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My wife Anne really likes the atmosphere in the Witchery restaurant  in Edinburgh so, for her birthday, we arranged a family meal there. The Witchery has several rooms but the Secret Garden is the most atmospheric. You go downstairs to a panelled room with an amazing painted ceiling and doors onto a garden.

The menu is quite short and, in truth, I didn’t really fancy any of the starters from the a la carte menu. Rather, I asked for a starter from the fixed price menu – scallop with broad bean, chorizo and spoot (razor clam) cassoulet.

Scallop with broad bean, chorizo and spoot (razor clam) cassoulet

Scallop with broad bean, chorizo and spoot (razor clam) cassoulet

This looked very attractive but, sadly, the quality of the dish didn’t live up to its looks. The scallop was like a rubber ball – seriously overcooked and if there were any spoots in the cassoulet, they weren’t at all obvious. The chorizo and broad beans were OK but overall, this was a very disappointing dish.

For our mail course, we all had Lamb Wellington – a fillet of lamb wrapped in all manner of things (Serrano ham, mushroom mousse, etc) in a pastry case.

Lamb Wellington

Lamb Wellington

This came perfectly cooked and was met with general acclaim. However, the problem with this dish in general is that you have to use a cut of meet that cooks very quickly and these tend to be a bit lacking in taste. This was no exception – perfectly cooked but overall I found it a wee bit bland.

I didn’t have a pudding but tasted both the chocolate tart and the mascarpone and passion fruit trifle. Both were very nice.

The Secret Garden is a lovely restaurant – the service was impeccable and the atmosphere was great. It’s worth a visit for the atmosphere alone  but, sadly, if my meal was anything to go by, you don’t go there for the food. Prices are high (£10 for my starter, £30 for main) and for these prices you can eat far better in Edinburgh.

My wife is still recovering from a knee operation so it’s easier for her to go places where we can drive to the door and park the car nearby. That’s not so easy in Edinburgh so we decided to go out of town for Sunday lunch. Our first though was the Alan Ramsay hotel in Carlops but that’s still ‘closed for refurbishment’, which seems to be taking an awful long time.

So I googled nearby restaurants and came up with the Old Bakehouse in West Linton, the next village west from Carlops. It had recently been taken over by Tony Singh, who had Oloroso in Edinburgh and who (I’m told) is a chef on the telly. The menu online looked interesting so we thought that we’d go for it.

West Linton is a delightful village between Edinburgh and Biggar which has retained a lot of character and old properties. The Old Bakehouse is on the Main Street and has been a restaurant for a long time. It’s been refurbished with a ‘country look’ – beams, white painted stone and, I’m glad to say, quite a lot of light.

Window boxes at the Old Bakehouse

Window boxes at the Old Bakehouse

We arrived just before one – it wasn’t very busy and we had a table in the Conservatory. The policy is to serve local beers (one I thoroughly approve of)  so I had a bottle of one brewed in Peebles as my one and only drink.

Blonde beer from the Peebles brewery

Blonde beer from the Peebles brewery

As we often do at lunchtime, we ordered two starters rather than a starter and a main course. Mine were haggis, neep and tattie pakora (real fusion food), followed by summer rolls. Anne started with asparagus tart, followed by prawn cocktail.

My pakora was certainly different – basically, a potato ball with a core of haggis and a layer of jeeps. Served with a minty and a spicy dip. Tasty and very filling. I’m told the asparagus tart was very good – I certainly wasn’t offered a taste.

Haggis, neep and tattie pakora

Haggis, neep and tattie pakora

Asparagus tart

Asparagus tart

Summer rolls had an Asian theme. Basically rice paper rolls stuffed with crispy vegetables, pork and prawns but with lots of fresh herbs that made them zing. They came with a chilli dipping sauce though they were so big, you couldn’t really dip them. The prawn cocktail was served with rocket – a good example although I must admit I find this dish a bit dull.

