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Edinburgh

Hello. It's been a while, hasn't it? (Incapable of typing that without Britney making a cameo in my head...yup, still as basic as ever). I have to admit I'm feeling a little shy - this has been my longest break from blogging since I set up this little space two and a half years ago. I have good excuses, I promise. As you may know, I've been studying for the all-consuming GDL and the last few months have been beset by legal exams and coursework. Oh - and my house got burgled. Luckily, the burglar only took two things. Unluckily, those two things were my laptop and beloved camera. It was almost as if destiny had called, and it didn't want me to blog any more. First world problem, soundtracked by a very tiny violin, I know.

Happily, I now have a new laptop and DSLR (as of today, I'm the proud owner of a Canon 70D, which I can't wait to play with!) so yeah. You're going to have to put up with me a little longer...

The most exciting event of the past fortnight? My sister graduated from Edinburgh with an incredibly well-deserved first! So ridiculously proud of you, B. What a bittersweet weekend, though - the journey to Scotland was hopelessly coloured by the results of the referendum. I sat on the train up, numbly scrolling through my Twitter feed, watching in horror as the pound crashed and reports of unadulterated racism came flooding in, unable to fully appreciate how concrete gave way to golden fields of rape, and finally the greys and blues of the Berwick coast. I couldn't help but grieve - and continue to grieve  - over my country's incomprehensible actions. My one comfort? I was leaving London for pro-Remain Scotland. 

And oh, Edinburgh. Beautiful Edinburgh. It managed to shock me out of my Brexit lassitude. Even on my third visit, it was exciting, romantic and new: I craned my neck as we pulled into the city to catch a glimpse of those Gothic, almost sooty-looking spires, sighing with delight as the castle perched up on high came into view. It's such a wonderful place to spend a long weekend: a blissful couple of days built around a theme of bagpipes and lilting accents and fuelled by the excellent food endemic to the area, which I'll introduce you to in just a moment. I was lucky enough to see it through the eyes of my sister, resident since 2012: she takes all the credit for the great places I've featured in this post, of course.

Well-heeled Stockbridge, to the north of the city, boasts a constellation of excellent vintage shops and charming eateries. Söderberg Peter's Yard on Deanhaugh Street serves up sublime Scandi treats, including some of the best kanelbullar I've got my teeth into - the cardamom and the raspberry and custard cinnamon rolls are particularly good, and made for a supremely delicious breakfast. 

George Mewes on Dean Park Street is a gem among fromageries, and I've encountered a fair few. Restrained, we bought slices of sinfully gooey gorgonzola and pecorino shot through with black truffle with black charcoal crackers from the roguish cheesemonger. Upon arriving back at the hotel (the elegant and incredibly comfortable Chester Residence, which I would recommend to anyone), I managed to polish off 80% of the gorgonzola within an hour. Obviously. 

The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. Upsettingly closed as we arrived at such a late hour (such a shame - I'd have loved to see the Surreal Encounters exhibition) but I still enjoyed strolling around the grounds, boasting remarkable sculptures like Henry Moore's Reclining Figure

Of course Edinburgh does seafood very well. And the best I've had in the city is at Ondine, which serves up excellent, sustainable and unadulterated fish. My heart was immediately won over by this platter of succulent, salty oysters (my favourite being the plump, meaty Loch Fyne variety) - doused in lemon juice and Tabasco, they never to fail to put me in a celebratory mood. 

Wild sea bream ceviche with an avocado mousse.

Tempura squid with a Vietnamese dipping sauce. Crispy, light and delicately flavoured - these were really top notch. 

Lemon sole with brown shrimp, parsley and capers.

Monkfish sitting on top of masala rice and curry. 

A gargantuan platter of roasted shellfish that has me staring at the screen, slack-jawed, savage in my hunger. It reads like a Top of the Pops setlist of Scotland's seafood offerings: Burnmouth lobster, rock oysters, Dunbar crab, sweet Barra cockles and clams, razor clams (so often rubbery, but cooked to perfection here), juicy Skye langoustines, Mull scallops and Shetland mussels.


