Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Lunch at Cafe Fish Stockbridge

This review previously appeared on Edinburgh Spotlight.

The recent run of glorious weekend weather inspired a new mission, one which unfortunately did not come into fruition. Apparently, getting a table outside Café Fish in Stockbridge on a Saturday afternoon is comparable to finding a needle in the proverbial hay stack. Since this was my second failed attempt to enjoy fish outdoors, I conceded, and accepted a table inside Café Fish so I could at least satisfy one of my two cravings.

As we perused the menu, I soon forgot about the glorious sunshine outside, as I became intoxicated by the smell of seafood. My decision was entirely straightforward. My love for mussels means that wherever they feature on a menu, you can be sure I will order them. However, my dining partners were unable to decide between numerous options, all of which implied an array of delectable flavours. Finally, a decision was made and we were ready to order. I opted for a large portion of Shetland Blueshell  mussels (£12), cooked with tomatoes, chilli and coriander, served with a side of homemade chips. The mussels were cooked perfectly, with a sauce that was a welcome change from the usual white wine and cream, which so commonly accompanies this type of fish. Although they were delicious, the absence of a finger bowl was noted, leaving me working through a rather large number of napkins. My sister opted for a deliciously fresh crab and mango tian, which at £7, was the perfect choice for those opting for a lighter lunch. Our fellow diner was pulled towards the traditional fish and chips, served with mushy peas and tartare sauce. His dedication to working through this hearty portion was admirable, as he commented on the freshness of the fish, and the crispness of the chips.

Shetland Blueshell mussels

Crab and mango tian

Fish and chips

The sociable nature of our lunch encouraged us to accompany our meal with a bottle of Sicilian white wine (Planeta Alastro Greganico, £23) which accompanied our fish perfectly. Unfortunately we were too full for desserts, and rounded off our meal with three espressos (£1.75 each), leaving us ready to tackle the rest of the day.

Other than the absence of a finger bowl, which is essential when eating something as ungraceful as mussels, we were all in agreement that our experience at Café Fish was a good one, and that we were willing to part with our hard earned cash to go back and eat there again.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Amarone Review

This review previously appeared on Edinburgh Spotlight.

Seeing Scotland bathed in sunshine is rare. When this happens, I always feel overcome by the urge to spend every waking moment enjoying it. Part of this experience always involves eating out at any establishment with outdoor seating. We couldn’t believe our luck when passing Amarone on George Street to find a couple leaving their table, just in time for us to swoop in, and take up residence for the evening.

Determined to make the most of our prime location, I started with a Campari and soda (£3.25), which I sipped slowly with a bowl of olives to keep me company (£2.45). The mixture of green and black olives were delicious, with stones still intact, indicating that they were at least more premium than the ready pitted variety. We moved onto devour Rigatoni with crumbled sausage and ricotta (£9.95) and Pennette with tomatoes and basil (£8.95). My dish featured robustly flavoured Italian sausage with a sauce that was lightly flavoured with fennel and ricotta, a delicious and filling meal, with pasta that was cooked perfectly. My dining partner’s meal was equally satisfying, with a mere hint of basil, rather than a more overbearing flavour. To quench our thirst, I enjoyed a large glass of Pinot Grigio (£5.45), whilst my dining partner opted for a can of Aranciata (£2.25).

Mixed Olives

Rigatoni with Italian sausage

Pennette with tomatoes and basil

My dining partner’s appetite regularly outdoes mine, and so he devoured a semifreddo cioccolato (£5.75), a rich chocolate based pudding, which resembled an ice cream that hasn’t fully set. I ended my meal with a glass of dessert wine (Muscato £3.45) and an espresso (£1.90).

Semifreddo Cioccolatto

Not only were we impressed by the quality of the food at Amarone, but also the service was excellent. We felt well looked after and valued throughout our dining experience, and not only will I be recommending Amarone to family and friends, I can say without hesitation that I will be eating there again soon.

Friday, 22 July 2011

The Wanderer Returns

It has been a mighty busy few months, so by the time my holiday finally came around, it was fair to say I was ready for it. Having no preconceptions or expectations of a particular location always helps. In our case, we had no idea what we were going to, so it really was a case of displaying endless amounts of optimism, in the hope that this would have some sort of cosmic significance in relation to our destination.

As we hopped aboard the bus from Milan to Lugano, it was hard to anticipate anything as we were lost in the beauty of the surrounding landscape. As we drove through Lake Como, I kept my fingers and toes firmly crossed that Lugano would deliver some of what I had just witnessed by the banks of that beautiful lake. And as the bus came to a stop, I turned to my right, only to be confronted by a view that assured me that I had done good.

