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The Edinburgh Food Festival @ Assembly George Square Garden: enjoy a gourmet alfresco picnic to kick start the summer Festival season.

The Edinburgh Food Festival launched in 2015, running for five days as part of Scotland’s Year of Food and Drink. The Festival soon developed as a showcase for the best producers and chefs from across Scotland, with street food, market stalls, workshops and cookery demos, welcoming over 35,000 visitors in summer 2019.

The Edinburgh Food Festival celebrates the finest quality Scottish food and drink

Having been cancelled in 2020, this popular festival for foodies and beer drinkers has been given support from Scotland’s Events Recovery Fund through EventScotland to return for its fifth year, running for ten days from Friday 23th July to Sunday 1st August, 2021.

“We’re delighted to be back in George Square Garden preparing for our summer of festivals once more. The hospitality and cultural industries are closely intertwined, and the Edinburgh Food Festival has served as the perfect entrée to our Garden experience since 2015.”

Dani Rae, General Manager, Assembly Festival

Experience a tasty starter to launch the Edinburgh Festival summer season at Assembly George Square Garden

George Square Garden is at the heart of Assembly on the Fringe with shows at the fabulous vintage Spiegeltent and pop up stages: during the week beforehand, the Food Festival offers an appetising amuse bouche to kick start the Edinburgh Festival season.

This year there are over thirty local producers, street food and market stalls as well as workshops and chef demos, to offer a colourful culinary feast of Scotland’s best contemporary food and drink – with an international flavour.

The Edinburgh Food Festival is open every day from 12 noon to midnight – entry is free with no tickets required. As with all hospitality venues, all health and safety regulations are in place for social distancing and the wooden tables with benches seat eight people.  So bring your bubble of family and friends.!

Returning again are several well known Scottish food producers such as Jarvis Pickle. Based in Eyemouth, they make hand crafted, homely, meat, fish, vegetarian and vegan filled pies, winning 30 recent Awards including for their Cullen Skink Pie, Pork and Blue Cheese pie and Steak and Kidney Pie.  Great Taste Awards for Vegan Mushroom and Chestnut with Truffle Oil Pie, Pork Venison, Port & Redcurrant Pie.

These speciality gourmet pies are sold at the prestigious Fortnum & Mason, Piccadilly, London so excellence is assured.

Champion Vegetarian Class winner, 2019 is the Spinach, Goat Cheese and Sweet Potato Pie. This is so healthy and hearty, the thick shortcrust pastry shell is stuffed full of vegetables – 33% spinach, sweet potato, tomato, goats cheese (8%), cream, garlic, butter, vegetable fat, cream cheese, egg, salt black pepper.

The pastry is pre-cooked to prevent a soggy bottom, a culinary error frequently criticised by the judges on Great British Bake Off. !

These pies are seriously stuffed full of premium ingredients.

Jarvis Pickle pies are made from scratch for home-made taste and nutrition. The flour is grown and milled on a farm in East Lothian for the buttery pastry, filled with beef, chicken, smoked Eyemouth haddock and vegetables and eggs from the Scottish Borders. Once you have tasted a bite, you will be checking out which pie to munch next.!

Bellfield Brewery & Tap Room at Abbeyhill, Edinburgh is the UK’s first exclusively gluten free craft brewery, family-run with a mission: to craft-brew certified gluten-free craft beer produced in small batches, using traditional brewing methods; the perfect combination of science and art.  

‘We set up Bellfield to make exceptional beers that everyone could enjoy drinking. We love good food, so we brew beers that complement it. No compromise, just delicious, classic IPAs, hoppy ales and crisp, refreshing and perfectly balanced lagers and pilsners’.

Award winning beer, ale and lager from Bellfield Brewery

Lawless Village IPA is named after the local seaside resort of Portobello. A copper coloured, aromatic beer brewed as a traditional American IPA. Enjoy this chilled, with friends, Bellfield suggest.  

Bohemian Pilsner is a classic Czech pilsner, pale with a light body, slight bitterness and gentle floral tones from the finest Saaz hops leading to a soft refreshing finish. The Session Ale has citrus tones from the hops for flavour and aroma and the bitterness is balanced by fine malt character – very gluggable.