Timberyard. A feast in every sense of the word. Flawless food and drink soundtracked by cool folksy music predominantly featuring Joni Mitchell in an airy converted warehouse made homely with taxidermied specimens, comfortable tartan throws and a wood-burning stove. Frankly, I wouldn't mind moving in.

Drinks paving the way for an evening of mild decadence: mead, gin making an appearance in a classic G&T and as the main player in a concoction of lavender and rhubarb, and a burnt birch bark Old Fashioned for me. All excellent, all stunningly strong: just what the doctor calls for post-graduation.

Timberyard features three set menus: options featuring 4, 6 or 8 courses. The edge taken off our appetites by graduation canapés and prosecco, we opted for the 4 course menu - a sensible choice which left us feeling sated yet light.

Cleansing and fresh cured trout with cucumber, lovage, aniseedy fennel, creme fraîche and rye. 

Hen's egg with asparagus, truffle, onion, hazelnut, artichoke and seeds. Poached for 45 minutes, the egg was a wobbly, almost onsen egg-like thing of beauty. This was my favourite dish of the night - made indulgent with the runny yolk, salty hazelnuts and truffle, with thinly sliced asparagus and sweet spring onion cutting through the rich flavours. 

Hake with octopus, clams, white asparagus, salsify. All three of my fellow Lims opted for this dish, which they said was their favourite. 

I went for the venison option with beetroot several ways plus ramson, shallot, mushroom and kale. I particularly enjoyed the little cigar of beetroot, while the venison was plump and cooked exactly the way I like it - seared and salty, not overdone at all.

To finish: strawberry in several different guises, frozen and fresh, with oatmeal, a buttermilk mousse and meringue. 

Brunch the next morning to cure heavy, aching heads at The Pantry back in Stockbridge. I basked in Sunshine over Stockbridge - avocado, chorizo, fried aubergine and a poached egg.

Waffles for Mama L, with a side of chorizo, because she can.

For the newly minted graduate and the proud father: fry-ups of epic proportions. Featuring black pudding and haggis, of course. It's Edinburgh. 

I'll finish with three shots that sum the weekend up for me: 

A moment of rare beauty but tragedy: packing up B's room, a fragile bird's nest was discovered under the bed, complete with feather and tiny egg. Unfortunately, it seemed that it had been there for months (a jigsaw fell into place in my sister's mind, as a pigeon had been coming to the windowsill regularly in the mornings to coo and attempt entry). 

The unmistakable grey streets of Edinburgh tinged with gold at sunset: truly a sight to behold. 

B's graduation flowers, which I clasped protectively to myself, proudly watching the newly minted graduates of the School of Economics huddle together for one last joyous group photograph. 

A beautiful weekend with my treasured family. Thank you, wonderful Edinburgh, for providing a strong ray of sunlight on a weekend where it felt like the world was ending. 

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Jidori

So I went to my first ever izakaya and I'm a convert. What's an izakaya, I hear you cry? Well, it's basically the Japanese equivalent of a gastropub - though you won't be getting a roast with wasabi-spiked gravy or fish & chips in tempura batter here. Izakayas are all about providing helpful fuel on a boozy evening in the form of small plates such as yakitori, and though on this particular occasion Viv and I remained abstemious, the food at Jidori was so good it made us giddy.

Sandwiched between Dalston Kingsland and Shacklewell, Jidori offers the gutsy flavours of the izakaya in a pared-down Scandinavian setting, all Farrow & Ball tones offset by abstract collage pieces on the exposed brick walls. Naturally, the menu places a heavy focus on yakitori, though in the spirit of boozing, there's also a great sake selection and an incredibly tempting cocktail list featuring such exotic flavours such as yuzu, plum liqueur, shiso and ginger syrup (in my revision-befuddled state, I started thinking of an album entitled Oriental Ingredients' Greatest Hits. All in the mind. This is what happens when I force myself to stay sober). Next time I'll be getting at least one.

