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

Classic Margherita Pizza

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pizzas with every delicious dream topping

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

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

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

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

The “La Favorita Delivered” Fiat cars

 Happy Diners, April 2017

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

Happy friends – Happy Kids, April 2017

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

La Favorita,

325 – 333 Leith Walk,

Edinburgh EH6 8SA

tel.  0131 555 5564

http://www.vittoriagroup.co.uk/lafavorita

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

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

“The Monarch of the Glen” Sir Edwin Landseer

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

An early advertisement for Dewar’s Whisky

Shortbread tin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

White Stag, Kristian Bell

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

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

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

Thistle Face, Alma Haser

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

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

‘Scene in Braemar, Highland Deer” Sir Edwin Landseer

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh – The Caledonian

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

http://www.waldorfastoriaedinburgh.com

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

The ornate entrance to Contini, 103 George Street

The ornate entrance to Contini, 103 George Street

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

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

The classy Cocktail and Wine Bar

The classy Cocktail and Wine Bar

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

Chic new design

Chic new design

Colourful striped chairs

Colourful striped chairs

Feature walls are colourfully decorated with Italian Baroque frescoes.

The fabulous Fresco wall art

The fabulous Fresco wall art

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

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

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

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

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

Mozzarella di Bufala and figs

Mozzarella di Bufala and figs

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

Merluzzo, poached cod

Merluzzo, poached cod

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

Finocchio insalate - fennel, orange, olives.

Finocchio insalate – fennel, orange, olives.

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

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

Light as a feather Tiramasu

Light as a feather Tiramasu

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

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

Breakfast - Poached egg with avocado and spinach

Breakfast – Poached egg with avocado and spinach

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

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

Campari Spritz

Campari Spritz

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

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

contini-coffee-made-with-love

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

Aflresco summer dining at Contini

Aflresco summer dining at Contini

 

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

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

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

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

Ken Young - Still Water

Ken Young – Still Water

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

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

Ken Young - Cherries and Glass

Ken Young – Cherries and Glass

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

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

Colin Joyce - North Bridge, Edinburgh

Colin Joyce – North Bridge, Edinburgh

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

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

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

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

Roy McGowan - Blue Jug and Apple

Roy McGowan – Blue Jug and Apple

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

Roy McGowan - a charming seascape

Roy McGowan – a charming seascape

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

three-men-in-a-boat-500x650

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

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

For more information on this exhibition and the artists:

http://www.kenyoungart.co.uk   http://www.colinjoyceart.com   http://www.dunfermlineartclub.co.uk (Roy McGowan)

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

champagne-and-coward

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

Cracking Wine tasting events: "Women who drink Wine"

Cracking Wine tasting events: “Women who drink Wine”

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

Cracking wine - Fizz Festival 2015

Cracking wine – Fizz Festival 2015

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

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

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

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

Ab Fab Patsy enjoys a sip of Bollinger

Ab Fab Patsy enjoys a sip of Bollinger

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

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

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

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

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

zonin-prosecco

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

The Oysterman

The Oysterman

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

Franciacorta - The "Champagne" region Italy

Franciacorta – The “Champagne” wine region Italy

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

WineTubeMap - by Nikki Welch

WineTubeMap – by Nikki Welch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fizz Festival Tickets: £ 25,  now on sale at 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!

Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch

Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch

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

Cote, Edinburgh

Cote, Edinburgh

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

Cote - comfortable banquettes

Cote – comfortable banquettes

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

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

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

Cote - a spacious salon in the Brasserie

Cote – a spacious salon in the Brasserie

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

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

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

Cote - crispy Calamari

Cote – crispy Calamari

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

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

Moules Frites - a classic

Moules Frites – a classic

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

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

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

Prime steak - ribeye, sirlon and fillet

Prime steak – ribeye, sirlon and fillet

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

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

Breakfast choices for meat eaters, pescatarians and vegetarians

Breakfast choices for meat eaters, pescatarians and vegetarians

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

COTE

51 Frederick Street, Edinburgh, EH2 1LH
0131 202 6256
edinburgh@cote-restaurants.co.uk

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.

 

Pitlochry Festival Theatre, Perthshire – Summer season, 2016: “stay six days, see seven shows.”

Pitlochry Festival Theatre on River Tummel

Pitlochry Festival Theatre on River Tummel

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!.

Pitlochry - holiday town for generations of visitors

Pitlochry – holiday destination for generations of visitors

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 Ensemble 2016

The PFT Ensemble 2016

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

Carousel the Musical

Carousel the Musical

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.

Gemma McElhinney and Stephanie Wilson as Rosie and Annette in FlatSpin

Gemma McElhinney and Stephanie Wilson as Rosie and Annette in FlatSpin

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.

George Arvidson and Jacqueline Dutoit as Lionel and Mrs Frush in Thark

George Arvidson and Jacqueline Dutoit as Lionel and Mrs Frush in Thark

Noel Coward is back with a timely revival of his family saga, “This Happy Breed” in which he starred himself in the 1942 premiere.

