Archive for the ‘restaurants’ Category

Aberdeen trip and James Sheard’s Blackthorn

June 29, 2017

We went  to Aberdeen recently to see our nephew before his graduation from Aberdeen University. We stayed at the excellent Chesters Hotel where we had a superb (but pricey) meal in the evening at their 1X restaurant. My starter was ravioli of crab and scallop, with celeriac puree, shellfish bisque and langoustine beignet. It was the beignet that I didn’t know about but it turned out to be a small prawn done in a very light batter. It was very well presented – alas no photo – with both the ravioli and the bisque being light and tasty. It looked like the one pictured here. Earlier in the day, we went to the extensive Hazlehead Park and were particularly impressed firstly with the range of rhododendrons on show.  There were several different colours with a pink one shown below. My new mobile phone has a better camera than my last one, which came to a watery end when I was out cycling and got soaked. The phone was uncovered and basically drowned. The man at the phone repair shop took one look at it and told me to buy a new one. Although the camera is better, it is not good at close-up shots but not bad from a short distance as the photos below will show. As you guessed, it’s not an expensive phone.

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Rhododendrons in Hazlehead Park (Click to enlarge)

We then went into the huge rose garden and although not many of the roses were in bloom, there were some stunning examples, such as these shown below. There is a lack of clarity here (mobile phone) but the colours and the delicate folds of the rose are remarkable.

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Hazlehead Park rose

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Hazlehead Park rose

In the first section of the rose garden, there is a large memorial to those who lost their lives in the Piper Alpha Disaster in the North Sea in 1988. The memorial lists those who died and the sculpture shows three oil rig workers. The figures look as if they may be calling for help and many visitors may recall the horror of the photos of the oil rig on fire. The contrast with the beauty and calm of the rose garden and the disaster is  poignant.

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Piper Alpha Disaster memorial in Hazlehead Park

James Sheard’s collection The Abandoned Settlements is a Poetry Book Society Choice and therefore highly rated. I thought that the early poems, which harked back to different places and different people were very well constructed and poignant. The title poem ends “For love exists, and then is ruined, and then persists” and this turns out to be the theme of the book, a series of reflections and memories of love and lovers, of beginnings and endings. I enjoyed November which begins “Let me tell you how, in this long dark/ I list the ways in which the leaf of you/ furled and unfurled around me”.  However, as the book progressed, I as the reader could only take so many doleful reflections on love gone bad, no matter how elegant the poems were and how well constructed they were. Others obviously disagree and he has been widely praised. One poem that I did connect with and which was to me the most lyrical poem in the book is entitled Blackthorn: “For two weeks I drove/ through tunnels/ of March blackthorn/ … and liquid growing white/ then full then falling/ in the wind rising/ each overnight and becoming bridal/ blizzarding across/ the quiet early morning/ whipped up by my wheels …”. Last year in this blog, I mistakenly identified blackthorn as hawthorn, with these photos below. You can see the link with “becoming bridal”.

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Blackthorn near Stenton village

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Close up of blackthorn blossom

 

Paul Bartlett paintings, St Emilion and Paul’s Place

June 6, 2017

A recent exhibition (now closed) at Waterston House in Aberlady featured the intriguing work of wildlife artist Paul Bartlett. I was rather late in contacting Paul Bartlett, but he kindly sent me two examples of his work to use in this blog. He uses a mixture of media, in particular collage and papier mache with acrylic paints. From a distance, the works look like paintings but as you approach, you see the often stunning effects of the use of different media together. For example, in the first work below, it’s not clear that this is not a “normal” painting i.e. using only paint. Oystercatchers are a very familiar sight on the rocks near our house and I often watch them through my scope, as they poke with intent at limpets on the rocks. Once the limpet has been eased off the rock, the oystercatcher will scoop out of the flesh and dip this tasty ( I assume) snack in a rockpool before eating it. They are also very disputatious birds and you can hear them often before you see them. The ones in the picture below look at ease with the world and Bartlett captures their orange beaks and legs very well, although his aim is not to reproduce a copy of an oystercatcher. This is a representation of the bird and its seaside environment, which is cleverly depicted by the blues and greens in the background and the various colours of seaweed, sand and rocks beneath their feet. When you see the actual picture, the effects of the mixed media enhance the quality of the colours and the flowing shapes in the birds’ feathers.

