combining a Movie and a Meal with a cocktail, followed by a sport themed film: Jerry Maguire (13 February)  and Cool Runnings (27 February ).  And, of course, a bucket of Pop Corn, is supplied.

To ring the changes, join in the Cooking with Beer Dining Experience.  1780 Restaurant on Rose Street is joining forces with The Ferry Brewery on 15 February and with Cross Borders Brewing on 22 February, when you can tuck in to a 3 course meal or selection of tapas, with the food expertly paired with selected beers and craft ales.

The Festival map covers a wonderful selection of eateries around St. Andrew Square, Rose Street, George Street and Princes Street.

Having wined and dined my way around a few of the Restaurants taking part, here is a taster of what to expect from recent reviews:

Element Bar and Bistro

Element: “offers a true sense of tradition in its design and decor: blue panelled walls, tweed armchairs, antique curios and art deco lamps. Brunch (served 10am to 5pm daily), lunch and dinner .. imaginatively created dishes, reinvented pub favourites and cool cocktails  in a casually sophisticated wine bar-gastropub environment.”

Element offers a Scottish themed menu for the Edinburgh Restaurant Festival: £20 for 2 courses, £25 for 3 courses, with an optional whisky flight per course. 

Cadiz:  “Seafood, Cava, Sherry, Wine, Cocktails – the taste of sunny Andalucia comes to Edinburgh.  Oysters, Calamari, Crab Cakes, Scallops, Lemon Sole and Lobster, as well as Scottish ribeye and fillet steaks for the carnivore. For a quick snack, drinkers are welcome to take a high stool at the Bar for Champagne or Cocktails – perfectly matched with a platter oysters.”

Cadiz, George Street

Visit Cadiz for a special Festival menu of superb Spanish food – £16.95-£20.95 for  2/3 courses

Contini:  ” Viktor and Carina are passionate, pedantic and purist about seriously good Italian food and their modern approach is an inspired, artistic vision. The motto is fresh, simple, seasonal, specialising in quality Italian produce. Since 2004, Contini Ristorante has been the D&G, the Ferrari, the Versace of eating and drinking enhanced with fashionable style.  Bellisimo!”

Indulge in a complimentary Bomboloni (home made doughnut flavoured with caramel and limoncello) for dessert when ordering a starter and main course.

The classy Cocktail and Wine Bar at Contini

Dishoom:“From Bombay with Love – the inspiration behind Dishoom were the Iranian cafes in Bombay opened by immigrants in the early 20th century.  Authentic furnishings, chandeliers, mirrors, fans, faded photographs and green leather banquettes, reminiscent of a railway carriage. From breakfast to late night cocktails, the atmosphere is vibrant and buzzing …..perhaps just like the Iranian cafes.”

Lamb Raan bun

Experience the Lamb Raan Bun special .. juicy, slow-cooked pulled Scottish lamb in a soft sourdough bun or book a party table for cocktails in the Permit Room bar.

Badger & Co:  “The curious name is from “Wind in the Willows,” the riverbank tales about Toad, Rat, Mole and Badger, by Kenneth Grahame who was born at this address on 8th March 1859. This elegant Townhouse features a sequence of colourfully designed salons – Bar, cosy Lounge and stylish Dining Room.  Homely,  classic British dishes + cocktails, wines, beer = fictionally inspired feast”.

ERF offer at Badger & Co: 3 courses and a drink for just £22.50

Traditional dishes at Badger & Co.

This is an appetising Festival for Foodies to celebrate the flourishing ‘dining out’ atmosphere around the Capital –  which boasts more restaurants per head of population than any other city in the UK.  So be inspired to try somewhere new and exciting different cuisines during the Festival .. and through the year.

Bon appetit!

For the full Festival programme of diary dates, list of Restaurants, special offers, menus, Dining Experiences and for Reservations visit the official websites:


“Elementary, my dear Watson” – Sherlock Holmes would surely be impressed by the fine sense of tradition at Element.

Element Bar and Bistro

The pedestrianised, cobbled Rose Street is the place for a leisurely stroll, lined with smart boutiques, bistros and bars.  Element (@110), offers a casually sophisticated ambience with a true sense of tradition in its design and decor. Step inside to the spacious Pub area, with its island bar, high tables and stools, perfect for a couple of pints or G&T.

The Island bar with high stools

Walk through to the Dining area – stunningly designed like a cosy lounge of a Country House hotel: blue panelled walls, tweed armchairs, polished wood, vintage curios and art deco lamps. A large Mural of Edinburgh’s  iconic cityscape features Greyfriars Bobby, Arthur’s Seat and Royal Mile.

