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Take a magical carpet ride to BABA Cocktail Bar & Restaurant for the exotic, spicy taste of the Levant

Principal Edinburgh – Charlotte Square

Overlooking a charming private garden, The Principal Edinburgh Charlotte Square has been fashionably remodelled in a major refurbishment of the former Roxburghe Hotel. Across seven Georgian townhouses are elegantly designed bedrooms and suites,  colourful, comfortable lounges and a glass-roofed indoor Garden for Twilight Tea, gourmet snacks, champagne and cocktails. For its glamorous revamp, The Principal was named “Style Hotel of the Year” (Edinburgh) at the Scottish Hotel Awards 2018.

The Courtyard Garden

Vintage styled suite with travel trunk

A retro design theme is observed from the moment you walk into the lobby with its battered leather suitcases, books and an antique hat stand to evoke a time travel trip into the past and to exotic places.

This fits perfectly with the culinary theme of the BABA Cocktail Bar and Restaurant serving classic Levantine cuisine of the Eastern Mediterranean.

BABA’s cocktail bar is located through the hotel beyond The Garden, or also accessed around the corner and up the steps at 130 George Street – a cool blue, dark, dramatic space, with large sofas, piles of cushions, soft candle light and a long Bar counter with row of high stools.

A mural illustrates a fictionalised character, Mr Baba, based on a vintage photograph found in a Turkish souk: this mysterious gentleman is the inspiration behind the exotic food and drinks based on his travels around the Ottoman Empire.  This is a similar scenario to The Voyage of Buck, William Street, former home of William “Buck” Clarence before his adventures to Paris, Cairo, Havana and India: the Bar’s cocktails reflect the people and places en route.

BABA cocktail bar for cool cocktails

On arrival at around 5.15pm, the BABA Cocktail bar was unfortunately (and surprisingly) closed so my partner Ken and I were unable to experience this romantic hideaway for an aperitif before dinner.  We therefore ventured next door to the BABA Restaurant and shown to a spacious and comfortable booth (shown here) in the corner.

Vintage decorative design with Turkish delight

The décorative design is all about distressed green and teal paint, colourful tiles, vintage lamps and Kilim wall hangings – a quirky, colourful blend of industrial chic with Moorish vintage vibes. A funky jazz soundtrack too hits the right, laid back mood.

“Railway carriage” Booths and Communal table

The Levant covers the modern states of Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Syria, southern Turkey, and Cyprus all sharing strong Levantine influences – falafel, tabbouleh, hummus and baba ghanoush as well as grilled fish and meat. Mezze is an ancient tradition of the Greeks, Romans, medieval Arabs and Ottoman Turks, derived from the Persian ‘Mazza’ meaning ‘taste’ or ‘relish’ and designed as lighter dishes rather than hearty meals.

“ Mezze is a relaxing custom that can be enjoyed at any time of the day as an appetizer, snack or as a buffet spread, served in small quantities and shared at a leisurely pace.”   Mezze, Small Plates to Share – Ghillie Basan

First of all the essential Cocktail to kick of the evening in sophisticated style.  Ken selected Barberry Sour – Glenkinchie 12 year old single malt, date and barberry syrup, Cointreau, lemon and egg white, – a subtle citrus, smoky flavour to give the whisky a sharp kick.   As a devout Gin fan, I order the SesaMartini, a concoction of Sesame Gin, dry Vermouth, orange bitters and halkidiki olives, a clever twist to a Dirty Martini.

Sesamartini & Barberry Sour

Other inventive concoctions include Bloody Mariam, a B. Mary jazzed up with ras-el-hanout, sumac and harissa, and a Peach Baba-llini, in tribute to the Harry’s Bar classic.

With a bowl of olives to accompany our Cocktails, we studied the extensive menu. Our waiter explained that each Tapas style dish is about the same portion size and diners should choose about three each – six to share between the two of us from the Mezze, Grill and Sides.   BABA has an open kitchen where you can see the Chefs at work, with its specially commissioned Charcoal Grill to cook a variety of fish and meat, Levantine-style over coals.

BABA open kitchen

We selected Baba Ganoush, pomegranate and mint, & Beiruti Burrata (Mezze), Monkfish & Hake (Grill) and two Sides – spicy Cauliflower & Carrots.   It might be helpful if the menu had symbols to clarify all vegetarian and vegan food, especially if unsure of a few unfamiliar ingredients – Muhummara (roasted red pepper dip),  Labneh (yogurty cream cheese) and Za’atar (a spice like oregano).

Our order of dishes, we are warned, would be presented any which way as prepared .. and sure enough, (far too quickly as we had only just started to sip our cocktails), the two Mezze salads appeared with warm flat bread; this  was delicious with the perfectly pureed, garlicky aubergine dip, dotted with pink pomegranate seeds and fresh mint leaves. Then the Side dishes arrived, followed (again too swiftly), by the grilled Fish. Our BABA banquet was served!

Seafood, cheese, dips,  vegetables, bread, olives – dishes to share

The Wine list is eclectic to complement the cuisine with a specialist Mr Baba Cellar collection from Cyprus, Lebanon, Turkey and Greece, as well as house wines, such a crisp Spanish Sauvignon Blanc or a blackberry-ish Syrah from South Africa.  Also all bar drinks – Fizz, beers and ciders.

Divine grilled carrots

We sampled creamy Burrata cheese, a slice of cauliflower beautifully seasoned with ras-el-hanout, (an exotic blend of seven spices), blackened  char-grilled Carrots,  a delicate white slab of monkfish in a rich saffron, tomato & chickpea broth, and Hake with yellow split peas and butter sauce.

The plates are rather small so just take a little spoonful of each, then go back for more, mixing flavours and textures, cold and hot food together.  Sharing a meal in this way is always such fun, when you talk about little else but the taste of the food!.

The BABA Grill  – cooking with fire

Meat lovers can sample Shawarma dishes, (Arabic for “turning”), the traditional method of slowly grilling chicken, beef and lamb on a horizontal or vertical spit over hot coals or firewood.  Just like the Turkish Doner Kebab, this Lebanon delicacy ensures that the meat is equally cooked on all sides. At BABA you can try Baharata Beef Kofta with butternut, yogurt and Aleppo chilli, and slow-cooked Pork Belly with baked celeriac and raisins. Finish perhaps with a Chocolate Cremaux and Tahini ice cream or a rich Arabic-styled coffee  infused with dates and cardamom.

There is a large team of young, friendly staff but it would be better if each table had a designated, named waiter to offer more personal attention.  With the speedy service of our meal at the same time as pre-dinner cocktails, this is not in keeping with the tradition of Mezze, to be enjoyed at a relaxing, leisurely pace.

