Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Review: Spitaki

On Saturday 30th May, we tried the newly opened Spitaki on East Claremont Street.

We were pretty excited about this – a new Greek restaurant opening on the East side of Edinburgh, about a 2 minute walk from our front door. Greek food whenever we want it, basically. I think I can quite confidently state that this is ‘the dream’. One of my all time favourite cuisines, the opening is perfect timing for a lovely warm summer (or at least we can sit inside pretending how lovely and warm it is outside while the horizontal rain batters the windows). The restaurant opened its doors on Friday, and we swiftly booked a table for the Saturday night to see what was on offer.

Photograph courtesy of STV
On arrival we were shown to our table, in a rather awkward corner of the Taverna. The décor is exactly what you would imagine a Greek restaurant to be, light and airy with furniture and walls painted blue and white. It’s pleasant, however ever so slightly outdated, despite being renovated weeks earlier. Spitaki, as a floor space, is an undeniably awkward one – this cannot be helped, though, as it is just the unusual shape of the building (the previous occupants, ‘Elbow’, named their café quite literally). You feel that the building is more suited to a pub, where access to tables would not be hugely necessary, but nevertheless, there we were, the four of us, sitting at a table that could potentially seat eight.

Décor and building aside, the menu certainly sparked our appetites. Some great sounding dips, including hummus and tzatziki, were accompanied by traditional Greek favourites - including spanakopita, green peppers with feta and char grilled marinated chicken. An exciting yet traditional Greek menu, something that Edinburgh certainly lacks. All would have been well if it wasn’t for the incompetence of the waiting staff, however. Ordering our drinks became a bit of an ordeal – most likely caused by the fact that the waitress was not writing down our order. We had to ask for a beer twice, olives twice and glasses for our water three times. All would have been forgiven if she was apologetic, but her reaction to our gentle reminders was closer to confusion and frustration.

Nevertheless, our food order was written down and taken correctly. We thought we’d split it up a bit – so we ordered three dips – hummus, tzatziki and baba ganoush (this was called something else on the menu which I cannot recall – the aubergine dip, to put it simply) with a couple of orders of pita bread. These were all perfectly made and absolutely delicious – particularly the baba ganoush which was bursting with smoky aubergine flavour. The pita bread, also, was top quality, however completely over priced (£1.50 for one small pita bread, quartered). A great start, food wise, all washed down with a reasonable bottle of Malbec (although, the wine selection is miniscule). This was followed swiftly by a great selection of mezzes including green peppers with feta, spanakopita, cheese ‘saganaki’ (fried cheese), prawn saganaki and char grilled chicken. Some dishes were superb – the chilli peppers with feta dish was hugely flavoursome – to a point where the amazing, smoky flavour of the chilli emerged rather than the heat. The prawns were good too – well cooked and flavoured nicely with a pleasant tomato sauce; they paired well with the succulent, skewered chicken. The spanakopita, however, was chewy and clearly not fresh – while the fried cheese was rubbery, nevertheless tasty. I would have happily passed this information on to the waiting staff, but they did not ask once whether the food was okay and they could not have looked more uninterested anyway.  

The food, overall – was good, however oddly priced. The cheese saganaki at £3.50 comes across as a bargain, however the prawns, of which there were four, came at a hefty £8 (similarly, the two relatively small chicken skewers cost £7.50). So – the veggie side of the meal was of pretty good value, but, if you prefer to order primarily meat dishes, your meal will be pricy and relatively small, as well as underwhelming. We decided to skip dessert – they had no menu and their offerings were quite poor - cheesecake, brownie or a Greek sponge cake. The atmosphere by about 9pm had died a death so we were quite happy to leave soon after.

