Category Archives: Eating out

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.

Advertisements

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.

Regular

I read an article, probably in the Guardian, on eating the same thing – in the same place – all the time. I believe it was seen as odd.

Now, most of us tend to eat the same thing for breakfast every day, with little concern for nutritional variety or boredom. We just do. And if you’re the type to eat breakfast out, then that is the meal where variation is not required. You can pop into the same café every day of your life if you want to.

And can afford to, obviously. I’d say that having the money to pay for meals out in restaurants all the time is what matters. Not going to the same restaurant every time, nor ordering the same dish. Or not having to order, because staff bring it without being asked.

I don’t have the money, and I like being at home. But I can see the attraction in being a regular somewhere.

In fact, I used to be a regular in an Italian restaurant in London many years ago. Not every day, as I didn’t live there. But every time I was in London I ate there; sometimes several times a day. Once I discovered this place and realised I felt comfortable there and that the food was just right, and affordable, it became my home from home.

I believe this is what we need. We don’t want to trawl round looking at new places every time. I made ‘friends’ with the staff, and got acquainted with many of the other regular diners, some of whom ate out every day because they had no cooking facilities where they lived, often in rented rooms. It’s no different from drinking in your local [pub].

‘My’ restaurant is no more. It was housed in a narrow in-fill between larger properties, and the time came when land in London became so valuable that it had to go, and it has been replaced by a run of dreadful shops. I miss it every time I walk past, and if it was still in business, I’d eat there every time I’m in London.

Torbrex Inn

We left our builders to their own devices and disappeared off for Sunday lunch out today. Son and Dodo were visiting for the weekend and had hinted that a meal out would be nice. (I trust it’s not my cooking?) As usual, Son had money off deals going, and we chose between two old feeding grounds, deciding on Torbrex Inn.

It’s conveniently close and getting there is literally a walk in the park. This is such a rare thing nowadays that you should grab the opportunity to have a pleasant walk instead of always getting in the car.

The Inn at Torbrex

They had their Christmas menu up, and even Son who can be hard to satisfy, felt it looked good beforehand, and we all said how much we’d enjoyed it once the meal was over. (I’ve not had anything else to eat since…)

The Resident IT Consultant was pleased to have an opportunity to order turkey, while Son and I both had the nut roast. Smoked and deep fried cheese for starters was good, as were the puddings. The others had Christmas pudding – obviously – while I grappled with a very nice cheesecake, and ended up not being able to eat all of it.

Nicely presented food, and friendly serving staff. Clean pub surroundings with just the right amount of tasteful Christmas decorations, and a furry white cat outside.

And then a walk home again, allowing us to feel we could walk off some of those calories. Ten, maybe even twenty?

From cake to Cecil

The whole thing began with cake, but I forget quite how we ended up on the subject of homemade versus bought cake, and the effect of certain television programmes. But when we really should have been tidying books, we got lost in odd – and old – memories, much to the surprise and interest of Daughter.

It was my madeira cake – back in 1982 – which led us to my old friend No Filmstar. It was he who admired my cake so much he reckoned it had to be an M&S cake. For some reason Daughter required more information, and slowly, step by step, we arrived at the sculptor Cecil Thomas.

At first I couldn’t remember his name, but the Resident IT Consultant knew we’d looked him up before, in a past where there was no Google. But with the few facts we had, Daughter eventually found him and his impressive work and reputation.

Having known so little back then, it was interesting learning more. I met No Filmstar soon after Thomas’s death in 1976, and whereas he was mentioned now and again, I never knew any real facts. No Filmstar was one of the somewhat strange individuals hanging out in Queensway, back in the day when the young witch began witching.

So we moved sideways from the sculptor to the other people, including Dulcie and Mrs MacLean, and I remembered more about Mrs Hop and Cyril with the guinea pigs, and the old couple with the dog, and I realised what an odd life these people had, eating out every night, because they hadn’t the means to cook where they lived (most likely just a room). It seemed a bit glamorous then, but now I feel mostly sorry for them.

It’s the idea of being so ‘posh’ that you don’t go to work – other than charitably – but live ‘frugally’ off an inheritance, which inevitably dwindles as you go, that seems strange.

As always, I wish I could get the photos out, but I stuffed them all in a box when we moved, so can’t easily find individual ones, and the last letter I received in connection with these people I threw out a couple of months ago…

Except, Dulcie the 1st, who was eventually replaced by her niece Dulcie the 2nd, recently caused Bookwitch to receive a contact email from someone who could turn into Dulcie the 3rd, if her name wasn’t something else.

And I know none of this makes sense. I’m merely reminiscing. There was a Russian spy – whose name I forget – in there too.