The imaginative concept of BABA has been created in partnership with the Principal Charlotte Square by Katherine Arnold and Robbie Bargh of London’s Gorgeous Group.  They travelled all over the Eastern Mediterranean looking for inspiration for the menu and design to capture a unique environment to appeal to hotel guests and Edinburgh residents.  As well as the main Restaurant, around the corner are a smaller dining room,  Map Room and Salon for more intimate drinks and snacks with ephemera and artwork on a world travel theme.

The entrance to BABA, 130 George Street

Enter this magical world where the stage is set for an exciting, romantic, visually-theatrical and culinary journey to entice all the senses; experience a fantastic feast of fine Scottish produce with the exotic tastes and traditions of the Ottoman Empire, following in the footsteps of Mr Baba.

BABA 

Principal Edinburgh Charlotte Square

38 Charlotte Square & 130 George Street, Edinburgh.  

Restaurant dining: 12 noon – 10pm.

Cocktail Bar: 12 noon – 1am.

Tel. 0131 527 4999     http://www.baba.restaurant

 

A BABA banquet

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“The Nutcracker” by Scottish Ballet is a glittering, glamorous Festive treat for all the family

“The first fall of snow is a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of a world and wake up in another, quite different. If this is not enchantment then where is it to be found?”  J. B. Priestley

Such an enchanting winter landscape  is currently being beautifully created at the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh for a classic sugar-coated fantasy, as part of a tour around Scotland and Northern England.

“The Nutcracker and the King of Mice” by E.T.A. Hoffman was adapted by Alexander Dumas into a much less terrifying storyline, and in 1892 Marius Petipa choreographed this fairy tale with Tchaikovsky composing the melodious music.  This Christmas,  The Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, Birmingham Royal and Scottish Ballet are all staging their own productions.

Peter Darrell

The premiere of Scottish Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” choreographed by Peter Darrell (its founder),  took place on 19th December 1973 at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh. Following the Petipa classic scenario and Tchaikovsky score, the narrative focussed on the Christmas festivities as seen through the eyes, heart and mind of a child; moving away from convention, Darrell cast a talented troupe of young pupils as Clara and the children, tiny mice and toy soldiers, selected from several dance schools.

Robert Hampton and Valerie Forsyth in Darrell’s original production

The design was created with sumptuous theatricality by Philip Prowse while Darrell was viewed as the pioneer of dramatic narrative ballets.  The production was later filmed for television starring Elaine McDonald and Davide Bombana as the Nutcracker Prince and Sugar Plum Fairy

Elaine McDonald and Davide Bombana – BBC production

Back on stage this Festive season is a welcome return of Christopher Hampson’s ravishing revival of Darrell’s ballet, (first staged in December  2014),  the set and costumes all re-imagined by Lez Brotherston with lavish style and fairytale sparkle.

The period is the 1870s. At Christmas Eve at Colonel Stahlbaum’s home a grand party is being held at their ornate Townhouse, first seen from outside their front door  as guests, wrapped up in glamorous furs and velvet coats, parade along the street; a little boy jumps up to peak inside – through the window we too can catch a glimpse of homely warmth and fairy lights. Snow is falling.  A tall gentleman swirls his blue silk-lined cloak around the child, as a tall handsome young man suddenly appears in his place. The magic has begun.

The Christmas Eve party

Inside, the drawing room centres on a giant glittering Tree surrounded by piles of colourful presents. The scene is like a child’s picture book opening up with the illustrations coming alive. The Stahlbaum children – Clara and her brother Fritz – playing excitedly with their friends, the girls wearing frilled taffeta party frocks, the boys in neat suits and sailor costumes.

The party is merry with wine, music and graceful dancing by the gathering of elegantly dressed couples; the arrival of Uncle Drosselmeyer adds more sparkle as he entertains the children (and us!), with brilliant magic tricks.   Clara is given a red Nutcracker Doll which she adores, skipping around the room with glee, while Fritz and the boys get up to mischief, banging drums and grabbing all the lollypops. Later, the guests bid farewell and the children taken off to bed.  At the bewitching hour, Clara, now in her nightgown, quietly sneaks downstairs to find her Nutcracker and falls asleep clutching her special new toy.

Clara’s dream is dramatised on stage as she “awakes” to see that her Nutcracker is transformed into a handsome Prince and together they help the toy soldiers fight off the nasty King Rat.  A troupe of timid little mice are brilliantly played by the children wearing a cute costumes with big eyes, pink ears and long twitching tails; they scamper about with giant chunks of cheese, apple cores, gold and purple Quality Street sweets.

The Land of Ice and Snow

We then follow Clara and the Prince on a journey to the Land of Ice and Snow where a dome of arches depicts a cool cathedral of glistening frost with its splendid tree; this is the world of the Snow Queen and her attendants – a flighty, flurry of Snowflakes, who slide and glide like skaters around the Prince and his Queen, a duo of dreamlike dancers on ice.

“ Snow is falling all around me, children playing, having fun, it’s the season of love and  understanding, Merry Christmas everyone; Time for parties and celebrations, people dancing all night long ..”

Christopher Harrison and Constance Devernay (Nutcracker Prince and Snow Queen)

Like a snow globe come to life this is a white winter wonderland where the synchronicity of the choreography blends seamlessly to every flowing note of music. Clara watches in awe at the sparkling fairies.

Act 2 opens to a glittering backdrop of 5,500 decorative baubles hanging from 250 strings to welcome Clara and the Prince to the brightly coloured Land of Sweets.

The Land of Sweets

This is the Realm of the Sugar Plum Fairy, where her guests are treated to a cornucopia of National dances from China, England, Spain, Arabia, Russia and France, performed with exuberance, energy and humour, to present a sweet celebration of chocolates and candy canes.

The highlight is, of course, the famous Grand Pas de Deux for the Nutcracker Prince and the Sugar Plum Fairy. At the time of composition, Petipa asked Tchaikovsky for ‘an adagio intended to produce a colossal impression’  – a few chords of introduction before a gentle, soulful cello melody.  Christopher Harrison and Sophie Martin create a perfect partnership from graceful pirouettes to breathtaking lifts, an intimate partnership of poise, precision and pure romance.

Christopher Harrison and Sophie Martin (Nutcracker Prince and Sugar Plum Fairy)

As well as the masterly performances by the Principals – Constance Devernay, Sophie Martin and Christopher Harrison in the lead roles – Lily Wearmouth as Clara is a delightful, dainty dancer and Jack Burns, a cheeky wee Fritz. The children, members of Scottish Ballet’s Associates, almost steal the show – at the party they act so naturally with great sense of characterisation, while the fabulous little mice and soldiers are charmingly portrayed.

Clara’s dreamland

Coming full circle, it is fascinating to know that in 1993 Christopher Harrison (aged 12), played one of the children in Darrell’s “The Nutcracker.”  A total team of 35 children from S B’s Associates and Danscentre, Aberdeen will be performing on the UK tour over the next few weeks – many of whom may well be inspired to develop their balletic careers to become Artists and Soloists in years to come.