Noiel Coward in This Happy Breed, 1942

Noiel Coward in This Happy Breed, 1942

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

The original Theatre Tent at Knockendarroch

The original Theatre Tent at Knockendarroch

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.

1951 programme

1951 programme

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.

PFT - a bold new theatre re-envisioned for 2021

PFT – a bold new theatre re-envisioned for 2021

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.

Artist impression of the expanded theatre

Artist impression of the expanded theatre

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.

http://www.pitlochryfestivaltheatre.com

Pitlochry Festival Theatre, Port na Craig, Pitlochry, PH16 5DR.  01796 484626.

Pitlochry-festival-theatre-2016

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.

Open Eye Gallery, Edinburgh – Kirsty Wither, John Mackechnie, Gill Tyson: The natural world with an evocation of tranquility

The Open Eye is cool, elegant yet welcoming and warm. The staff are knowledgeable and friendly. The exhibitions are almost always fascinating and carefully curated, with a good range of predominantly Scottish artists ……. well worth a visit. ..” Art lover’s review, 2014.

The Open Eye Gallery

The Open Eye Gallery

Visiting the Open Eye is always an exciting, inspiring and enticing artistic experience.  Located on the ground floor of a Georgian townhouse at the corner of Abercomby Place, the grand, flagstoned, pillared hallway, leads off into spacious, light-filled white-walled salons.

Founded 35 years ago, the gallery promotes young, emerging talent, as well as presenting renowned Scottish artists, British, European and American printmakers, complemented by graceful displays of jewellery, ceramics and sculpture.

This current exhibition running from 20th February – 7th March, 2016,  brings together a diverse trio of artists who seek to capture the beauty of our natural world, sharing an evocative sense of tranquility.

Kirsty Wither, On a Diamond

Kirsty Wither, On a Diamond

To brighten a winter’s day, take a wander around Kirsty Wither’s fruit bowls and colourful bunch of floral studies with a flourish of pink, coral, crimson red, as if haphazardly arranged in white shapely vases; soft petals seem to float in the air, scattering in a free-flowing movement on to a table.

Kirsty Wither, Just Inland

Kirsty Wither, Just Inland

Colour and texture are eminent too in her atmospheric landscapes – the open countryside, distant hills, under the Italian sun or winter-snow light.

Wither also effortlessly switches to figurative scenes with her Giacometti-styled female nudes, slender sculptural shapes posing in a shadowy surreal setting.

Kirsty Wither, Silvery Sea

Kirsty Wither, Silvery Sea

In the room across the hallway, immerse yourself in a world of amazing reflective light. John Mackechnie is one of the UK’s leading printmakers (Director of Glasgow Print Studio), and this selection of work is entitled Parallel Lines.

Stand in front of “Road to the Isles”, for instance, and imagine you are on a beach, the shallow sea water lapping around your bare feet, soft sand beneath your toes.  The mesmerising clarity of this stunning image is based on photographs along the coastline between Arisaig and Mallaig.

John Mackechnie, Road to the Isles

John Mackechnie, Road to the Isles

Mackechnie also captures with an extraordinary abstract realism, the modern architectural design of skyscraper buildings, with their uniform grids, blocks and parallel lines of luminous glass and shining steel. As well as screenprints,  graphic visuals are also created on Perspex with dynamic and dazzling 3D effect.

John Mackechnie, Hong Kong Island

John Mackechnie, Hong Kong Island

Gill Tyson, Norton star, Atlas 6

Gill Tyson, Norton star, Atlas 6

In the Print Room. Salt Stars is a series of stone lithographs by Gill Tyson. She is inspired by off-the-beaten-track remote places, and lives in Morvern on the Lochaber peninsula: “In our house between a river and the sea I was struck by the important role of the night skies: all those stars and the brightness of a full moon on the water, almost as light as a west coast day.”

Gill Tyson, Before the Storm

Gill Tyson, Before the Storm

Her various lithographic and screenprint techniques are meticulous processes, grinding and preparing the stone, composing a picture in gradual stages using hand drawn marks, like a slow form of painting. Seawater is used as a wash, where grains of salt become virtually imbedded in images of the night sky and wild Highland environment.

These deceptively simple, sketchy scenes, such as “Before the Storm” and “Crossing Over”, show the perspective of where land meets sea, isolated places of natural beauty.  There’s a dreamlike quality as you wander around these minimalist, monochrome prints.  “Fishing” is delicately designed as if with thin pen-strokes akin to Asian calligraphy.

Gill Tyson, Fishing

Gill Tyson, Fishing

This imaginatively-curated exhibition takes you on a delightful, painterly journey through the eyes of these three artists – so catch it if you can before 7th March.

As well as a rolling programme of selected artists each month, the Open Eye also showcases established gallery artists, including John Bellany, Chris Bushe, Alberto and Leon Morocco, Barbara Rae, David Schofield, Carola Gordon, David Forster, Henry Fraser, et al.

The Print Room has a rolling programme of work including Picasso, Miro, Chagall, Pasmore, William Scott, Paolozzi, Hockney, Bruce McLean, John Byrne, Pat Douthwaite, Jonathan Gibbs and other modern masters.