And many other award winning Bellfield ales and lagers to keep you refreshed sitting under the summer sun in the garden. This smiling “bar tender” at their Festival stand looks as if he will be very happy to serve you.!

Chick + Pea is a pop up mobile kitchen in their iconic bright blue Citroën H Van, touring around to cater for hungry folk at Festivals and private parties.

They specialise in tasty dishes from the Mediterranean and the Middle East – Halloumi fries, roast garlic yoghurt; Falafel, hummus, tahini; Courgette fritters, goats, feta, ricotta cheese, harissa yoghurt.

Healthy Middle Eastern & Mediterranean snacks with aromatic spice

​Back again too is the popular wee shed – kitchen We sell Dumplings, and their brand name says it all. They make and sell wee bite size dumplings. Their enticing promotion, akin to the foodie travel memoir, ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ – is rather clever, Order, Consume, Repeat.

These tasty, vegan Scottish – Asian parcels are perfect picnic canapés, drizzled with chilli oil and Vietnamese dipping sauce.

‘Became utterly addicted to these during the Festival. Really tasty and good value for money for a decent sized portion,’ commented one happy diner.

We sell Dumplings – spicy, vegan, Asian snacks – so delicious

Moskito Bites and Tapas bring a taste of Spanish summer with Patatas Bravas and Spaniard Fries.  Mana Poké creates edible art with their healthy, protein-packed, Hawaiian Poké Bowls. As good as you would find in Naples, try the Paddle and Peel Pizza, freshly baked in their wood-fired oven. 

As well as Bellfield beers, other drinks are Poco Prosecco sparkling fizz and Sangria from Moskito’s Bacchus Mobile Bar.

You don’t have to head down the coast to Prestonpans to experience the famous Alandas Fish and Chips and seafood, as the van is back on the Square.

The fish is locally sourced and delivered daily so depending on the catch, there might be scampi, salt and chilli squid, salmon and lobster too. Recommended are the juicy fat, freshly grilled prawns on a skewer with a side of fries for posh fish and chips – sorted!  

Alandas fresh local seafood
Alandas Fish ‘n Chips – great Festival food

For dessert, Alanda is also a Gelataria. Their award-winning ice cream is made with Scottish cream and milk from a local dairy in East Lothian at their North Berwick parlour,  and as well as vanilla, infused with quality seasonal fruit and ingredients. As they proudly say, ‘Handmade with love.’

Home made Scottish Gelato from Alandas

As well as this wide choice of freshly cooked dishes to enjoy in the garden, several market stalls have a selection of food products to purchase and take home.

So head over to the Edinburgh Food Festival this week to enjoy leisurely picnic lunches, snacks, drinks and alfresco dining by night in the tranquil lush, green space of Assembly George Square Gardens.

The best news is that entry is free and you don’t need a reservation. Open every day from 12pm–midnight until Sunday 1 August.

Bon Appetit and Cheers!

To keep up to date with all the news about the Edinburgh Food Festival, visit or follow @EdFoodFest and #EdFoodFest on social media. 

The perfect tranquil green space for a picnic lunch or alfresco dinner

‘From the River to the Sea: Aquitaine, A Place for Me’ by Basia Gordon. A Memoir: A time-travelling, personal journey between Scotland to South West France

We Brits are born travellers eager for adventure, an escape for cultural experiences, a taste of luxury, or perhaps, in search of a new place to call home.

When Peter Mayle moved to rural France, he intended to write a novel, not a bestselling memoir. ‘A Year in Provence,’ first published in 1989, is an aspirational lifestyle tale about a fifty-something couple renovating a derelict farmhouse in France.

Their decision had begun with “.. a meal that we shall never forget, beyond the gastronomic frontiers (and) we promised ourselves that one day we would live here.”

Peter Mayle at home in Provence.

Unintentionally, Mayle created a new style of literary travel genre, leading to other successful narratives such as ‘Driving over Lemons’ by Chris Stewart, and ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ by Frances Mayes.

Basia Gordon

“Let your dream take over your life rather than your life take over your dream.”