With richly vivid costumes, and vivacious choreography, “The Nutcracker” is a joyous Christmas treat – like a fizzing flute of Moet for adults and a large selection box for the young ones – capturing the vision, magic and wonder of childhood at Christmas time.  A spectacular,  sophisticated show not to be missed and coming to a theatre near you on the Scottish Ballet tour in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness and Newcastle.

Tour dates …..

Scottish Ballet’s The Nutcracker on tour 2017/18
Sat 10 – Sat 30 Dec 2017 Edinburgh
Festival Theatre
0131 529 6000 Book online
Thurs 4 – Sat 13 Jan 2018 Glasgow
Theatre Royal
0844 871 7647 Book online
Wed 17 – Sat 20 Jan 2018 Aberdeen
His Majesty’s Theatre
01224 641122 Book online
Wed 24 – Sat 27 Jan2018 Inverness
Eden Court
01463 234 234 Book online
Wed 31 Jan – Sat 3 Feb 2018 Newcastle
Theatre Royal
08448 11 21 21 Book online

Photo credit for production images from The Nutcracker (2017-2018) – Andy Ross.

Photogaphs from the original production – Alan Crumlish

“Venice: The Diary of an Awestruck Traveller” by Gillian Angrave – your perfect, personal companion in your pocket.

A recurring travel bug has certainly afflicted Gillian Angrave.  Her globetrotting career began in 1967 as Assistant Purser with P & O cruise line  followed by working for the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.   Now enjoying a very active retirement, she continues to explore the world often returning to her favourite city, Venice.

“How could anyone not fall in love with Venice? 

She is flamboyant, magical and unique, like nowhere else on earth.”

“Venice – The Diary of an Awestruck Traveller,” volume 1, From Swamp to La Serenissima, begins in March 2015 when Gillian arrives for her first visit, describing her initial impressions and experiences. This is different from the typical guide book for tourists, full of historical facts and figures, a long directory on hotels and lists of key sites.  Instead, this personal travelogue is for the independently-minded visitor, in  search of art, culture, heritage and off the beaten track adventures.

To start, her advice if flying here, is to ensure you arrive into Venice by water, either by the efficient Alilaguna Ferry from Marco Polo airport or water taxi. “Nothing quite prepares you for your first sight of the Canal Grande ..it really is awesome.”

Grand Canal from Rialto Bridge

There’s a brief history of Venice from 421 AD, when it had developed from the flooded River Po delta to a living “patchwork quilt” of 116 island communities around the Lagoon. Then follow in Gillian’s footsteps as she eagerly sets off around this flamboyant “water city,” in the Venetian manner of  “andare per le fodere,”  back-tracking the maze of narrow alleyways and a myrad of bridges to get from A to B.

Map of Venice

Getting lost is part of the fun and it’s easy to find your bearings with signs for Rialto and San Marco to keep you on the right track.  Soon this “virgin Venetian” is jumping on Vaporetti (water buses) here, there and everywhere  – “Hop on and off with a three day pass” she recommends.

Where to eat is always a difficult decision, but Gillian very soon finds Le Café, Campo Santo Stefano, to relish the perfect Spaghetti Bolognaise – a friendly, family run Ristorante which she returns to again and again.

Le Cafe, Campo, Santo Stefano

A walking tour takes her to La Merceria district, “a shopper’s paradise” followed by an excellent lunch at Café Saraceno. She zigzags her way along and around Il Canalazzo (Grand Canal), with its four famous bridges and iconic architecture,  taking a stroll one day along the waterfront promenade, Zattere Ponte Lungo, lined with bars and pizzerias, overlooking the island of Guidecca.  She also illustrates how the historic vision of the city has been preserved: the view of the Entrance to the Arsenale as painted in 1773  by Canaletto is virtually unchanged today.

Entrance to the Arsenale, by Canaletto

Day by day,  we tour Venice with Gillian as our personal guide. An early morning visit to see the Campanile, the 328 foot high Bell Tower in St. Mark’s Square, relating how the original tower collapsed on 14 July, 1902, but was rebuilt in just nine years. Further restoration in 1962 included the installation of a much appreciated lift.!

Gillian first in line to visit La Campanille

And of course, there are stunning Churches galore, such as Santa Maria della Salute, in such a perfect location near the mouth of the sweeping S shaped Canalazzo.  “ I do like La Salute with its octaganol cupola,  six chapels, Titian’s great works and organ recitals are held regularly. …”

The cupola inside Santa Maria della Salute

Burano, Harlequin Island

For an exhilarating day trip by Motonavo, (a large Vaporetto),  three charming islands out in the Laguna are Murano, famous for glassware and Burano with its row of former fishermen’s pretty coloured houses, giving its name Harlequin Island.

Torcello is renowned for its beautiful cathedral and where gourmands flock to eat at the legendary Locanda Cipriani restaurant.  Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip once visited for lunch, when the menu included ravioli, fried fish, pasta, beans and risotto!

Locanda Cipriani, Torcello

Although Gillian doesn’t cover this, here’s a little more of its fascinating story. Its founder, Giuseppe Cipriani was a hospitality entrepreneur,  first inventing Harry’s Bar in 1931, (near Piazza San Marco), which was like a private club for Hollywood stars, who sipped the house cocktail, Bellini and dined on Beef Carpaccio. A typical lunch here for Orson Welles was shrimp sandwiches, washed down with two bottles of Dom Perignon. Following the Bar’s celebrity success, in 1935 he founded the Ristorante on Torcello, ( beloved by Ernest Hemingway and other Harry’s Bar clientelle). Then in 1953, he planned his grand Hotel Cipriani on Giudecca, today the luxury, hideaway Belmond Cipriani Resort (a favourite of George Clooney).

At the end of  Chapter 1, Gillian writes, “ My love affair with Venice had now begun – I knew I would be back”.   Chapter 2 begins on 28 September, 2015, the diary of her second visit, where she stays at Hotel Flora, “ a 17th century palazzo tucked down a little alley off the Calle Larga XX11 Marzo” and she was soon back at her favourite Le Café for dinner.

Courtyard at Hotel Flora, Calle Larga XX II Marzo

And so her exploration continues, this time on a literary-inspired journey, visiting the former homes of Marco Polo, the intrepid traveller to the far East, and also of Robert Browning whose former address is now a museum. As the poet wrote, “Open my heart and you will see, graved inside of it, Italy.”   Gillian enjoys “sauntering .. soaking up the atmosphere” and is an expert at finding hidden gems such as a music museum of vintage instruments, and the statue, Il Gobbo de Rialto, a character in Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice. ”  The Venice Biennale Festival of Modern Art since 1895,  proves an enlightening experience as she tours around the galleries.

It is also interesting to read about the Venice in Peril Fund, an appeal first launched by UNESCO in 1966 following the devastating flood to protect the city from further disaster. Residents say that “Venice is not sinking, the water is rising”.  The fasinating chapter, Watercraft of Venice tells the colourful history of the various boats, barges, ornately painted gondolas and the traditional role of the gondolier.

