Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Odd Things to smoke

The Borders is lovely, the weather is very nice for the end of year, cold but sunny. My wife got a letter from the dentist saying could she fill in a medical history form and this is where I find things get a bit odd. One question is Do you smoke tobacco, pan, gutkha or supari?

Now this struck me as very odd indeed and shows how things have changed. I have never heard of any of those other than tobacco and I doubt many people born in the Uk have either, so where is this huge influx of foreigners that need to inform they smoke pan? Or is it that the form is inspired by some obscure EU directive and is "universal".

If we have any supari smokers in the Borders please let me know, I wouldn't even know where they came from or what it is!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Ship on the Shore Leith

Our family visited this restaurant last night after our first choice Chop Chop was unexpectedly closed. Its a nice place well decorated and lots of polished wood. The staff are attentive and we were lucky to go un-reserved as many after us were turned away and sent to lesser establishments.

The menu is odd I find, no warming fish soup or chowder and very expensive "plats" of fresh crustacean. However a bit of work found a lovely big 1 kg pot of mussels with big chunky fries that were excellent. My wife had local lobster although it was a small half was well cooked. My son had sea bass done Asian style which while the sea bass was nicely cooked was not the best choice. My advice stick to simple things and you will be very well pleased with the night. We were. The desserts were sweet and chunky to match the chips and the glass of Belhaven Best went down a treat with the mussels.

Just along from here is Shore which we tried twice on the advice of Rick Stein and were disappointed both times. They are all owned by one group, but this particular place has done it right.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Cafe Cassis - Top Secret

As one approaches Edinburgh from the South East via the A7 one comes into Old Town by the gates to Arthur's Seat park. To the left is Salisbury Road and on that road is the rather excellent Cafe Cassis one of Edinburgh's secret best restaurants. It is hidden away under a small hotel down some stairs.

The chef is French and the food is best described as quality home cooking. Go at lunchtime weekdays for a three course meal absolutely top class for £10 a head! Wow is all I can say as I go back again like it is my grandmothers table. At weekends and in the evening it rises quite a bit to about £25 a head maybe £30 if you choose dishes unwisely.

Cassis is a real find, the place itself is a bit old fashioned as so many French restaurants are, but the food is just worth going back for, whether its Toulouse sausages, or well cooked fish, its what you might get in a small town say 50 miles from Paris, where locals congregate because the food is good and reasonable and most important reliable.

Cafe Cassis website

Off Grid - Almost

Since we acquired our little cottage in the Borders we have been doing small improvements and upgrades while we wait forever for the Borders Council to approve a very minor extension to our house. We applied in July and still not got the final paperwork and warrants.

Meanwhile we had to alter our use of energy. We were paying £150 a month electricity and £2500 a year for oil for the Stanley range cooker. Plus £300 on coal from our open fire. In total £4600 a year energy costs.

Our solution is in two areas. We installed solar pv and a biomass boiler using pellets and changed the open fire into an Aga insert wood burning stove.

So far our experience is that the wood burning stove which converts about 80+% of fuel into heat versus our open fire of 20% is magically good. I light it on cool evenings and it uses about 4 logs all night and warms not just our lounge but also all the corridor. Now with coal we used to feel very little heat at all, it as all about the cosy flame.

The PV is early days but from my calculations we have gone from paying £150 a month to earning £60 a month and free electricity. Of course we have had good weather this autumn so we will see over a year. So far though this looks like a real winner. We have a computer device that turns excess energy into water heating through the immersion.

The biomass is new so all I can report is that it warms the house through and heats the water so it works!. Pellets are £250 a ton which is 100 bags. We are using 1 bag a day but in the winter this may get to be a lot more its hard to be sure yet. But in the summer the PV heats all our water, so we should hardly use the biomass. Even if we use 3 tons thats £750 versus £2500. Plus the government wants you to convert to eco friendly renewable heat so they load the deck by paying you for the install over 7 years. Cannot be bad.

So I am hoping that by next year we will look back on turning £4600 costs into about £1500, saving over £3000pa.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Stack Dim Sum Edinburgh

For anyone who wishes to actually eat real Chinese dim sum, this little unpretentious restaurant off Leith Walk in Dalmenny St is the place to go. Stack is a family kind of place and from the outside almost run down. Inside is not the plush rooms associated with Chinese restaurants but a plain simple room that holds about 8 tables. All of them full of local Chinese eating dim sum very quietly and with great enjoyment. Its a serious eating place.

The quality of the dim sum served is extraordinary and one is immediately aware that this is not the taste one gets in flashier uptown "foreign" oriented Chinese restaurants.

Outstanding for me was the pork ribs in black bean and the amazing rice with pork and pickled vegetables, but all the offerings were at the top of their class. Its all about taste and this place has that. My sons liked the duck spring rolls and we all thought their sui mai was the best we had ever had. But these are highlights in a feast of good.

Stack Dim Sum Bar

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Captains Galley - Scrabster

The amusing story here is we booked this restaurant for dinner thinking it was a big fish and chip shop. When we arrived and saw the menu table d'hote at £50 each we nearly fell through the floor as we took our two boys 15 and 18 and they are not gourmet eaters.

But oh gosh were we in for one of our greatest surprises. The Captains Galley is not on any of the Michelin Guide starred lists but it should be. Jim Cowie can cook and if not a star he must be very close. He is whimsical which came as a big surprise, when I ordered roast belly pork and oysters as a starter and the dish knocked my socks off. Perfect crispy slow cooked pork combined with oysters so fresh they started climbing off the plate!

All our meals were top of the line and above. A large piece of very fresh cod served roasted with slow cooked ox tails, langoustines simply split and grilled piled high on a plate with a light lime sauce, it was all too much. When one goes to Kitchen in Edinburgh one prepares for a night of exquisite delight, so thinking this was to be a good fish supper ill prepares one for the gastronomy the class the sheer quality of this food.

