Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Weekend Adventures: Marriott Dalmahoy

This particular weekend adventure saw us having a girly weekend away at the Dalmahoy Country Club and Hotel (courtesy of Marriott), just outside of Edinburgh.  Marriott have launched a new campaign to #travelbrilliantly and with our goal of having a super relaxing lux weekend we managed it with style!

The hotel is only about 20 minutes drive from the centre of town but as you drive up you get a real sense of space and quiet with a generous helping of rolling lawns and leafy scenery.  As it was once a baronial manor, it has a very grand and impressive entrance to reception and the surroundings of the hotel are just beautiful.  We were lucky enough to have a crisp autumnal day to explore the grounds and take in the stunning scenery.  With two golf courses on site (including the Championship East Course, spanning over 7,400 yards), the grounds are kept gorgeous and lush.
We were thrilled to be sharing a suite in the baronial side of the hotel.  All the details of the hotel were classic and tasteful; from the grand chandelier by the curved staircase, the claw feet of the free standing bath and the delightful surprise of a telescope by the window - all gorgeous features that we absolutely loved.  
After unpacking and settling in, a celebratory drink was in order and we headed down to the cocktail lounge.  With whisky a specialty of the bar, we tried their whisky tasters - three measures of recommended Scotch whiskies which the girl at the bar explained were of increasing strength.  She explained that adding a few drops of water helps release the oils and flavours of the whisky.  We sampled a honeyish Dalwinnie, a delicate and rich Glenkinchie Edinburgh malt and a rich and smoky Tallisker.
After imbibing our spirits, it was back to the room to relax on our ridiculously plump cushions with snacks, magazines, DVDs and plenty of chat.  We gratefully received a Scottish welcome package when we arrived including treats of Tunnocks Teacake, Irn Bru and thick buttery tablet so it was a good opportunity to tuck into it!

A visit to the Dalmahoy's Pentland Restaurant is a must.  With big windows facing out towards the grounds, the views are spectacular and the food is divine.  We tucked into three courses including a goats cheese and heirloom tomato salad, savoury pea pannacotta, luscious rich roast lamb with spiced beetroot and barley and a raspberry risotto with milk sorbet.  Utterly full of food and wine, the suite becomes our haven of relaxation where we can watch the skies and stars from the couch.

The Dalmahoy Hotel is a perfect escape - it's beautiful setting was just right for a girly weekend and it would work just as well for a romantic break or a golfing weekend getaway.  It's traditional but with modern touches and is a super comfortable place to stay.

Room prices at the Dalmahoy start at £88 per night or £178 for a weekend stay including a 3-course dinner  and breakfast for two. Our stay was complimentary, for review purposes.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Edinburgh is Delicious: A taste of Italy in Edinburgh at Contini

As poor doomed Juliet said, "A rose by any name would smell as sweet". Which provides a fittingly Italian introduction to our recent trip to Contini, formerly known as Centotre, one of George Street's premier eateries. Like Juliet's rose, we learned that a change in name does not, equal a change in nature and the ristorante continues its decade-long trend of dishing up moreish Italian fare with flair and elegance. There have been some changes, but happy ones only, with restauranteurs Victor and Carina bringing in a new daily menu to make the most of seasonal Venetian ingredients, which are brought in from Venice in a weekly basis (with Scottish products sent back in return!). Keen for a blissful taste of Italy, the Edinburgh Etiquette team headed along to see what daily spin on the classics was on offer. And - we REALLY loved it.
Primi piatti was an epic affair. We began with some classic Italian antipasti - super sweet tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, olives, aubergine and courgette, plus a platter of cured meats piled high with rocket, and a giant basket of ciabatta with plenty of premium balsamic vinegar and EV olive oil for dipping. Two cheesy, oozy, herby focaccias (including a gluten-free option) and an enormous plate of fritto misto, with no less than four kinds of seafood dressed in a crisp and featherlight batter, completed the spread.