 Classic-contemporary design and decor with vintage vibe

This is a hidden gem in the city centre, for a relaxing pit stop over a feast of good homely food and your favourite tipple or two  – all day Brunch and traditional Sunday Roast lunch are a speciality.

Relaxing comfortably in two high backed wing armchairs here, you can imagine Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, tete a tete, to discuss their latest crime busting mission, over a platter of Venison Stew and a Highland single malt.

Wing armchairs add a touch of class and tradition

The furnishings are well designed to entice diners to linger longer for a leisurely, lazy meal.   Ken and I settle down to browse the All Day Menu with the option of Lunch (soup, Ploughman’s platter, Croque Monsieur, Chicken, homely puddings),  as well as Brunch, served 10am to 5pm daily which is a most sensible and welcome idea.

Full Scottish fry up

Classic and contemporary dishes galore, such as the full Scottish (Crombie’s sausages, black pudding, haggis, egg, tattie scone, et al), and Eggs Benedict any which way you fancy with ham, smoked salmon or spinach.  After Dry January and Veganuary to encourage us all to start a fitness regime, Ken ordered the Vegan Breakfast: a healthy combination of meat free sausages, home made baked beans, vegan haggis, mushrooms, tomato and a mound of scrambled tofu.  This has the pale yellow colour and fluffy texture of the real egg version, and was very tasty indeed.

I selected Smashed Avocado jazzed up with chipotle flakes on toast, topped with two poached eggs (illustrated below).  Simply delectable– the creamy, vibrant green superfood spread thickly on chunky ciabatta toast,  over which drizzles the rich golden yolk.  Other “On Toast” options are ‘hummus, roasted red pepper, halloumi’, ‘scrambled egg and smoked salmon’.   The flexible menu means you can mix and match and add sides to create your own delicious brekkie feast – such as bacon, black pudding, sausage as well as Chips – irresistable!.   So we shared a portion of long thick fries, crispy skin coating the soft flaky potato.

Bloody Mary – perfect for Brunch

Bubbly and Brunch cocktails are recommended including the essential Bloody Mary as the ideal accompaniment.  This is mixed according to your personal taste, with a 5 – 10, medium to hot Tabasco score.

Brunch, Lunch, Dinner – a feast from morning to night

After 5pm, the dinner menu takes over with choice of Starters (Thai fish cake, ham hock terrine), and hearty mains – flat iron steak, cassoulet, venison stew, Haddock and chips, Beef burgers, served with optional bacon, cheese or haggis; Apple crumble, ice-creams.

Perthshire Beef Burgers (with haggis if you like!)

The wine list is well priced from around £18 a bottle (South African Chenin Blanc/ Merlot),  international beers, (Scotland, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Mexico), spirits and house cocktails.  “The One o’clock Gun” sounds like a colourful concoction of Bourbon, Laphroaig, Torrino Rosso, Campari, which will certainly fire a shot!

Sunday is very popular here for a traditional Roast, complete with the papers and chill out music on the soundtrack.

Morning, noon and night, you will be in your element here, to imaginatively created dishes, reinvented pub favourites and cool cocktails  in a casually sophisticated wine bar-gastropub environment.

And many happy diners agree with us:

“This is such a beautiful wee place found on Rose Street. The food is proper Scottish grub and absolutely delicious!”

“An absolutely amazing meal –  smoked salmon with blinis for a starter,  duck cassoulet with haricot beans & spicy sausage (brilliant),  Flat iron steak with chips (delicious) and whisky trifle for dessert.”    

“Outstanding service,  uncomplicated menu, well crafted food.  Highly recommended for a casual, yet high quality dining experience.” 

Stop Press: 

Element is part of the Edinburgh Restaurant Festival from 5 – 25 February, 2018, offering a special menu – £20 for 2 courses, £25 for 3 courses celebrating Scottish cuisine with an optional whisky flight per course. 


110 -114 Rose Street, Edinburgh EH2 3JF

te.  0131 225 3297

Viktor Huszti, Head Chef

Celebrate “National Afternoon Tea Week” at Cucina, G&V Hotel, Edinburgh

It’s the time for cucumber sandwiches and chocolate tarts galore between 14 to 20 August, National Afternoon Tea Week, so time to celebrate and indulge in this traditional social ritual.

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

T: +44 (0)131 240 1666


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.

Chris and Jeff Galvin outside their 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.

Island bar at Galvin Brasserie de luxe

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.

Lindisfarne Oysters

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.

“Oysters: small and rich, looking like little ears enfolded in shells, and melting between the palate and the tongue like salted sweets.”

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.

Galvin’s house champagne – the perfect serve with oysters

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.

A showcase of Crustacea at the Galvin Brasserie

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