This translation from a French proverb is the apt starting point of Basia Gordon’s narrative about taking a year out from life and work in Glasgow to refurbish an early 19th century farmhouse in Aquitaine.  She first gives a glimpse into her rich Polish heritage covering her parents’ distressing wartime experiences which led to them both, independently, to Scotland where they soon met.

Map of the Aquitaine region and location of their family holiday home

As it was a long way to travel to Poland for regular holidays, in 1972 her father had bought Coutal, a “charming wreck” in rural France for £3.000: “We would never quite belong there, half marooned, half anchored to it as we were.  We would always be regarded as foreigners, invariably referred to locally by the misnomer, Les Anglais.”

Coutal, – the family holiday home, Lot et Garonne, Aquitaine in the 1970s.

Memories of summers here are colourful and carefree, “as children we were feral and relished our freedom, only coming home late in the evening when we were hungry”.

After her father passed away, it continued to be a place for Polish and Scottish family reunions but with limited funds for maintenance and development. “In 2018, my partner Gerry and I decided to take a sabbatical from our teaching jobs to renovate Coutal.”  

Coutal in the rural tranquility of Lot et Garonne

Their initial 29 hour journey from Glasgow to Aquitaine by car with an over-packed trailer (an array of objects, thirty T shirts, Philippe Starck cheese grater, Cocktail book, but no cocktail shaker), is related with light hearted humour through a series of unfortunate incidents.

Lot et Garonne and community of villages

The destination is Lot-et-Garonne, south of the Dordogne and north of Gascony in the Aquitaine region of France. A lush fertile landscape with fields of sunflowers, plum trees, vineyards, farms, market towns and pretty Medieval villages.

Basia lost in a meadow of sunflowers near Coutal

This Memoir follows Bazia’s personal, often emotional reminiscences of Coutal, the progress of the building work, daily challenges of language, laws and lifestyle to fit in, not as tourists but as locals.  

This is not a quick decorating job, but hard manual labour, digging the earth, building walls, erecting a garage, creating an ensuite bedroom in the barn, electrical wiring, grass cutting, all in preparation to welcome their first visitors at their farmhouse ‘hotel”.  

A rhythm of work, eat, siesta, rest, work again. They need to brush up their French especially technical and DIY phrases in order to buy wood or a hinge and learn that sandpaper is Le papier de verre.

Gerry and Basia, armed with essential tools

The reader is introduced to their friendly, nonagenarian neighbours, Etienne and Suzanne Gouget, “peasant’ farmers, who eat well with their own fresh eggs and vegetables, farm reared poultry and wild rabbits.

 Basia and Gerry explore the local villages, Largadonne, Born, St. Vivien with numerous vineyards all around, including Chateau de Planque and Buzet – yes, Plonk and Boozy.!

Known as the Tuscany of France,  “there is a surfeit of prettiness here, rolling hills and bucolic charm” amidst the sizzling hot summer sun.  

The region of Lot et Garonne – the Tuscany of France

Following country customs, Basia makes soap from orange blossom, lemon grass and bay leaves while their garden is now flourishing with sunflowers, pumpkin, rosemary and lavender.

The picturesque heritage town of Monflanquin

The Medieval towns of Monflanquin and Villereal attract 100,000 visitors a year, and Bodega, the annual festival in August is when clowns, musicians, dancers and jugglers stage street theatre circus entertainment creating a lively, sociable event.

The lively cultural, social community of Villereal

Many old properties in this area with swimming pools and outhouses have been purchased cheaply, but renovation is very expensive -“dreams crumbled and houses abandoned.” Meanwhile, they plough on with their dream designer holiday home, visiting many a Vide Grenier –  car boot sales – to buy vintage homeware, art, antiques and curios.

Conducting financial business with the Tax office and bank seems to be a bureaucratic nightmare .. not to mention the ensuing complications of living in France after Brexit which has been nothing but “Mayhem.. Brekshit.”  Expenses are a constant source of worry – house insurance,  medical treatment (will it be covered by the EHIC card?!) and endless car problems – ( L’embroyer is the word for clutch). When they buy a 16 year old Peugot, it requires a passport, proof of home address and payment by cheque. 

