Sunday, 11 December 2016

Edinburgh is Delicious: The Empress, Broughton Street

The Empress is the latest addition to Edinburgh's thriving bar scene, bringing craft beer, cocktails and relaxed dining to the cool Broughton Street area. Situated near the top of the street with a distinctive bright blue exterior, it's the type of venue that you'd be comfortable having a quick pre or post-shopping lunch in, or parking yourself in for the afternoon going through their extensive craft beers and eclectic menu. We were so excited about being invited to have lunch there and hang out in this gorgeous space and it didn't disappoint at all.

We were lucky enough to nab a window seat with comfy leather booths, perfect for people watching and admiring the impressive interiors. There's a lot in the details here and it has a hipster/steampunk feel with old fashioned bottles used as lighting, a candelabra style chandelier and a portrait of the Empress staring down at visitors, heavily tattooed and looking cool as fuck. This is Maud Wagner, a tattoo artist from the US who also worked as a circus performer and fits right in with the cool crowd.

There's a mix of textures in the interiors which have great juxtapositions - matt black walls, exposed stonework, plush velvet seats and dark wood panelling. The menu is pretty extensive and takes up a decent portion of the table so to start with we had a few coffees to warm up with which were very good indeed. There were some great sounding options for lunch, with a selection of burgers, salads and winter warmers on offer, like a pot of mussels and venison stew. However we took the recommendation to try the selection of flatbreads that the Empress specialises in, along with a few different starters.

A brunch menu was also on offer with a full Scottish, and other favourites like French toast and Eggs Benedict with bacon and avocado which is definitely something that we'd like to come back to try.

We tried a beetroot, goats cheese and hazelnut flatbread, peach prosciutto and rocket flatbread and a slow cooked brisket flatbread for sharing (£6 each).  Alongside this we added southern fried buttermilk chicken (£5), and haggis & black pudding bon-bons with chilli and whisky jam (£4.50). Obviously we also needed chips and the Empress has a choice of four - skinny, handcut, sweet potato matchstick fries and paprika halloumi fries. On a chilly day it seemed right to opt for chunky chips and so we opted for the handcut (£3.50).

The small flatbreads were much bigger than expected and made it a bit of a feast. They were very light, thin and crisp and the flavour combinations worked well together, particularly the beetroot option which is flavoured with balsamic and caraway.  The fried chicken fillets were tender from the buttermilk and cooked really well, the only complaint being there could have been more honey mustard dip to accompany them. The bon-bons were also really tasty and again, a generous portion, with the chilli jam lightening the dish.

The range of drinks to accompany the delicious food would please any craft beer lover with five fixed beer taps and eight rotating draught lines to choose from.  Alongside this there are a huge number of bottles and cans of beer and cider with an emphasis on small batch and craft beers. Added to this is an impressive cocktail menu (all priced at £7.50), with standards, classics with a twist and original creations available. One of the more interesting options was the parmatini, a mix based on the classic combination of melon and parma ham. Inspired by a unique meloncello liquor, this adds gin lemon juice, egg white and has parma ham over the side of the glass where you should drink the cocktail from. Definitely something to try on a visit there if you're after something a little more unusual!

We decided to share a pudding and the chocolate brownie sundae (£4.50) was a lovely way to finish our meal. Heavy with chocolate sauce and warm fudgy brownie, it was gooey, sticky, sweet and just what we were after. We were pretty impressed with the Empress who can hold her own against some pretty stiff competition on Broughton Street and we are looking forward to visiting again soon.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Foraging in Edinburgh: Store with Century General Store

The past few years has seen foraging have a little renaissance, as the principles of slow living and using our green spaces to the fullest have grown in popularity. Century General Store invited us to their autumn event, Store, which embraced these principles and the importance of keeping these traditions alive in a beautiful way, with Anna Canning from Floramedica as our guide.

Edinburgh is particularly green and ripe with foraging opportunities, with parks, forests and hills within the city itself. We can munch on some wild raspberries on a walk on the Water of Leith, find some sloes to make some festive gin or go somewhere fancy like Wedgwood, Aizle or Forage & Chatter for a foraged feast. Anna showed us much more than this on a walk near Century General Store's Abbeyhill branch, in particular that foraging can be done year-round basis.

With expert knowledge, Anna picked out various leaves, trees, berries and flowers which can be used for food and explained the concept of food as medicine. Organic foraged food is supremely nutritious and the variety of ways it can be used is fascinating. Nettles were growing in abundance and it was impressive how Anna was able to pick these with minimal sting. Her experience meant that she obviously had an amount of tolerance helping to prevent this! Nettles are one of the most versatile plants, which can be used medicinally for itchy skin and osteoarthritis, and have been used practically as dye and string. We tried some straight from the ground, crushing it with our fingers and it was very green tasting and surprisingly delicious. Anna also emphasised the respect that we should have for nature when we do forage for food and that we should never take more than we need.

After an hour or two of hunting through the city's leafier areas, it was then back to Century General Store's shop & cafe to try some of Anna's recipes and make use of the bounty we'd picked. She provided us with some information on the plants she'd mentioned and we were then able to make some of her recipes to enjoy. The foraged flora was put to good use in a nettle kimchi, hawthorn tapenade and elderberry balsamic; all super easy to make and delicious. It was so rewarding to know first hand how these plants can be pickled and preserved and just how healthy they are.

