Tuesday, 16 June 2015

An afternoon in the Kitchin

Oooft, I.  AM.  STUFFED. And I had the meal I’m about to discuss several days ago (at the time of writing…several weeks ago as of now!).  So, I went for a rather delightful meal the other day with my family to a place called ‘The Kitchin’, a Michelin starred French restaurant near the docks.  Run by Tom Kitchin and his wife, it’s a restaurant with a simple philosophy: From nature to Plate.  Simply put, they look for the freshest ingredients in Scotland and serve you them on a plate or a bowl or ramekin or, well, you get the idea.

The weekend actually started on the Friday, when my parent came up for the meal (I had bought my parents and my sister the lunch package with wine for Christmas) and we went for a drink at the local pub.  Along with my sister’s friend Andy, we had a drink before some homemade ramen for dinner with some sake.

The next morning, we headed off to this rather delightful restaurant and were ushered into the bar for a drink before our table.  During the drinks, we were served some crudites with a blue cheese dip.  Crudites are kind of like long crisps in four different flavours (including squid ink), which were deliciously moreish.

After a lazy drink, we were ushered to our table were we were soon being served by a veritable army of servers, as they brought us fresh baked bread that was still steaming and our first dish: an Hors d'oeuvre of cool carrot and ginger puree with carrot and radish.  Not exactly the prettiest dish to look at (don’t think about what it looks like – Gourmet Ed) but refreshing and tasty.  A good start.  In addition, we were all given a rolled up scroll that had a map of where all the ingredients were sourced from as well.  You know a meal is good when you’re given a scroll with it.

Next was our starter, in which I had the Lamb Haggis Cannelloni with summer vegetables and a lamb consommé.  And it was beautiful.  Truly a beautiful starter that really raised the bar for most starters I will have.  I don’t know where to get lamb haggis but by god, I am going to look for it.  In addition, because we bought the wine package, I was served a nice glass of Moulin-A-Vent ‘Les Michelons’.  

Now, the wine package meant that for each meal, we were served a glass of wine that was matched to the deal, which really added an extra dimension to the meal.  Not only did we get the wine, but the sommelier would come and give us information about the wine.  You even learned during the meal!!!  Fantastic!! 

Next up was the Guinea Fowl with crispy potato terrine, peas and mousseron mushrooms which was just as brilliant as the starter, serve along with a fine glass of Etna Rosso.  With the juicy bits juicy and the crispy bits crispy, you can’t get much better.  I’m totally underselling it but I am really not a food blogger so I won't pretend to be.  If you're interested, the first picture is a massive lobster my sister had.

Then, it was with a mixture of sadness and anticipation that the final meal was served: my lemon curd soufflé with Knockraich Farm yoghurt ice cream.  There is something about your dessert being light and fluffy whilst still being roasting hot that is just…fun.  It helps that I’m a sucker for anything lemony… 

After wolfing down my perfectly formed soufflé, there was just enough time for a coffee.  The coffee was also served with some petit fours, an orange macaroon and a salted caramel truffle.  Despite being 100% stuffed, I still managed to squeeze these sweet treats in and then I was done.  I melted into a suitably stuffed puddle of food glory.

OK, so I basically just served up a blog describing what I ate for lunch one day, but I just had to.  The meal was one of, if not the best meal I’ve had in my life.  It was also a nice afternoon spent with my family as well, bonding over a shared love of food.  Bliss.

Pick of the Week

Juicy Rap News – Have you ever been watching the news and thought to yourself, ‘I wish this was being rapped to me?’  Me neither but if you have, then this is for you.  And it is brilliant.  The description is very much in the title: a group of rappers who rap about key issues of the moment.  The colourful characters also help to add a rather amusing dimension as well.  Warning, side effect: you will never see the regular news the same way and will hope the presenters will burst into song after watching.

Music of the Week

Time for a golden oldie this week, and one of the heavy metal lovers out there: Iron Maiden - Fear of the Dark.

Well then, I will see you all next week...if I've reformed from my puddle of food glory!

Monday, 8 June 2015

In the Clouds

So, Alison and I were invited, at the beginning of the year, to a trip to the Isle of Skye with a bunch of university students recently.  Now, I know what you are thinking: 'but Robbie, you're old and grumpy!  Why would you go on holiday with a bunch of boisterous uni students who will probably party and revel all night'.  Well, whilst there was some partying, and plenty of revelling, these were University of Oxford postgraduate students, so I figured I could probably keep up, even in my old age.