When money is tight, they keep calm and carry on, “We shall be eating baguette sans fromage for a month.”   Basia is fascinated to know that a staggering 30 million baguettes are sold in France every day, plus all those crisp crosssants and pastries!

Over recent months, the Gilet Jaunes marches have swept the country, protesting against President Macron’s changes to taxation and welfare, a grassroots revolution for economic justice. As welcome breaks from politics and the building site, Basia and Gerry relax on holiday in Majorca with a literary pilgrimage to the home of the poet Robert Graves, a heritage tour of Berlin and an exciting trip to China to observe efficient bullet trains and cutting-edge technology.

The Barn undergoing major reconstruction!

Back in ‘Coutal’, the renovation work resumes, installing a new kitchen, bedroom and bathroom.  The design is Scandi chic for the Barn in contrast to traditional oak wood in the farmhouse, now furnished with old church pews from Scotland.  

Basia is righly very proud of the smart new windows now installed in the Barn

“I wonder what my father would have thought of the changes at Coutal Haut?” muses Basia.   

During a cold, wet January, Basia and Gerry celebrate Burns Night with a party for friends, and find that the bottles of whisky are cheaper in France than in Scotland.!  Their rural retreat has often been a revolving door of family and friends, which prove to be enjoyable diversions from the job in hand, especially if guests bring Tunnocks caramel wafers from Glasgow.

Amongst all the anecdotes, the most poetic stories describe an appetising feast of good food and drink.  The buzzing farmers’ Markets are the place to buy the freshest fruit and vegetables, and they also pick their own walnuts and plums – the delicious Pruneaux d’Agen is a famous speciality.

Fresh, seasonal fruit and vegetables at the weekly local markets.

Cheap, gluggable, quality wine is purchased in BIBS  – a bag of 5 litres in a box and they also try their hand at making walnut wine.  Embracing local manners, it is important to greet everyone you meet each day, with a cheery Bonjour.

Their elderly neighbours, Etienne and Suzanne, are true Masterchefs, rustling up Broad bean soup, truffle omelette, venison pate for lunch. A turkey “fed with grains and fruit produced the most succulent, mouth watering meat we had ever tasted.”  Quality, simple peasant cooking at its best.

Just like Peter Mayle’s passion for French cuisine which enticed his move to Provence, it’s the food and wine which has been a highlight of their sabbatical in Aquitaine. “From the River to the Sea” is a most enchanting, time-travelling journey, enriched with childhood memories, cultural & culinary adventures, relating the story of a beloved family home, ‘Coutal’ for over nearly fifty years.

   “A year of difficult situations and heartbreak ….I could write a dissertation on French building terms!.” Basia Gordon.

Coutal – beautifully redesigned for the 21st century

From the River to the Sea: Aquitaine, A Place for MeA Memoir by Basia Gordon is published by Matador.

Hardback: £17.99 ISBN: 978-1800461345

Paperback: £12.99 ISBN: 978-1800461352

The World Atlas of Beer (3rd Edition) by Tim Webb and Stephen Beaumont – a pub crawl around the planet with two expert drinkers.

This beautifully illustrated guide sweeps through the fascinating heritage, culture and creativity of brewing over the centuries to the most exciting and exemplary new brands of ales and beers today.  Travel around the six continents from Czech Republic to China, Mexico to Mauritius, UK to USA on an exuberant, thirst- quenching road trip.

Well designed chapters and colourful, illustrated pages

First published in 2012, the third edition has been completely revised and updated by the co-authors, Tim Webb and Stephen Beaumont. Beautifully designed with world map of chapters to browse through at leisure.

Beer is, they say, “the world’s favourite alcoholic beverage”  made from fermented, boiled grain, hops, and the finely crafted creation of flavour: “citrus, dried fruits, herbal, floral, toffee, spicy, earthy, vanilla, chocolate and old bookshops … beer is not simple.”

The four largest brewing companies are based in Belgium, Netherlands, China and Denmark, producing the best-selling brands. This book however explores the growth of independent, Craft breweries offering distinctive taste and local character.

The origins of beer dating back to 9000BC in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) and then the Egyptians who used barley, followed by the Celts who brewed with barley, wheat and oats, from 2000 BC.