Bartlett The roost (thumb)

The Roost by Paul Bartlett

The second work shown here depicts a shoal of rainbow trout swimming determinedly upstream to spawn. You can see the determination in the eyes of the fish, intent on one purpose only. It looks a glum business but maybe in real life, this is an exhilarating process for the fish, in their communal venture. Rainbow trout have the intriguing official name Oncorhynchus mykiss  which comes for the Greek for hooked snout, with mykiss being a name the fish are given in Russia. A romantic fish? As with the oystercatchers above, the colours in this work are very impressive and you find yourself going from fish to fish to see the multitude of colours on display. This work is so detailed that it must have taken the artist a long time to create and paint. There is also great motion in the work and when you look away and look back, you think that another group of trout have swum into the picture. Bartlett’s work will shortly be seen at the annual Pittenweem Arts Festival, so if you can get  to see his work there or in the future, don’t miss it, as you will be very impressed.

Bartlett Rainbow (thumb)

Rainbow by Paul Bartlett

On our trip to Bordeaux, we took the train to the lovely village of St Emilion, famous for its surrounding vineyards and world famous chateaux, which produce superb wines. There’s a distinct classification of the wines, with Premier Grand Cru Classe A deemed to be the best and of course this is the most expensive. For example, a bottle of Chateau Ausone from 2011 can set you back £835. I did buy a bottle of wine in one of the many wine shops in St Emilion but it was a Grand Cru and not a Classe A. Would I know that the Chateau Ausone 2011 was worth over £800 if I tasted it? I doubt it but give me a few free lessons and tastings and I will learn quickly.

The village itself is charming – once you get there. When we got off the train, we and the other passengers looked around to see vineyards all around us, which was a bit perplexing. We then saw a sign saying that the village of St Emilion was a 20 min walk – we did it in 15 min in 28 degrees and sunshine. You walk up cobbled streets past the old houses and the never ending succession of wine shops. It’s a steep climb but at the top you get great views across the village. We climbed the church tower to see the two views in the photos below.

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St Emilion from the church tower

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View of St Emilion vineyards from the church tower

The village is over looked by the huge Monolithic Church (includes short video) originally built in the 12th century. The church is so-called because the hillside was excavated and the church built upon the catacombs to form one building. It’s a very impressive sight as the photos below show. In the first photo, you can see the magnificent carvings on the entrances as well as on the bell-tower and your eye is taken from the older, rounded parts of the church up to the bell-tower. The 2nd photo shows how the church was built to dominate the village and to remind the population of the power of the church, as well as being a tribute to Saint Emilion, an 8th century hermit.

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The Monolithic Church in St Emilion

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St Emilion and the Monolithic Church

A final note on Bordeaux. There are some excellent restaurants in the city and the three most memorable are shown in the business cards below. From the right, Chez Dupont (good photos)was a real find on our first night in Bordeaux. The hotel suggested the Rue Notre Dame, where you’ll find a number of good restaurants away from the city centre and Chez Dupont provided us with an excellent meal, the sea bream being delicious. Near the river, but not on the quayside, the Restaurant Au Bouchons de Chartrons was another great find. We had swordfish with vegetables served in neatly tied plastic, see through bag. This method is known as sous vide and is popular in France. The third restaurant Paul’s Place proved to be more than just a restaurant. On leaving the Chez Dupont, we passed Paul’s Place and saw that on the Saturday evening, there was a singer performing Bob Dylan songs, so we booked a table. This turned out to be a great evening, with Andy Jefferies playing a range of early Bob Dylan songs – and singing them very well – accompanied by a slide show of Dylan photos and video. The food in Paul’s Place is rustic, very tasty and extremely good value for money. The co-owner Paul is a friendly and welcoming host, formerly of Cambridge. The restaurant has bohemian (but fascinating) décor e.g. the ceiling is papered with the front pages of the Times Literary Supplement. This restaurant is certainly worth a visit.