If you've been reading this blog a while you'll know that small plates are my Kryptonite. They're just the best thing. From tapas to cichetti, I'm a sucker for them - being able to conquer most of the menu appeals to the competitive beast in me, while the experience of tasting and offering opinions on a shared dish is, in my opinion, a great way to get to know your dining companions - even if you've been friends for years. And these particular bite-sized yakitori were exceptionally exciting. Skewered chicken hearts were meaty and flavourful. Aubergine and miso butter, creamy yet subtly smoky. And most exciting of all, the tsukune: piscine balls of chicken and pork given a theatrical DIY spin with a dipping sauce of sweet cured egg yolk and soy and mirin that you mix at the table yourself. Fun and downright delicious.

Gotta have that eggporn, am I right? Don't worry, I disgust myself too. Anyway. This was another special dish: chilled udon with onsen egg and togarashi. I'd been craving these fat noodles as a big udon fan (in fact, it's pretty much all I ate when I visited Japan: the ramen craze that hit our shores over the past few years was as novel to me as the rest of the population). This hit the spot, and the silky, quivering egg on top yielded to Viv's chopstick so easily it horrified me a tiny bit.

The famed katsu curry scotch eggs have done the rounds on social media and I'm not ashamed to admit that they were the major impetus driving me towards far-off East London. My thoughts? I was won over by the scent of the curry and the tantalising liquid gold of the egg yolks inside the scotch eggs but strangely they were the low point of the meal for me. (Though Viv and I still hoovered them up, of course). Perhaps it was because I felt the curry sauce was on the watery side, or because the pure form of the dish, panko-breadcrumbed meat smothered in thick curry sauce on a bed of sticky Japanese rice, is so perfect on its own. While this wasn't quite sensational, better things were on their way and I soon forgot about the scotch eggs. I'm getting hungry just thinking about what came next...

Ginger ice cream with miso caramel, sweet potato crisps and black sesame praline. The miso caramel sauce packed a surprising, satisfying umami punch, while the delightfully soft ginger ice cream provided an artful contrast to the crunchy, salty ribbons of sweet potato on top. This was a real rollercoaster ride for my deprived tastebuds (subjected to weeks of supermarket meal deals before and after) and perhaps it's a crowd-divider: Viv was very much not a fan. Which I wasn't going to contradict her on at all - it meant I had the whole bowl to myself (cue fiendish snickers from my side of the table). I had this meal back in March, and it's still the best sweet dish to have passed my lips so far in 2016. 

While I end on a note of excessive praise, I cannot overexaggerate my love for this refined little izakaya out East. I reckon it'd make for a memorable night out in a multitude of situations (whether you're on an intimate, informal date or a rambunctious catch-up with friends over cocktails), the prices are fairly reasonable and I just can't get away from the fact that the dessert blew my mind. Jidori, you'll be seeing me again soon. 

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Santorini ε: Fira, Oia, Megalochori

A final return to paradisiacal azure skies, gleaming white walls and tumbling bougainvillea after a months of travel silence! Today I'd like to share our last few days in Santorini: a return to some of our favourite places on the island as well as new experiences: tastes, smells and sights that are seared into my memory seven months later, indelible and wonderful.

By day six, we'd pretty much seen most of what Santorini had to offer and had reached that lovely point in the holiday where we had the luxury of revisiting places we really liked as well as having new experiences. A star of the trip was Lucky's Souvlaki in Fira - a stellar recommendation from Miho. It's practically a hole in the wall but it enjoys a roaring trade, pounding out some of the best gyros I've tried. Order taken, we'd perch up on the bar, fascinated by the speed of assembly, then sink our teeth into the steaming gyros straight away. Fantastic value for money, simple, and oh so tasty. I think we went three times over the course of the trip, which somehow wasn't enough.

Also of interest in Fira: the Museum of Prehistoric Thera. Here you can see treasures excavated from the dig site at Akrotiri - colourful mosaics lifted from the walls, pots with undulating curves and the highlight for me, this sweet little golden ibex.

