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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

 

 

Cruise Ship by Michael Lloyd: dream vacation or Titanic revisited?

For readers who enjoy travelling by ship, a relaxing summer cruise or Arctic Expedition, this well crafted novel offers a behind-the-scenes insight of life at sea from the perspective of those who work on board.  If you are fascinated by the Titanic, then this is a modern day dramatic seafaring tale.

captain michael lloyd

The author is Captain Michael Lloyd who experienced a 35 year career as a Shipmaster. He worked as Chief Officer and in Command of ships in the Baltic, the Arctic, the Antarctic, Northern Alaska, Northern Canada and Russian waters on a variety of Ice Class vessels. His wide experience from Passenger to Container Ships, led to writing books and articles on seamanship and navigation manuals.

In commandice navigation

Observing the massive development of mega-cruise ships offering family, Disney-style fun on the sea cruises, Captain Lloyd has recently been concerned about the change in management and seamanship. And then in January 2012, almost a century since the Titanic hit an iceberg in the Atlantic, the Costa Concordia struck the rocks off the Italian island of Giglio. On board were 4,252 people of whom 32 lost their lives.

Cruise Ship is a work of fiction in terms of the characters and the three ships portrayed. But the story is based on reality – the professional roles of the Captain, Officers, Hotel staff and Crew who are responsible for the safety of the passengers.

The background to the story – “The cruise ship was a dream. A seagoing pleasure city. The passengers came for that dream. Voyage after voyage she proved that dreams come true and slowly the sea became forgotten. But the sea did not forget the ship.”

cruise-ship

Jim Clariby is a former Captain who has been made redundant but his passion for life at sea is undiminished and is desperate to step back on board, even if he has to accept a lower rank.  Jim is a well drawn, fully rounded character. He appears honest and straightforward as he reveals his inner thoughts and emotions; a reliable narrator.

Finally he is offered the position of Safety Officer on the Sea Breeze and immediately takes on the challenge to ensure maritime rules and regulations are in force. Meeting Captain Benson and other officers, he is informed of the boat drill.

We are due to sail at 1900. The first sitting for dinner starts at 1830. So when do we have the drill? Tony wants it at 1800 before we sail but everyone else wants it tomorrow morning. What do you think”?
“1800 before we sail.” replied Jim promptly.

It’s this sense of integrity and decisiveness which we observe in Clariby’s professional manner as we sail smoothly along. Promoted to Staff Captain on the Majestic Sea, he notices with alarm the modern day roles of Captain and Officers where socialising at cocktail parties take precedence on this floating hotel.

“Jim took a deep breath: I believe we would have a problem with panic if we ever had to abandon ship. All the passenger direction is controlled by the hotel staff who only have very basic training….” ………

“ Those of you responsible for getting the passengers into the boats must ensure they are full. We do not have enough room for everyone in the boats.” There was a shocked silence.
“ Go and count the boats – there are 12 on each side, multiply 24 by 150 and the answer is 3,600. How many people on the ship? … 4.200.”

The narrative speeds along at a fast rate of knots, moving between dramatic events, the personal stories of passengers, staff and crew on board the Majestic Sea. We also witness the contrasting life on board the Norwegian ice-breaking Oil Tanker, the Vacuum Pioneer.

Captain Karl Johnsen and his team “have a familiarity with the ocean, which ensures a deep understanding of what the sea is and ensures their respect for what the sea can do.”

The description of the voyages, berthing in port, the work of the Pilot, drinks parties, formal dinner, romantic encounters and daily routine is all colourfully captured.

And at the centre of the action Jim Clariby watches and wonders, gradually more concerned about the illegal behaviour, corruption and conflicts above and below deck.

As the ship heads towards Arctic waters,

“At that moment, a rift appeared in the cloud cover allowing moonlight to shaft down to the sea, illuminating an extensive sheet of ice on the water. The Third Officer shouted “Ice!” and pointed ahead…..”

Michael Lloyd has written this novel as a cautionary tale to highlight the potential problems and peril if safety standards are compromised. The Titanic was said to be unsinkable and the Captain dismissed ice warnings; the Costa Concordia set sail before the lifeboat drill and sailed off navigation course. Lessons have been learnt from these disasters at sea,  until the next one ..

Cruise Ship is a page-turner of a thriller with a rollercoaster filmic journey of a plot,  dramatising what could happen during a dream vacation on one of the supersize “seagoing pleasure cities” sailing around the world today.  Film Rights anyone?

“Now my last words on this. You are on a ship, not a hotel, regardless of what some of you might wish.”  Jim Clariby.

Cruise Ship by Michael Lloyd.

Monument, a division of the Witherby Publishing Group.   www.witherbys.com.

 

 

 

 

United Flight 119 jets off from Edinburgh non-stop to Chicago

Edinburgh Airport, Friday 23rd May, 2014: 9:00 – there is quite a party at the United Airlines Departure Gate as a group of VIP guests and media mingle with the first passengers who are arriving to board the inaugural flight from Edinburgh to Chicago O’Hare.

united chicago to edin

Jake Cefolia, United‟s Vice President Atlantic and Pacific Sales was joined by Nicola Sturgeon MSP, Scotland‟s Deputy First Minister, and Gordon Dewar, Chief Executive of Edinburgh Airport for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the new route.

United has operated a direct flight from Edinburgh to New York for the past fifteen years,  so this now extends the USA-Scotland connection with this first scheduled non-stop service to and from Chicago. The first season will operate from May 23 to Oct. 6, 2014.

