Ten days in Scotland

September 18, 2009 at 10:41 pm (Restaurant review, Trip report)

My blog has languished recently because I haven’t been cooking–I’ve been enjoying other people’s cooking in Scotland.  Derek and I spent a week in Edinburgh and three days on the island of Islay. Both were lovely.

edinburghSmallI immediately fell in love with Edinburgh.  I felt at home from the moment we got on the airport bus and started riding through the suburbs. I liked the Georgian monotony of New Town, the touristy cashmere kitsch of the Royal Mile, and the small town friendliness of Stockbridge.  Edinburgh feels like a big, bustling city, yet it’s very easy and fast (and cheap!) to get around on foot and by bus.  Plus they’re rebuilding the trams!

I spent most of my week in Edinburgh just walking around, exploring all the different neighborhoods, and checking out the marvelous thrift stores (of which there seemed to be an infinite supply).  And I ate.  I ate lunch and dinner out every day.  After the unvarying German/Italian/Thai of Saarbruecken, it was a pleasure to be able to sample so many different cuisines.  Still, as the week wore on, I started to get sick of restaurant food.  My normally captious nature blossomed into outright pickiness (as you’ll see in the comments below).  But don’t be fooled by all the criticism.  I had a lovely time in Edinburgh, and would return in a minute.

Scotland is more vegetarian friendly than Germany–almost every restaurant has at least one vegetarian main dish.  That said, the vegetarian fare is pretty predictable.  At most restaurants the vegetarian option is risotto, and if not risotto, then it’s almost always ravioli.  I enjoy a well-made risotto, and I’ve had some excellent ravioli. (The pumpkin ravioli in a sage cream sauce at Girasole in Pittsburgh comes to mind.) However, when I go to a restaurant and the only vegetarian choices are risotto and ravioli, I become unreasonably acrimonious.  So I tried to seek out places with more interesting vegetarian options.