After we had dropped our bulging suitcases off at our new digs for the week, we ventured seaward in search of something equally as important as our location. With food being such a big part of my life, and so far today's airport exploits had far from satisfied, I was eager to get my teeth into some of what Lugano had to offer. With fabulous looking eateries sprawled across the water front, it was hard to choose from the endless menus, offering traditional stone baked pizzas, and fresh seafood. On the first night, I opted for my all time favourite dish, spaghetti with clams, garlic and chilli. It was so good, I'm convinced I can still taste it now. Rob opted to start off his holiday by chomping his way through his favourite dish, a Margherita pizza. Unfortunately, the camera was still hiding away in the corner of my suitcase, resulting in no photographic memories of this meal. In hindsight, this is possibly a good thing, as looking at that meal day in day out would be rather torturous.

The remainder of our time in Lugano was spent floating from bistro, to bar, to restaurant, where we thoroughly acquainted ourselves with the startling local cuisine. From a lunchtime eatery on the water, to a luxurious restaurant on a hilltop, here are just a few pictures of what Lugano had to offer.

Sundried Tomato Risotto

Brown Pasta with Prawns and Courgettes

A favourite deli with the locals

Delicious fresh sandwiches

Fresh fruit from a local market

Fresh Mortadella for sandwiches

Pasta with clams

Pizza Margherita

Leaving Lugano was hard, and I was surprised at how attached I had come to it over the space of six days. But as Milan beckoned, I became excited about other aspects of the world's fashion capital, for that reason and that reason alone. As our purses were now rather light, my assumption was that our eating habits across our 24 hour stint in Milan would be modest to say the least. Upon arriving at Piazza Duomo, I was kicking myself for forgetting the splendour that is Milanese cuisine, and having just come from Switzerland, the prices attached to any given menu were surprisingly refreshing.

Having visited Milan before on a number of occasions, I knew what I wanted to show my partner in crime, a Milanese novice, and how little time we had to cram everything in. As we wandered around the Duomo, taking in its splendour, I found myself in familiar territory once more, with my tummy rumbling, asking to be fed. As we moved onto the arcade, I remembered myself as a child, gazing longingly at the Louis Vuitton shops, and the restaurants that saddled either side. Eating in these restaurants was always unattainable, and I had assumed due to their surroundings that their prices would reflect the designer handbags being purchased next door. As I walked by, staring longingly at a plate of ravioli that a gentleman was devouring, alongside what I could only assume was a luxurious glass of Barolo, I decided eating there may well be the best meal of my life. As I examined the menu, I found my mouth had all of a sudden assumed its own identity and before I knew it we were sitting at a table adorned with fresh flowers and white linen table cloths, watching Milan's world of commerce walk by, enjoying their lunch hour. After we toasted our holiday with a glass of prosecco, I became overbearingly gleeful, I really could not believe where I was.

The problem with realising a dream is that it so often disappoints. It had always been a rather fantastic notion of mine to eat in Ristorante Biffi, but never in my wildest dreams did I think it would happen. But as my ravioli arrived, I began to make peace with the fact that I was there, in the experience, eating the best ravioli I had ever had. With very little conversation, I savoured every moment of this delectable meal. Rob, was experiencing a very similar notion, with him opting for a modest spaghetti dish, flavoured solely with the Italian staples of tomatoes and basil.

Spaghetti with Tomato and Basil

Ravioli with Meat Sauce

After devouring such a beautiful meal, the afternoon was reserved for a meander round the shops and of course a little shopping. This spilled nicely onto a catch up with an old friend, who has thoroughly adopted the Milanese way of life. We met her for the very traditional Italian aperitivo at a bar in the fashionable Brera district of Milan. Here, we successfully sampled a range of fish, pasta and vegetables, alongside a drink for the incredibly reasonable fee of 8 euros. The notion of aperitivo in Italy, is comparable to that of the Spanish Tapas, accept with solely Italian culinary offerings.

As you would expect from a nation that is renowned for its food, our experience in both Lugano and Milan was incredible. Not only was the quality impressive and the food impossibly fresh, we enjoyed every mouthful, and has given me renewed vigour for my blog and food in general. I now can't wait for even more cooking and tasting!