But before this could be done, Alison and I had to make it to Skye itself, which turned out to be more difficult than expected!  Now, whilst the Oxford group (Derek, Saskia, Ioanna, Linxin, Felix, Sarah, Chris and Crista) opted to get a night bus from Oxford to Glasgow, then drive to Skye on the Thursday/Friday (very, very brave), Alison and I had to take a slightly different approach.  You see, on the Thursday night, I had to fly to London then on Friday early afternoon, I had to fly back before meeting up with Alison on Friday evening to go see Derren Brown's new show (Fantastic, by the way).  Funnily enough, as we sat eating chips and cheese in front of the Edinburgh Playhouse, reflecting on the fairly difficult 24 hours I had had (travelling over 1000 miles in a short space of time, through a variety of ways), little did I know that this would pale in comparison to Friday night.

Now, after Derren Brown, we had decided that it would be sensible to drive part of the way to Skye (to Pitlochry, we decided) to break up the journey a bit and to get a goodnight's sleep before the long drive.

This turned out to be a huge mistake.

You see, we booked the hotel and informed them that we were going to be arriving late (after midnight), which was noted, and that was that.  Or so we thought.  We weren’t surprised when we turned up at the hotel, and all the lights were off.  It was the middle of the night, after all!  What did surprise us was the fact that there was no-one at all to give us a key, no way to contact anyone and no key inside for us to collect, to allow us into our room. 

Not a good sign. 

After about an hour of trying to find someone, or contact someone, we ended up having to sleep in our car, in front of the hotel we had booked.  In addition, it was a very cold night and we only had one blanket between us, so we had to sleep in the backseat for warmth.  It was doubly annoying because I had actually suggested we sleep in the car originally, in which case, we could have brought sleeping bags.  After waking up at 6am to go to a petrol station toilet, someone from the hotel eventually noticed us and gave us our key. 

It turns out that someone should have left the key with a note for us but forgot, which is why I'm not naming the hotel.  It was one person's mistake, albeit a fairly bad one for us.  Thankfully, they let us check out later from our room, and I was able to get some breakfast (Alison opted for more sleep), before they actually refunded the room as well.

With that 'adventure' over, we then began the drive to Skye later than expected, where we met up with our wonderfully patient friends at Eilan Donan Castle.  Now, for those who don't know, Eilan Donan Castle is a beautiful castle next to Skye that was inhabited from the 6th century onwards (though being built/rebuilt etc).  It's also hauntingly beautiful, a stark and lonesome castle that rises suddenly against a background of water and wilderness.  This probably explains why it was used for Highlander and several other films.

After a quick catch-up, we headed into the castle itself and explored the grounds and the building for a couple of hours.  The castle itself is well-preserved and has a good insight on both the castle's history and the family who currently own it as well.  Don't miss this if you're in the area! 

After the castle, it was time for a rather long drive to the other side of the island so we could go visit the fabled Fairy Pools.  Now, the drive through the countryside was beautiful but as we got closer and closer, the rain started and then got heavier and heavier, until it was a torrential downpour.  Arriving at the pools (which were a walk away from the parking place, as we later discovered), it was eventually decided that it was too wet to make the walk, though we almost did it.  Thankfully, as we discovered the next day, this was the right decision as the walk would have been dangerous due to having to cross various burns.

After a fairly long drive, and having picked up some pizza, we arrived at the cottage which was fantastic!  Much like the TARDIS, it was bigger on the inside as when Alison and I arrived, we were worried about how small it looked...we didn't need to worry though!  With a living room, a massive kitchen, two bathrooms, a massive upstairs lounge and 6 bedrooms (one ensuite), there was plenty of room for everyone.  The view was stunning as well.

The rest of the night was spent eating, watching the end of Eurovision (another strong entry, Britain) and playing Cards Against Humanity long into the night, before everyone tumbling into their respective beds.  Next morning, it was time for eggs and bacon with toast, as Sarah and I cooked for everyone as they got-up, which resulted in a nice lazy morning.