  • Tony’s Table:  The first night we went to a small, low-key restaurant around the corner from our hotel.  I was intrigued by the roast cauliflower & pomegranate harissa starter that’s listed on the webpage, but unfortunately the webpage changes everyday and that wasn’t on the menu.  Instead I started with asparagus in lemon butter.  The portion was small but the asparagus was perfectly cooked and deliciously lemony.  One of our dining companions started with the woodland mushroom soup.  I hadn’t ordered it because I figured it would be a creamy soup, but it turned out to be an intensely flavored creamless mushroom broth, with a few mushrooms floating in it.  I only had one taste but really enjoyed it.  For my main I was hoping to get the dal on the webpage, but on that night’s menu the only options were risotto, and ravioli.  I couldn’t believe it!  I had specifically picked the restaurant to avoid the dreaded r&r.  I had no choice so I gave in and ordered the risotto with preserved lemons, broad beans, and peas.  I had to concede that it was excellent.  The preserved lemons infused the whole dish with a strong lemon aroma, and I loved the nutty, chewy broad beans.  The peas added sweetness.  The only downside was that the dish was HUGE.  I would have preferred a larger starter and a more reasonable sized main.  The mains also came with a side of steamed vegetables, which were fresh and tasty.  For dessert I ordered the orange polenta cake.  (I was aiming for a citrus trifecta.)  I wouldn’t have known that there was polenta in the cake, except that the texture was slighty coarse, kind of like a Passover cake made from matzoh meal.  I like Passover cake, and I enjoyed the polenta cake,which went quite well with the fragrant orange sauce.  What I really adored, however, was Derek’s treacle tart.  It was served with some kind of spicy sauce that was full of warm spices that I couldn’t quite place.  The combination of the dark molasses flavor and the warm spices was addictive.  One of our dining companion’s ordered the chocolate soup:  it was basically a big bowl of melted dark chocolate.  My taste was tasty, but I think I would have found it a bit boring if I had ordered it.  Tony’s Table charges 20 pounds for three courses.  I thought the price was very reasonable given the quality of the food.  The atmosphere was pleasant, and the service acceptable, although not especially friendly. I would love to go back, although hopefully the next time I’m there the vegetarian options will be a bit more adventurous.  Rating:  B+
  • Valvona and Crolla Caffe Bar:  I was determined to try the pizza at La Favorita, but the restaurant is almost to Leith, and my plans to stop there for lunch never seemed to work out.  On the last day of my stay in Edinburgh I tried to make it to La Favorita, but ran out of time, and ended up at the Valvona and Crolla deli.  I had heard excellent things about the restaurant in the back, so I stopped for lunch.  They had pizza and some other vegetarian options but I opted for a simple pasta with olive oil and some type of mushroom.  It was very rich (almost olive oil soup), but very tasty.  The pasta was perfectly al dente, and the sauce delicious.  It was so good that despite being pretty full I wanted to try a dessert.  I opted for the carrot cake, which was nicely spiced but overly dry, with an unappetizing mascarpone icing.  I felt like the prices were a bit high for lunch, but they’re only open until 5pm.  If I’m back in Edinburgh I’d like to come back, but I’ll make lunch my main meal and only have a light salad or soup for dinner.  The caffe is very informal, but very pleasant with lots of light and a high ceiling.  I would also like to try the associated Valvona and Crolla VinCaffe.  Rating: B.
  • Susie’s Wholefood Diner:  I hadn’t planned to try this old-school vegetarian diner, but ended up at the University around lunchtime, and it was full of people and looked cozy, so my friend and I decided to try it.  We went to the counter to see the options and give our order, and after eying the day’s choices I chose a medium plate, giving me a choice of three dishes.  I selected the vegetable enchiladas, a salad of various grated vegetables, and the spanokopita.  My friend got the last serving of spanokopita, so I took my two dishes and said I’d wait until the next batch came out of the oven.  The flour enchilada looked a lot like my own enchiladas, and tasted pretty similar, except it was filled with various veggies rather than tofu.  I normally don’t care for vegetable enchiladas, but this one was quite nice.  The sauce was just how I like it, and the filling was simple but tasty.  The salad was fine, but not exciting (I think it was not dressed).  My friend had gotten the spanokopita, the same salad, and a puree of sweet potatoes, lentils, and millet, topped with a ginger sauce.  She said the spanokopita was fine but the sweet potatoes were really good. I tasted the puree and really liked it, so switched my third dish to the puree instead of the spanokopita.  I think the server was disturbed by giving me a plate that was only 1/3 full, so he gave me this enormous scoop of sweet potatoes.  It was way too much.  The sweet potatoes were really good though.  I wouldn’t have known there were lentils in it, so I’m guessing they were red lentils cooked til they totally lost all shape.  I could easily detect the millet, which added it’s own slightly dry, chewy texture to the dish.  The real crown, however, was the ginger sauce.  It didn’t taste at all like ginger to me–more like the carmelized, reduced juices that leak out of the sweet potatoes when you roast them.  I don’t know how they made that sauce but it was marvelous.  The diner was crowded, but very bright and cozy.  The food wasn’t at all gourmet, but I enjoyed my lunch and if Susie’s opened a branch in Saarbruecken, I’d be a regular.  Despite the counter-service approach, the lunch wasn’t exactly cheap, but I thought that the price was acceptable, especially given the enormous pile of sweet potatoes.  Rating: B.