The feast (there is no other word for it) continued with an indulgent but perfectly apportioned double whammy of pizza and pasta. The five of us shared a classic Margherita, and a rocket-laden gluten-free offering topped with roasted cremini mushrooms - both fresh, crispy and layered with gloriously savoury Italian flavours. Handmade gnocci with a rich butter sugo, mozzarella and tons of fragrant basil was flawlessly-executed pasta dish low on frills and big on fresh flavour. However, our favourite, difficult though it was to pick, had to be the Contadino pasta - perfectly al dente orecchiette with crumbled piccante sausage and porcini mushrooms, bound with plenty of Parmesan and cream.
All of which would seem like more than enough sustenance for one evening, but luckily the phenomenon of the dessert stomach - scientifically known as "the Yummy Chamber"* - came into play. A moist and darkly rich slice of torta al ciocollato (a flourless chocolate cake, proper grown up stuff) was served with creme fraiche and honeycomb, and promptly devoured. We were interested to learn that Contini actually make a small but hotly-requested batch of honey from their very own Edinburgh bees each year, and although we didn't get to try it (as it wasn't yet ready) it's another testament to Contini's equal commitment to local Scottish and Italian ingredients for their perfect mix.

And, there was cheese. Not a sniff of Applewood-smoked cheddar in sight - we enjoyed a tart Parmigiano Reggiano, melting slices of Fontina and and Gorgonzola and a pale and salty Pecorino Sardo. It was a stunning end to an utterly incredible meal.

If you fancy treating yourself (and you should! You should!), you can check out what Contini's daily menu has in store over at the restaurant's website, then head on over to their George Street digs in your very best stretchy eating trews. A huge thank you to the team for having us along! We shall be back.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Edinburgh is Delicious: Patisserie Madeleine

With its window display of elegant patisserie and a colourful rainbow of macarons, I could stare at the shop front of Patisserie Madeleine in Stockbridge forever.  It's a small and sophisticated cafe and its minimalist black and white decor makes the stunning cakes and pastries stand out even more.  The only real problem when visiting is deciding what to try as everything looks delectable.

There are so many delicious macaron flavours available, from standards like strawberry, pistachio, chocolate and vanilla, to more intriguing varieties like chocolate passion fruit, pear & violet, earl grey and salted caramel - all super afforadable at 95p each.

The patisserie best seller is a tatin de pomme, with caramelised apple sitting atop a crumbled pastry base with creme chantilly.  There is also a choice of eclairs - beautifully presented with cocoa nibs or jam-filled raspberries, and a chocolate and raspberry tarte which is divine. On my most recent visit I tried a creme-filled choux with raspberry jam and a silky pistachio cream which had just the right amount of sweetness.  

The effort put into patisserie is matched by the cafe and drinks menu. Options on the day were gingerbread hot chocolate, matcha latte, home-made iced tea, and peach.  All of the cakes are available to take away, along with home-made sweets (such as almond praline and marshmallows), and some Eteaket and Pekoe teas and teapots.  This small gem comes highly recommended for a sophisticated taste of Parisian patisserie.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Adventures Away: North Berwick

These sunny days we've been having in Scotland seem to come and go, but they certainly are beautiful.  North Berwick is the perfect day trip to enjoy on days such as these, less than an hour away from Edinburgh by train or car and with a very pretty journey to get there.  Not only does it have a lovely family & dog friendly beach, but it's also a great place to wander around, look at boats, visit some shops and have some chips, and maybe a wee ice cream.  Here are some of my favourite things to do on a North Berwick visit:
 - Have a stroll down the High Street - plenty of cute wee shops, lots of fresh seafood, nice places to stop off for some pub grub and more cafes than you can shake a stick at.  A new favourite is Why Not? - a lovely indoor market selling a variety of items from artisan breads to handmade cards and vintage fur coats.  They are also rumoured to have some of the best cakes in North Berwick (if not Scotland) which sold at their cafe in the back of the shop.
- Take a peek at Bass Rock - you can either look through the binoculars near the Seabird Centre or take a boat trip out there and examine up close whether there are puffins, guillemots, razorbills or even the odd seal hanging out there.
- Visit the harbour and Lobster Shack - there's something peaceful about listening to the waves against the rocks and looking at the boats.  Improving this experience hugely is a visit to Lobster Shack.  Their fresh seafood is outstanding and there's nothing like cracking open a lobster shell when you're by the seaside. 
- Have an ice cream - a tradition you can't pass up and with both a Mr Whippy and an S Luca van near the harbour you are spoilt for choice!
- The Fringe by the Sea Festival is taking place from 4-10 August.  Like a mini version of the Edinburgh Fringe but minus the craziness and overwhelming amounts of people - and crucially, by the sea.  How perfect does that sound?