Overall, my excitement of trying Spitaki was quite quickly quashed soon after we arrived. The waiting staff are very amateurish, possibly (and hopefully) drafted in whilst they look for relatively well-trained servers. The décor, despite newly put together, is nothing special and the drinks list is very limited. You could, momentarily, forget about all of this as you dig into their delicious tzatziki with their fresh, homemade pita bread – however not all of the food is quite good enough for you to completely forgive the shortcomings. I’m hoping they’ll improve with time and swiftly fill in the cracks that can be so common with a newly opened restaurant, however I’m certainly not rushing back. Spitaki, right now, is a mediocre restaurant, and I would wait a while before trying if I were you.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Red Onion Chutney & Parmesan Swirls

Deep, deep apologies to anybody that reads my blog regularly (anybody?!) - I haven't posted in about two weeks and there are few excuses for that. The bagels have taken off, but I can certainly sit down more than often and do a wee blog post - but I haven't so I hang my head in shame. Enough wallowing, however, and down to business. Recently, I've started doing the 'bread basket' for a restaurant in Edinburgh called Purslane, run by the excellent chef Paul Gunning. If you've ever been, you'll realise that the quality of food produced there is very, very high - so making bread for the restaurant is a real honour. This has led me to produce a few different types of bread, particularly small, dainty rolls with some decent ingredients through them, and this one is probably my favourite and it seems to be the restaurant's favourite as well, so I thought I'd share it with you.

Yield: 30 small bread swirls

  • 650g strong white bread flour
  • 325ml warm water
  • 4 x tablespoons milk
  • 2 x tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 x 7g packet dried yeast
  • large pinch of sea salt
Filling and topping
  • 2 x tablespoons red onion chutney
  • thumb size piece of good quality Parmesan
  • 1 x egg
  • 2 x tablespoons milk
  • freshly ground black pepper
  1. Typical start to a dough - mix the flour, yeast and sea salt in a large bowl and then add the milk and olive oil, making sure to mix well. Slowly start adding the warm water, making sure to stir with a wooden spoon as you do so. It'll eventually become relatively difficult to stir, so get in there with your hands. Knead the dough in the bowl until you've picked up all the loose bits of flour, and then tip out onto a lightly oiled surface. Knead for 5-10 minutes until smooth and elastic. Oil a clean bowl and place the dough in it, cover with cling film and leave for 1 hour, or until doubled. 
  2. Remove the risen dough from the bowl onto, again, a lightly oiled surface and knock back. Divide into 3 (this isn't entirely necessary, I just find it easier doing the swirls in smaller batches for neatness) and roll the dough into a rectangle (roughly 20cm x 10cm). Using a sharp knife, cut the rounded edges of the rolled out dough to, again, make a neater roll. 
  3. Empty your red onion chutney, preferably room temperature, onto the dough and spread it over the surface completely with the back of a spoon. Grate the Parmesan over this and grind some black pepper over it too. Carefully, start rolling the dough up into a roly-poly - making sure it's relatively tight and even as you go. Once rolled, using your sharp knife, trim the edges of the roll so you have a nice, even cross section. Divide the roll into 10 separate swirls and place them on a lined baking tray, making sure to leave plenty of room for them to prove and spread during baking (repeat with the rest of the dough). Leave these to prove for 30-45 minutes. While these prove, preheat your oven to 200C fan.
  4. Whisk the egg and milk in a small bowl. Once the swirls have proved, lightly brush the egg mix over the swirls. Pop into the oven for 12 minutes, or until golden brown. Once baked, remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack for 20 minutes. 
And you're done! the smell will be quite spectacular, fresh bread mixing with the sweet onion chutney and the salty aromas of the cheese. Quite a dynamic little bread. Also, extremely versatile - this dough is quite sturdy and can be used with a number of other fillings. I'd highly recommend making your own olive tapenade and substituting that for the chutney. Or, if you're a cheese lover, make small Dunsyre cheese stuffed buns (as I have done in the picture below).

Mmmm.. cheesy bread. Can't beat it really. So give this recipe a go - or, if you fancy a good meal out, I'd highly recommend Purslane on St. Stephen's Street, even if it is just for the bread. 

Monday, 9 March 2015

Review: The Smoke Stack

After a long and relatively tiring week - we decided to head out for a celebratory Friday night dinner in the Broughton Street area. We weren't quite sure where we'd end up - our top choice, The Basement, was absolutely packed, so we decided to head slightly further down the road and go into one of Edinburgh's longest serving restaurants - The Smoke Stack.