  • Kalpna’s:  I couldn’t quite tell what I thought of Kalpna’s because we ended up eating there in a group of ten, and someone else was paying the bill and asked the waiter to simply bring “some of everything.”  So we got tons of food but I didn’t know what anything was and it became simply overwhelming.  I do remember that I quite liked the tandoor mix (vegetables coated in a spicy yogurt marinade and cooked in the tandoor oven).  It was much, much better than typical grilled vegetable kabobs.  I also really loved one of the dishes that came in an almond, cashew sauce that was incredibly nutty and addictive.  The only downside was that it was almost all sauce, with very little in the sauce.  The carrot halvah was quite good–almost as good as homemade.  The mango lassi was also nice–not too sweet, not too sour, and not too thick.  There were definitely dishes I didn’t care for–one memorable dish with a tomato based sauce was so sweet I stopped after one bite.  I had trouble evaluating the restaurant due to the crazy circumstances, but the prices were quite reasonable and there were a few standout dishes.  I’d definitely try it again.  Rating:  B.
  • Wedgwood: I was looking for more upscale restaurants that offered a vegetarian option other than the inevitable R&R, and came across Wedgwood, which happens to be rated number one on TripAdvisor for Edinburgh restaurants.  I don’t know how much that rating means, but the menu looked good to Derek so we decided to give it a try.  I started with a watercress “cappuccino”, a twist on the classic English soup.  I love the peppery intensity of watercress, and was extremely disappointed by the mild, almost bland cup of soup I was served.  Before our mains we were served shot glasses full of some sort of sweet soda (ginger and cranberry maybe?).  Somehow the waitress managed to topple mine all over the table, and into my lap.  She was quite friendly, however, and I was wearing black, so I didn’t mind very much.  We had a good laugh about it.  The soda was sweet and tasty, but not  unusual.  For my main I ordered the intriguing sounding “black eyed peas, beans, vegetables, wrapped in vine leaves, lightly curried saffron broth”.  When it arrived I was surprised to find that the “broth” was actually more of a thick, mustard-yellow sauce that spilled out from underneath the stuffed grape leaves.  The grape leaves were strongly pickled.  I liked the taste but there was simply too much of it, compared to the rather mild filling.  The briny leaves overwhelmed the other flavors, so I unwrapped the leaves and just ate the filling and sauce.  The filling was plain but pleasant tasting:  a mixture of lentils, black eye peas, a grain (bulgur?), and minced vegetables.   The saffron sauce definitely tasted like saffron, and I liked it okay, but it’s not quite what I had been hoping for.  After removing the grape leaves I thought the dish was fine, and certainly different, but I wouldn’t order it again.  One of my dining companions (also a vegetarian) liked my dish alot, and finished off what I couldn’t manage (after finishing her own dish!).  She had ordered the fennel, walnut and tomato risotto, which came with a lovely, very fresh side salad.  The risotto was quite nice.  It was much firmer and drier than the risotto at Tony’s Table, but it was full of flavor, and the walnuts added a surprising crunch to the dish.  I definitely want to try making a risotto with walnuts sometime.  For dessert I tried the peanut butter pudding with banana ice cream and carmelized bananas.  The peanut butter pudding was definitely peanut buttery, and it went nicely with the banana ice cream, but neither the texture nor flavor were quite right.  I also didn’t care for the hard, candied surface on the bananas. I would have preferred a simply grilled banana without the distraction of the too-sweet, too-hard surface.  Derek ordered the sticky toffee pudding, which was tasty but a bit too sweet and not dark enough I thought.  One of our dining companion’s tried the pineapple “gazpacho”, which was light and refreshing.  It kind of reminded me of a pina colada.  Our other dining companion tried the goats cheese semi freddo with honeyed beetroot, passion fruit, and fennel sorbet.  The fennel sorbet tasted like fennel, and the semi freddo was quite nice–it had the sour creaminess that I love in yogurt gelato. Overall I was a little disappointed in Wedgwood.  It has creativity, and lots of potential, but wasn’t as successful as Tony’s Table, and was slightly more expensive (for vegetarians). But it was good enough that I would certainly try it again, especially since it was Derek’s favorite restaurant in Edinburgh.  Rating: B.