Gillian ends the book, with a fond farewell, “my love of Venice will grow ever stronger with the years to come. Ciao Venezia, e grazie mille”.

“Venice” by Jan Morris, (first published 1960) is now a modern classic and described as one of the best travel books about Venetian life and character, its waterways, architecture, bridges, tourists, curiosities, brought vividly to life.

In similar vein, Gillian Angrave shares her love affair with Venice, capturing its timeless, dreamlike sense of place. In his “Guide to Alexandria”, E. M. Foster advises the best way to look at the city is to “wander aimlessly about”.  That is exactly what Gillian accomplishes on her own wandering, meandering and sauntering around La Serenissima.

Her observations are not intended to be a comprehensive city guide covering the usual list of where to stay, eat, drink and what to see.   Instead, her humour, enthusiasm, knowledge, passion and quirky anecdotes offer a most enlightening narrative. Pack a copy of this slim, well illustrated book as your perfect travel companion in your pocket for your next trip to Venice.

Venice: The Diary of an Awestruck Traveller –  Volume 1, From Swamp to La Serenissima  

by Gillian Angrave

Angrave Publishing

(available on Amazon  – https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0995573948

P.S.  See also Venice: The Diary of an Awestruck Traveller, Volume 2.  (review to follow soon).

 

 

The Playhouse on the Fringe – comedy, cabaret, song and dance … with a refreshing Gin and Tonic on the side

This is Week Zero of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, as several dozen venues start to open up around the city from the Assembly Rooms to Zoo. The cultural feast of comedy, cabaret, theatre, dance and music offers entertainment to all ages and tastes from 7th to 31st August.

edinburgh-playhouseThe Playhouse Theatre (aka Scotland’s Broadway, renowned for fabulous musicals year round), has always been a grand venue for dance companies at the Edinburgh International Festival.   This year the EIF productions are Ballett am Rhein and Ballett Zurich, as well as a concert with Max Richter and the BBC SSO.

This year the Fringe comes to the Playhouse with a larger, more eclectic mix of shows in two distinctively different venues – The Boards Cabaret Bar and the main Theatre.

The Boards - classy, classic Piano bar

The Boards – the classy, classic Piano bar upstairs at the Playhouse

With a capacity of 3,000, the Playhouse stage is ideal for the 8th edition of Forth on the Fringe, described as the largest Comedy showcase including Stephen K Amos, Jason Byrne and Jim Davidson. Compered by Boogie and Arlene of Radio Forth Breakfast show, this is always a sell out show.  So get your tickets now.!

forth

Wild Zebra looks like it will be a colourful circus of music and dance from China performed by 150 school children – eated by the choreographer of the 2008 Beijing Olympic ceremonies.

zebra

gildedThe Gilded Balloon Fringe venue is celebrating its 30th birthday with a Comedy Gala at the Playhouse featuring a great line up of celebrity performers, hosted by Fred MacAuley.  The original Gilded Balloon on the Cowgate burnt down in the devastating fire a decade ago, which destroyed many buildings. So time to celebrate the renewed success of GB now at Bristo Square.

The Boards is a glamorous Piano Bar, upstairs, has been transformed into an intimate Cabaret theatre space for a selection of light hearted afternoon and evening entertainment. And of course as this is a Bar serving cocktails, wines, beers and food, it’s the ideal pit stop for a drink, snack and catch a Fringe show.

Having seen a sneak preview, I can warmly recommend “Desperately Young at Heart” starring Australian opera singer, Robert Hofmann. desperately

This tall, zany cross-dressing Diva switches from German lederhosen to sparkling gowns with a repertoire of wonderful songs. Mr Hofmann has a wonderful baritone voice.

Robert  Hofmann - Diva extraordinaire

Robert Hofmann – Diva extraordinaire

Also at The Boards is a play entitled May I Have the Bill Please? – a satirical, honest view of eating out in Restaurants as a couple or with friends and the problem of settling the Bill – fairly.

And talking of food and drink, celebrate that sparkling time of day, Gin O’Clock which at the Boards means 5pm. Experience the Cocktail Hour with Edinburgh Gin.

This informative and fun show presented by Brand Ambassador Ewan Angus – a vivaciously enthusiastic and knowledgeable young man – who will take you through the fascinating history of Gin from the 17th century, the Gin Craze in Britain, to the refreshing, refined taste of Gin with ice and a slice today. And of course, there will be sample tastings of the Award-winning Edinburgh Gin.

ginEdinburgh Gin O’Clock is very timely – at the recent International wine and Spirits Competition, Edinburgh Gin won Gold, Silver and Bronze medals for three of its speciality gins. Cheers!

This is just a brief round up of a few key shows from the full programme.

For all information on the shows, dates, times and tickets check out:

The Playhouse at the Fringe –   http://www.atgtickets.com
tel. 0844 871 3014

Venue 59 and 59A 18 – 22 Greenside Place, EH1 3AA.

A cool and classy revival of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” at the Royal Exchange, Manchester

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,  original Broadway production

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,
original Broadway production

First performed in 1955, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was a huge success, running for 694 performances on Broadway. It won Tennessee Williams his second Pulitzer Prize.

cat - tennessee 2

Williams was a master playwright, creating real, living, breathing characters within a family environment, dramatising conflicts in relationships and compassion for the outsider facing moral prejudice from conventional society.

I’m trying to catch the true quality of experience .. ..that cloudy, flickering, effervescent interplay of live human beings in the thundercloud of a common crisis”. TW, Act II.

Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando in Streetcar

Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando in Streetcar

In his earlier play, A Streetcar named Desire, the flighty, flirtatious, femme fatale, Blanche DuBois appears to be delicate, refined, innocent, but it’s all a mask to escape the ghosts of her past, “After all, a woman’s charm is fifty percent illusion.”

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is a brutal, brittle family drama – where the emotional discord and sexual tension, shrouded from reality through secrets and lies, is about to be shattered through the revelation of hard hitting truth.

The setting is a glossy white furnished bed-sitting room of a palatial Mississippi Plantation House, the estate of “Big Daddy” Pollitt. It’s his 65th birthday and returning home are his son Brick with wife Maggie, his elder son Gooper, his wife Mae and their five children, to be joined by other local friends.

The opening scene is brilliantly filmic: Fans whirr overhead in the shadowy twilight, as we see Brick in the shower, washing in real water.   Maggie rushes in, undressing quickly down to her silk slip. When he emerges wrapped in a towel, one leg is in plaster with a crutch under one arm.

Trying to relive the happy days of his sporting youth, he has broken his leg attempting to jump hurdles at the High School.

She explains that one of Gooper’s “no-neck monsters” – as she refers to his noisy, undisciplined kids – has spilt something on her blouse and she has to change. Brick ignores her and hobbles over to the Cocktail cabinet. “Did you say something, Maggie?” he asks, dismissively, while she whines on in a monotone voice.

