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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:       Website

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 –


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.


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


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.”


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.





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.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

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!.

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


This is not just a gin and tonic, this is Boe Superior Gin with ice and a slice

A splash and a dash of gin and tonic

A splash and a dash of gin and tonic

Gin and Tonic – the quintessential summer cocktail, and all year round!

But who was the clever person who invented it? . Despite conflicting sources, it originated in 1658 when a Dutch professor of medicine,  Franciscus de la Boe (1614-1642) was trying to concoct a cure for stomach complaints. He investigated the diuretic properties of juniper berries and unwittingly created this alcoholic infusion which he named Genever.

Franz de la Boe

Franciscus (Franz) de la Boe

Once introduced into Britain, there began a Gin Craze with high consumption across all classes leading to the term “Mother’s Ruin”.  A tax was introduced in 1736 but this merely encouraged people to distill their own illegal liquor and open secret gin drinking dens. Due to licencing laws, the gin craze ended by the end of the 18th century.

Gin palace pubs 18th century London

Gin palace pubs 18th century London

But it was the love affair of gin and tonic during the British Raj in India and across the Colonies, which developed the aperitif as a distinctly classy cocktail. Again this was seen as medicinal as a key component of tonic water is quinine, an anti-malarial alkaloid from the bark of the cinchona tree. With a slice of lime or lemon, (a daily dose of Vitamin C), it was the perfect tipple when living in the tropics.

The drink of choice of the British Raj in India

Classy, classic, the superior drink of choice

The light, dry and refreshing Gin we drink today is a spirit based on either grain or molasses which is tasteless. The flavour comes from Botanicals which vary from producer to producer and are regarded as very much of a trade secret. All gins include Juniper with a selection of herbs and spices – coriander, lemon peel, cinnamon, nutmeg, orange peel, angelica and cardamon. Typically, fine gin contains between six and ten botanicals.

It’s a fascinating history which keeps developing due to the ingenious gin distillers, many of which are based in Scotland.  World famous for Scotch whisky,  but today we are also renowned for producing the finest Gin – a new spirit for Scotland.

Boe Superior Gin

Boe Superior Gin

Boë Superior Gin, the premium spirit from Stirling-based VC² Brands, has been awarded Silver in the Contemporary Gin category at the 2014 World Gin Awards.

This very special, highly acclaimed gin created in the village of Doune is described as “Clean, spiced and strikingly refreshing”.

The World Gin Awards are part of the prestigious World Drinks Awards programme, launched in 2007 with the World Whiskies Awards and World Beer Awards. Presented by, the World Gin Awards select, reward and promote the best Gin Taste and Design.

Boë Superior Gin is of course named after the Dutch inventor, Franciscus (Franz) de la Boë, and the high a.b.v. (47%), reflects the original concept of the high-alcoholic Genever.

Distilled in small batches using the Carterhead Still ensures the botanical vapours are preserved. Boë has a distinctive flavour due to the selection of a dozen key botanicals, herbs and spices. Juniper berries are the essential ingredient together with an ingenious blend of Coriander, Angelica, Ginger, Orris Root and Cassia Bark – or Chinese cinnamon, Orange and Lemon peel, Cardamom Seeds, Liquorice, Almonds and the peppery tones of the Cubeb Berry.

Graham Coull, director of VC² Brands, commented: “To see Boë Superior Gin receive this accolade is a great day for our business and proves that Boë is a world class product capable of holding its own in the global drinks market.

gin lemon

So now for my own tasting and testing of this award winning World Class Gin, in the company of my sister in law, Ruth, a serious gin connoisseur.

After extensive research – ensuring correct measures of a splash and a dash, the gin and tonic, the ice & slice – we found the Boë gin to be extremely delectable to sip and savour.

With an abv of 47% it is strong on the alcoholic front but this comes through as warmth when combined with the right flavours.

Consisting of 13 botanicals there’s a multitude of flavours that come through – hints of vanilla, ginger and coriander but overall a clean, slightly spicy but refreshing gin.