Summer rolls - pork, prawns and fresh herbs and vegetables

Summer rolls – pork, prawns and fresh herbs and vegetables

The Old Bakehouse was a great find for us and it deserves to do well. Excellent and imaginative food, a lovely setting, friendly staff and good service – what’s not to like? About £30 each for 2 starters each plus coffees. We’ll definitely be back.

I wrote about an evening meal that we had in the Anchor Hotel in Johnshaven last December where we really enjoyed the experience. We thought that we’d go back and check it out for lunch as we’ve plans to take some friends walking on the Aberdeenshire Coastal path that goes through the village. Johnshaven is a traditional East Coast fishing village with a few boats still landing crabs and lobsters.

The upstairs dining room is closed at lunchtime and meals are served in the bar. This is a proper bar rather than a dining room that serves beer – a mixture of local people in for a Sunday lunchtime drink and visitors to the village.

The last time I was there I had some wonderful lobster soup so I opted for that again – it really is superb – better then I’ve had in rather more expensive seafood restaurants.

Wonderful lobster soup

Wonderful lobster soup

Anne ordered breaded mushrooms which were rather more substantial than she expected. I had a taste of these – a great combination of crisp coating and soft, melting mushrooms.

Breaded mushrooms

Breaded mushrooms

I tend not to eat a lot at lunchtime so I ordered two starters – classic calamari in batter was my other choice.

Calamari

Calamari

This was fine – nicely cooked – it’s easy to get this dish wrong and end up with rubber rings in batter. But it was just calamari – I regretted not ordering one of the other fish dishes that were being delivered to other tables.

This was great pub food using local ingredients, unpretentious and not expensive. Friendly service – not particularly quick but we certainly weren’t in a hurry. Reasonably priced, although seafood is never cheap. We had two starters each and, with a drink, were about £14 each.

If you’re in the area, it’s worth a short diversion to Johnshaven. And, for coastal path walkers and TGO Challenge coast-to-coast walk finishers, it’s worth timing your arrival to have lunch in the pub.

When I started getting interested in food and cooking in the late 1970s, every local community had its own greengrocer, butcher and grocers. I lived in Bruntsfield in Edinburgh and what is now Oddbins was a large fruit and vegetable shop. It was always packed on a Saturday morning. I loved going there, trying new vegetables and fruit that weren’t part of the normal Glaswegian diet and chatting with the staff. Shopping for food on a Saturday morning was an enjoyable experience.

We moved away from Edinburgh and when we came back 20 years later, Bruntsfield still had its small shops – butcher, greengrocer, fishmonger and a couple of delis. There were no local supermarkets but their invidious influence was already obvious. The greengrocers was struggling and the opening of a Tesco Metro killed it off. Sainsbury’s took over the excellent Peckham’s deli; Oddbins went bust and we feared the local shop would shut. Bruntsfield looked as if it was going the same way as so many other places – bland high streets, ‘metro’ supermarkets, chain coffee shops and estate agents.

Dig-in Bruntsfield - our new community greengrocers

Dig-in Bruntsfield – our new community greengrocers

But we were lucky. The new owners kept the Oddbins shop open; some chain coffee shops moved in but so did smaller business – German pastry and bread making skills in Falko’s and their French equivalent in La Barantine. We still have a local fishmonger and butcher but what we lacked was a greengrocers.

Until now. Local folks in Bruntsfield have got together, bought shares and supported a fabulous new initiative – a community greengrocers that opened today. Dig-in Bruntsfield sells fruit and veg from local suppliers and is run by and for local people. I couldn’t get to the official opening but a couple of hours later when I went there the shop was still buzzing.

The produce display

The produce display

Local suppliers

Local suppliers

Everything looked fresh and attractively presented. I bought a few things – cabbage, carrots, onions, tatties and broccoli – all Scottish grown. I was delighted at the high quality and reasonable prices – 65p for 4 baking tatties (compared to £1 in Asda and Sainsburys according to my supermarket.co.uk).