Cutting the ribbon to launch the new United route

Cutting the ribbon to launch the new United route

It was a lively occasion with musical entertainment from the Blues Brothers and fine American hospitality – Bucks Fizz, giant beef sarnies, pretzels, potato chips, coffee and cupcakes.  In his introduction, Mr Cefolia described Chicago as the “most American of US cities” – the architecture, Blues and Jazz and famous deep pan pizza. By all accounts it’s a cosmopolitan, cultural city,  rich in history, heritage and Arts Festivals.

I met a young couple, Caroline and Dougie from East Linton,  enjoying the party atmosphere before the 10.25 am flight. But Chicago was not where they had planned to travel today!.   They were intending to fly via London to Washington.  But earlier that morning the Heathrow flight was cancelled thus missing the onward connection.  Quick change of itinerary and seats were booked on this flight to Chicago. From a disappointing start to their American holiday,  it all worked out very well indeed, with a transfer from O’Hare to Washington.

Another traveller in the Departure lounge is Benjamin a first year Biology student at Edinburgh University. His home town is San Francisco so that this flight via Chicago is fast and convenient, a route he plans to take again when he returns in August for the Festival before next term.

Scottish pipe band at  Chicago O'Hare airport

Scottish pipe band at
Chicago O’Hare airport

Gordon Dewar said: ” This new service will give Scottish passengers the opportunity to visit one of America’s most exciting and vibrant cities. We’ve a phenomenal summer ahead with the Ryder Cup and our world-famous Festivals just a few months away. We’re excited to share our wonderful city with our American passengers and give them the very best experience when they arrive in Edinburgh.”

The launch of this direct flight is certainly vital to entice international visitors to Scotland. “2014 is a massive year for Scotland. Huge global events – the Ryder Cup, Commonwealth Games and Homecoming Scotland – represent a great opportunity for tourism businesses.” Mike Cantlay, Visit Scotland.

United cake to celebrate  Edinburgh-Chicago route

United cake to celebrate
Edinburgh-Chicago route

United will operate a Boeing 757-200 aircraft with 169 seats – 16 flat beds in United BusinessFirst and 153 in United Economy and Economy Plus. Chicago /O’Hare airport is a major US hub with onward connections to more than 125 destinations across North, Central and South America and the Caribbean.

The United flight 119 left bang on time, 10.25am, slowly taxiing out to the runway to receive the special water cannon salute to celebrate the inaugural flight from Edinburgh nonstop to Chicago.

Water cannon salute as  the United 119 taxis out to the runway

Water cannon salute as
the United 119 taxis out to the runway

For more information see – http://www.united.comhttp://www.edinburghairport.com

 

Escape for Lunch and taste the new healthy summer-time menu at PizzaExpress

Summer is coming and time to get fit, beach trim,  bikini slim,  eat well and watch the calories.

Well, I have just signed up at Curves (the fabulous Women-only fitness club) to start a regime of daily exercise before I jet off to Italy on holiday. It’s just five minute from my flat in Stockbridge, Edinburgh so no excuses to get there.!

PizzaExpress Stockbridge  Edinburgh

PizzaExpress Stockbridge
Edinburgh

The other good news is that I can also pop into my local PizzaExpress (virtually opposite Curves!), for a tasty al fresco lunch or supper over the summer. The Stockbridge PE has an outside terrace by the river. Bliss!

Who says Italian food is fattening?. The Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest in the world – olive oil, sundried tomatoes, seafood, aubergine, peppers, chicken, pizza, pasta and light, dry wines.

PizzaExpress has always been health-conscious to encourage diners to enjoy good food and also eat well. The lower calorie Leggera range of pizzas (under 50 cals),  have always popular since launched a few years ago and Men’s Health Magazine recommended P.E as a great place to eat in its recent Restaurant awards.

Leggera pizza

Leggera pizza

Starting in Edinburgh in April,  Pizza Express launched their Spring > Summer menu with a special range of light, healthy dishes, soups and salads.  This should entice you to escape for an hour to enjoy a quick, tasty, well priced lunch served from Monday to Friday.

The brand new Leggera SuperFood Salad is Gluten-free and even suitable for those on the 5:2 diet. Tuck into this summer-time feast – baby spinach, roasted butternut squash, beetroot, light baby mozzarella, avocado, pine kernels, cucumber, lentils, fresh basil and you will consume only 256 calories.

Leggera superfood salad

Leggera superfood salad

Or try the classic Nicoise with tuna and anchovies, or Pollo with chicken and goat’s cheese.  The Leggera Salmon Salad, (oak roasted salmon with peppers, avocado and rocket leaves) is just 400 calories.

Piadinas are bread pocket wraps filled with fresh ingredients such as Chicken & Avocado – avocado, chicken, tomato and Cos lettuce.

Chicken and avocado Piadino

Chicken and avocado Piadina

Specially designed for a light lunch are the new Romanita Pizzas with a thin and crispy base and your choice of favourite toppings from American Hot to Veneziana.

Romanita pizza

Romanita pizza – thin and crispy

Treat yourself to a refreshing Lemon Sorbet  (low calorie, gluten free) to finish your meal.

Lemon Sorbet - low calorie, gluten free

Lemon Sorbet – low calorie, gluten free

“The great thing about our new lunch menu is that it offers busy people a fresh, fast, great value option for lunch. Piadinas offer a real twist on the traditional sandwich, along with salads, soups and smaller Romanita pizzas” Jamie Fleming, Manager at PizzaExpress Edinburgh.

And of course there’s a fantastic range of tasty, healthy pizzas, pastas and salads for leisurely weekend lunches and meeting friends for  dinner.

I can’t wait to try out the new summer menu of Italian good food at my favourite local Pizza Express – I’ll let you know all about!.

PizzaExpress
1 Deanhaugh Street, Edinburgh, EH4 1LU – 0131 332 7229

www.pizzaexpress.com