Do you ever miss your school days? No, me neither. But that doesn’t mean I don’t miss learning, having all that dedicated time when you were not only encouraged but expected to be filling your brains with new skills and information. But learning doesn’t have to stop when you leave school – here are just a few of the ways you can pick up a new talent and have loads of fun along the way. Continue reading
This is just going to be a short appreciation post about my new favourite haunt – The Hedonist Project’s latest incarnation, Old Tom’s Gin Kitchen. I love their idea of a ‘permanent pop-up’; a bar that always exists in the same place but can look completely different from one visit to the next, but their winter venture, a Whisky Parlour, was unavailable to me due to me really, really hating whisky. Gin, on the other hand, is my drink of choice, and I’m already hooked on Old Tom’s. Continue reading
I recently made my first journey up to Edinburgh, and had a huge revelation. Scotland’s capital is a foodie paradise! I love food, and good tea and coffee, and amazing cocktails, and one of my top priorities when visiting a new city is hunting out all the best places to eat and drink. I scribbled down countless places when I was gathering ideas, barely got to half of them, and found some other gems while I was there that I hadn’t even heard about. Here’s my foodie guide to Edinburgh…
If I’d been a student in Edinburgh, this is the kind of place where I would have spent all my spare time (and money). Hidden a floor above street level up a nondescript flight of stairs, Spoon is a haven of peace and quiet serving up delicious breakfasts, cakes and coffees in the kind of retro 70s kitchenware your Grandma used to own. It feels spacious yet cosy, with mismatched tables, chairs and sofas scattered around and thin curtains acting as partitions.
We went for breakfast, and chose a cooked breakfast and porridge with a generous splodge of strawberry jam. Both were lovely and filling, but my highlight was my hot chocolate, made dark and creamy with a deliciously smooth consistency. It was all I could do not to grab a book, order another and spend the whole day on one of their sofas…
Oink has a basic premise – just really simple, really tasty hog roast sandwiches. There are two shops in Edinburgh centre – we went to the Grassmarket branch for a quick warming lunch on our last day. Choose from three sizes, pick white or brown bread, add a topping of sage & onion stuffing or haggis, and a dressing of apple, bbq or chilli sauce, and you’re good to go! The shop is tiny so avoid the middle of lunchtime if you want a hope of getting a seat, and stop by an ATM on the way; it’s cash only.
Frederick’s Coffee House
Fredericks’s is what I want my living room to look like; the walls are a beautiful shade of blue-green that is perfectly matched to the quirky furniture, and the huge windows looking out onto the street let in tons of light. Framed artwork and chalkboard menus hang on the walls, and by the entrance is a white bar stacked with cakes.
I had porridge with fruit compote and a Japanese Cherry tea (their list of teas is amazing!), and it was one of the most perfectly cooked bowls of porridge I’ve ever had. Creamy and not too thick, the berries mingled in perfectly and was much sweeter than berry compote often is. The cherry on top was the bowl – glass with a bright blue paisley print. So pretty!
The Holyrood 9A
Love beer and burgers? Then you’ll love The Holyrood 9A. Even if you don’t love beer and burgers, you’ll still love the Holyrood 9A. This bar is the perfect ‘pub with a modern twist’, combining dark wood and leather seating to create a relaxed and homey atmosphere. They specialise in craft beer and have a huge range to choose from, but also have some decent wines; my two glasses of Malbec went down way too easily! We didn’t stay for a meal but many around us were, and the burgers looked incredible. We did nibble on some onion rings and sweet potato fries, and if they’re any indication of the quality of the burgers, we really missed out.
The Hanging Bat
The Hanging Bat is another beer place – any beer fan is going to feel totally frustrated with the lack of insight in this post as I barely drink beer and know next to nothing about it. However the Hanging Bat is worth a stop whether you’re a beer nut or not; they of course stock a wide range of drinks and have a good bbq-themed menu featuring chicken wings, beer mac & cheese and a large list of hotdogs. It’s a great place for an informal meal; the food came on a tray with everything packaged in cardboard boxes, and you don’t feel guilty eating with your hands and smearing sauce all over your face. They also serve their beer in very cute schooners, wisely engraved with a plea of ‘Please don’t take me, I’m spoken for’.
We only stopped by Bramble briefly for a cocktail, but I left with the feeling that if I was a local it would be one of my regular haunts. It’s hard to spot as it’s underground with no sign; turn right just past Urban Angel and just keep your eyes peeled for a bouncer standing on some stairs by a tailor’s shop.