We tried it on its own drizzled over ice and with cucumber, lime and lemon. Lemon complemented it the best – we then detected on the taste buds a soupcon of orange and lemon peel in it somewhere along the line.

gin with lemon

A slice of lime was too harsh a contrast and the cucumber just didn’t work at all. It just shows the extraordinary range of Gins where some brands can only properly be sipped with cucumber to bring out the depth of flavour.

When mixed with tonic again the lemon came out on top, but this makes sense if there are hints of lemon in the actual gin. It would probably mix well in cocktails too given the complex aromatic taste. (see recipes below)

And a final word from Ruth, the expert gin drinker ..

“As I nowadays only enjoy a gin with lime, it surprised me how much I enjoyed this one with lemon – I know shouldn’t be a gin snob! So overall a very pleasant gin, well balanced , fresh, citrusy and moreish!

And yes I would buy this one again – I prefer it to Gordon’s, Bombay and Edinburgh Gin – hard to beat Hendricks though – but two very different gins.”

The good news is that Gin is so, so glamorous and fashionable now with speciality gin bars, and expert mixologists suggesting selected styles of tonic, slices of apple, lime, orange or cucumber to match each distinctively different brand of gin.

A new Gin Craze is certainly here in Scotland – Cheers!
(And thank you Mr Franz de la Boë )

Boe Tahiti

  • 1 1/2 on Boë Gin
  • 1 oz orange juice
  • 1 oz lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp grenadine syrup

In a shaker half-filled with ice cubes, combine all of the ingredients. Shake well. Strain into a cocktail glass.

Boe Martini

  • 2 ounces Boë Gin
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry vermouth or to taste
  • Olive or lemon twist

Stir Boë Gin and vermouth in a mixing glass with plenty of ice. Strain the mixture into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with the olive or lemon twist.

gin drink gin and tonic

Beyond – Poppy Cyster: a vibrant, vivacious vision of land and sea at Flaubert Gallery, Edinburgh

This is Poppy Cyster’s first Solo exhibition at Flaubert Gallery,  although an occasional sample of her work has been included in mixed shows over recent years.

The vibrantly warm palette of her paintings brings a sense of early Spring to the spacious gallery, from 7 – 19th March, 2014.

Sharing the Sunset

Sharing the Sunset

Poppy is a fine abstract landscape artist, her work  inspired originally by the farm fields and coastline of the Kingdom of Fife where she was born and brought up.

It was here that she enjoyed the exciting experience of flying in an aircraft with her father, a Pilot, observing scenic views from 2,000 feet above the ground.  Her precisely patterned images depict the aerial views and sky high photographs of the landscape.

In this new collection of paintings, entitled Beyond, there are several series on a similar theme such as Summer Shores – charming small canvases illustrating white clouds with a splash of sea-blue.

Summer Shores

Summer Shores

Another group is Saunter in the Salt Air,  brilliantly brash colourful scenes with streaks of lemon yellow and splashes of golden sand.  The viewer is immediately drawn into this virtual place, as if walking along the beach with the artist.  You can almost smell the fresh salty air. 

Saunter in the salt air

Saunter in the salt air

Cyster uses an ingenious artistic style which combines both constrained block shapes but also oozes energy and free flowing colour.  Every landscape captures the horizon in a different manner, where some pictures illustrate a huge, spreading expanse of cloudy sky or alternatively it’s the earth, perhaps distant hills or towering cliffs, which take prominence.

Colliding with the Coast

Colliding with the Coast

Chasing Shadows brings a more dramatic mood to a coastal viewpoint through shafts of rainbow ribbons,  painterly textures and tones of shifting light.  Elsewhere there are dark thunderous clouds, silvery mist and streaks of rain –  the ever-changing geography of land and weather. 

To complement the exterior outdoors, the exhibition also shows a few of her Still Life pieces,  quiet, interior domestic images of wine glasses or vase of flowers, again tackled in a semi abstract style.

Table Top Rain Drops

Table Top Rain Drops

From pale sunrise to stormy days, Poppy Cyster illustrates her unique aerial perspective of the gentle countryside and wild seascapes with an imaginative eye.   These distinctive,  dynamically structured landscapes in turn make us view the world in a fresh light. 