It was a slightly odd welcome - almost like they could have done without us walking in at a relatively busy time. We hadn't booked but this turned out not be a problem, as they found a table for us pretty quickly. We made our drinks orders, a rather easy-to-drink bottle of Sangiovese, and were left to peruse the relatively extensive menu. Now, if you weren't hungry before reading the menu, you certainly were afterwards. The food this restaurant offers is pure comfort food - from deep fried shrimp with chilli sauce to a selection of steaks, as well as burgers, fish & chips and fajitas. They also have a good salad section but I sort of glazed over that - this was Friday night, I had red wine in my hand, it had to be steak for me.

Nevertheless, I had to think of something to start off with - and all of the starters sounded pretty damn good to me. The offerings of grilled goat's cheese, mussels and nachos (not all in one dish, that would be horrible - or would it?!) made choosing a starter a serious dilemma - however I managed to settle for the chicken liver and bacon paté, whilst my girlfriend went for their cauliflower and Dunsyre blue cheese soup. The food arrived pretty quickly despite the place being packed - a service team that clearly know what they're doing (with the occasional surly waitress, however). I must say, the starter portions are quite big (apologies for limited pictures - was too busy stuffing my face to remember to take many.. actually I only managed to take one - see above) but I was relatively hungry so I was certainly not complaining. Often you find when you order paté, you get a thimble full of the thing, and a whole loaf of bread to accompany it - however this was not the case here. A generous amount of perfectly made, smooth paté was served with chargrilled crusty bread which was absolutely delicious. It also came with a generous serving of red onion chutney which, we all know, is the perfect pairing with paté. An overall great starter. The soup, too, was flavourful and well made. The fantastic flavour of blended, well seasoned cauliflower was accompanied by the close to unbeatable Dunsyre blue cheese - the two go together perfectly, and the soup certainly demonstrated this.

Moving on, after our two tasty starters, we were looking forward to our mains. Naturally, coming the The Smoke Stack, I had to go for their rump steak - as great and comforting as the other dishes on the menu sound, steak is clearly their speciality, and over-looking it is often followed by regret. My girlfriend agreed but fancied something lighter - going for the healthy meat option in the peppered steak salad (unlike me, she did not ignore the salad section). You can be healthy, however, with the accompaniments of the steak - but I went for chips and a Dunsyre blue cheese sauce. The steak was excellent - prime Aberdeen Angus cooked exactly to my liking (medium rare) and not in the slightest bit chewy, despite the rump cut. The sauce was also delicious - however texturally odd. The salad was also top quality - leaves with a delicious soy dressing were topped with a generous amount of heavily peppered beef, that, again, had been cooked to absolute perfection. It is quite clear that The Smoke Stack know a good slice of beef when they see one. The quality of the meat they present is top of the range stuff - you'd be hard pressed to find a better steak anywhere in the country. Without having to say, we ate every single bit of our dishes. Oh and by the way, the chips are pretty good too.

Now, onto dessert. I know what you're thinking, how the hell did we manage to eat all of that food and still have dessert?! Well, I have no idea either - but we did, so there. I went for my favourite, sticky toffee pudding, while my girlfriend went for a banana split. The pudding was good, a well made, date cake was slathered in a thick toffee sauce, topped with vanilla ice cream. Pure comfort. Similarly, the banana split was tasty - despite us only eating about a sixth of it (eyes bigger than our stomachs, as usual). They don't offer anything spectacular in this respect, however the desserts were tasty and comforting, and this is clearly the aim of the restaurant.

So, overall, it was a very satisfying meal. What they have to offer is simple, yet delicious. Their food is filling and the steaks are done to clinical perfection - this Edinburgh institution is the place to go for your red meat fix. As great as the new places around the city are, you just can't go wrong with some of the more established restaurants in Edinburgh. So, if you haven't been in a while, head to The Smoke Stack for a very good steak dinner - I guarantee it.

Restaurant information
The Smoke Stack
53-55 Broughton Street, Edinburgh
0131 556 6032

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Sausage Ragu

Oh dear, my blogging seems to have fallen away slightly - been relatively busy recently but I will not let this slip! Anyway, here's a great recipe for a quick, delicious dinner. This sausage ragu is warming, intense and spicy - perfect for a winter's night (I know we're in March, but I'm looking out the window and it's currently snowing, so it's still fecking winter). It goes perfectly with freshly cooked pasta and a zesty dressed salad - making this dish seems relatively impressive however it really is dead easy.


