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Archive for July, 2011

Over the past 20 or so years, I guess we have had about 15 holidays in France and I must have visited the country at least 30 time on business. When we first went there, we were absolutely knocked out by the food – so different and so much better from what was available in Thatcher’s Britain and, in spite of the poor exchange rate, relatively cheap.

Over the years, things have changed. The quality of food in Scotland (and across Britain) has increased dramatically and, I’m sad to say, the quality of French food has declined.  There are now too many mediocre restaurants selling run of the mill food – I’m sure that expensive Michelin star French restaurants are inventive but everyday restaurants seem stuck in a rut.

If you are prepared to pay French prices in Scotland, with a little care, you will eat better. A couple of examples: we ate in La Tour des Vents – a Michelin star restaurant near Bergerac. Superb food but the fixed price menu was €42 for lunch; but Martin Wishart in Leith (also Mich *)  has a fixed price lunch for £28.50 and I think his cooking is more  interesting. We also ate in La Taverne in Aubeterre – moules frite for €7.50; but the moules in The Marine Hotel (see last blog post) in Stonehaven for roughly the same price were far superior.

Of course, what the French don’t have is very cheap food as we have- you can’t get lunch for £3.99 – typically, you will pay at least £10. Nor are there (as far as I know), abominations such as deep-fried Mars bars.

There’s still lots of mediocrity in Scotland and sadly, much more of it in France than there used to be. But I’m now convinced that, at the same price level, you are more likely to get an excellent meal in Scotland than you are in France.

 

 

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The Marine Hotel is a pub and resto right on the harbour at Stonehaven – one of a number of good places to eat in the north-east seaside town. We’ve had lunch there a few times but not for a while – always in the bar, which has a fishing theme. The bar has lots of good beers and, while I would not call it a gastropub, the menu is a cut above most pub grub.

I started today with Shetland mussels in Thai coconut sauce. Having just come back from France where we ate mussels a few times, I wasn’t quite sure that to expect but these were superb – plump and tasty. Far better than anything that I had in France. Sauce was Thai coconut – I could have done with a little bit more.

I followed this with another starter – a savoury tarte tatin – mushrooms and Scottish cheddar. It wasn’t served (or cooked) upside down like a dessert tarte tatin but it was no worse for that – simple, tasty food – a crispy base with Scottish mushrooms and cheese. No idea why the chef has to have the daft balsamic glaze swirls – pointless additions that chefs seem to think are artistic but which are merely pretentious in pub food.

My wife Anne had the tarte tatin and also a prawn salad which had lots of prawns and which was pronounced excellent.

For roughly the same price (about £17 each, which includes drinks), this was a rather better meal than most lunches that we had in France.

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Wedgewood is an Edinburgh restaurant with a growing reputation and every time we walked past it on the Royal Mile we said we’d have to try it. My daughter Ali fancied a birthday lunch but our first choices (La Garrigue and Castle Terrace) were closed on Sundays so this was an opportunity. We had tried Wedgewood’s dishes at the Taste of Edinburgh event the day before and we were impressed.

The lunch menu is a short fixed price menu £14 for 3 courses.

I started with fishcakes with a beetroot puree, which were light with a delicate fish flavour complemented by the earthy beetroot. They were excellent – so good that I started before I remembered to photograph them.

Main course was venison with a rocket and tomato salad. I’d never had venison served in this way before and it worked well. The venison was perfectly cooked – just pink and complemented the spicy rocket.

Finally, the pudding. I often skip pudding but was tempted by seeing another diner’s berries and sour apple sorbet so I went for that. For me, this was the outstanding dish of the meal – a hint of sweetness which did not mask in any way the flavour of the berries or the sorbet.

With a bottle on New Zealnd Sauvignon Blanc and coffees, we were about £25/each. Good value for the quality of food. We plan to come back for an evening experience.

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