  • Sprio: I happened into Sbrio by accident.  I wanted to try Sabor Criollo, but there wasn’t much vegetarian, and–more importantly–it was closed.  Hungry, we were searching for someplace in Stockbridge to grab a quick lunch.  Sprio is a little Italian cafe on a side street.  There are seats inside but it was dim and a little depressing, so we sat on stools at a little table out front.  There were a number of vegetarian sandwiches and pastas, but none of the combinations suited my tastes (eggplant and blue cheese kept encroaching on otherwise appealing choices).  I had them make me a custom sandwich with some Italian smoked cheese, tomatoes, and artichoke hearts.  Rather than go with the standard panini I decided to try the Italian flat bread, piadina.  It turned out to be quite similar to a flour tortilla, turning my “sandwich” into something more akin to a quesadilla, but not fried.  The smoked cheese was tasty, but the sandwich was a little boring.  Probably the eggplant and blue cheese would have helped!  My friend and I also shared a caprese salad, which was actually tomatoes and mozarella on top of a leafy salad.  The ingredients were all quite fresh and I enjoyed the salad, especially the delicious gaeta olives.  I’d go back if I was in the neighborhood and I needed lunch, but I wouldn’t make a special trip.  Rating: B.
  • David Bann:  I had looked at the menu at this more upscale vegetarian restaurant, and dismissed it as the menu looked a little too standard.  However, a friend of mine had been to David Bann before and remembered it fondly, so I figured I should give it a try.  I went with a group of four and we started with a few starters:  the popular thai fritters; potato, olive, caper, sorrel salad; and french fries.  The thai fritters were pleasant–I liked the smoked tofu that made up the “heart” of the fritters, and the banana chutney was quite nice as well.  The salad was also tasty.  I really liked the combination of the briny green olives and the capers, but I could barely detect any sorrel at all.  The french fries were not very good, but since we ordered them vegan they were served with a side of hummus!  When I first tasted it I wasn’t sure what it was–it tasted creamy and savory and delicious, but I couldn’t place the flavors.  Only once my dining companions informed me that I was eating hummus did I figure it out.  French fries (even mediocre ones) are really good dipped in hummus!  For a main dish I ordered the Organic udon noodles with ginger red pepper sauce and home smoked tofu.  For some reason I was expecting more of a brothy dish, but it was actually a big pile of sauced udon noodles.  The sauce was tasty–“red” tasting without being very spicy.  The smoked tofu on top was a little bland–not as flavorful as the tofu in the thai fritters.  I enjoyed my dish, but it wasn’t too exciting or original.  I think next time I would pick something different.  One of my dining companions ordered the roast aubergine chick pea cake with mash and gravy, and seemed disappointed.  He said he couldn’t taste any eggplant, and the small fritters were dwarfed by the huge pile of mashed potatoes they were perched on top of.  The mashed potatoes were fine, but boring, and the gravy wasn’t great.  My friend ordered the butternut squash, cashew and kohlrabi curry.  The presentation was different than I expected–the vegetables were sliced into big, thick rounds, and stacked on top of each other then covered in a thai curry sauce.  It was a nice twist on the standard chunky, brothy curry.  I nabbed a small taste and the curry tasted fine–like a Thai curry.  My friend said that the accompaniments really made the dish however.  He was quite happy with his choice.  For dessert, I tried the strawberry panna cotta which was reasonably tasty, but the pink creaminess was a little offputting.  I don’t know if it was in my head, but it almost tasted a little of artificial strawberry flavoring.  The dining companion who ordered it didn’t finish it, but perhaps he was just full.  I helped him out.  I ordered the orange and vanilla cheesecake, which was fine.  It wasn’t the best cheesecake I’ve had, and the orange jelly layer on top was a bit weird, but it was tasty enough that I finished it all.  The vegan member of our group had only one choice:  raspberry jelly and coconut rum sorbet.  I think it’s a bit sad that a vegetarian restaurant can only come up with a single vegan dessert, but he seemed to enjoy it.  Overall, I didn’t love anything I tried at David Bann, and I thought the desserts were disappointing–but everything was competently done, the atmosphere was pleasant, and the prices were reasonable.  I wouldn’t rush back but if a friend wanted to try the restaurant I would join them.  Rating: B.
  • A Room in the Town:  The second night we were in Edinburgh we had a quite large group with several vegetarians and several non-vegetarians who wanted Scottish food, and were trying to come to a consensus about dinner.  We ended up at a Room in the Town.  I was quite excited to try the feta, watermelon & rockette salad with a coriander & pink peppercorn vinaigrette, as I have very fond memories of the watermelon, arugula, feta salad at Kaya in Pittsburgh.  However, the salad was awful.  The watermelon was tasteless and watery, and the dressing was oily and overpowering.   I gave the salad to Derek, who liked it.  For my main I ordered the Butternut squash, yellow courgette & broccoli in a coconut & red curry broth, chargrilled flatbread.  The curry was better than I expected.  It wasn’t anything special, but the veggies tasted good and it hit the spot.  No one else seemed that excited about their food, however, so we left without ordering dessert.  I would be less inclined to return to a Room in the Town than to David Bann, but I would be willing if a friend was set on it.  Rating: B-.