Louis Pasteur, experiments with yeast to assist beer making

In the 7th century hops were added as a preservative and the French chemist, Dr. Louis Pasteur discovered in the mid 19th century that yeast was key to the fermentation process. Learn all about the history and heritage from grain to glass, with diverse international techniques.

The quaint old Bow Bar, Victoria Street, Edinburgh

Stephen and Tim have selected their favourite bars worldwide, including the charming old pub, The Bow Bar, Edinburgh, Oliver Twist, Stockholm, ‘t, Brugs Beertje, Bruges, Frango, Sao Paulo and Toronado, San Francisco.

One of the best for beer – Toronado, San Francisco

The British Beer industry is a fascinating story such as strong, dark Porter, so named as it was popular with stevedore dockworkers, and the export of special pale ale to India, is the original IPA.   The entrepreneurial brewer, Samuel Allsopp developed refined IPA for the UK and Empire as well as draught Bitter with great success.

Scotland is renowned for innovation and quality – Traquair House in the Scottish Borders opened the world’s first modern craft brewery in 1965, while Fyne Ales and Tempest are two new award winning companies, leading the way.

Other recommended British brands include Burning Sky, Buxton, Beavertown, and Red Rock wheat beers from Devon. Vintage breweries include St. Austell and Timothy Taylor.

Think of Ireland, think of Guinness, the dark, dry, creamy stout, first produced by Arthur Guinness, Dublin in 1759, one of the most successful alcohol brands worldwide.  But there are around 75 small independent, craft breweries vying for attention.

In 2016, Belgian Beer culture was given Unesco Heritage protection status given its global importance.  Why? “Striking, expressive beer (with) poise and balance.” 

Highly recommended: t. Brugs Beertje, Bruges

Medieval Abbeys have historically made beer and there are still six Trappist breweries with all profits benefitting the community.  Beer-themed tourism is a big business with visitors travelling by train, tram or bike to breweries, bars and Festivals galore.

In the Netherlands, Heineken, is the market leader for industrial lager, as well as around new 700 companies striving to create a distinctive Dutch style beer – names to check out: Walhalla and Oersoep. 

France is slowly developing a beer scene with small craft breweries experimenting with spelt and buckwheat. This 1920s advert tried to encourage French wine lovers to drink Bieres Francaises.

Poster to promote French Beer, (1928)

Copenhagen, Denmark – Jacobsen and Hansen founded the Carlsberg Brewery in 1847, stating that “Whoever possesses the complete understanding of chemistry will be Europe’s leading brewer in the next generation.”  Modern breweries are “outrageously experimental” such as Warpigs and Baghaven.

Germany is a leading grower of hops and the majority of its beer is sold to the home market,  e.g. Bavarian blond. Pils, Black and Bock beers. Festivals in September and October.

Antique German Beer Steins

If you have visited Prague, it may be no surprise to know that the Czechs are “the most dedicated beer drinkers”. Bohemia offers welcoming brewpubs, hotels and restaurants – Zkikov brewery is located within a lakeside, medieval Castle.

Zkikov Castle and Brewery, Bohemia

A century after Prohibition, the USA has gradually developed its beer industry with 8,000 breweries in 50 states. West Coast is famous for “boldly hoppy, citrusy India Pale Ale.”  Washington is on the map for its lively beer scene, new breweries, DC Brau and Red Bear, exciting bar diners and taverns, and in Chicago you can follow the beer trail to taprooms on a Train Crawl. The Great American Beer Festival founded in Denver represents the largest collection of U.S. breweries and beers for a public tasting event as well as a competition, to celebrate the American craft brewing industry. Attracting around 800 breweries and 60,000 visitors, this year’s Festival runs from 7 – 9 October, 2021.

The well established, annual three day event in Denver, Colorado

The laid-back Caribbean islands need refreshing cold beers to sip in the sun: Jamaica, Red Stripe, Bahamas, Pirate Republic, Trinidad and Tobago,Tommy’s Brewing, (perfect with a Bake & Shark wrap).  

