Category Archives: Eating out

Tea out

I’m hard to please. Let’s just get that out in the open. But I’m also quite happy with the simple things in life. Like that hot milk I’m going to tell you about. It was better than the ‘fancy’ afternoon tea in the Glasgow hotel I went to last week.

And I don’t object to overbaked ‘kladdkaka’ as long as the people selling it calls it chocolate cake, which is what it is. For it to be ‘kladd’ anything, you will have had nerves of steel and removed the cake from the oven when it still looks like dark brown soup. I’m afraid I recently wrote to the very attractive Oxford restaurant where we had a really enjoyable Easter lunch and shared my tip of sitting in front of the oven as the cake cooks. That way you are less likely to end up with the oxymoron that is dry kladdkaka.

I’ve not heard back!

The very same day, I had been treated to an unexpected elevenses in a Danish style café – Ole & Steen – also in Oxford. Not being very hungry – which is so not like me – I chose a plain (hah) kransekage. It was small, but larger than the ones I’m used to. It was divine! I am plotting ways to return and have another one. I mean, what’s seven hours on the train if you can eat such perfection?

Unlike the afternoon tea at the hotel in central Glasgow, that I will leave nameless. I liked the hotel and where it was. I enjoyed my long chat with Pippi who was over in Scotland again. The tea was cheap, at around £12. But oh, what dreadful sandwiches! Nice enough scone, but not the jam. The little cakes tasted better than they looked, but then I had low expectations. The tea was on the strong and cold side.

Having said all this, I would go back. It was a convenient and nice place to meet.

In Berlin last month Daughter and I struggled to find suitable words – in German – to get across our wish for black tea, that we wished to un-black with milk. Cold milk, please. The first afternoon brought green tea with no milk until Daughter popped back inside and asked. She returned to our pavement table bearing a jug of beautifully warmed milk! After pondering the possibilities, I poured some hot milk into my green tea. It was seriously weird, but almost OK when taken with cake.

And it had us in paroxysms of laughter when we thought about it afterwards.

By now you will have worked out I am a nightmare guest for tea, so I give you the new café in Stirling’s King Street; Loving Food. Had a gorgeous scone there the other day. One of the best I’ve had.

I also reckon it will be easier for me to go to again, unlike Ole & Steen…

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V&A Dundee

We were under the impression we were the last people on Earth to visit the new V&A in Dundee. Or, I know some exceptionally cultured people, as ‘everyone’ had mentioned going to, or having been to, the new V&A. Even Pippi managed to fit in a trip to Dundee when she was in Scotland. And Dodo and Son celebrated his thirtieth with a trip to Dundee. As you do.

Pippi mentioned how convenient it was that it’s right next to the station, and it made me wonder how I could not have seen it being built, all those times I changed trains just next to the fledgling V&A. But I realised it was all hidden behind scaffolding and in the dark you see nothing.

The Resident IT Consultant said how it’d be good to go before the Ocean Liners exhibition ended, and I silently concurred. Which is why we went two days before the end, me thinking Friday was bound to be better than the weekend. Maybe it was, but it looked like the whole world was there. Which is odd as I thought they’d already been. Not that there is a rule against going more than once, of course.

We will probably go again.

As I said, the place was heaving, mainly with other old people, and mostly speaking with an English accent.

I hope this was why the place felt as if it could have done with being bigger. The café in the middle was definitely too small. An army of helpful staff improved things, but searching for a table at which to drink tea and eat their gorgeous scones was hard. Actually, I found enough table space. It was just that the chairs had gone walkies, and even as I watched, more chairs went off to join their friends at small tables with too many people around them.

The Ocean Liners exhibition was interesting, but I didn’t linger. The crowd effect meant I couldn’t reach to see or look in peace and quiet. But that was fine. I left the Resident IT Consultant to study it in detail and went to sit outside. Good thing I did, as it meant I didn’t miss the postman. My postman. He was there too. (He’d probably hoped for a Witch-free day…)

Lovely though they were, the scones didn’t last us all day. We had hoped for lunch in the restaurant, but it was booked solid until 3pm, so we went back downstairs, to the moving chairs. The brie croissants were nice, if somewhat soggy. (I’d have put the brie underneath the tomato slices.)

Tay Bridge

A quick look at the Tay Bridge from the balcony, and then we did the Scottish Design exhibition, which was much better than reviews had led us to expect. Wouldn’t mind seeing it again.

Then it was time to go home, before the Friday travelling crowds made it impossible.

But I’d go back for the scones alone.

Tea for two?

It was only as my anger subsided a little, that it struck me. What if a lone, single person wanted to take afternoon tea at the Allan Park Hotel? Admittedly, I do know the rest of the world would consider solitary tea an odd thing to engage in. But I used to go alone, and like it, quite often in my younger days. And the reason for us doing a recce this week, was so Pippi could be taken somewhere nice when she arrives. And she often has tea alone.