Tourist trap cafes abound in Fira - you'll pay through the nose for a drink, but the sight of the volcano below, surrounded by the shimmering lagoon, more than makes up for it.

While in Fira I caught sight of a poster of Jurassic World (wouldn't be a self-respecting dinosaur geek otherwise...) and realised that it was advertising an open-air cinema on the south part of the island later that night. So, completely spontaneously, we jumped on a bus down to Kamari, the sun's languorous descent casting long shadows and golden light on to the rocky landscape. 

And the open-air cinema was even cooler than I'd hoped: complete with bar, excellent snacks and comfortable seats. There's something incredible about watching a film under the stars, sipping a cold beer, enjoying the warm night breeze ruffling through my hair. Especially when the film is about dinosaurs. (I mean, not as good as Jurassic Park, but when a movie features Chris Pratt on a motorcycle, I'm prepared to be forgiving.)

Day seven, lost in a haze of books and languid hours soaking up the sun, ended with a return to beautiful Oia, where we went for an evening promenade, taking in engagement shoots and just generally drinking in the scenery before dinner.

Melitini, specialising in 'Greek tapas', was a real hit. Casual dining up on a rooftop is always a good idea, especially when pretty much everything we ordered tasted fantastic - particularly the earthy, smoky pork belly.

Stomachs comfortably full, we wandered back down into the belly of my beloved Atlantis Books for inspiration up the Philosophy Tower and to pet the resident cat.

The disturbing moment when you unearth this on the erotic shelf.

Books have a habit of working up my appetite for sweeter things, so it was only right that we bade farewell to Oia with the most fantastic ice cream at Lolita's Gelato - mine, a devilish concoction of dark chocolate and rum, had me swooning.

Our last day on the island came too quickly for my liking. My early swim in the huge crescent-shaped pool at Amber Light Villas was followed by a morning whiled away on the black beach at Perissa, where I drank in more Steinbeck than juice and sun (seriously, East Of Eden: mandatory reading).

Next, a stroll through the winding streets of the less polished but charming village of Megalochori, where I had the best lunch of the trip at Marmita: caramelised octopus on a bed of the smoothest, most flavourful fava bean mash. Unforgettable. The perfect way to line the stomach for what came next: a tour around the nearby Venetsanos winery, perched high on a cliff overlooking the lagoon.

For someone who is frankly a novice where it comes to wine, this tour and tasting was somewhat of an eye-opener. It was also the moment where I realised my nascent love for dessert wine (and resulted in a later surfeit of sherry in the house at Christmas...) Props to George for leading such a great tour and taking us through the various wines on offer!

The sun set on our final day, and we had one last dinner in an old mill near our hotel in Firostefani.

To be honest, this was more of the wannabe Michelin-style fare that seems to be endemic to most of the restaurants on the island (with the exorbitant price tags to match), but it was fun to see the effort the restaurant had put into the food (such as the 'volcanic rock' potatoes, above) and we left feeling cheerful, suitably restored and ready for our return to the big smoke. 
 
I hope you've enjoyed my series on Santorini! I'm thinking of doing a highlights post for anyone thinking of making a trip to this most beautiful of islands at some point, so it won't be yia sas forever. Speaking of summer 2016, (which is approaching at lightning speed - help...) I've already planned most of mine. It appears that a little voyage round Europe is on the cards - potentially a few cities in northern Europe that I don't know well or haven't visited before, and a protracted sojourn in sunkissed Italy for a second year which my body, pale and hunched from a month in the library, is anticipating already. Plus, most excitingly of all, I've booked an adventure to a part of the world I've never been before with two of my best friends (there's a clue as to where somewhere in this post...) Honestly, I can hardly wait. Now it's your turn to spark crazy, spiralling wanderlust and envy in me: what are your plans for the summer?

If you've missed my earlier posts on Santorini, you can catch up here: 
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