Then it was attempt two with the Fairy Pools!  After picking up some lunch, and after the obligatory long drive (Pro-tip: if you go to Skye, there is a lot of driving so factor that in), we arrived back at the pools and began the walk to them.  I always enjoy a nice walk in Scotland (and most other places), and this was no exception.  Framed by tall mountains, with their peaks painted with snow and cloud, we followed a bubbling and angry burn up the trail until we arrived at the pools, which are actually a series of naturally created deep pools, along the river.  Here, people were gazing longingly at them, climbing the rocks around them or in one case, diving off the rocks into the pool.  I myself was happy enough dunking my head into the cool and refreshing water.

Once everyone had their fill of the pools, and since we were getting hungry, we headed back to the car for some lunch then went to our next stop: the Talisker distillery.  Once again though, and in true One-way Ticket form, it was closed on Sunday!  With little else to do, we headed to Portree for a wander which involved a masterclass on Frolicking on the beach (see video below), and then a wander around a cliffside path to a small tower, which gave some spectacular views of the sea and surrounding lands.


After a while of wandering, it was time for dinner and having explored multiple places, we ended up at a lovely restaurant called The Granary.  Now, I have to say: this restaurant bent over backwards to try and help us out.  Imagine a group of ten people turning up at a restaurant with no reservation, at 8:00pm (or thereabouts).  Must have been hell but the guy told us when to come back and then helped make sure we got a table together.  And what a meal.  As far as I'm aware, everyone had a great meal but I can testify that mine was brilliant.  To begin with, I had venison pate with smoked venison followed by smoked venison and duck salad.  I've not had that much of one type of food since I ordered ribs with a side of ribs, and it was just as glorious.

After dinner, it was a longish drive back to the cottage, so everyone headed to bed and then, after a tidy and a quick breakfast, it was time to say goodbye to the Isle of Skye!!!  Thank you to the Oxford people for inviting both Alison and I along, as we both enjoyed it and, with the exception of one night (take a guess which), had a huge amount of fun!  And for those who are interested in Skye, I would really recommend it!  Just be prepared to drive a bit.

Pick of the Week

Dr Horrible's Sing Along Blog - So, I watched this again the other night at a party and to be honest, I had completely forgotten about it.  Such a pleasure being reminded about it though, as it's a huge amount of fun.  What's it about?  Well, it's kind of in the name actually...It's about an evil scientist and villain' blog that has singing in it.  A truly (evil) genius combination that was written by Josh Whedon, and stars Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion and Felicia Day.  The best bit?  It was all done for free, as it was during the writer's strike. 

Music of the Week

Time for a song I had forgotten about for several years, and only remembered last week.  Starring Nikki Sixx, of Motley Crue fame: Sixx AM - Van Nuy.  Enjoy,

So, that's it from me folks!  See you all next week! 

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Bruges Part 2 : Beer!

And we are back to Bruges!!  And just in time for day 4 and to join us at breakfast!  Once fed and watered, it was off to the local market in T'zand Square.  One of the largest in Europe or so they say...though I reckon everyone says that about their own local market.  I won't lie and say that it was the most outstanding market I've ever been to but I do enjoy a good market and this one generally delivered.  Lots of locals shopping around for clothes and deals and different types of food, ranging from dried sausages to ornate cakes.

Having finished at the market quicker than planned, we headed to the Benguine House which has been frozen in time since about the 18th century.  In short, the Benguine house was built by an old clergyman, with the aim of single women living together: to encourage religion and pious acts seemingly.  It's always enjoyable entering a place that has been preserved in time, even if it's for tourism, as it lets you see how everything has changed since: both physically, socially and mentally.  Sadly, the place was fairly packed (cursed Saturdays!!) but it eventually quieted down and we got to wander through the historic house in some peace, enjoying the abundant lace.

Before anyone says anything...I realise there is no lace in any of the pictures.  Finally, it was time for one of the things that I was most looking forward to: de Halvemaan Brewery tour (and a tasting of their signature beer, Bruges Zot).  Having booked ahead, we turned up and became part of a massive group that was thankfully split into two.  If you drink beer, and haven't already, I would really recommend that you take a tour wherever you can, as it really opens your eyes about beer.  For example, did you realise that hops are from the same family as Cannabis and that's part of the reason for 'good beer feelings'? Me neither! 

After seeing the modern brewery, we then got to see the old brewery where everything in sight seemingly had to have somebody crawl inside and clean them.  Surely not the toile...nah, that would be silly!  Joking aside, we got a great tour guide who knew what she was talking about and wasn't afraid to talk about other beers as well, to help give you a really good picture of the beer process.