How he keeps it going stuck in Scrabster (which I guess he won't leave as he has superb access to the freshest catch), I don't know. The restaurant was not full although there may have been 12 others who enjoyed a night to remember. But how do Scrabster folk afford it? How do they not? Its a mystery. Service from Jim's wife was a light touch with everything just right.

A place to go and savor....

Link to captains galley

Roxburgh Hotel near Kelso

Welcome to the Roxburghe: a beautiful country house hotel and golf course

Had lunch at this palatial mansion in the hills above Kelso owned by the Duke of Roxburghe. It is billed as a 5 star experience. I cannot confirm this, see below.

  1. Love the atmosphere and the place
  2. Nice service fairly attentive staff who smiled and were helpful
  3. Well laid out tables nice bathrooms
  4. Overall a good attempt at serving a quality lunch 
  5. Our vegetarian guest had the best meal, good pasta and simple but nice melon and sorbet
  6. My wife's roast beef while not rare enough for her was tasty if a bit tough.
  7. Desserts were nicely served and good. 

  1. Let down by frankly poor quality cooking.
  2. My minestrone would not be recognized by any Italian. Basically it was blended tinned tomatoes with a few veg and some pasta bits. It had no depth and taste. Minestrone needs good stock and is not a tomato soup but rich pasta and vegetables. 
  3. My roast pork belly was really not right. I had a slow roast pork belly as a STARTER recently at a Michelin restaurant and it was twice as big and 10 times as tasty with a superb crispy crust. The tiny piece you served was badly cooked, the skin rubbery and inedible, the pork hard and tough. It was served with bizarre attempt at modern cuisine ie two uncooked spring onions artfully draped over an uncooked piece of fennel, potatoes with no flavor at all. The gravy was nice though.

Finally when I paid the bill the reception asked me if it was a good meal and I replied no, and went into detail to be told "oh sorry".

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Chaophraya Edinburgh

Wife and I had an anniversary dinner at this spectacular Thai restaurant just off George St in Edinburgh. Chaophraya Link.

The restaurant is on top of a building and has a glass extension with lovely views over Edinburgh Castle. Its a lively place full of the glitterati of Edinburgh and has a popular bar that attracts its own crowd.

The food is served with panache and its very visual. having said that its not authentic Thai at all. One cannot replace chilli peppers with sweet peppers and get away with it...sorry Chaophraya. Not one dish we had had any bite to it, it was all bland, we might just as well have gone to a Canton Chinese. I think the owners have lost Thailand in an attempt to cater to the crowd.

The starters were the best, we had a lovely pork rib, an excellent duck salad and papaya salad. The dumplings and rolls were average as was the tempura shrimp.  Of the mains the duck with tamarind was good, and all were very eatable. Its just that they didn't taste like Thai food at all. Gone was the sparkle, the bite, the freshness that makes this cuisine stand out.

Finally I have to mention the price, at £160 for 4 people who had no wine I found it very expensive for what we got. Chicken with cashews with maybe 8 pieces of chicken, shrimp with garlic maybe 8 shrimp. We cleaned every plate.

Cross Keys Hotel - Kelso

Cross Keys Hotel in Kelso

My wife and I ate there today for Sunday Lunch. They do a carvery on Sunday. The dining room is very nice, decorated after Rennie Macintosh in light wood. The carvery was nice, choice of beef pork and gammon. Service was good and staff pleasant. The price of £40 for two including drinks was excellent.

Its a shame the meal is let down by poor vegetables, tasteless carrots and home care tasting cauliflower yet with a good cheese sauce. I wonder if they are all frozen to be honest. The pork came with the most awful bottled or tinned apple sauce, uneatable.

The other thing was the very minimalist menu. If you didn't want a carvery your choice was fish and chips basically. We didn't fancy any of the very uninteresting deserts so I had coffee which was very good. A simple coffee pot and milk, none of these fancy latte's.

My wife had the best meal which was her starter of Stilton and broccoli soup and crusty bread. The soup was very good, built on a  good stock base and tasty.

Doubt if we would ever eat there again. These run of the mill places with little real thought in the meal are not to my liking.

Cross Keys Link

Monday, April 14, 2014

British Engineering - A Total Failure

Today I decided to replace my bathroom wall heater. My experience shows that British Engineering, once world class has fallen so far as to be useless.

Lets start with removing the 1990 existing heater. The outside screws are Phillips they were so corroded that I had to drill them out. When I got inside I found that the positive and negative were flat head screws and worse the earth was a nut and bolt. So in 1990 British engineers were so bad that they had three different sets of heads all requiring special tools.

Turn to my brand new Eterna wall heater. Take it out of the box and examine it to find that the wall mounting screw locations are all under the heater itself making it impossible to actually screw into the wall!. Now who thought of that brilliant idea? Eterna Wall Heater

The heater itself is on a swivel base, the base cannot be removed from the heater as it uses locked nuts which if removed could not be put back once the heater was mounted. The heater covers the base so you cannot access the screws for wall mounting!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Induction cookers - warning

I love induction cookers and have been pleased with this efficient and fast heat concept. But I have now had two of them and each went wrong within 12 months for the same or similar reasons.

Cracks, as you can see, develop in the case and these cracks let in spill from the pans and then the electrics get damaged and the unit stops working. On one I actually got a nasty electric shock from the controls. I cannot see why they develop. Its not strain from a heavy pan or such as we use them mostly to fry but nevertheless the design seems flawed. In the case above the top is a glass type material and the controls below are one unit so the small strip of plastic is only about 1/2 inch wide and thin so it cracks easily.