  • 1 x large onion, diced
  • 4 x Cumberland sausages (or a variety you prefer), removed from casing
  • 2 x garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 x 400g tinned tomatoes
  • 1 x tablespoon of tomato purée
  • 1 x teaspoon dried chilli flakes
  • 1 x teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 x tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1 x small glass of red wine
  • 6 x cherry tomatoes, sliced
  • 2 x handfuls of rocket 
  • juice of half a lemon
  • freshly grated Parmesan - as much as you want
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. Get a large, non-stick pan on medium heat, pour in the olive oil and allow to heat up for a couple of minutes. Once hot, add the onion, garlic and chilli flakes and cook until translucent and soft. Turn the heat up slightly and add the sausage meat and fry until completely cooked. 
  2. Once ready and smelling amazing, add the oregano and fresh tomatoes. Allow the pan to heat up a bit more and then add your red wine. With a wooden spoon, scrape the pan as the wine evaporates, making sure the sauce will pick up as much flavour as possible. Once most of the liquid has evaporated, add the tinned tomatoes and tomato purée and stir well. Reduce to a simmer and allow to thicken for about 20 minutes. Season well.  
  3. While the sauce thickens, get your pasta on. This one goes with quite a few types but I went with spaghetti. If your sauce starts to look a little too thick, add a tablespoon of water from the boiling pasta. 
  4. Just before the sauce and pasta is ready, place the rocket in a bowl and add the lemon juice and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Toss well and serve on top of the pasta and sauce. Grate the Parmesan all over the dish and serve immediately. 
It really is quite a complexly flavoured dish - the deep, intense flavour from the tomatoes and red wine is accompanied by the spice from the chilli and the lovely meaty flavour from the sausage. All these warming aspects go perfectly with the light, zesty salad on top of it. And of course the Parmesan adds a great salty edge to all of it. This dish is so easy to make and only takes about half an hour - perfect for a midweek, post-work dinner during these cold nights. Give it a go. 

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Bagel Supply in Edinburgh

Bagels, anyone? 

If you live in Edinburgh and enjoy a good bagel - you would've been like me a couple of months ago, knowing that your search for an artisan, non-mass produced bagel would probably end in disappointment and frustration and eventually accept this fate. Well, you don't have to anymore - good bagels have come to Edinburgh. 

Every morning, I supply freshly made bagels to the Stockbridge branch of I.J. Mellis cheesemongers and to Leo's Beanery. These bagels are made with top quality, natural ingredients (no refined sugars, no preservatives, etc.) and, if I do say so myself, are pretty tasty. So pop down to Mellis for a takeaway bagel or make your way down to Leo's for one filled with smoked salmon and cream cheese. Also, look out for them at the Cairngorm Coffee Company by this weekend! 

So many lovely pictures of bagels there. I may be slightly obsessed with them at the moment, seeing as I've started a rather small business based on them. Speaking of which, if you are a café or shop in Edinburgh that may fancy stocking my bagels, or if you're an individual that wishes to put in an order for a good few, please get in contact (details below). I will happily provide samples and work with you to develop your perfect bagel. 

I look forward to hearing from all you bagel hungry Edinburgh folk! 

Contact Details
Rowan Walker

Monday, 23 February 2015

Review: The Spice Pavilion (Takeaway)

I do like my Indian food. It is quite often my go to comfort meal, be it homemade, restaurant or takeaway. There are hundreds of South Asian restaurants in Edinburgh and it can be quite difficult to find a real gem - but look no further, The Spice Pavilion is here. If you've ever been to the cosy restaurant at the top of Dundas Street, you would understand why I'm pretty damn excited that they're doing takeaway. The food they serve there is fresh, light and delicious - and the service is professional and friendly. We were intrigued, however, to see how their food would travel, so we put in an order as soon as we knew they delivered. 

We ordered a good amount for two people, y'know, so we could test plenty - not because we're greedy I swear. It came in good time and was delivered by possibly the friendliest and best dressed delivery man you can imagine. Clearly proud of what his restaurant produces, he asked us to let us know if everything was good - so here you go friendly man, read on and you'll find out. We ordered a small portion of chicken tikka, vegetable pakora, mushroom bhaji, saag aloo, saag paneer and, one of our usual favourites, a king prawn makhani - along with a peshwari naan. 