There was much to annoy very slightly, and taken one thing at a time, not much to get worked up about. But I’d had high[er] hopes for this newly opened hotel in Stirling, based on the advertising and their supposed extensive experience of running hotels and bars. And with it so conveniently situated that we could walk there… well, it couldn’t be better.

Except it could.

Three of us tried to have afternoon tea in a hotel that offers a price for two to have tea. We shouldn’t have. Whereas the lovely young server said we could just pay a little extra, it soon became much more of a trial. Me, I’d simply have added 50% to the bill and be done with it. Although, for that, I’d also expect three of every item there was two of.

‘Slight’ inflexibility in choice. We were allowed to both have the prawn sandwich, but it was strictly either cake, or macaroons and churros. What if you have an incompatible couple, where one hates one thing and the other hates the other thing? Easy. You go somewhere else.

In the end, I had to point out that I didn’t mind what I paid (well, obviously I did, but…) as long as they actually provided the three of us with what we wanted, which was [the set] tea for two, and another tea for Daughter, and churros. But because the Resident IT Consultant and I were having cake, that did not go down well.

In the end, they conceded we could order churros for one, because it could count as a child’s pudding, and would come with ice cream. The server, who looked younger than Daughter – who is an adult – simpered at her and treated her like a child. It was going to be so good, and really cheap, too. (Not when the cost of tea was added, it wasn’t.)

The tea. Yes. We ordered Earl Grey. We have no idea what we got, but if it said Earl Grey on the tin, it wasn’t Earl Grey in the pot. It was drinkable, albeit in far too small a quantity. And milk had to be asked for separately. (Yes, we are so uncouth that we have milk in Earl Grey.)

The tea took ages to arrive. And that was after waiting ages to place our order. Then there were lots more ages while we waited for something to eat, and the tea steeped and got too strong, and could have done with plenty of hot water to add to it.

We suspect it was making the sandwiches that caused some of the delay. They were clearly freshly made, and they were nice. However, after eating them we had two prawny plates and a prawny knife. The Resident IT Consultant solved the knife conundrum by licking it clean, and in the end we shifted plates around from the cake stand so we could eat scones and cake without prawn sauce.

The scones were OK if a little dry. There was not nearly enough cream for two such large scones, however. So, drier still. The selection of jams was raspberry. Or raspberry. We chose the raspberry.

The cakes were quite decent. Not the best, but perfectly edible. I gather the churros were OK too.

Food fine. Tea a bit wanting.

Before setting off home, I went to the Ladies. Someone had forgotten to paint the inside of the doors. Somehow leaving them merely undercoated detracted a bit from the pleasant effect they must have been aiming for. And, I didn’t spend long, but the light still went out while I was in there. It being afternoon, and October, I wasn’t left in the dark, but I disapprove of time settings like that. It feels cheap, and it could lead to accidents and panic.

It proved as hard to pay as it did to order. Our server was nowhere to be seen, and eventually the bartender shouted something to me from his end of the room. I couldn’t hear what. Seems he wondered whether we wanted to pay… What else would I be doing next to the till after having had a meal?

As I said earlier, the churros and the extra pot of tea cost almost as much as a third afternoon tea would have, had they been willing to let us have that. It’s not the money. It’s having to negotiate for food in a restaurant.

Pippi will be having afternoon tea somewhere else.

Happy 10th, Culture!

How to mark the occasion of ten years of CultureWitch? Especially now that there is less action here than formerly.

The sun was shining and it was warm – for September – so we decided to drive to Göstas at Steninge for some tea and cake and a sea view.

And there was action! There is nothing quite like a bit of car park rage on a nice day. First space was taken by car coming in the way out. Second space was about to be taken by the next car coming in the way out, except I planted myself in the way. I even informed the driver he was wrong.

Silly me.

He behaved so aggressively that I said; ‘You’re going to drive into me, anyway, aren’t you?’ My survival instincts kicked in and I moved. I was quite surprised when he drove off and parked illegally at the other end of the small car park instead, not running me down.

After which we all gathered for sustenance in Göstas…

Had intended to show you one of those tiresome photos of pretty cakes, but we had wolfed them down by the time I remembered. So here are two used cake plates,

Empty plates

a  flag, and

Flag

the beach.

Steninge

Herr Ped*rsen, check the road signs next time! That round one with a horizontal bar through it means No Entry. Which means no entry. Let’s hope we are both here in another ten years.

Cleaning out at Dishoom

If I’d known there was going to be semantics involved, I’d never have started on the red onion thread.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Dishoom. While I’ve not eaten there many times, I have every intention of catching up with Son and Dodo who practically seem to live there. Well, perhaps not. That would be a hard act to follow. Let’s just say it’s my first choice for where to go if I’m hungry in Edinburgh.