In Canada, Belgian-styled ales are a tradition of French-speaking Quebec and Montreal, with influential breweries, Le Cheval Blanc and Unibroue – strong, dark beers and the award winning La Fin du Monde. Mexico best known for Corona and Cerveza has 1,000 small, independent breweries, with an imaginative use of Tequila barrels and blue Agave hearts as in ingredient in Fiesta Latina.

Brazil is a huge beer drinking nation and Brewing schools have created enthusiastic graduates with technical knowledge to develop modern craft breweries. Amazonian wood barrels and using Tropical fruits has created such beers as a tart, fresh tasting Catharina Sour.   Ecuador can boast the first brewery in the Americas, at the Convent of San Francisco, Quito founded 1566 and operating for four centuries. Today, there is a boom in beer making such as Cerveza Santa Rosa producing quality Sours and the 8%  ABV Love Bird.

Cerveza Santa Rosa, Ecuador

Mention Australia and you think of Fosters and Castlemaine XXXX. Little Creatures began the trend for Indie Beer which has expanded substantially with Stone & Wood launched in 2008 at Byron Bay. Pacific Ale is a flyaway success, “An iconic brew, influential, internationally respected and enjoyable.”

Sail across the Pacific to Rarotonga, where you can sample Cook Islands lager, (Rarotonga brewery), or a pilsner, pale ale and an IPA from Matutu brewing.

The first Japanese-owned Beer Brewery was founded by Syozaburo Shibutani in 1872, in Osaka. For 2,000 years Sake, known as rice wine, has actually been brewed using the same method as beer, but it’s not so popular with the Millennials. Tokyo is now a city of beer bars serving Pilsners, Grape ale, & Hitachino Nest Classic Ale using Sake barrels.

China keeps most of its beer for the locals with just Tsingtao as a key export. Snow, the world’s best selling beer almost unknown globally.   San Miguel is the famous brand of the Philippines, with a few new companies, such as Turning Wheels Brewpub, Cebu City.

As an import during the British Raj, India Pale Ale was never produced there, and since 1947 there has been  little demand for beer or alcohol with high taxation and strict licencing laws. Craft breweries to check out: Toit, Bangalore, Arbor, Goa and Doolally, Pune.

Sri Lanka is famed for Tea, but a Belgian, Auguste de Bavay, began brewing here in 1881, later developed as the Ceylon Brewing in 1911; today the company name is Lion, renowned for its Lager and Stout, as part of a 125 year tradition. 

Lion beer on Mirissa Beach, Sri Lanka

The scenic Winelands and Dutch industrial brewers take centre stage in South Africa with small progress for small scale beer makers – Mountain Brewing, Western Cape produces a distinctive range and also Banana Jam, Cape Town.   Great story behind Red Island brewing in Madagascar, where a group of American, British and Australian Ex-pats are experimenting with recipes using the island’s home grown vanilla.   

Red Island brewery, Madagascar

Just a dot in the Indian Ocean, Mauritius has two breweries, Flying Dodo with its own Lambic café-bar-shop, in Port Louis.  Wine merchant, E.C. Oxenham is also developing its Thirsty Fox beers.

And so time to drink.! The last chapter is entitled Enjoying Beer, with advice on buying, reading labels, understanding ABV, serving and glassware from British pints, to German flutes and stemmed “wine” glasses.

A fascinating section is on Food Pairing –  Pub food, sharing platters as well as an extensive Affinity Chart. Check the most suitable ales and beers to complement Oysters, Salmon, Cheese, Beef, Pizza and Burgers etc. This colourful, informative and entertaining Atlas will certainly entice you to plan a travel trip to breweries and bars and Beer Festivals worldwide.

Cheers, Salute, À votre santé, Proost, Na zdravi, Cin cin, Kanpai …

The World Atlas of Beer, by Tim Webb and Stephen Beaumont (3rd Edition, 2020)

Mitchell Beazley (Octupus Books) ISBN-13 : 978-1784726270

Cafe Beermoth, the place to sip beer in Manchester, England

Le Grand Cros – classic, crisp, cool Rosé wines from Provence

Le Grand Cros Domaine, Provence, South of France

In Provence, making Rosé wines is a speciality and a longstanding way of life, thanks to the climate, terroir and varietals which are perfectly suited to this wine.  Provence is the number one French region for its production.