Within just a few minutes of this intimate scene, you can sense his cold bitterness and simmering anger, while she maintains an effusive charm as if all is hunky-dory.

Mariah Gale and Charles Aitken as Maggie and Brick

Mariah Gale and Charles Aitken as Maggie and Brick

Naked to the waist, Charles Aitken has broad muscular arms, slender athletic body, short blond hair, all rather reminiscent of Beckham – an apt comparison as Brick is a former football player.  Having seen Ian Charleson in his breathtaking performance in this role (NT 1988), Aitken captures a similar haunting look in the eyes expressing the pain of mental torment.

The first Act focuses on Brick and Maggie, as she tries to break his mood of despair and encourage him to get ready for the birthday party.   She is the Cat of the title, catty and spiteful in manner, desperately jealous of Mae, (pregnant again), while she is childless in a sham of a marriage.

Brick is a broken man – emphasised by his leg in plaster – grieving the tragic death of his best friend, Skipper and his only solace is a stiff drink. Alcohol is his other crutch.

Mariah Gale and Charles Aitken as Maggie and Brick

Mariah Gale and Charles Aitken as Maggie and Brick

But what was the full nature of their relationship? Maggie demands to know the truth having been so jealous of Skipper, guessing that it was a secret love that dare not say its name.

Mariah Gale as Maggie has a neat, brunette perm,  perfects a slow, Southern drawl and sultry look, perhaps modelled on Elizabeth Taylor in the film version. She is cat-like, flouncing around the bedroom from chaise longue to the double bed, trying to tease and entice her husband. He merely hops over to the whiskey bottle and ice bucket to freshen his drink, again and again.

Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor as Brick and Maggie

Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor as Brick and Maggie

In one of the most electrically-charged scenes, Maggie becomes more and more hysterical – she’s lonely, rejected and, despite wearing a sexy basque and stockings,  no longer desired by Brick.  He can only retort that his friendship with Skipper was honest and real. “The one great good thing in his life which was true.”

A clever directorial moment is when Big Daddy, Mamma, Gooper, Mae and children, suddenly wander half way down the aisles around the stage as if listening to their private conversation. “ The walls of this house have ears” comments Maggie.

After dinner, all the family arrive to join Brick and Maggie for birthday cake celebrations. While Big Mamma bustles around in jolly party spirit, conversation turns to Big Daddy’s health and Gooper’s devious plans to take control of the Plantation.

Daragh O’Malley portrays Big Daddy, strutting about as the powerful Patriarch, puffing on his cigar, with a bullish, bullying presence. His heart to heart – man to man chat with Brick about Skipper becomes more heated as more whisky is consumed.  They are both in denial about the truth, lingering guilt, shame, the fear of mortality.

Daragh O'Malley as Big Daddy

Daragh O’Malley as Big Daddy

But O’Malley’s incessant, raucous shouting is more akin to an overacted TV soap opera, rather than expressing the “cloudy, flickering, effervescent interplay” – the ebb and flow of William’s poetic dialogue.  Less is more.

Tennessee-Williams_Design-Crush

The original play was structured with two intervals to give each Act the space to breathe. In this revised two Act production the first act is too long, strangely breaking for the interval half way through the conversation between Big Daddy and Brick. (My sister and I were getting cramp and four people crept out after 70 minutes).   While Brick was presumably drinking iced tea not Bourbon, the men seem to be smoking real cigars, the smell penetrating around stage side seats.

Directed by James Dacre with a languid pace, the star turns are the very watchable Charles Aitken and Mariah Gale in the central roles.  Matthew Douglas is rather comical as the bumbling Gooper as is Victoria Elliot as the vivacious Mae as part of an impressive cast.

Music by Charles Cave – (the soundtrack played rather too quietly) – adds a soupcon of moody tension to the atmosphere. The theatre-in-the-round is perfect to create the claustrophobic space for the intimate close-up  performance of this blisteringly hot and heartfelt drama.

Show Times:

Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester  30 October – 29 November, 2014

t. 0161 833 9833       www.royalexchange.co.uk

Experience a taste of romance, luxury and tradition in the beautiful world of Belmond Hotel Cipriani, Venice

Vintage glamour and glitz from London to Venice

Vintage glamour and glitz from London to Venice

Having previously visited Venice by car and by ship, this year the arrival was the most magical. My partner Ken and I travelled in vintage luxury from Victoria Station London on the British Pullman and then in Calais Ville, we boarded the Venice-Simplon-Orient Express for our exuberantly romantic journey to Venice.

Champagne lady

Champagne lady

Marcel Proust apparently delayed going to Venice because for him cities were like women, and the best confined to his dreams. But when he arrived he was not disappointed and he described it lovingly and at length.

The surreal, dreamlike panorama of Venice

The surreal, dreamlike panorama of Venice

Writers, artists, actors, musicians have always been enticed like a magic spell to visit Venice. In no particular order, Balzac, Byron, Claude Monet, Somerset Maughan, Noel Coward, Peggy Guggenheim, Cole Porter,  Orson Welles, Maria Callas, Truman Capote, Ernest Hemingway, …. George Clooney, Woody Allen.

“Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go” – Truman Capote

Giuseppe Cipriani outside Harry's Bar

Giuseppe Cipriani outside Harry’s Bar

It was the entrepreneurial vision of Guiseppe Cipriani (and a generous loan from Mr Harry Pickering), which launched the quirky, quintessential Harry’s Bar on May 13 1931 at Calle Vallaresso in 1931. Beloved by the artistic and literary elite of the day, sipping Bellinis (white peach puree & Prosecco),  and lunching on Beef Carpaccio, today the art deco bar remains one of the most famous watering holes in the world.

Hemingway would order a Montgomery. This very dry Dry Martini, (15 parts gin to 1 part dry Vermouth), is named after Field Marshal Montgomery who liked a 15 to 1 ratio of his troops to teh enemy  on the battlefield.  A typical lunch for Orson Welles was shrimp sandwiches, washed down with two bottles of Dom Perignon!

Giuseppe Cipriani

Giuseppe Cipriani who invented the Bellini

Its legendary enduring success was due to Cipriani’s philosophy: quality, a smile, and simplicity, to ensure genuine hospitality, fine food and drink. By the early 1950s it was time to develop more ambitious plans:

“In 1953 my father bought a piece of abandoned land next to a dilapidated workyard on the island of Giudecca. My father often went there. He stood among the wild undergrowth and looked out at the broad calm lagoon. He firmly believed it was a perfect spot for a hotel.”Arrigo Cipriani

Once again Giuseppe was assisted by a wealthy benefactor, Lord Iveagh (the owner of the Guinness brewery) and Hotel Cipriani opened its doors in 1958.

Belmond Hotel Cipriani

Belmond Hotel Cipriani

For those seeking peace and privacy of a romantic island retreat, the Cipriani became the address for VIPs, honeymooners and anyone in search of a taste of luxury.