  • Dusit: I had read nothing but positive reviews of Dusit, a Thai restaurant in the New Town.  Derek and I went for lunch, only to discover that the lunch menu is quite short, with none of the interesting-sounding vegetarian options that are on the dinner menu.  We asked our waiter if we could order off the dinner menu, and he said sure.  We started with the sweet potato and taro fritters.  The fritters didn’t excite me that much, but I really liked the sweet chili dip that they were served with.  Derek liked the fritters a lot.  For our main course we shared the “Son in Law” and the “Pad Med Mamung”.  The Son in Law was grilled vegetables in a sweet tamarind, white wine, and brandy sauce.  I should have been more cautious–the “sweet” sauce was too sweet for me.  I was hoping the tamarind would make it more sour, but it was mostly just sweet.  There weren’t that many vegetables either–the dish seemed a little small given the price.   The “Pad Med Mamung” was a mix of mushrooms, vegetables, and cashew nuts, in a chilli & chilli jam sauce.  I liked this sauce better than the other one, although I was hoping for something a bit more fiery, like the Thai chili paste I make at home.  The dish was fine but not stellar.  Derek thought the two dishes were best mixed together.  The prices were a little high for lunch (although we did order off the dinner menu).  Also, Dusit charges for rice, and charges quite a bit.  They didn’t have brown rice, but the white rice was quite good–nice and  chewy.  Overall I was disappointed in Dusit.  The menu looked so interesting but I wouldn’t order either of the two “interesting” dishes we ordered again.  Rating: B-
  • Mezbaan:  This south Indian restaurant is close to the King’s Theatre, so we stopped in for an early dinner before going to see a play.  The mango lassi was not quite as good as at Kalpna, but nice–not too sweet.  I ordered the onion dosa.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I certainly wasn’t expecting the dosa with little bits of onion falling out everywhere!  The dosa didn’t quite taste right–not sour enough.  The sambar was awful–not at all what I think of as sambar.  The coconut chutney was not good either.  Derek ordered the masala dosa, and I didn’t think his potatoes tasted anything like masala potatoes.  They weren’t very good. I did like the side order of bhindi bhaji that we ordered.  The okra was greasy but well-flavored and surprisingly crisp.  The side order of channa masala was not as good.  It was fine but I wouldn’t order it again.  It was hard to tell what my dining companions thought of the meal, since we were so rushed.  Once we finally got our food we had to leave for the theatre ten minutes later.  To be fair, we did have a very large group.  Overall I wasn’t that impressed with the food at Mezbaan, especially since the dosas were not up to par, and it’s supposedly a south Indian restaurant.  Still, I enjoyed the okra and I’d try it again if I needed somewhere to eat before the theatre.  Rating:  B-.
  • 21212: Derek organized a group to go to this new restaurant which has been receiving glowing reviews since it opened.  None of the dishes were vegetarian, but they modified them all for me to use vegetables instead of meat. The starter was excellent.  It was actually “risotto”, but not a very traditional risotto.  It was a small bowl of soupy rice, topped with various interesting things which I no longer remember, except for the wonderful slices of dried oranges that had an explosive amount of flavor for how tiny they were.   After the starter the rest of the courses were a disappointment.    I can’t recall much about the soup, except that it was white and creamy and tasted fine but not like much in particular.  In fact, all the courses seemed very similar–white, creamy, rich with a bunch of random vegetables thrown in.  In my main course the meat was replaced with white asparagus, which I’m usually not a fan of.  However the asparagus was crisp and pleasant tasting.  In the middle of the dish was this extremely salty, dough ball.  Except for Derek, everyone thought it was gross.  Other than the asparagus and the dough ball, the main dish was unmemorable.  After our main course we were served a cheese course, and the cheeses were very standard cheeses.  Also the wedges of cheese were huge.  All the other courses (for which the chefs actually had to do some work) were quite tiny, then they fill us up with massive amounts of standard cheeses.  It kind of pissed me off.   I ordered the lemon tart for dessert.  It was fine, but not as good as the lemon bars from Fine Cooking–they were a tad too sweet and a tiny bit metallic tasting.  For the price I was expecting something more interesting and refined.  I liked Derek’s dessert better than mine–I can’t remember the details but it was some kind of a banana trifle, but was more interesting than that sounds. Overall I didn’t feel like the food came close to living up to the high prices.  The most unforgivable offense was the lack of variation in the courses.  There was nothing raw, not variation in color, nothing grilled or baked.  Everything was creamy and white and foamy and savory.  Unless the prices go down substantially, I wouldn’t go back for dinner. I might go back for lunch, which has fewer courses but also much lower prices. Rating: C
  • Pancho Villa:  I randomly stopped in this Mexican restaurant for lunch, because I was hungry, it was there, and I love Mexican food.  I ordered the enchiladas with lentils and mushrooms, served with refried beans and a salad.  The enchiladas weren’t particularly good–the sauce didn’t have enough chili flavor, the filling wasn’t as interesting as it sounded, and there was too much oily cheese on top.   The beans and salad were fine, but not exciting.  The best thing about the meal was that it was pretty low sodium for Mexican restaurant.  Rating: C

