Eating in Edinburgh

There are some great places to eat in Edinburgh. And some less great ones. Here are capsule reviews of some of the places we ate at on our recent trip to the city.

We usually arrive in Edinburgh on Friday evening and this is a good default choice close to the place where we stay. It’s a pretty cheap and cheerful Chinese. And the food is usually good quality too.

Kings Wark
One of the things I look forward to most in Edinburgh is a walk along the Water of Leith. The walk itself is very nice, but what I’m really looking forward to is lunch at the Kings Wark. Very high quality pub food. Everything I’ve ever eaten here has been lovely. One slight thing to beware of. Once we got there too early and bizarre Scottish licensing laws meant that we couldn’t order alcohol until (I think) 12:30pm.

Stac Polly
A neat demonstration that advertising can work. Stac Polly had an advert in the in-flight magazine on our flight to Edinburgh. It looked good, so we investigated the web site and decided to give it a try. We’re glad we did. The good was great. Only slight issue was that the service was a little faster that we would have liked. There just wasn’t enough of a pause between the courses.

Number Seven
This is the restaurant attached to the Edinburgh Residence – which is the place we stay in Edinburgh. We’ve eaten there a few times as it’s an easy option. I don’t think we’ll bother again. It’s not as classy as it likes to think and the quality of the food can be rather variable. The service can be strange too. The first time we ate there the table was laid impeccably – except for the fact that the knifes and forks were the wrong way round.

Holyrood 9A
We discovered this place by randomly walking past it last year and went back again on this visit. Like the Kings Wark, this has high quality pub food. But this place has more of a modern vibe and the menu tends toward burgers and chips – but really good burgers and chips.

This is a place we discovered a few years ago (I think it was an advert on a leaflet in the hotel room) and now we go back every year. Imaginative modern British food cooked incredibly well. And the waiting staff are all so friendly and efficient. One tiny niggle this year. They seem to have squeezed one more table into the downstairs dining area – so it’s starting to get a little cramped down there.

The Bailie
This was new for this year. We were meeting friends and one of them suggested it. It’s a traditional pub in a basement in Stockbridge. The atmosphere was good and the food was far better than we expected.

Blue Goose
Another random find this year. We walked six or so miles west along the Water of Leith in order to find Craiglockhart Hospital. We had no plans for lunch and just hoped we’d find somewhere passable. This was the only place we passed between the river and the hospital so we gave it a try. And we’re really glad we did as it was great. On a Thursday lunchtime it was really quiet, the staff were really friendly and the food was really good.

Indian Cavalry Club
This was somewhere that we’d been meaning to try for a few years and we finally got round to it. At home we’re lucky enough to live really close to Tooting, so we’re used to really high quality Indian food. This place looks like it’s going to be really high quality, but it’s really not quite up to it. It’s more expensive than I’d expect for curry of that quality. We probably won’t be going back.


Edinburgh Reviews

Last weekend we were in Edinburgh. We had a very lazy weekend doing almost nothing except walking from hotel to restaurant to pub. I thought you might be interested in reading about the places where we ate and drank.

The Golden Dragon, Castle St. It was late when we got to Edinburgh, so we just went out and stopped at the half-decent looking place to eat. It might have looked half-decent, but it really wasn’t. Some of the worst Chinese food I’ve ever had. And overpriced too. Best avoided.

The Mitre, High St. Saturday lunch was spent in a random pub on the Royal Mile. Nice pint of Guinness and some really good pub food.

Wedgwood, Canongate. Picked at random from the “what to do in Edinburgh” leaflet in our hotel room, this was a fabulous find for dinner on Saturday evening. Top quality modern British food in great surroundings. And with really friendly and efficient staff. We’ll definitely be going back here and I recommend that you give it a try too.

Tolbooth Tavern, Canongate. A quiet drink after dinner. But we headed west, down the hill and further away from the castle. We’ve been in this pub before. It’s nothing special, but the beer is good and it’s always pretty quiet even on a Saturday night. A nice change to pubs only ten minutes walk away up the hill where you stand no chance of getting a seat.

The Witchery, Castlehill. We were too late to book for dinner in the Witchery so we settled for a relatively late Sunday lunch. This is certainly my favourite Edinburgh restaurant. It may well be my favourite restaurant in the UK. Wonderful food in a really impressive building. Oh, and the it has the largest wine list of any restaurant I’ve ever been in – it’s a book.

Mercat Bar, West Maitland St. After the big meal at the Witchery for lunch we only wanted a snack in the evening. The Google Places directory on my G1 said that the Mercat was the closest decent bar to our hotel – so off we went. It was almost empty for most of the time we were there but the staff were friendly and the food was good. The cheeseboard enormous and rather scuppered any plans of only having a light snack.

Stockbridge Tap, Raeburn Place. This was a random place we were walking past at lunchtime. It looked nice, so we went in. Three hours later, we emerged having had some of the best home-cooked pub food that we had ever eaten. Nice pint too. I think it was called Spooky or something like that. Nowhere near the centre of the city, but if you’re ever near Stockbridge I recommend checking it out.