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Bordeaux restaurants

Highlights of 2016

December 31, 2016

I was going to give myself a festive break from the blog but, every day in the paper there is some sort of review of 2016, so coming back from my walk today I thought I might do one as well. This is what went through my head: best photo, best meal cooked, best restaurant, best visit, best novel read, best book of poems read, best …. Not to mention major highlights such as the arrival of our new grandson Zachary Buddy in June and in the previous month, the glorious victory – the Hibees won the cup after 114 years! So I started to read the blog from the beginning of January and realised that it was going to take a long time to read all of the posts. So this is a flick through, fairly randomly and not covering all the categories mentioned above.

In January, we went down to London as I was going to the T S Eliot Prize poetry readings at The Royal Festival Hall. I’m going again in January, so more of that later. A highlight of the visit was a meal at The French Table in Surbiton. The meal was delicious and one of the dishes on offer was monkfish which was served with crispy samphire and truffle froth – photo below sent to me by staff at TFT.

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Monkfish served at The French Table (Click to enlarge)

Flowers feature often in the blog and I’m always trying to improve my close up photography in my garden and other gardens and wood lands. So here’s some examples (photos below) – snowdrops at Pitcox, tulips in my garden and the multi-coloured and delicate honeysuckle, also in my garden.

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Snowdrops at Pitcox

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Tulips in my garden

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Honeysuckle in my garden

Best picture I took this year? A hard one this as there’s such as variety of photos that I like – of favourite places like St Abbs Head or Dunbar harbour, but I’ve settled on one from my garden again, except the focus this time is not on the flower but on the bee. This is from a post entitled Summer flowers. Bees are not obedient. They move constantly and their wings beat even when they are attached to flowers. This one must have been enjoying the nectar so much that it momentarily stopped moving, allowing me to capture the bee’s complex physical structure, its vivid colours and its wing, which looks like a piece of ornate glassware you might find in an art gallery.

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Bumble bee on a hebe flower.

The best visit we did this year undoubtedly to the stunning Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. From the moment you walk towards the outside of the building, you are in for a series of eyebrow raising moments and you lose count of the times you say “Wow!”. The external and internal structure of the museum represent a triumph of modern architecture, so impressive is the design and flow of the building. The two photos below can’t capture the wonder of this building but if it inspires you to visit, my efforts will have been worthwhile.

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Back of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

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Front of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

So that’s (part of) the old rung out and next week/year, I’ll ring in the new – more travel, more novels, more poetry, more photos – and anything else that comes in to the mind of this (at times) Bear of Little Brain – even if my favourite word is crepuscular.

 

 

 

The French Table and Kalamkari exhibition

January 20, 2016

One of the highlights of our recent trip to London was going to the delightful The French Table (aka TFT) restaurant in Surbiton. We were staying nearby with relatives in Thames Ditton and we were out celebrating our nephew Sid’s 21st birthday. The staff at TFT had added fine touches to our table, including red and white ribbons round the menu, as Sid supports Southampton FC. Also, at the top of the menu, they had written “Happy 21st Birthday Sid”. We were given a warm welcome by the cheery, helpful but not intrusive staff who were willing to answer questions about the menu – see below.

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The French Table Menu

This was a menu – with the exception of the cauliflower – from which I could choose any of the dishes. To start with, my wife and I had the butternut squash crème brûlée. This was a new dish for us and it did not disappoint with the combination of the squash, the crunchy top, the flavoursome vegetables and tasty dressing. I’m going to try to make this and found a recipe (with video). Will it be as good as TFT? – unlikely but watch this space. I had the venison for main course and it was cooked to perfection – tender and pink in the middle, with a real depth of flavour. Two of the party had the monkfish which was praised for its flavour and superb accompaniments of crispy samphire and truffle froth. Zoe from TFT kindly sent me some photos of their dishes and the monkfish is shown below.

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Monkfish at The French Table

We all shared a plate of delicious desserts and my favourite was the chocolate and peanut fondant with malt ice cream. Mmm – the malt ice cream was among the best I’ve had. There are two more photos below – the rabbit terrine and cherry soufflé.