I was so busy walking around exploring Edinburgh that I didn’t get many chances to stop and simply sit and read in cafes.  I did try the hot chocolate at the cafe “Chocolate Soup”, but I didn’t think it was very good.  It was neither chocolaty or intense enough.  I also stopped briefly in the “Circle Cafe” before going to the Botanical Garden.  The cafe had a really nice, neighborhood feel to it.  I tried the “flapjack”, a classic Scottish bar made from rolled oats and butter.  It was kind of like a cross between an oatmeal cookie and a blondie.  Quite tasty.

Other places I really wanted to try but never quite made it to:  La Favorita for the pizza, Chop Chop, Mother India Cafe, Khushi’s or Anna Purna, Nargile, and Wok and Wine.  The food at Urban Angel looked simple but the ingredients seemed to be of extremely high quality.  I’d like to eat there for lunch next time I’m in Edinburgh.    A friend said that the vegetarian Baked Potato Shop made an excellent potato with tofu chili.  I had also wanted to try the cardamom bun or hot chocolate, and a sandwich, at Peter’s Yard.  I had been interested in trying Roti, but several friends went and no one was impressed.

ardbegUnlike Edinburgh, Islay is pretty empty.  The scenery is beautiful though, and varied.  Within a short distance you pass by forest, sand dunes, rolling green hills, flat pasture land, and many, many sheep and cows (who always seem to be simultaneously eating lunch and letting loose from the other end).  Compared to Edinburgh, Islay has only a small number of dining options, and they generally serve much simpler food.  Still, every place we checked out had some vegetarian option, and I very much enjoyed the Scottish soups.