First, the starters. The vegetable pakora wasn't a stodgy, heavy ball of batter you could knock a cow out with (one bad experience at a football match - I should've known, who orders a pakora at the football?!) - quite the contrary, it was crisp and light, with the usual delicious spice flavours coming through. The chicken tikka was also very good - relatively tender with that lovely smoky flavour of the tandoor. The mushroom bhaji was tasty, however nothing spectacular (a bit too sweet for my liking) - nevertheless this was the only negative to the food. The rest of it was quite glorious. 

What I must mention is The Spice Pavilion's usage of ginger - they use more than the usual Indian restaurant and it works a treat. It adds this amazing freshness to their curries that can be quite welcoming when you intend to consume your body weight in it. The food is light, and seasoned with a light touch - nothing is over the top or leaving you gagging for a gallon of water to quench your biblical thirst. This is especially clear in their saag - or spinach. The flavour is immense, however not over-powering. The spinach is so delicately cooked that it still holds some texture to it, and this, combined with fresh ginger, delightfully soft paneer cheese and perfectly cooked potatoes, is quite possibly one of the best things in the world. It matches perfectly, as well, with the rich, buttery makhani which holds just a hint of heat. The prawns, too, were cooked to perfection. An overall wonderful combination of Indian food which I'm desperate to have again (I've made myself hungry writing this). 

So, if you're having a night in, make sure you order from The Spice Pavilion - however, if you have the opportunity to eat in the restaurant, go for it. The delivery was excellent and everything was still hot and fresh, however the added atmosphere and scents in the restaurant is certainly a bonus. Nevertheless, it is undoubtedly one of the best Indian takeaways in Edinburgh. 

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Great Food & Drink in Amsterdam

If any of you follow my Twitter, you'll know that I have been away for a few days visiting the city of Amsterdam for a short break. The blog silence was largely down to this, and through my disorganisation in writing blog posts days ahead and scheduling. I swear this is an anomaly, and my blog still remains daily. Anyway, naturally, my visit of Amsterdam tended to focus around food and drink, because this is all I really think about. Don't get me wrong, the architecture of Amsterdam is something to marvel at, as well as the city's spectacular history on display at the Rijksmuseum, however the culinary offerings seem somewhat undiscovered by those who visit, and therefore I felt an obligation (a self-given obligation) to dig deep and find some real gems. This was achieved, and the following are some great cafés and restaurants in the city of Amsterdam.

Coffee - Screaming Beans

Seeing as we had to leave Edinburgh at 5am on Sunday morning - once we arrived in Amsterdam, a café was our first, desperate port-of-call. As easy as it is to fall into a tourist trap when you're absolutely knackered, and to just accept your fate, we managed to avoid this. We had been to the city before, so we knew to head to the beautiful area of 'De Negen Straatjes' or the nine streets, where independent shops, cafés and restaurants are aplenty (the area around about is nice too). After a quick search (and waiting impatiently till 10am for all the cafés to open), we discovered a café called Screaming Beans - a relatively trendy, welcoming place where coffee was abundant. A very nice atmosphere and full of locals, we were pretty sure the coffee was going to be good, and it was. Not too strong or heavy, the cappuccino I ordered had quite a fruity taste and was relatively fresh. A lovely brew. A great place for a hot drink, Screaming Beans is one of many cafés in the city offering top quality coffee. So, all you coffee lovers out there, you are bound to adore what Amsterdam has to offer in this respect.

Lunch - Singel 404

A wonderful aspect of the Dutch is the fact that they understand the joy of a good sandwich. You can get one, hot or cold, in most cafés, however what they had to offer in Singel 404 was a step above. The cosy, homely feel of the café is complimented by the very friendly and welcoming staff. The massive list of open sandwiches makes it almost impossible to choose, but you'll probably be happy with your choice regardless once it arrives. Presentation wise, these sandwiches were probably the best I've ever seen. Some real care had into how they looked, which is quite a nice touch for a bustling lunch time place. My smoked salmon bagel was layered aplenty with fresh salmon, lettuce, cucumber, avocado, tomatoes and capers on top of a really well made bagel - simple yet delicious. My girlfriend went for the tuna melt, which, again, was generously portioned on top of some tasty bread. The added touch of thinly sliced red onion and watercress upon it made it better than most. An excellent wee café, and the coffee wasn't half-bad either.