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Sunshine on Crail

Months of planning and organising paid off last weekend, as the first annual Crail Food Festival was a roaring success. Even Saturday’s relentless rain couldn’t keep people away, as foodies from across Fife descended upon the town hall to sample Fife’s home grown specialities. With stalls selling out due to their array of delicious produce, it’s fair to say that the popularity of the event exceeded all expectations. I visited the festival on Sunday, where I left a very rainy Edinburgh to bask in the Crail sunshine, for a day of eating, drinking and my favourite subject, talking about food.

Sunday’s foodie delights took place down at the harbour, which was bathed in sunshine. As I made my way down the rocky path, I could see nothing but queues for every stall, and with the fresh local produce on offer it was easy to see why. Our first stop was a visit to the Fife Diet stall, where the challenge was to pedal your own smoothie. As Rob hopped onto the bike, which had a food processor attached, I watched as the strawberries and raspberries were painstakingly whizzed up with each rotation of the wheel. The end product was arguably the most delicious smoothie I have ever tasted.

With 20 minute long queues at every stand, I had a difficult decision to make, the choice between a hog roast roll from Lucklaw Farm, and a venison burger from Fletchers of Auchtermuchty. In the end, my hunger outweighed my desire to wait, and as the queue for venison was marginally shorter, I opted to sink my teeth into prime venison on a seeded bun. It was truly delicious, and the quality of the meat was undeniable.

Although I opted for the venison, there was no shortage in terms of choice, especially when delicious seafood had been freshly plucked from the shore. With fresh lobster, crab and the famous Arbroath Smokies, even the most discerning fish lover would have found something to curb their appetite.

Even if the sun hadn’t been shining on Crail, I have no doubt that the festival would have been a success regardless. With such an array of foods on offer, and producers on hand to answer consumers’ questions, the whole event was a resounding success. I’m already looking forward to next year.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The Guid Cheese Shop

If you’ve been keeping up to date with all the recent postings in the run up to the Crail Food Festival, you’ll know that Fife produce is world class. Over the course of last weekend, these producers showcased their products, and allowed us to see, sample and buy the sort of food that only Fife can produce. Another member of this community is Svetlana Redpath from The Guid Cheese Shop in St Andrews. Her range of locally sourced artisan products proudly adorn cheese boards across the Kingdom of Fife. With my mouth watering, Svetlana shared a few secrets with me about the art of sourcing such a vast range of wonderful cheeses.

What made you decide to open your own cheese shop?

My passion for farmhouse and artisan cheese is unrivalled. Being a cheesemonger is a very interactive profession. Every day I get the opportunity to talk to people about cheese, and show them just how many cheeses there are available. When I recommend a cheese to a customer, I encourage them to taste a sample of the cheese before they buy it. This ensures that they leave with a cheese they are going to love.

Do you produce your own cheese, or do you source the products you sell?

The Guid Cheese Shop is a retailer and wholesaler. Cheese making is an entirely different profession, which requires a great deal of time and skill. It also involves a number of specialised processes, such as sourcing the highest quality milk, and allowing the optimum time for the product to mature. Knowing the products we sell have been treated to the best possible process, using premium products, makes us proud to be sellers of such wonderful cheeses.

What methods have you used to engage the local community in promoting your business?

St Andrews is an amazing town, with a number of residents who really enjoy their food and recognise high quality products. We enjoy being a part of the local community and support local organisations, charities and student societies by donating prizes for their raffles and fundraising events. Most recently we were a sponsor of the Royal Wedding Breakfast, an event that had a massive impact on the local community. We also regularly participate in regional festivals and food events, which is why we are so happy to support the first ever Crail Food Festival.

What makes you so passionate about cheese?

It’s a truly amazing product, and so versatile. The number of cheeses that can be produced from an ingredient as simple as milk is a marvel. I never get tired of trying new cheeses, but I do have my firm favourites. What a lot of people don’t realise about cheese is that it’s actually a very healthy food. When it’s made properly, either by a farmer or an artisan cheese maker, it’s full of vitamins and minerals, whilst being a fantastic source of protein and calcium.

How did you become involved in the Crail Food Festival?
The organisers of the festival approached us to see if we would be interested and we didn’t need so much as a second to think about it. It’s admirable to see someone invest so much of their precious time to organise such a worthwhile event. We believe it’s extremely important to celebrate artisan foods like this, otherwise we run the risk of being left with tasteless and unhealthy mass produced supermarket offerings.

What makes Fife produce so special?