We were able to use Century General Store's gorgeous Weck glass jars to store the preserves, which are part of their beautiful homewares selection. It's such a joy to visit their Abbeyhill shop and browse their lux range of interiors which are selected to fit their ethos of making everyday living beautiful. There will be more events coming up with Century General Store soon so keep updated with their new Events page and Facebook page.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Edinburgh is Delicious: Autumn/Winter dining at Checkpoint

Now that November has arrived, it's the perfect time to escape the cold with cosy dinners and comfort food. We were super excited to be invited to try Checkpoint's new autumn/winter menu. Based on Bristo Place where the old Forest Cafe used to be, it's a very large and airy restaurant with utilarian chic wooden tables, black piping and speckled floors. It's easily a hipster hangout but had a very welcoming atmosphere and the wait staff were lovely and attentive.

The evening menu has a bites & bowls section that can serve as nice little sharing starters which is what we did. Asking the waitress for her top picks, we chose the sweet potato fries with za'atar yoghurt and heritage roasted carrots with toasted seeds and honey (both £4). Other interesting starter options include a rose harissa, carrot & tumeric bowl with vegetable bhaji and a chorizo, kale & mixed beans with walnut & spinach pesto (both £5). There's a clear emphasis on seasonal produce and our bowls were full to them brim with these delicious goodies that felt quite nutritious as well as a little bit naughty. The za'atar yoghurt was an excellent accompaniment for both dishes and we should have asked for more as it very quickly disappeared before either dish was halfway through. The heritage carrots were roasted well with some bite retained and had a sweet honey dressing and pumpkin seeds. Sadly this yummy sauce was mostly at the bottom of the bowl so the carrots were not quite as covered in it as we'd have liked.

Main courses were divided into fish/meat options, vegetarian plates, burgers and salads. After much swithering we decided on roast cod & pistou cockles served with pan-fried greens (£13) and the ricotta & Parmesan dumplings, hazelnut and sage brown butter with pumpkin puree (£12). Top picks from the nearly-ordered list were a slow roast duck leg, chorizo braised lentils and butternut squash samosa (£15) and a toasted freekah, roasted pumpkin, Mediterranean vegetables and harissa goats curd salad (£7.50). These flavours and ingredients are some of our favourites so it was a really hard choice and even though we were pretty full from our sweet potato and carrots starter, very much looking forward to trying the mains. They arrived relatively quickly and were beautifully presented. The roast cod was a clear winner, cooked perfectly with crispy skin. The plate was covered with abundant greenery which was beautifully seasoned and delicious to eat. The ricotta dumplings were a very generous size and had the pumpkin puree hidden underneath, with brown butter sauce and whole hazelnuts swirled on the plate. The dumplings could have done with being a little smaller just so the proportions of the dish were balanced as there was a more dumpling than sauce which was a shame towards the end of the dish. But overall it was very tasty and the whole hazelnuts added a nice dimension of crunch.

We were very nearly full so decided to share a dessert of pecan & bourbon pie with vanilla ice cream (£6), which felt very seasonally appropriate. The pie wasn't overly sweet as some pecan pies can be and the vanilla ice cream was divine, with a caramel underneath. An excellent espresso later and we were off back into the bracing Edinburgh air, with our bellies full and smiles on our faces. We thoroughly recommend a visit to try their new menu full of seasonal goodness; it's warm atmosphere and tasty food is definitely worth the journey!

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Edinburgh Events: Spa in the city 2nd & 3rd July

Spa in the City is one of our favourite events in Edinburgh and we can't wait to attend this year! It has a fresh new look via a gorgeous watercolour logo and a fabulous array of treatments available, as well as workshops, talks, activities, cocktails, tea, chocolate and frozen yoghurt!

St Andrews Square is to be transformed into an urban escape with a boho festival vibe and attendees are spoilt for choice with free treatments being offered, from brands at Harvey Nichols, John Lewis, Boots, Jenners, Debenhams and Superdrug as well as Toni & Guy, Neal's Yard Remedies and one of our favourites, Lush. There are also various events, workshops and masterclasses taking place in the Health and Beauty Heroes Marquee, including a summer make-up trends for 2016 masterclass from Jamie Genevieve and Beauty and Beyond: Panel Discussion (tickets here).

Mango Meets Mexico tequila cocktail at Element; makeovers by NYX

East India Company on George Street - tea and chocolate tastings

We had a sneak peek of what to expect at the Spa in the City bloggers event, held at Element bar and the East India Company. Element is a wee gem of a bar on Rose Street and are holding a cocktail masterclass at Spa in the City. Their cocktails are super delicious, with their signature cocktail - Edinburgh Rhubarb Rocks, laden with Edinburgh Gin and Edinburgh Rhubarb and Ginger liqueur - being particularly easy to drink. Their brunch bites were good too and there was a red lentil dahl that we couldn't get enough of, as well as french toast with berry compote. Yum! The East India Company has recently opened their Edinburgh branch on George Street and it is utter stunning. No expense spared in detail or design, their teas have a rich history and the variety is astounding. They will be holding tea and chocolate tastings over the weekend which we would thoroughly recommend.

There was also a little taste of the pampering sessions to come. A hand massage from Lush, using their beautifully scented massage bars, was blissfully relaxing and NYX were holding a mini-makeover session. They are newly stocked at Boots and their lipsticks are incredible.

It's being held on the weekend of 2nd and 3rd of July; if you love beauty and free stuff, clear your diary and head out there!