Vintage image of Hotel Cipriani

Vintage image of Hotel Cipriani

In 1976 it was purchased by Orient-Express Hotels – and now renamed Belmond Hotel Cipriani  (the exciting rebranding of Orient-Express collection trains, cruises and hotels) –  preserving the high standard of gracious comfort and Venetian hospitality since the 1950s.

Courtesy Motor Launch take guests to Belmond Cipriani

Courtesy Motor Launch take guests to Belmond Cipriani

During our visit to Venice this summer, Ken and I took the opportunity to visit the legendary resort, taking the courtesy motor launch over to Giudecca. We arrive at 5pm, Aperitif time at the Gabbiano Bar, overlooking the swimming pool and surrounded by lush greenery and fragrant flowers.

Gabbiano Bar

Gabbiano Bar

The charming Head Barman, Walter Bolzonella is the star turn here – for 37 years he has been blending Bellinis and shaking Martinis with exemplary care. His ethos is Hospitality with heart. The Gabbiano is like his home, the guests, treated with the warm welcome of personal friends.

Walter Bolzonella, Head Barman

Walter Bolzonella, Head Barman

Lounging on our well cushioned Rattan sofa, we browse the Bar Menu with a mouthwatering choice – Watermelon Spritz, Hemingway Daiquiri, Cipri-Ami Martini, Ferrari Perle Fizz, Dom Perignon, wines, spirits, beers and dozens of signature Cocktails.

Gabbiano Bar Menu, illustrated by Lele Vianello

Gabbiano Bar Menu, illustrated by Lele Vianello

The Buona Notte was invented by Walter for George Clooney (a regular hotel guest), to celebrate his movie Good Night and Good Luck at the Venice Film Festival, 2005. On the night it was created, “100 people came to the bar to experience the new cocktail,” Bolzonella recalls, “It was a disaster!”.

Buonanotte cocktail

Buonanotte cocktail

This is the perfect choice for Ken: A cool refreshing concoction of cucumber, lime, fresh ginger, angostura bitter, vodka, cranberry with crushed ice, it’s like a sophisticated Cosmopolitan with a sharper kick.

A few years later, Walter asked Clooney to suggest a name for his new Elderflower, passion fruit and Prosecco Cocktail. La Nina’s Passion was born, named after Clooney’s mother.

La Nina's Passion

La Nina’s Passion

Fresh, fruity with the sparkling taste of summer, it’s elegant and ladylike to be sipped slowly. With our drinks, we are served a platter of delicious Ciccetti,  bar nibbles, fat green olives, smoked salmon blinis.

Fast forward to August 2013 and the gorgeous George arrives back at the Cipriani; to ensure he has his favourite tipple in Venice, he brought a crate or two of his own specially distilled Tequila.  Clooney, with his friends Rande Gerber and Mike Meldman, are the creators of Casamigos premium tequila made from hand-picked Blue Weber agaves grown in the Highlands of Jalisco, Mexico – which he describes as, “ the best-tasting, smoothest tequila around.”

Casamigos Tequila with delivery boy, Mr Clooney

Casamigos Tequila with delivery boy, Mr Clooney

Originally intended for their own personal use at home, it is now marketed by the slogan “brought to you by those who drink it.” Casamigos is now gaining wide recognition, winning Gold Medal at the Los Angeles International Spirits Competition.

The Gabbiani bar is the first in Europe to serve the Casamigos Tequila and to celebrate the occasion, Walter Bolzonella is the master mixologist behind his new cocktail, BuonaNotte Amigo.

Buananotte Amigos  cocktail

Buananotte Amigos

As a partner to the original Buonanotte, into the shaker goes crushed lime, ginger, orange bitter, cranberry juice and Reposado Tequila – a fresh, citrusy punch of a cocktail with a hint of Mexican spice.

Venice is the most romantic city in the world”  Woody Allen

Over the weekend of 26- 29th September, 2014 George Clooney and Amal Alamudden reserved the Hotel Cipriani exclusively for their wedding celebrations with family and friends. A few Casamigos Tequila shots and cocktails were sure to be consumed. !

Hotel Cipriani expressed all of my father’s splendid, intelligent experience. It was the embodiement of luxury service, sincere people providing simple service “ Arrigo Cipriani.

This manner of traditional Italian hospitality continues today with the same sense of personal pride and passion with which the Hotel was created, nearly sixty years ago. Casually glamorous in style, it’s as cool and classy as the cocktails at the Gabbiano Bar.  Salute Giuseppe!

Fast Facts

Belmond Hotel Cipriani & Palazzo Vendramin,  Giudecca 10, 30133 Venice, Italy
Tel: +39 041 240 801
www.hotelcipriani.com
UK Reservations: 0845 077 2222

Accommodation: 39 guestrooms and 26 Junior Suites, 14 Suites, 1 Palladian Suite.  Pallazzo Vendramin.
Complimentary courtesy motor launch for guests to and from St. Mark’s Square.
Yachting Marina; Private Boat Tours
Oro Restaurant – Italian and Venetian cuisine. Cip’s Club – Dining Room & Terrace. Gabbiano Bar,  Porticciolo Pool bar
Wellness Centre and Spa; Olympic-size saltwater heated swimming pool; Tennis court; Children’s Holiday Club. Hairdresser; Boutique.

Walking the Mile: Edinburgh scenes and Scottish landscapes by Colm O’Brien

Walking the Mile

Walking the Mile

Colm O’Brien loves travelling around Edinburgh, East Lothian, Fife and Perthshire with his experienced artist’s eye to find distinctively different city-, land- and sea-scapes.

The Whitespace Gallery on Howe Street, Edinburgh,  (between the New Town and Stockbridge),  is a Pop Up Gallery for occasional exhibitions. The Georgian Drawing Room space has elegant cornicing, mantelpiece and a costy stove fire: it’s warm and welcoming to browse around this eclectic collection of Scottish scenes from Edinburgh streets, overtthe Forth Bridge to the East Neuk of Fife and north to Loch Tay.

These are bold, bright,  impressionistic paintings which do not try to be naturalistic representations of a place, but colourfully enhanced visions through the imagination of the artist’s mind.

Greyfriars Bobby

Greyfriars Bobby

Greyfriars Bobby for instance, is a fine architectural perspective along George IV Bridge where it meets the corner of Candlemaker Row, leading the eye down to the Grassmarket. The sky is a vibrant orange depicting the glimmering light of dusk descending over the city.

The charming white washed village of Kenmore is captured at night, showing the shapes of the Church and cottages reflected on the shimmering water of the Loch.

Kenmore, Loch Tay

Kenmore, Loch Tay

A palette of rich blues and golden yellow creates a summertime tone and texture to depict the expanse of sky, open sea and sandy shore of a North Berwick beach looking out to the Bass Rock.