  • Ferry boat: We ate a bit on the boat over, since we hadn’t eaten lunch and it was dinner time.  We shared a veggie burger, which tasted fried but wasn’t particularly tasty.  A side of macaroni and cheese wasn’t bad.  Also, I hadn’t noticed it but it turns out they had a specials menu with vichyssoise–I think that would have been a better choice, given the high quality of the soups on Islay.
  • Maharani: The first night we arrived late, and ate at the Maharani Indian restaurant which was next door to our B&B.  We ordered a vindaloo vegetable dish and a side of aloo gobi.  The aloo gobi was very oily but the taste of the cauliflower really came through, which doesn’t happen so often at Indian restaurants. I enjoyed it.  The vindaloo dish was extremely spicy (and also very oily), and Derek and I only managed to eat half of it.
  • Machrie hotel bar: For lunch the next day we ate in the bar at the Machrie Hotel.  I ordered a bowl of lentil broth which was actually just lentil soup, and a peanut butter and banana “toasty”.  The lentil soup was quite nice, and the toasty was simple but satisfying.  Derek had a plate of cheese and crackers, and enjoyed all the different British crackers, especially since we never eat crackers in Germany.  The cheese was fine–Derek said it tasted like Giant Eagle cheddar.
  • Harbor Inn: Sunday dinner we went to a more upscale hotel:  the Harbor Inn, in Bowmore.  I started with a bowl of red pepper soup, which tasted like pure blended red bell peppers.  It was fine, but just a tad boring.  I would have liked a little spice or herb in addition to the peppers.  For my “main dish” I ordered an appetizer called a “tartlet”.  I thought it would be kind of like a little quiche, but it was more like a stacked pile of vegetables with a sauce and melted cheese on top.  I didn’t care for it, but Derek like it and finished it off for me.  In return I ate some of the potato gratin which came with Derek’s dish.  It was typically rich but tasty.  For dessert I ordered a chocolate and ginger souffle, with mint ice cream on the side.  The chocolate souffle was not as light as I was expecting, which I was quite happy about.  I enjoyed it, but couldn’t detect any ginger.  I loved the mint ice cream–it tasted like mint tea made from fresh mint leaves, and went wonderfully with the chocolate.  Derek ordered some kind of traditional Scottish dessert made from oatmeal.  It contained layers of sweetened oatmeal, something creamy, and lots of raspberries.  It was pretty doughy tasting, but strangely satisfying.  Even Derek (the berry hater) thought that the raspberries were necessary, however, to cut through the heavy doughiness.  Given that I didn’t care for either my soup or my tartlet, I wouldn’t rush to go back for dinner, but I would go back to try some of their other ice creams, like the basil ice cream.
  • Ardbeg cafe: Monday morning we went on a tour of the Ardbeg distillery, and then afterwards atelunch at their cafe.  I ordered thebarley smoking under a peat fire carrot soup, and it was really great.  It was made creamy by pureeing the carrots, but they also added some grated carrot for texture.  There were also detectable bits of leek,  thyme, and I think some other herb.  The taste was complex and delicious.  I also ordered a toasty with cheese and tomato chutney, but the chutney was so sweet that I really disliked the sandwich, and gave it to Derek who likes the sweet/savory combination more than me.  After lunch we went on a distillery tour at the Laphroaig distillery.  They let us taste the barley after it had been malted and smoked under a peat fire (shown in the photo at right).  It was quite nice!  I’m surprised that the local cafes don’t used the malted, smoked barley to make bread.
  • An Taigh-Osda: Monday dinner was at an taigh-osda, a new restaurant that just opened up (pronounced anti-AUST-uh).  I found the place a bit pretentious, and the service was a little too fast from one course to another.  I skipped the starters and just ordered a main course.  I can’t remember the details but the bulk of it consisted of thick disks of various vegetables stacked into a tower.  There was eggplant, sweet potato, tomato, onion, etc.  The vegetables were all fine, but the dish seemed awfully expensive for just a stack of roasted, oily disks of various vegetable.  There was some kind of sweet chutney on the side, which tasted strange to me, and I gave to Derek.   For dessert Derek and I shared a sticky toffee pudding, which was tasty but perhaps a tad too sweet.
  • Kilchoman cafe: Tuesday lunch we ate at the Kilchoman distillery cafe.  I ordered the zucchini and mint soup, which tasted strongly of mint, perhaps a little too strongly.  I didn’t love it so I gave the end to Derek, who liked it more than me.
  • Port Charlotte hotel bar: Dinner on Tuesday we ate at the Port Charlotte hotel, but we ate on the pub/bar side, not at the more upscale restaurant.  I started with a bowl of roasted shellsvegetable soup.  I was expecting something brothy with chunks of vegetables, but it turned out to be a pureed soup.  I could definitely taste parsnips, but I’m not sure what else was in it.  The taste was sweet and savory and salty–delicious, and very comforting.  I’d love to get the recipe.  It was the second best soup I had after the carrot soup at Ardbeg.  My main was pasta puttanesca.  It was okay but not great.  The pasta wasn’t quite al dente enough, the olives were just cheap California black olives, and I couldn’t really taste the capers.  The portion was also too big.  I ate a little but didn’t finish it.  Derek and I shared too desserts:  bread and butter pudding and the sticky toffee pudding (again).  The bread and butter pudding was not great.  The bread was tasteless white bread, and I’m never a huge fan of anglaise sauce.  The sticky toffee pudding was better than the one at an taigh-osda–the cake was moister and a little darker tasting, and the sauce wasn’t quite so sweet.  (It actually tasted like the butter/brown sugar mixture on the bottom of my pineapple upside down cake.)

Given all the excellent soups I had on my trip to Scotland, and the oncoming cold weather, I’m newly inspired to try to find some new soup recipes.  If anyone has a soup recipe they love, please post a comment!


  1. nico said,

    hi captious! please consider adding your excellent restaurant reviews to http://www.vegguide.org!

  2. Wedgwood: The Restaurant (Edinburgh) « Hot Potato Cold Potato said,

    […] very satisfying.  And although Rose wasn’t totally happy with her menu choices (see her blog), the other vegetarians we dined with were.  Highly […]

  3. Robbie said,

    We loved Edinburgh when we visited too. It just seemed so livable, and yet chocked full of beautiful old buildings and statues and streets as well.

    I think we ate at “a room in the town” while we were there. If we did, we really liked what we got. Might have been a different place though….


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