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On my new foodie site: Bistros and Beetroot – a fabulous meal in La Tour des Vents

http://iansommerville.com/bistros-and-beetroot/la-tour-des-vents-monbazillac/

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Two Edinburgh bistros

Look for my reviews of Bistro Moderne and Bistro Provence on Bistros and Beetroots

http://iansommerville.com/bistros-and-beetroot/two-edinburgh-bistros/

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Hornblowers, Gourdon

Look for my review of this great fish restaurant on Bistros and Beetroot

http://iansommerville.com/bistros-and-beetroot/hornblowers-gourdon/

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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.

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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

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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. 

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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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