As she describes her approach to art in her own words …

“ I pay tribute to the multiple layers in the landscape, many of which cannot be seen from below yet have added their mark over the centuries …. somehow adding to the history of the piece.  I like to paint in snapshots …  as they add a spontaneous element to the compositions.”  

Flaubert Gallery, 74 St. Stephen Street, Edinburgh EH3 5 AQ

t. 0131 225 5007.

Shades of the Shore

Shades of the Shore

Luxury Suites and Bothy Bistro-Bar at the Murrayfield Hotel

The Murrayfield: Hotel – Bothy – House,

18 Corstorphine Road, Edinburgh EH12 6HN

Murrayfield hotel

Murrayfield hotel

Murrayfield Hotel in Edinburgh with its grand heritage architecture, has recently had a glamorous design makeover with a smart new Bar and Bistro. 

A short walk away is Murrayfield House,  offering guests a private secluded address featuring nine luxuriously furnished Suites. With its own front door, the venue is ideal for exclusive use accommodation  for a Wedding, Family or Corporate event.  There is also a pretty garden at the back for alfresco drinks and relaxation.

Murrayfield House, adjoining the hotel

Murrayfield House, adjoining the hotel

The entrance Hall has a display of unique sculptures like re-crafted driftwood. The Interior Designer Jim Hamilton, (renowned for décor at Tigerlily and Blythswood Square hotels), seems to be passionate about sourcing vintage,  salvaged furniture such as a shabby-chic chest of drawers from Morocco. The backdrop of high walls is painted a warm earthy mushroom.  

Up the impressive staircase to our Suite. Wow!  Here sumptuous, cosy comfort creates a dream space for a homely stay.  The colour palette  throughout is soft oatmeal and cream. The room is enormous with a super King Bed, and near the window, two large sofas around a coffee table. Recycled wood dressing table and wardrobe have a Shaker-esque look.

Luxury comfort

Luxury comfort

Spacious suite with two sofas and lots of treats

Spacious suite with two sofas and lots of treats

The ensuite bathroom has two basins, power shower and deep bath with central taps: save water, bath with a friend.!  The only quibble was the lack of any soap – (shower gel, shampoo and lotion supplied).  But this was quickly sorted after a call to reception. 

Bathtub and shower

Bathtub and shower

The giant mirror above the dressing table hides the Television, well positioned opposite the bed for late night/early morning viewing.  Luxury facilities include bathrobes and well stocked mini-bar.  Free goodies too – jar of biscuits and a miniature of whisky.

Bothy Restaurant and Drinkery bar

Bothy Restaurant and Drinkery bar

Back in the main Hotel, the spacious Bothy Restaurant and Drinkery Bar has leather booths, perfect for couples or larger parties. The décor is based around polished wood, stone walls, industrial steel with black and white photographs artwork.  Lively atmosphere with good music, weekly quiz and other events.

Cool cocktails at the Drinkery

Cool cocktails at the Drinkery

Do try one of the inventively created cocktails – Pear and Rosemary Sparkle (vodka and Prosecco), or Mango Jalapeno Margarita for a refreshing change.  The Bothy Menu focuses on pub grub favourites – Steaks, Burgers, Fish and Chips, Pasta to suit locals and hotel guests.  

Breakfast offers hearty dishes from full Scottish (top marks for vegetarian option), Eggs Benedict,  Eggs Royale. Usual Cereals and pastries on the buffet table but a larger selection of juices and fresh fruit would add a more healthy alternative.

The location away from the city centre is no problem with easy transport from the airport, train stations and into the town.  Murrayfield Hotel is near the rugby stadium, and The Zoo is just a five minute bus ride away.  See the famous Pandas as well as penguins, monkeys, chimpanzees and koala bears.

See the Pandas at Edinburgh Zoo

See the Pandas at Edinburgh Zoo

Cute koalas too

Cute koalas too

The Murrayfield is part of the prestigious G1  Central Edinburgh Hotels Hotels collection.  Following the creation of the deluxe House suites,  as well as private dining rooms and conference facilities,  the full accommodation refurbishment project will be completed soon.

Lively Bothy - bistro and bar

Lively Bothy – bistro and bar