Bass Rock

Bass Rock

This exhibition also offers a selection of Cards as well as very reasonably priced unframed Prints – such as the Forth Rail Bridge, Edinburgh Festive Fireworks and Pittenweem fishing village – which would make perfect Christmas presents.

An iconic view of the Old Course, St. Andrews has apparently been selling very well with buyers – (perhaps visiting golfers who have played here) – for their homes in Canada and Australia.  Colm O’Brien also sends prints and paintings to art lovers in USA, Japan and Dubai.

If you are not able to visit the gallery, check out the website to browse the collection of paintings or prints on line.

Walking the Mile, Colm O’Brien’s Solo Autumn exhibition: 11 – 19 October, 2014
Whitespace Gallery, 25 Howe Street, Edinburgh EH3 6TF

Contact: allison.lock@hotmail.com       Website www.colmobrien.co.uk.

This Land is our Land: Three Scottish Photographers at Gladstone Gallery, Edinburgh

‘Who possesses this landscape? The man who bought it or I, who am possessed by it?’  Norman MacCaig

This Land is Our Land: Three Scottish Landscape Photographers is a richly evocative exhibition, presenting the distinctively dramatic work of Stephen Drew, Hamish King and Neil Shaw.

The artistic theme reflects how the photographers have been inspired by and how they personally view Scotland through the lens of a camera:

“Landscape is woven through Scottish culture. Love of and pride in the country’s hills and glens and lochs is a core element of Scottish identity. Landscape is part of what it means to be Scottish.”

Halfway up the Lawnmarket, climb the steep spiral staircase to the Gladstone Gallery.  It’s the perfect historic setting. This 16th century Townhouse, (owned by the National Trust of Scotland), has decorative ceiling beams and from the high windows look down on to the Royal Mile.  Opposite is a narrow cobbled Close, once the haunt of James Boswell before he set off with Samuel Johnson on their epic Tour to the Hebrides.

This exhibition takes you on a journey from the Borders to the Highlands through the seasons of the year. Each photograph is neatly captioned with the place name on a tiny map of Scotland to pinpoint the location. For Festival visitors, this is particularly helpful if you have no idea where Loch Morlich or Barra might be.

Tranquil landscape by Neil Shaw

Tranquil landscape by Neil Shaw

Neil Shaw lives in Peebles, Scottish Borders and amongst his selection of landscapes, is a series of black and white prints to illustrate the local village of Eddleston during a severe winter a few years ago.

I used to come here for childhood picnics, playing by the river on Eddleston moor.  Here, Shaw’s images depict the same scene in a freezing whiteout. Only monochrome can do justice to reflect the purity of snow crystals, leafless trees, fences almost hidden from view in the empty stillness of farm fields, devoid of sheep.

Stephen Drew only took up photography professionally two years ago and in pursuit of the art he also enjoys hill climbing “to keep fit!”.

In one colour photograph, the perspective taken from the high crags of The Storr on the Isle of Skye is spectacular – a wide panoramic view of the Cuillins, sealoch, grass, rock.

View fromThe Storr, Isle of Skye by Stephen Drew

View fromThe Storr, Isle of Skye by Stephen Drew

Another image of this mountain ridge surrounded by low lying clouds was snapped in early morning. It was a chance shot when Drew turned around to see this mystical, misty sight, just at the moment when dawn was slowly breaking.

J. M. W. Turner travelled widely to perfect his style of impressionism, the changing light across the landscape. On Skye he explored around Loch Coruisk where he made many sketches and watercolours, some used to illustrate the poetry of Sir Walter Scott.

Turner apparently clambered up to the summit of Sgurr na Stri from where he could view the loch and the Cuillins. The story goes that it was a bit of an adventure: ‘but for one or two tufts of grass he might have broken his neck, having slipped when trying to attain the best position for taking the view.’

Artists and photographers take note!

Icy mountain peaks of  the Highlands  by Hamish King

Icy mountain peaks of the Highlands by Hamish King

Bleak, desolate mountains and seascapes are beautifully captured in a series of photographs by Hamish King. Observe the high winding road leading to Applecross, Wester Ross – the Gaelic name ‘a Chomraich’, means ‘The Sanctuary’ and it’s certainly a wild and remote peninsula. The memorable drive over the Bealach nam Bo, the only true Alpine pass in Britain, will lead you to the welcoming Applecross Inn.

Another image by King shows the shimmering pools of seawater along the beach on the beautiful island of Barra, Outer Hebrides. This is not just a sandy shore but the actual runway for Loganair flights from Glasgow. A unique landing experience, reminiscent of arriving at Denis Island, the Seychelles.  Just the climate is different!

“ The Outer Isles look as though they were cut out of paper

And stuck on a brilliant silver background,

The Cuillin peaks seem miniature … in the molten breath

Of the Corries which divide them.“

Hugh MacDiarmid

As you stroll around Gladstone gallery, travelling from tranquil beach to rugged peak, the pure simplicity and subtle beauty of each scene expresses the ancient land lines and poetic sense of place.

The majestic, magical, moody landscape of Scotland is here to see in this impressive exhibition.

This Land is Our Land,  Gladstone Gallery,  Gladstone’s Land, 477b Lawnmarket, Edinburgh.  12 – 17 August, 2014. 10.30am-7pm. Free entry.

Prints, cards and exhibition catalogue for sale.

 

 

 

 

Edinburgh Festival Fringe: Beer Tasting Fun at Innis & Gunn HQ

Welcome to Innis & Gunn HQ

Welcome to Innis & Gunn HQ

The Edinburgh Festivall Fringe is just as much about a summer party atmosphere, drinking and socialising with friends, as experiencing a rich cultural feast of arts, comedy, theatre and music.

Innis & Gunn, the independent master brewers of Scottish craft ales has built up an enthusiastic fan base over the past decade. Spring 2014 saw the opening of their new HQ in a grand townhouse at 6 Randolph Crescent, West End, Edinburgh. This venue is used for private and corporate parties, tutored food and drink tastings and hospitality events.

The Georgian drawing room at HQ

The Georgian drawing room at HQ

A few months ago, I was invited to experience a media launch at the HQ where we heard the fascinating story of how Innis & Gunn was founded in 2003 (named after the middle names of Dougal and Neil Sharp). Specialising in oak aged, craft brews, I&G has won many awards, is the top ale brand in Sweden and the best-selling British bottled beer in Canada.

I am not a regular beer drinking, but my goodness did I enjoy learning how to nose, pour and finally taste a selection of ales, starting with the Original Oak Aged beer.  ” Aromas of vanilla, hints of citrus, with a malty, lightly oaked, soothing and warming in the finish.” says one review, but this sums it up in a nutshell, ” Absolutely the best beer I’ve ever tasted. It’s like a slice of heaven poured into a bottle.!    Try it and see for yourself….

innis original

I did enjoy tasting the distinctively smooth Rum Finish, ( which I describe as like a classy  Caribbean rum punch in a bottle),  and the new Scotch Malt Whisky Trail with its rich, mellow, smoky flavour.