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Karen and Susan (the shop manager)

It really wasn’t like a supermarket at all – food in boxes instead of plastic trays and staff who smiled and had time to chat to customers.There were no bleeping machines or synthetic voices warning about items in the bagging area.  Given the prices and the ambiance here, why would anyone want to go to Sainsburys for expensive packaged veg?

The proof of the pudding is, of course, in the eating. We ate carrots, cabbage and onions from Dig-in and spicy Italian sausages from Wm Christie, our local butcher (lentils were from Waitrose but hopefully we’ll soon be able to get them locally too). It was good.

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Italian sausages with lentils, carrots and cabbage

In the circles that I move in, business lunches are not normally something to look forward to. These are not lavish affairs but are usually sandwiches filled with some kind of mayonnaisey gloop and crispy unidentifiable things. You don’t really know what you’re eating, it looks industrial and it never tastes very healthy.

However, this was an exception. We had a working lunch in Granite Park, a restaurant in the centre of Aberdeen and it was definitely a good deal better than normal. We went for the fixed price 2-course menu. This offers a choice of 6 starters, mains and desserts for £15.

All of the starters sounded good – I finally settled on the open tartlet of goat’s cheese with poached pear and candied walnuts. I’m not normally a great fan of deconstructed food but this really was more of a poached pear on a pastry base than a tart. Served with honey, it looked and tasted really good.

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Open tartlet of goats cheese with poached pear and candied walnuts

Mains included the now-standard posh burger, fish and chips, mussels and seared beef. I really enjoy traditional fish and chips so I decided to go for this.  It was a large piece of fish served on a bed of chunky chips with some home-made tartare sauce. This is a standard and Granite Park did it well.

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Fish and chunky chips

We didn’t have puds but had coffees and were served some tasty petits fours.

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Petits fours served with coffee

This was a good lunchtime experience – good service, a pleasant setting and I didn’t even have any problems finding a parking space. We don’t eat out much in Aberdeen in the evening but I’d be happy to go back to Granite Park. 

We visited the Three Birds in Bruntsfield shortly after it opened in 2012 and, while some aspects were OK, overall I was disappointed (review here). I am not normally forgiving of sub-standard meals and if I get one, that’s it, I rarely go back.

However, my daughters went there for a meal recently as it was one of the few places open on a Monday evening and they thoroughly enjoyed it so, we thought we would give it another try. Being a canny Scot, rather than risk a more expensive evening meal we went for one of their fixed price lunches on Easter Monday.

We imagined it would be quiet but when we went in, we found out they were fully booked. This was a good sign.  Luckily we were early and we promised to eat fast so managed to get a table that was booked for 90 minutes later.

The lunch menu is short – 5 starters and 5 mains – £9.50 for 2 courses. As you would expect for this price, the food is quite simple but lots of the options sounded good. I decided to start with the Pistou soup with Toulouse sausage. This was great – very flavoursome with basil, lots of vegetables and bits of sausage.

My wife and daughter both had the smoked salmon – which they enjoyed. This is not something I ever order as it’s something you can buy good smoked salmon in supermarkets but it seemed a nice enough example of the dish.

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Pistou soup with Toulouse sausage

My main course was harissa spiced mackerel with potatoes and a beetroot, radish and orange salsa. I love mackerel and but haven’t had it with harissa before. It really worked! A super main course although I’m not convinced that the orange really added much to it. My daughter also had mackerel and my wife had meatballs from the daily specials menu. I had a taste of them and they were equally good.

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Harissa-spiced mackeral

So, the Three Birds has redeemed itself in my eyes. Portions were not large but just right for lunch. We had a glass of house red (Montepulciano) and white (Sauvignon Blanc) which was very palatable. Good atmosphere and service. We finished within 90 minutes but we didn’t feel hurried at all.

We will be back for dinner.

Castle Terrace is considered by some people to be the best restaurant in Edinburgh. I’d been for lunch before (see my review) but never for dinner. So, when my daughters asked where I wanted to go for a meal to celebrate my retirement, I didn’t hesitate and chose to come here with my family.