Fife is a beautiful agricultural region that produces a lot of fresh food that we are lucky enough to enjoy. But what makes it even more special, is the passion of the people who both make and grow this exceptional produce.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Arbroath Smokies

As we all know, Fife is rich in culinary offerings. From fresh fruit and vegetables, to organically reared livestock, the landscape is ripe with opportunity. This wealth extends to the Fife coast, where Iain.R.Spink, founder of Original Smokies from Arbroath Ltd, does his magic. I spoke to Iain about the success of his business and how he came to be involved in the Crail Food Festival.

How long has Original Smokies from Arbroath Ltd been a fixture in the local community?

The business has been established for eight years and during that time I have been a regular supporter and attendee of all the Fife Farmers Markets.

How did you come to be involved in the Crail Food Festival?

I try to get involved in as many local events as possible, as you never know what opportunities might arise. This was the case with the Crail Food Festival. I met the organisers at several other local events, and following on from this I was invited to attend the festival.

What do you attribute to the success of your business?

I think it’s largely down to the fact that people can see the fish being smoked in front of them. By demonstrating how Arbroath Smokies are made, my customers not only get to see the process their food undergoes, but have the added bonus of eating the fish at its very best, hot, juicy and straight from the fire. As the saying goes you eat with your eyes, and the sight of all the fresh fish hanging on sticks ready to be smoked, combined with the smell of the burning hardwood logs provides an entirely sensory experience for customers at the many fares and markets I attend. Additionally, I only use the best quality raw materials available and usually do every stage of the lengthy process myself.

Why do you think so many people buy from supermarkets, rather than take advantage of local produce?

In the main, I think people are enticed by the convenience that comes with supermarkets. The ability to get everything under one roof is tempting, and can save a lot of time. I also think price has a part to play, and in these financially challenging times, consumers are forced to go with more economical options.

Your business is firmly established, what advice would you give someone thinking of opening a business in the food industry?

My advice would be to keep things small and manageable with an emphasis on producing the best quality products. With growing concern and unrest over mediocre food infiltrating our society, consumers are now looking to extend their knowledge of good food, and where to buy high quality, local produce. If producers can bear this in mind and create something unique, whilst keeping quality at the forefront of their aims, they should be able to establish a very worthwhile business.

In your opinion, what makes Fife produce stand out as one of the best?

The diversity of produce available all over the Kingdom of Fife is quite amazing. The rugged coastline produces fantastic seafood, whilst the fertile land allows fruit and vegetables to flourish. Teamed with more unique products, such as venison and water buffalo, it’s easy to see why Fife produce is considered one of the best in the world.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Fife Farmers Market

With ever growing concerns about where our food comes from, having a reliable source where we can buy quality food and drink is essential. As people become more aware of the vast array of local produce they have on their doorstep, the greater opportunity there is for local businesses to thrive. A great way to showcase local produce is through the establishment of Farmers Markets. The frequency of these events have grown over the years, thus maintaining a loyal customer base. Barbara Wardlaw, Co-ordinator of the Fife Farmers Market took the time out of her busy schedule to talk to me about the project and its success with the local community.

What was the inspiration behind establishing a Fife Farmers Market?

Farmers in the region of Fife produce so many wonderful products. This was the impetus behind establishing the Fife Farmers Market, as the community was lacking a direct sales outlet for their produce. It also allowed farmers to liaise directly with customers, which really supported them in expanding their client base.

What do you attribute to the success of the Fife Farmers Market?

Consumers are more aware and more conscious about the things they eat. They want to know how their food is grown and where it comes from. Farmers markets facilitate this, as customers can ask the producers questions directly. In turn this allows consumers to make more informed choices about what they are eating. This level of service teamed with high quality produce keeps customers coming back time and time again.

How do local producers become involved in the Fife Farmers Market?

Any producers interested in participating in the Fife Farmers Market should contact us so we can talk them through the process. After the initial enquiry has been made, we send farmers a stall holders application to complete. If they comply with our market rules, the application is then forwarded onto the Fife Farmers Market Committee. The final stage, if necessary, is a visit to the producer’s premises to confirm our health and safety requirements are being met.

How did you become involved in the Crail Food Festival?

We have several food links with a number of the participants in the festival, and being a local event, we were happy to help on the promotional side. It’s a wonderful event that’s helping to drive forward the notion of eating local, whilst serving as a platform to provide local residents with more information about the availability of high quality, local produce across Fife.

In your opinion, what more can be done to promote local produce?

By getting information into schools, we can start with the younger generation, encouraging them to adopt these values before any others can take hold. We also need to educate consumers on the value of buying local, and the positive effects it has on the local community.