Entertaining, informative, fun Beer tastings

Entertaining, informative, fun Beer tastings

Festival Beer Sampling Sessions take place on 12th, 13th and 28th August, 6pm – 8pm,

Tickets, £15 (plus booking fee).

Guests are offered a beer on arrival in the Drawing room, to entice mixing and mingling and a party atmosphere. Then join in an informative but fun tutored tasting session with four different Innis & Gunn beers.

Test your beer knowledge with a quiz and if you wish,  and after the official part of the evening, continue dowstairs in the Beer Kitchen (pay bar),  to sample a few more ales, perhaps some rare bottlings. The chance too to ask the expert bar tender everything you wanted to know about beer but were afraid to ask.

(This Beer Tasting session also runs from 2pm – 5pm, on Saturday 30th August).

innis logo

A Night of Scottish Bites and Beers take place on 6th, 7th, 20th and 21st August, 6pm- 8.30pm , Tickets, £ 25 (plus booking fee).

A welcome drink in the Drawing Room followed by a beer tasting with four beers complemented by four Bites – a selection of quality Scottish food: Quails egg haggis Scotch eggs, Innis & Gunn pork sausage with beery mustard mash, Hot smoked salmon with oatcakes, Cheese board from IJ Mellis.

Quality Scottish dishes paired with fine ales

Quality Scottish dishes paired with fine ales

The I&G Beer and Cheese pairings is a fantastic foodie experience. I’ve sampled for instance, I& G Original with a chunky slab of Isle of Mull Cheddar, Smokin’ Gunn with a salty slice of Pecorino Aragonese and my favourite Rum Finish complements the tangy Strathdon Blue cheese.

Innis rum finish

After the Bites and Beer session, you may end the evening in the Beer Kitchen for a final pint or two of your favourite ale in typical Festival party manner.

These Festival Fringe events at Innis & Gunn HQ sound like a great night out.

Further information and Ticket bookings – www.innisandgunn.com

 

Deliciously, daring, decadent Summer-time cocktails at Juniper, Edinburgh.

Juniper is rather a hidden gem of a Drinking Den for those in the know – just off the beaten track from the popular Cocktail Bars along George Street.   Since opening in the summer 2013, it has gradually become the coolest place in town to meet friends for a drink; linger longer over a G&T,  glass of bubbly or refreshing cocktail – and with iconic city views.

Cocktail with city view

Cocktail with city view

27 April 2014: Before Juniper pops a cork to celebrate its first birthday, it was named ‘Rising Star Bar of the Year’ and also ‘Bar of the Year – Edinburgh and the Lothians’ at the Scottish Hotel Awards. Congratulations.!

It could not be more central, located at the East End of Princes Street within the Royal British Hotel which first opened in 1899. Juniper is the former grand Drawing Room of the hotel, now revamped with glamorous style: in the main bar salon the colour scheme is bold with chairs and sofas in shades of aubergine and lime.

juniper chairs

Next door is the more traditionally designed Library – wood panelling, velvet-draped wing armchairs, fireplace.

juniper library

So why did Juiniper win the award for Edinburgh Bar of the Year?

Well, it stands out for its fabulous, funky design and deliciously decadent Cocktails. Imagination is at the heart of the décor + the brilliantly-conceived alcoholic concoctions + friendly, knowledgeable service = a fabulous, fun night out in a casually sophisticated setting.

As the bar tenders claim –
“We are passionate about cocktails .. So go on, be adventurous and try one of our amazing creations – you’ll not be disappointed!”

juniper cocktails

The new Summer drinks menu – Bar Book Vol. III – has just been launched to tempt and tease the nose and palate with new, weirdly inventive Cocktails and Classics with a twist.

Inventive, ingenious cocktails with a kick

Inventive, ingenious cocktails with a kick

Under Recommended Cocktails I selected a Wet Gin Martini – served ice cold, this is a blend of Blackwood’s Gin with Lillet Blanc and a drizzle of lemon oil. Lillet blanc – (French aperitif of white wine with herbs and orange peel) – is the key ingredient in James Bond’s Vesper Martini created by Ian Fleming in Casino Royale. It hits the spot in an instant. Suave, cool and classy, like Bond himself.

Meanwhile, my drinking buddy Ken sampled a Vieux Carre – an American whiskey cocktail invented by Walter Berger at the Hotel Monteleone, New Orleans around 1928, naming it after the Old Square in the French Quarter of town. This is a strong yet subtle mix of spirits – Bulleit Rye whiskey, cognac, vermouth, Benedictine liqueur and aromatic bitters. The result is a sweet-sour, smooth drink to savour slowly to appreciate the complex depth of flavours.

(For theatre lovers, Vieux Carre is also the title of a play by Tennessee Williams who lived there and a fine production was performed at the Edinburgh Festival a couple of years ago.)

Juniper’s Cocktails are inspired by the history, culture and architecture of Edinburgh. From the list entitled The New Town, I ordered the Margarita, Ice on the Side. I do love a refreshingly sharp Margarita, but this is a clever contemporary version. All the ingredients, and more, are here: Tequila, Cointreau, Agave Sec, Lime,  artistically served in a small carafe. Then you choose your own fruit flavoured ice. For me, Blood orange & rosemary – which has had to be prepared in advance (think of the work by the bar tenders!).

I add a couple of cubes of ice into my glass and then pour in the Margarita. The rim of the glass was not actually salted (as stated on the menu), but this is a truly innovative cocktail with the taste of a Mexican summer.  9/10.

In contrast, Ken chose an Old Town tipple, Trambell Sour – a reinvented Whiskey Sour featuring Ilegal Reposado Mezcal, (a speciality Mexican Agave), American rye, lemon and egg white to create a seriously rich, smokey cocktail to entice all the senses.

Yes, the mixologists here are certainly passionate about devising some deliciously complex cocktails with a real kick. You will not be disappointed, whatever your preferred style of spirits, from Bourbon to Rum, Gin to Tequila.

The summer drinks menu also features Midsummer Martini ( Hendricks and Elderflower liqueur et al), and why not share an Orient Express – a luxury, romantic “journey” for 2, (Saffron gin, Lychee, White tea syrup, Moet & Chandon). Ken and  I shall be back to sample this one!  (We are actually going on the Orient-Express from London to Venice next week!).

And you don’t just have to sip a drink or two at Juniper –  Bar nibbles and Street Food snacks available too.   And do call in for an aperitif before lunch or dinner at the adjoining Twenty Princes Street Grill, serving quality modern Scottish cuisine, which was ‘Specially Commended for Food & Drink’ at the Scottish Hotel Awards.

Cheers!

Juniper, 20 Princes Street, Edinburgh EH2 2AN.  t. 0131 556 4901

www,juniperedinburgh.co.uk

juniper bar