We decided on the tasting menu – 10 courses (PDF here).  The presentation style here is simply to list the main ingredient rather than present a descriptive name for the dish. I really like this simple approach.  Given the range of dishes, it doesn’t make sense to talk about starters, main courses so I’ve used the menu titles here.

Canapes
We started with some interesting looking canapés that tasted as interesting as they looked. The green one was my favourite – A liquid tasting like Caesar salad in some kind of gelatine casing.

Canapes - Caper and cumin burger, Salt cod barbajuan and Caesar salad

Canapes – Caper and cumin burger, Salt cod barbajuan and Caesar salad

Appetiser
Then we were presented with what looked like a small cup of soup. But it wasn’t – the soup was a cheesy sauce with a ‘potato’ at the bottom. Rich intense flavours from ordinary ingredients.

Pre-starter

Baked potato and cheese

Salmon
We moved onto the first starter – salmon tartare with what looked like an olive. Again, an illusion – the olive was wasabi. Fresh tasting with a kick from the horseradish.

Tartare of salmon sushi style

Tartare of salmon sushi style

Scallops
A single perfectly cooked scallop with a curry sauce – not a combination that I would have imagined but it worked really well.

Scallop with a curry sauce

Scallop with a curry sauce

Broccoli
This was an extra course, because of our celebration. Blue cheese ravioli and intensely flavoured broccoli soup. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a fresh green in broccoli soup.

Broccoli soup with Dunsyre blue cheese ravioli

Broccoli soup with Dunsyre blue cheese ravioli

Spelt
I’d never had spelt before – it’s an old type of wheat – presented here in a risotto with crispy ox tongue and confit veal heart. This was absolutely outstanding – probably my favourite dish. Melting risotto with deep intense meaty flavours to accompany.

Spelt risotto with crispy ox tongue and confit veal heart

Spelt risotto with crispy ox tongue and confit veal heart

Hake
I love fish and this did not disappoint. Perfectly cooked with Asian flavours to accompany.

Hake with Asian-style brothPork
Pork fillet cooked in the now fashionable water bath so that it is pink and perfectly tender. Accompanied here by fennel and basil gnocchi. This was a very good example but I think this style of cooking is a bit overdone nowadays. Although it’s not so tender, I actually prefer pork cooked with heat.

Pork

Pork fillet with braised fennel, aubergine puree and basil gnocci

Rhubarb
A rhubarb panna cotta with sorbet and caramelised oats. Again, this was lovely but perhaps the most conventional part of the meal. A friend had visited earlier in the month and praised the caramel soufflé and I guess I was hoping for this.

As it was a birthday meal as well as a retirement meal, the restaurant had made us a small chocolate birthday cake.  I thought that this was a really nice touch – but unfortunately, I messed up the photo so no record here.

Rhubarb panna cotta with yoghurt sorbet and caramelised oats

Rhubarb panna cotta with yoghurt sorbet and caramelised oats

Tea and coffee
Good coffee as you’d expect but the petits fours to accompany were superb. We were absolutely full but naturally managed to enjoy these.

Castle Terrace Petits Fours

Castle Terrace Petits Fours

We didn’t go for the matching wine package as our experience at Kitchin was there was simply too much to drink. Rather, we had a bottle of Spanish Alberino and a French Pinot Noir. The wine was fine but not outstanding. Frankly, the markup on wine here is eye-watering and I always grudge paying so much. But running a Michelin star restaurant is an expensive business and I guess they need to cover these costs.

Overall this was an absolutely superb meal – Castle Terrace’s reputation is really well-deserved. Great service and ambience and, thank goodness, a reasonable level of lighting. I dislike ‘mood lighting’ where you can hardly see what you are eating. Naturally it isn’t cheap – £75 each for the tasting menu but the food was so different and so original that I think it’s worth the money.

Is this the best restaurant in Edinburgh? I’m not sure. I’ve always liked Martin Wishart’s restaurant in Leith but I haven’t been there for a while. But we have another family celebration coming up there and I’ll reserve my judgement till then.

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