After we drank a well-earned Blonde Bruges Zot, we headed off to 'de Buhne', a well-received (and rare) vegetarian restaurant in Bruges.  Being promptly turned away as they were shutting early, it was then off to the Duvelrium for a less exciting lunch plan, which involved a beer taster plate and a rather massive plate of cheese cubes and breadsticks...not quite what I expected when we ordered a cheese plate but oh well.

With a spring in our step despite the poor cheese plate (thank you, good beer feelings), we headed off to the folklore museum for a whimsical museum detailing myths and legends.  Whoops.  Turns out something was lost in translation and it turned out to be a museum detailing the lives of different careers from historic Bruges.  Not our best day.  Still, it was interesting enough to see the different lives with the various models, though perhaps the best bit was being rather surprised by the cat model actually being alive.  It is a bit startling when a model turns and glares at you for waking it up.  The museum also had an interesting section on an old fencing club that had begun in around the 15th century that was still around today, but overall, a bit of a letdown.

Finish with the museum and with it being wet and cold, we did the only thing we could and went to the highest rated waffle shop in Bruges that was probably the most expensive as well.  Here we were treated to the biggest waffle we had ever seen: it was so large, we had to split one between two!  I fully regret not taking a picture of it, as it covered the entire plate.  To wash it down, we ordered two hot chocolates which were spectacular.  Basically, you were given a glass of steamed milk and an ornate chocolate flower filled with chocolate curls that you then drop into the milk and watch it melt.  It tasted pretty good as well, which is a bonus (or you know, the main reason for ordering hot chocolate - Ed).

The rest of the rain filled afternoon involved some present buying and then some packing as we left the next day.  The night ended with the two of us romantically (or so I think) sharing some Frittes under the Belfry arch that we bought from a stall (which is the traditional place to get them).  As we arrived into day 5, I made a secret vow not to eat any frittes/chips again for a very, very long time.

Day 5 sees us checking out from the hotel with heavy hearts, although our day was far from over, as our flight was late at night.  Leaving our bags at the hotel, we headed for a rather interesting start to the day: a newly opened Historic torture museum.  This was a rather graphic start to the day but it did have perhaps the most involved museum curator I've seen.  Here he was, wandering up and down the exhibits talking people through various items and paintings, with a smile on his face.  One of the most interesting aspect of the museum was the section detailing the gradual abolishment of torture for various countries, and highlighting how evolving morality affected this

Having had our fill of medieval torture, possibly for a lifetime, we went to the beer museum (yes, I know) that was, for me anyway, the biggest surprise of the trip, by how good it really was.  It was also a good example of how technology can be used effectively in a museum as well.  From the start, you're given a tablet and headphones that you use to scan the exhibits.  Once scanned, you are given a variety of options e.g. listen to a narrator; read the text; or view various picture.  It really allowed for a lot of information (based on the history of beer) to be held within a small building.  Then on the second floor, you get to wander around some old beer vats that gave you the option to handle different ingredients for beer, and smell and touch them (I refrained from tasting).  Altogether, this was a really great museum experience.  Whilst I admit that it would have been nice to have more physical exhibits, rather than just the technology, the museum combated this with the upstairs section. 

Plus at the end, you're given 3 different tastings unlike the one from the brewery. In addition, the bar had over ten different drafts (including one which has only had 1000L brewed and was delicious) that you could try.  And my favourite thing? Rather than having the tasting at the same time, you're actually given three beer tokens so you could come and go as you please.

With a couple of beer tokens in our pockets, we headed off to De Buhne for round two but had to leave as they don't serve the vegetarian menu on a Sunday!  Gah!  Oh well, it's a good excuse to go back.  Our remaining time in Bruges was spent mixed between getting presents for people, wandering around the square for one last time and spending our beer tokens.  This flurry of last minute activity resulted in trying a rather unique beer that had been aged for two years in a wine barrel and in buying one of the best Easter eggs I've seen, stuffed with mini egg truffles.

All too soon (pretty sure I say that every time...maybe I should rename my blog that), it was time to get the bus to the airport and say goodbye to Belgium.  And I have to say, it was one of the most beautiful European cities that I've been in.  Whilst you can say that it's touristy, I really think that it handles it well and with the exception of the restaurants, it certainly isn't in your face.  Well worth a trip but be warned, it's hard to leave the chocolate and beer behind!!