Soft pink blushing wines

Traditionally sipped al fresco in summer, such is the popularity of rosé, also called Rosato or Rosado wine, that it is now consumed year round. Not much more than a decade ago, the market was led by semi-sweet blush wines from California, but today it’s bone-dry, pale pink wines primarily from Provence. The Greeks planted the first grapevines here over two thousand years ago, the oldest wine region in France, and Rosé is the oldest known wine.

The consumption of rosé wine has continued to rise such that one in three bottles of wine purchased is a bottle of rosé.  Exports of Provence wines have skyrocketed by nearly 500% in just 15 years!

Jumping on the bandwagon, Kylie Minogue has even launched her own Côtes de Provence Rosé to mark her 52nd birthday this year. Her name is on the label, but she is not the winemaker!.

Kylie has launched her own Cote de Provence Rosé

It was in 1989 when the retired Canadian diplomat and businessman, Sir Hugh Faulkner and his English wife, Jane, an artist, bought the Grand Cros domaine.  Located near Carnoules, 50km north-west of St Tropez in the valley of the Maures mountains, it’s surrounded by pine and olive trees.

Le Grand Cros – a verdant landscape of vines and olive groves

Their eldest son, Julian, completed Masters degree in Bordeaux and in 2000, took over the management of the 24 hectare estate which now produces a range of classic white, red, rosé and sparkling wines.   One of their rosé wines was especially chosen for the banquet at Windsor Castle celebrating the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. 

Le Grand Cros Domaine

Julian runs the family vineyard in the traditional style with a modern, entrepreneurial, business approach. The “Jules” label was launched in 2005 to offer a range of good value wines from different regions and appellations across the south of France. He developed new technology, a computer-linked weather station and embarks on sales trips from Hong Kong to New York.  To reach a younger, international market, the “Jules” brand  is promoted on YouTube. 

Passionate oenophiles – Hugh, Jane and Julian Faulkner

Le Grand Cros is known mostly for its quality rosé wines, so I was delighted to have the opportunity to sip and sample two of their award winning wines.

Le Grand Cros wines: the taste of the South of France in the summer sun

Le Grand Cros,  L’esprit de Provence, 2019

Julian Faulkner introduces it thus:

“Dry and fruity, this rosé seduces with its tenderness, elegance and freshness. With its pretty texture and beautiful aromatic concentration, it is particularly suitable for gastronomic moments.”

This is a carefully crafted blend of grape varieties – Cinsault, Grenache, Mourvedre, Shiraz

With a beautiful shade of peach or perhaps smoked salmon, expect an aroma of apricot, grapefruit, a hint of lychee with floral and herbal notes.  The first taste offers a tart, soft berry and citrus fruitiness, well balanced to release a refreshing, dry, crisp character.  The complex layered, depth of flavour would complement a diverse range of cuisine, especially seafood – ceviche, sushi, pasta with clams, fish soup and indeed a slice of delectable smoked salmon.  An elegant, easy drinking Rosé to experience over a leisurely lunch. 

Gold Medal at the Vinalies Internationale and Mundis Vini; Best Rosé Œnologues de France competition, 2019.

Jules – Cote de Provence

Jules  – Cote de Provence, 2019

Grape Varieties: Grenache, Semillon, Cinsault, Rolle

This pink blush wine offers a rich aroma of ripe white peaches, sweet orange and the tang of lemon, presenting an initial gooseberry tartness, akin to a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. But the underlying flavour is softer, lighter and mellow. Sip and savour to detect strawberry and crème de cassis with a slight acidity of grapefruit.  Luscious, ripe, and summery – year round.

A great value rosé, delightfully delicate to sip, day or night, as an aperitif or to accompany classic Provençal Provencal dishes, such as Bouillabaisse, Ratatouille and Pissaladière, the region’s sophisticated take on pizza with caramelised onions, garlic, anchovies and pitted olives.

The Jules label has created the quintessential Provence Rosé, winning a clutch of major awards over the past decade not least, Gold Medal, Concours des Grands Vins de Mâcon, 2010 and Silver Medal, International Competition of Rosés of the World, 2011.