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Terrine of rabbit, ham hock, green olives and foie gras with homemade piccalilli and toasted walnut bread from The French Table

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Morello cherry soufflé with pistachio ice-cream from The French Table.

So, if you ever anywhere near the Surbiton area –  and it’s not far from London – try out this restaurant, as it’s a real find. Next time we’re at our rellies (as the Australians say) we’ll be back.

From food to art and particularly fabrics. There’s a new exhibition at Waterston House in Aberlady and it features the work of the Dundee-based group Kalamkari. The group’s title derives, as the useful handout indicated, from ” a fabric painting and dyeing technique known as ‘kalamkari’ or ‘qualamkari’. There is something for everyone in this exhibition and the standard of textile art on show here is of a very high standard. The theme is nature and this is interpreted widely by the various textile artists on show here: Jan Reid, Carol Gorrie, Maureen Shepherd, Lorna Morrison, Lyn Gourlay, Mona Clark, Morag Gray, Mary Wallace and Sheila Paterson. There are flowers and birds here, but also shorelines,fantasy dolls and abstract pieces. We will certainly return for another viewing. Mona Clark kindly sent me photos two pieces I selected from the exhibition and the two on show here – Land of the Midnight Sun by Lorna Morrison and Rockface at Lunan Bay by Morag Gray – are indicative of the quality of the overall exhibition. If you can get to see the exhibition, please do, or look out for the work of the Kalamari group in the future.

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Land of the Midnight Sun by Lorna Morrison of the Kalamkari group

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Rockface at Lunan Bay by Morag Gray of the Kalamari group

 

Arthur Melville Exhibition, Mizen Head and autumal russet

November 5, 2015

At the National Galleries in Edinburgh at the moment, there is an excellent exhibition of the Scottish painter Arthur Melville.  There is a local interest for me as Melville was brought up in the village of East Linton (good photos)which is 6 miles (10K) from Dunbar. I went to a lecture on Melville’s paintings at the gallery and it was interesting to see many of the pictures displayed on the large screen. The lecture itself followed Melville’s life and especially his travels to Egypt and Spain but the presenter read the text and there was little individual comment on the paintings. The exhibition is entitled Arthur Melville: Adventures in colour and it is Melville’s dramatic use of colour, especially in depicting the sea and the sky, which catches the eye. The gallery notes refer to “his ability to evoke colour and light with the brilliance of stained glass” and this is an excellent description. For me, the highlights of the exhibition included his portrayal of a French peasant, the Arab Interior, Autumn – Loch Lomond and an early work, A Cabbage Garden which is shown below, as is the exhibition poster, both with permission of the National Gallery. There is such a wide range of paintings on show, in different styles and from different locations, that when you emerge from the exhibition, you feel that you have seen the work of several artists and not just Melville.

Arthur Melville exhibition

Arthur Melville exhibition

Arthur Melville A Cabbage Garden

Arthur Melville A Cabbage Garden

A part of the enjoyment of last week’s visit to Bamburgh, described in the previous post, was staying and eating in the Mizen Head hotel and restaurant. The rooms are spacious and comfortable and there is an excellent breakfast on offer. The restaurant has a justifiably high reputation for fine dining. The hotel is set on the edge of the countryside and there are superb views of rolling farmland from the restaurant. At this time of year, the winter wheat is emerging and, in the sunshine, the growing shoots are a beautiful green colour. We had dinner with our son and daughter in law, who had been a few times before, and we were very impressed. The restaurant is spacious, so no crowding of tables and the service was friendly and helpful, with little fuss. My first course was a generous helping of scallops in Thai butter and they were well cooked (i.e. not overcooked which some restaurants tend to do) and the Thai butter was delicate and brought out the flavours of the scallops. As an aside, I say scallops, pronouncing the A and not scollops, with the A pronounced as O. My wife had the very tasty Duo of Craster Kipper and Smoked Salmon pate. I then had halibut (again not over cooked) and my wife had the best fillet steak she’s ever had. The owners kindly allowed me to download 2 of the dishes and these are shown below, along with a photo of a collection of scallop shells on a barrel outside the hotel.

