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Iansfoodie is closing – this will be the last post. I won’t be deleting the blog but I’ve decided to broaden the scope of my writings and to start a new food blog.

So – welcome to Bistros and Beetroot.

This blog will have restaurant reviews (mostly in Edinburgh) but also other foodie stuff – recipes and ingredients, commentary, food politics and so on. I also hope to be able to post a bit more regularly than I do here.

My first real posts on Bistros and Beetroots are about courgettes – and what to do with too many of them.

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.

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