Le Grand Cros Vineyard

With a respect for the environment and climate, Julian blends science and art, passion and instinct to ensure the quality of our wines that best reflect the spirit of this Provencal estate. Faulkner Wines produces over 500,000 bottles of quality wine and sells to over 20 countries.  

Le Grand Cros – Aurelia

Another leading Faulkner wine is Le Grand Cros –Aurélia named after Julian’s eldest daughter. Such was the overwhelmingly positive reaction to the Aurélia 2015 that a 2016 release followed. A three-year gap ensured the vintage was once again perfect to launch Aurélia 2019, with a creamier texture and greater complexity.

“If you have tried previous vintages, the 2019 is more feminine with less vinosity. Just like her namesake, she is growing up and showing immense charm and finesse.” Julian Faulkner

For the Faulkner family and Le Grand Cros vineyard, life is rosy.!

For more information, suppliers and purchase on line:

“Aspects of Edinburgh” by Davy Macdonald @ Dundas Street Gallery, Edinburgh: portraits, landscapes and Pollock-esque abstract designs

It was ten years ago when Davy Macdonald first launched the first of annual solo exhibitions in Edinburgh and London.  His work has always featured his fascination with the Gothic architecture in the Scotland’s capital and the haunting sense of history around the Old Town.

This poster image is wittily entitled “Scotch on the Rocks” – blending a tumbler of whisky and the Castle Rock.

Tartan Text

Observing the city, past and present, here are iconic figurative scenes of a young girl clad in a fashionable tartan coat, mobile in hand. Almost oblivious to her surroundings, she is immersed in sending a quick text or taking a sneaky selfie with the Scott Monument as a backdrop.  The juxtaposition of modern street life and social media against the towering presence of literary heritage creates a humorous filmic snapshot.

Tartan Selfie

Asking the artist how on earth can he paint the intricate colour and checks of the girl’s coat, he quickly replies – “a pot of Tartan paint!”

Red cloaked figures within a landscape capture a quick glimpse of students, dressed in their distinctive gowns at the University of St. Andrews, on their Sunday procession to the harbour.  Graceful and contemplative, reminiscent of saffron-robed Monks seen in the distance, taking the air around temples in Cambodia or Myammar.

Red Cloak – Reflections

Macdonald’s unique forte is his Heritage series, narrative paintings to illustrate and tell the story of the culture, work and lifestyle of long lost communities across Scotland.

Women take centre stage in picturesque scenes such as in “Spinning the Yarn”  a fine portrait of two women, crafting the wool,  their eyes squinting in the sunlight. This is from the series Harris Tweed.

Spinning the Yarn

Here too are the fisherwomen at Newhaven harbour, such as “At the End of the Day” illustrating a young girl whose bandaged fingers and sore feet are the result of hard manual labour,  salting the herring.

At the End of the Day

Most impressive is his artistic experimentation in abstract paintings, brash, bold patterns of colour and shape. Reflecting an interest in the scientific study of the universe, “Formation of the Galaxies” is a burst of tiny fragments, an explosion of stars and swirling mass of atoms.

Formation of the Galaxies

This has a real touch of Jackson Pollock about it and as well as a work of art, the decorative design would create a most attractive wallpaper.

“The painting has a life of its own, let it come through”   Jackson Pollock.

Most ingeniously, a small section of another abstract has been enlarged to create a canvas print, “In the Glen.”   The intricate microscopic view of geometric colours is again a perfect design for fabric, perhaps a scarf or cushion cover.

In the Glen

This is an inspiring showcase of Davy Macdonald’s eclectic range across style, subject and genre. Ten years on, he has diversified with great creativity, mastering traditional portraits and narrative landscapes as well as these stunning, surreal designs.  Farrow & Ball, take note of this talented artist!.

Do visit this exhibition soon – there were early visitors to the gallery before it had even opened, keen to buy a painting only just hung on the wall.

Aspects of Edinburgh

22 – 31 August, 2019: 10am – 6pm daily

Dundas Street Gallery,

6 Dundas Street, Edinburgh EH3 6HZ



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.


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


A BABA banquet

“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 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  –

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.!


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.


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 –
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.


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