Seafood dish at the Mizen Head

Seafood dish at the Mizen Head

Steamed mussels at the Mizen Head

Steamed mussels at the Mizen Head

Scallop shells at the Mizen Head

Scallop shells at the Mizen Head

We were driving out of Dunbar the other day and my wife asked me how I would describe the autumnal colours of the trees which are shedding their leaves in the countryside. My reply was russet as this is a favourite word of mine. The OED defines russet as an adjective e.g. the russet bracken, a noun e.g. an apple with a brown skin or a coarse cloth which is reddish brown. So I thought that if this week’s word challenge was russet, which photos would I choose? Coincidentally, an email from my niece Ali included recently taken photos from the countryside in the south east of England. The first 2 photos are Ali’s and the next 2 are from my own photo archive.

Russet forest floor

Russet forest floor

Rurally russet

Rurally russet

Russet tree

Russet tree

Russet avenue

Russet avenue

 

La Garrigue and Bamburgh visit

October 28, 2015

A fine restaurant and a spectacular castle in this week’s blog. We recently had lunch at La Garrigue in Edinburgh. The website has a short and interesting video by the owner Jean Michel Gauffre. We went with old friends (my pal Tam and I went to school together aged 5) and of the four of us, only my wife had been before. We had an excellent lunch with well cooked and very tasty food, very attentive (but not intrusive) and friendly service, in this very attractive restaurant. I’m not a great lover of sardines but went for the sardine pâté. The pâté was moist and quite delicate and was served with sliced baked apple – a superb combination. My wife and friends all chose the fish of the day which was sea bass fillets, served with rice, mussels and a tasty sauce. I chose the guinea fowl which was cooked perfectly and had a jus with a real depth of flavour. We all had a dessert and Tam had a fine selection of cheese from Henri of Stockbridge. My chocolate mousse – a very generous portion – went down very well. The lunch menu offers 3 courses for £17 and this could be the best value quality lunch in Edinburgh. We will definitely be back. Jean Michel kindly allowed me to download these photos from the website.

La Garrigue restaurant, Edinburgh

La Garrigue restaurant, Edinburgh

Superb dish from La Garrigue, Edinburgh

Superb dish from La Garrigue, Edinburgh

At the weekend, we drove an hour from Dunbar into the north east England village of Bamburgh (pr Bam – burra) (good photos) to watch our son Jonathan run (and finish 7th in) the RunCastles Marathon. This is a tough race, physically because of the long climbs in part of the race, and mentally because of the long stretches of country road with high hedges. This must be a marathon with one of the most spectacular backdrops at the finish, with the huge and imposing Bamburgh Castle looking down imperiously on the finishers as in the photo below.

Our son at the finish of the marathon in Bamburgh

Our son at the finish of the marathon in Bamburgh

Bamburgh Castle’s history goes back to the 6th century with aspects of the castle including the huge walls and the Great Tower being built in the 12th century. It must have been amazing for peasants working in the fields in the 12th century to see this (to them) extraordinarily massive structure being built, as it was unlikely that they would have seen anything larger than their local church. Bamburgh Castle was built to show the power of the kings of England over many years, as well as to provide an impregnable fortress near the border with Scotland.

Bamburgh Castle

Bamburgh Castle

Behind the castle is the extensive Bamburgh Beach, a long, flat stretch of pristine beach and a superb walk in all seasons. We walked in the October sunshine with the white-topped waves easing their way to the shore. From the beach, you can see the Farne Islands (photo below) which is famous for its puffin colonies and, further in the distance, Lindisfarne. In the village itself, you can visit the Grace Darling Museum as well as St Aidan’s Church with its historic graveyard (photo below).

Farne Islands from Bamburgh Beach

Farne Islands from Bamburgh Beach

St Aidan's church Bamburgh

St Aidan’s church Bamburgh

Bamburgh has a range of pubs and tea rooms, gift shops, an excellent butcher and Clark’s standout vegetable store within the famous walled garden. It has an impressive range of fruit and vegetables, as in the photo below.

Clark's vegetables in Bamburgh

Clark’s vegetables in Bamburgh