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Grey Goose Boulangerie in Multrees Walk and Party at The Devil's Advocate

Grey Goose Boulangerie Francois is an artisan French bakery carionnette van which is the most unlikely and intimate Martini cocktail bar you'll find. The super-lux vodka brand's van has popped up on Multrees Walk near Harvey Nichols and will be there until Wednesday 23 July. You can book an appointment for a bespoke Martini to fit your taste via their twitter account @GreyGooseRSVP. We went along to their launch at The Devil's Advocate last week and it was as as awesome as we were expecting it to be! With five Grey Goose cocktails to try based around the tastes of sweet, salty, sour, umami and bitter, there were plenty of opportunities to 'appreciate' the drinks. There was a great atmosphere on the night and it was fabulous to be amongst such a glamorous Edinburgh crowd.  We were particularly thrilled to spot Rose Leslie (aka Ygritte from Game of Thrones), who looked stunning in a slinky black jumpsuit. Ah, to be so beautiful! We waylaid our envy the only way we know how - by eating more delicious canap├ęs of tuna tartare towers and chilli oysters.  Later in the evening we tried our own bespoke Grey Goose Martini, mixed for us by the charming London-based brand ambassador Omar Sequera. Made with various herbs and a touch of magic, it was bitter-sweet, intoxicating, and absolutely delicious.  Definitely worth trying to get a slot at the Boulangerie van this week!

Le Fizz
The Grey Goose
Rose Leslie, Omar Sequera and Louisa Theo

Friday, 18 July 2014

Saturdays in Style: The In Fine Style Exhibition and Gareth Pugh Q&A

Edinburgh’s most sociable month is almost upon us, and some of those looking to board the ED FRINGE PARTY TRAIN may feel like laying low in a preservation of pennies, sanity, and liver function before August’s rollercoaster sets off. Well, pish to that I say, especially when a deliciously glamourous event like the In Fine Style exhibition sparkles on this weekend’s social calendar.

As part of the Edinburgh International Fashion Festival, the evening celebrates the lustrous style of the rich and famous in the 16th and 17th centuries, and its influence in modern fashion today. Against an exquisite backdrop of paintings and costumes at the Queen’s Gallery in Holyrood House, curator Anna Reynolds will host a Q&A with Vogue-lauded designer Gareth Pugh (whose creations have graced the not-unpicky celebrity backs of Beyonce and Lady Gaga) in an exploration of the “ageless pursuit of dressing to impress.” Accompanied, naturally, by plenty of fabulous drinks and music, and even the chance to try on a ruff (in a cool and insouciant manner, obvs), it’s due to be a night our Tudor and Stuart fashion forebearers would be proud of.
Helena Christensen and Rankin are amongst the celebrities due to be in attendance, so if you fancy a heady Saturday night cocktail of culture, decadence and schmoozing, then In Fine Style will be just the ticket. We shall be there with bells on, provided that a quick Google search confirms that bells were indeed in fashion in the 16th century.
So go forth and be fashionable! The event this Saturday 19 July is down at Holyrood Palace at 7pm. Tickets are just £10 (and include refreshments) and must be booked in advance – you can get yours online at the Royal Collection website or by calling 0131 557 2500.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Edinburgh Cocktail Watch: Paradise Palms Launch

We were invited to the launch of Paradise Palms last week, a new venue opened recently on Lothian Street (where Assembly used to be).  Part cocktail specialists, part dive bar, part cabaret lounge, it's a place ready to put the fun back into Edinburgh's bar scene - just in time and perfectly placed for the festival.  It's styled somewhere between a leafy tiki-bar and retro nightclub with bunting, fringing, mirrors and green fringed plants aplenty and a mix of comfy couches, booths and wooden tables for both small and large groups.  We got to sit back and enjoy some of their signature cocktails, including some delicious and rather alcoholic margaritas (with flavours of black cherry, lime and pineapple), and munch on some bite-sized tacos and other treats from their Mexican street food styled menu, as well as enjoy the evening's entertainment.  PP had an excellent line-up of entertainment for us, MC'ed by burlesque legend Gypsy Charms, with magicians, comedy, dancing girls/boys and music.  Looking at their Facebook page you can have a peek at what they've got coming up including a sure-to-be-packed August as a venue for Laughing Horse during the festival. A super-cool, but relaxed addition to the Old Town and a fabulous new drinks destination for sure!