Now, I have a few options for this - mainly because every dinner we had was excellent and each completely different. It was hard to pick and choose, so here are three great places to fulfil your evening hunger.

Himalaya Restaurant

Love a good curry? then this Nepalese and Indian restaurant is for you. Now I know we have some great South Asian food in Edinburgh, but we were craving a spice fix, and this place was highly recommended. An unexciting interior is of no concern when the food smells as good as it does. The staff are extremely friendly, as each platter is brought out with a big smile and an announcement. We went for a couple of classics, a chicken tikka saag and a mutter paneer, with a side of garlic naan. Both dishes were cooked to perfection, the chicken was melt in the mouth and the paneer had a lovely, slightly rubbery texture to it. The naan was excellent too, packed full of garlic, crispy and soft at the same time, you'd be hard pressed to find a better South Asian meal in the UK. A great wee restaurant and a must for all curry lovers.

The Seafood Bar

I do like my seafood, so a restaurant named 'The Seafood Bar' was bound to tempt me. After jumping out the taxi, we saw that the place was absolutely packed - and we hadn't booked. No matter, we were quite happily sat in the waiting area with a glass of prosecco for half an hour perusing the menu. Choosing, again, was almost impossible, seeing as the menu offered a good sized list of some classic seafood dishes, including oysters, scallops, mussels, sushi, lobster and four types of fish and chips. I went for the pan fried scallops to start and my girlfriend went for the scampi. The scallops were beautifully cooked and so sweet, accompanied with salty noilly prat sauce. Unbeatable. The scampi was well cooked too, with great, garlicky flavours coming through. A couple of great, classic starters which set us up nicely for our mains. I went for half a grilled lobster, whilst my other half ordered battered cod and chips. The lobster, again, was perfectly cooked. Soft and sweet, the meat practically fell out of the shell, and the flavour was only enhanced by the horseradish sauce it came with. The fish and chips were delicious, the cod had a great flavour to it, and the batter was light yet crispy. A lovely dish. If you love your seafood, you have to come here - no excuses.

Restaurant De Kas

Seeing as our trip to Amsterdam was based on a special occasion (our three year anniversary) we thought it best to try somewhere really, really special. After some wonderful research conducted by my girlfriend, we found Restaurant De Kas - a restaurant inside a greenhouse where they grow all of their own herbs and vegetables. Only using the freshest ingredients, their chefs create a specific fixed menu every day, making your dining experience truly unique. As soon as you walk in you know you're going to be treated well. The interior is breathtaking, a beautiful, huge greenhouse encapsulates a beautifully designed restaurant, using natural materials and colours to create a relatively warming atmosphere.

After a while, the food is brought to you - three small starters are then followed by a main course, a cheese course and finally a dessert. Our starters consisted of a carrot and ginger soup with blue cheese ravioli, slow cooked fillet of smoked salmon with barbecued lettuce and chargrilled celeriac with poached pears. An amazing array of flavours and unusual combinations that work perfectly together. We were mesmerised by the flavours, slowly starting to understand them as we worked our way through them. This was then followed by a hearty main course of veal with purple radish and sauerkraut - which was quite simply spectacular. The cheeses were great, a few that I had never heard of before, and the dessert was quite unusual. A trifle of beetroot, goat's yoghurt and blood orange sorbet was topped with chocolate soil and a beetroot crisp. Certainly not my favourite dessert, but a very tasty one nonetheless.

De Kas is a culinary experience, and somewhere that is well worth a try to further expand your understanding of food. It is like nowhere else, and well worth a visit if you're feeling brave and you don't have trust issues. I know that I will remember this dinner for the rest of my life.

So there we have it - Amsterdam has some amazing offerings food wise. There is such an array, and I'm disappointed that I didn't have more time to try a few more places. Nevertheless, the cafés and restaurants above were quite excellent. So if you're heading to Amsterdam any time soon, make sure to try some of my recommendations - you'll love them!