The cocktail menu is pretty extensive and there are a range of options no mater what your drink of choice is. I chose a Mint 500 – gin, elderflower, apple and lemon juice, mint and basil – and it wouldn’t be exaggerating to say it’s one of the best cocktails I’ve ever had. There’s not a lot of room inside so we ended up standing, otherwise we would probably have stayed longer!
Edinburgh Gin Distillery/Heads & Tales
As a massive gin fan, I couldn’t possibly go to Edinburgh without dropping by their gin distillery. I booked tickets for their Connoisseur tour online a few days before; this package costs £25/person and includes a tour and talk on the history of gin, plus a 5-shot tasting and a small bottle of gin to take hoe. A bargain in my opinion! Our guide was really informative and entertaining, and made the session really fun. The building is hard to find (ignore your smartphone map and just go to the Huxley), but really cool; it’s underground and the tastings are held in cosy brick-lined alcoves. According to our guide, it originally served as the coal store for the house above it.
In the evenings the tour rooms are transformed into a bar called Heads & Tales, where the defining factor is their ‘GIY’ menu where you choose your preferred gin, flavour and glass and allow the bartender to mix you a cocktail based on your selections. I chose Edinburgh gin and rose in a champagne flute and got a prosecco and gin cocktail with a lovely fragrant taste. I also enjoyed a ‘Tea With the Queen’ from their set cocktail menu, with was Earl Grey mixed with Tanqueray and came in a teacup!
Have you been to Edinburgh? Did you love it as much as I did? Share your favourite places in the comments!
Expert procrastinator that I am, I have a never-ending list of things I want to do and places I want to go that I take a million years to get around to actually doing. This week that list became one item shorter, when I attended the legendary gin tasting at Lazy Lounge.
The session was led by Tom, Lazy Lounge’s owner and resident gin expert. This was a promising start; I mean, this guy has managed make drinking gin into an actual occupation, and is therefore clearly a genius. He didn’t let us down – aside from telling us about each individual gin we tried (and there were a lot), we were also treated to a brief history of gin, covering its beginnings in Holland where the English first encountered it, the evolution of the distilling process and the 18th century ‘gin craze’ – bet you didn’t learn about that in GCSE History.
Some fun facts we learned about gin:
- Gin isn’t originally from England – the English discovered it in Holland during the Thirty Years’ War when they saw the Dutch soldiers drinking it for morale and decided to do the same. This is where the saying ‘Dutch courage’ comes from.
- Juniper, the essential ingredient of gin, was believed to cure the plague; doctors took to wearing masks featuring a huge beak stuffed with juniper berries.
- The 18th century saw Britain gripped by the ‘gin craze’ – crime, prostitution and mortality rates rose, and only 1 in 6 children survived past the age of 4 (ok, that fact may be lacking the fun).
- It’s estimated that gin was responsible for as many deaths as the plague (that one too).
- In Spain, Gordon’s green label gin is considered to be so crap that many bars don’t serve it to customers; instead they use it as a disinfectant. Apparently it’s cheaper than Dettol…
We kicked off the tasting with Bols Genever, which is supposed to be pretty close to gin’s original form. Hmm. I would not have recognised it as gin; it actually tasted more like tequila, and left a not-so-pleasant burning sensation in my throat. Next up was Bathtub Gin, a small-batch which Tom told us is the most popular gin on the tasting, but it wasn’t for me. I’m a fan of floral flavours and this one was almost spicy, which also made it seem more alcoholic than it actually was. I chased it with some tonic water…
My memory became a little hazy as we progressed through the gins, but I think the final count came to about 12. Before you judge my alcohol tolerance harshly, it’s worth mentioning that it was only after the 4th sample that Tom realised he’d been serving us wine measures instead of gin measures. Yikes. A few stood out through the fog anyway, my favourites being Old Tom, Xoriguer and Portobello Road. I also tried sloe gin for the first time, and we had a lovely raspberry-infused gin that went beautifully with elderflower tonic.
Tom also gave us a quick lesson on tonic water; Schweppes is most bars’ go-to tonic, but I’ve always hated the bitter aftertaste. Turns out this is caused by the artificial sweetener that Schweppes use as a cheap alternative to sugar, and you can avoid it just by upgrading your tonic. We tried Fever Tree, which I believe I’ve had before at Town Street Tavern in Horsforth, and the difference was incredible. If you’ve tried a G&T and think you don’t like gin, chances are cheap tonic is your real enemy!
When the tasting was over, we hung around to enjoy a few elderflower and pomegranate gin cocktails before heading home. At £20 the evening is great value – not only had I got the equivalent of about 9 or 10 shots and plate loads of sandwiches and cake, I’d also sampled a huge array of gins and learned so much! Tom is a great host, and I’d recommend Lazy Lounge’s sessions to anyone. I’ll probably be back for the wine…