The Open Eye Gallery,

34 Abercromby Place, Edinburgh EH3 6QE

tel. 0131 557 1020

http://www.openeyegallery.co.uk

John Mackechnie, Chicago Movement

John Mackechnie, Chicago Movement

Generation 3 – Christmas exhibition of arts and crafts at Dundas Street Gallery, Edinburgh

Christmas is the time of year when families gather together – the annual pilgrimage most of us will make soon, as captured in song from Sinatra’s “I’ll be home for Christmas” to “Driving home for Christmas” from Chris Rea.

For the Rollinson family they have planned a different kind of reunion for us all to share and enjoy. Generation 3 is a collective exhibition to showcase the arts and crafts representing three generations.

Vicky Ware - ceramic decoration

Vicky Ware – ceramic decoration

Starting a few decades ago with Peter and Rosemary’s Scottish saddlery business, their children and grandchildren have inherited the creative gene and developed their own distinctive artistic talent from glassware and jewellery to pottery and photography.

Generation 3After retirement, Peter Rollinson has developed his passion for cine, video and still photography in which to observe the natural world, flowers, trees and landscape, through the camera lens. As he explains the background to his art: “We tend to overlook something that is small, or that is a small part of a larger image. We may pass a dry stone wall every day and not see the different coloured stones used, or the fern growing from it. Or really see an old letterbox, a lone lobster pot or a tree stump. ”

Aged just 16, Natasha Rollinson began working with silver at a Summer course at Edinburgh College of Art which led to studying jewellery at the University of Ulster, and then training as a goldsmith. Her fine jewellery is based on traditional techniques matched by modern design.

Bubbles necklace - Natasha Rollinson

Bubbles necklace – Natasha Rollinson

Angelika Rollinson trained as a dressmaker in an atelier in southern Germany,  later making costumes for the Deutsche Oper Berlin.   Just like Vivienne Westwood who loves using Scottish textiles,  she has designed a range of Harris Tweed ladies’ capes for this exhibition.

Scottish style - Harris Tweed cape by Angelika Rollinson

Scottish style – Harris Tweed cape by Angelika Rollinson

And then we move from wool to leather:  William Rollinson worked in his family’s business and trained as a saddler. Today he makes and repairs saddles as well as creating quality leather products, dog collars, bags and gun cases. He also built his own Tipi Tent for camping on canoeing and fishing trips around Scotland.

Beautiful glassware by Sue Jack

Beautiful glassware by Sue Jack

Sue Jack trained in architectural glass at University of Wales and now divides her time between Edinburgh and Sutherland where she has an eco friendly house and glass design studio overlooking the sea towards Harris and the mountains of Assynt and Coicach. Inspired by the rugged wild landscape, Sue creates sculptural pieces and art works from kiln formed glass.

Sue Jack - decorative glass

Sue Jack – decorative glass

The new BBC series, The Great British Pottery Throw Down may encourage viewers to try their hand with throwing some clay … just as the ever popular Great British Bake Off show did with all those tempting cakes, buns and tarts.

Vicky Ware - rustic farmhouse crockery

Vicky Ware – rustic farmhouse crockery

Vicky Ware is the archetypal artisan potter, working and teaching in a studio at her home, a converted barn in rural Wales. Her handmade earthenware pots range from colourfully decorative glazed ceramics to functional plates, bowls and kitchenware.

Vicky Ware - artistic ceramics

Vicky Ware – artistic ceramics

And her rustic Terracotta Bread Pots sell like hot cakes!

As Vicky describes the creative design process … “ Hand thrown using grogged earthenware clay and fired to a rich toasted terracotta, each one is slightly different and has a spiral inside which gives the traditional crescia pattern to the loaf. The handles, as well as being part of the design, are a practical way of holding the pot to remove the bread.

Terracotta Bread Pots by Vicky Ware

Terracotta Bread Pots by Vicky Ware

“My pots are good for all types of bread and especially for sourdough, as you can prove and bake the loaf in the mould, retaining the texture and lightness of your dough”.

These beautiful moulds have revolutionised the way I bake! I have never had such a light and fluffy sourdough – the best loaf I have made.”  Kelli DiCapri – Artisan Baker

Generation 3 is a fantastic, diverse collection of exquisitely hand made and beautifully crafted artwork made with love and care – perfect gifts for your family and friends this Christmas.

Dundas Street Gallery,  Dundas Street, Edinburgh EH2 6HZ

28th November to 5th December, 2015 – 11am – 6pm daily.

For more information,  contact:  generation.3artsists@gmail.com

The Venice Simplon Orient-Express: re-living the elegant age of train travel

Welcome on board the Orient Express Venice-Simplon

Welcome on board the Orient Express Venice-Simplon

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.

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-worlds-most-famous-train

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.

Vivien - vintage evening gown and gloves - with Champagne

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.

https://smartleisureguide.wordpress.com/2015/11/29/the-venice-simplon-orient-express-a-timeless-luxurious-travel-experience/

Plan your journey here:

http://www.belmond.com/