But I will never again be sensitive to red onion. That’s raw red onion, to be clear. Whenever they ask if we’re allergic to anything, I’ve always said no. But this time Daughter had reminded me that the previous meal there I’d been disappointed regarding the red onion garnish.

In my mind, wanting to avoid a food comes next to being allergic, so having said no to the allergies, I mentioned wanting to avoid raw red onion. OMG, never again! Let’s just say that our waiter could not see the difference, and gave us the full allergy treatment, which, to be fair, I had not thought through. They need to clean the whole kitchen, or something, when someone is allergic.

It makes sense. But still. The waiter was unable to let me not be allergic to red onion, and in the end I was prevented from eating most of the items I’d been wanting to order [minus the onion]. This was disappointing.

What I had was lovely, so no complaints there. But the sheer stress of trying to put right what I realised I’d got wrong, and the waiter not letting me. Well, I could have done without that.

If they are going to do semantics, I reckon they also need to be able to understand enough words that a misunderstanding can be removed by using a few more words.

It’s very thoughtful to ask, but if I was truly allergic to a foodstuff, I’d not trust an unknown kitchen to make itself safe for me. I’d not eat out.

Next time I’ll order what I want, and I’ll pick off the red onion garnish and leave on the edge of my plate. I was merely attempting to prevent someone sprinkling last minute onion on, which I would immediately remove again.

But I can recommend Dishoom for a good meal out. And it wasn’t me who stole one of the washbasins in the Ladies. Honestly.

An English afternoon tea

I appreciated the way we were able to sit for a few hours talking, even if the chairs were on the uncomfortable side. But if you charge the going rate for a hotel afternoon tea outside London – around £30 since you ask – you need to do more than call it afternoon tea. The taste and quality of what you offer should be at least passable, and the way you serve it, and when, is worth considering.

Or was the fact that we weren’t turfed out after a couple of hours a sign that not too many people were clamouring for our table? I mean, they knew what we didn’t.

Tea corner at the Randolph

I don’t know whether to feel embarrassed admitting to having gone twice, in two days. The first tea was sufficiently acceptable, and I enjoyed chatting to my friends in an unhurried way, which is why I booked a table for my next meeting, the following day.

And yes, I did get – partly – what I was looking for and again, I loved seeing people and talking for hours. But that was down to me having nice friends to meet up with, more than the tea or the service.

Day one the non-English head waiter was polite and pleasant, if not good at getting a tea order together. I forget the number of times we had to ask for milk. Meanwhile the tea stewed and got blacker and blacker, and the sandwiches dried. That’s what I thought, anyway. Until…

Day two the same non-English head waiter needed to have his sleeve pulled after a search to find him, when the placing of an order for tea got quite urgent. There is only so long you want to wait. Tried the Earl Grey in the hopes of less black tea, but that didn’t work. I.e. the tea was as strong as the previous day, and lukewarm. Later on when we asked for more hot water we were rather alarmed to discover the waiter wanted to simply pour it into the teapot.

The sandwiches were dry. It’s the only description for them. And the fillings had been sparingly applied. For £30 they could afford a bit more egg, say. And clingfilm to cover sandwiches so obviously made well in advance.

Would I go back to the Randolph in Oxford?

Maybe. The hotel is well placed for meetings. The room is pleasant enough. In fact, if you consider the cost of the tea more as a fee for a corner of the room we sat in, then yes, it’s OK. Just about. And I have no problem with non-English waiting staff, as long as they know how to serve an English afternoon tea in a vaguely English way. With milk.

(It can’t have been the wheelchair, can it? The second day? The first day they even wanted to hang our coats for us, while the second day we had all that time alone, putting the wheels away, and waiting for service. Surely not?)

Afternoon tea

I’ve been craving some ‘posh’ afternoon tea for a while. Contrary to what people might believe about me, I don’t tend to do the touristy and extravagant stuff when on home ground, so not only do I not do afternoon teas, but I don’t know where to go.

When Pippi came to Edinburgh this week, she needed a tea companion, and she’d heard of Colonnades at the Signet Library, and wanted to try it. And while pretty expensive, it was about the lowest price of all the places I found online.

Colonnades at the Signet Library

The library is just off the Royal Mile, next to St Giles Cathedral, and they have two-hour sittings throughout the afternoon, so you can treat it as lunch if you start early enough. And you need the two hours. I reckon they couldn’t serve all that food faster if they tried.

Colonnades at the Signet Library

Soup in a coffee cup to begin with. Then silver cake stands with around six savoury things plus a couple of sandwiches. A second stand for the cake, meaning six sweet things and two scones with jam and clotted cream. As your arteries begin to clot I recommend a discreet doggy bag if you feel you can’t manage it all. All this can be washed down with tea, or coffee, and the optional champagne, which I’ve never understood how it goes with afternoon tea.

Once you’ve reached the end, you are rescued by a cleansing sorbet.

And I recommend a trip down the many stairs to see the toilets.