Support From The Internet

I’m currently in Lisbon for YAPC Europe. I very nearly didn’t make it. I flew out on Friday and on Friday morning, about three hours before I was supposed to leave the house, I discovered that my passport was missing.

I realise, of course, that looking for your passport on the day that you are planning to travel is a rather stupid way to organise your life. But that’s not what I did. I made sure that I knew where my passport was two weeks before that. Except it turns out that wasn’t my current passport. That was an old expired passport which, for reasons too boring to go into, hasn’t had the corner cut off in the way that expired passports are supposed to.

Just before 9am, I twittered my predicament.

Hmmm… I appear to be having some slight difficulty tracking down my passport *FX: Mild panic*

An hour and a half later, I still sound calm (almost joking), but internally the panic was rising.

If I was a passport, where would I be hiding?

At that point I think that some of my Twitter followers realised that I was serious and started to send helpful suggestions.

@davorg in the cupboard where the cereals are [@davecampbell]

@davorg Old suit or jacket pockets? Maybe in a suitcase? [@OvidPerl]

@davorg Even reading that has me moving to check that mine is where I think it is. Hope it doesn’t stay hidden for long! [@keiosu]

@davorg I found mine hiding under a stack of dirty dishes. [@__Abigail__]

@davorg sock drawer at ours usually [@gellyfish]

Every time I went back to Twitter, there were three or four new encouraging messages.

@davorg odds are you’ve packed it already [@SeanClarke]

@davorg My passport is in my dressing-gown pocket, but I suppose that’s unlikely to help you. [@robinhouston]

@davorg sock drawer? bedside table? [@davehodg]

@davorg I remember a Perlmonks user finding his passport in a slipper [@larsen]

@davorg When did you last use your passport? Is it tucked in the carry-on bag you were using? Filing cabinet? Safe? [@rozallin]

@davorg buried in the middle of a pile of filing/paperwork .. or is that just my wifey that does that? [@chiselwright]

@davorg The trousers you were wearing when you last entered the country? [@theorbtwo]

A lot of the suggestions weren’t particularly helpful, but by about 11am the support I was getting from Twitter was about the only thing that was keeping me sane. My stress is starting to show in typos.

Thanks for all
the advice. The passport remains elusive, but I’m sure I@m getting
closer. And I don’t need to leave for an hour or so :-/

The advice kept on coming.

@davorg Drawer. Bedside table? [@antoniojl]

@davorg If I was a passport I would hide in a suitcase, ready to go. [@anniemaggiemay]

And then it started to take a different tack.

@davorg if we had id cards, you wouldn’t need a passport :> [@pfig]

@davorg You’re an EU citizen. Showing your ID isn’t enough? My girlfriend says she can travel to Portugal on her French ID. [@OvidPerl]

@davorg you don’t need passport to come to Portugal! I believe you are EU citizen :) [@braceta]

Unfortunately, I’d already eliminated that option.

Phoned Passport Agency and BA to see if there is any chance of travelling without it. Of course not.

Then, at 12:33:

Found it. It was in the scanner!!!

One day perhaps I’ll find time to explain exactly why it was in the scanner. But for now I’ll just say that I only found it because I was looking in random places that I knew it couldn’t possibly be.

My Twitter followers were as happy as I was.

@davorg Hooray! [@mrvaidya]

@davorg heh and yay! [@chiselwright]

@davorg Of course! Bloody identity thieves! [@antoniojl]

Of course, the drama wasn’t completely over. I still had to get to the airport in time for my plane. At 12:59, I wrote:

Inna taxi to LHR. Hurrah! Excitment not over yet. Might not get there in time.

Still more encouragement from Twitter.

@davorg i fel the sonic boom as you whizzed past :) [@rjw1]

I was too busy to tweet for a while, but finally at 14:35 I found time to write:

Made it. Sitting in departure lounge waiting to board. Thanks for all your help. Hope you all enjoyed the drama.

And I think everyone was as relieved as I was.

@davorg – just happy you’re on the way safely. [@unixdaemon]

@davorg woo hoo – well done :) [@davecampbell]

@davorg Awesome! See you in Portugal on Sunday :) [@OvidPerl]

@davorg The HP techies here in the Bracknell office have been enthralled by yr mini soap opera. Glad you made it :-) [@edwenn]

@davorg Yay! Well done! [@antoniojl]

glad that @davorg found his passport in time. [@maokt]

@davorg Well done, and thanks for the entertainment! [@robinhouston]

@davorg w00t! U made it. Should have started a sweepstake in the office :) [@cyberdees]

My Twitter statuses are also fed through to my Facebook page. So friends were commenting there too. And I’m really grateful for all of the comments that I got from both places. It would have been really easy to have given up and cancelled the trip, but knowing that there were all these people out there rooting for me gave me the incentive to keep going.

I can categorically state that in this instance both Twitter and Facebook were wonderful systems.

Thanks to everyone who commented.


There’s Probably No Bus

Rather appropriate, I thought, given yesterday’s transport chaos.

[Bus slogan generator]


About the Same as a Duck

Perhaps I need to travel a little faster. Or more often. Or something.

The new Dopplr profiles are fun.


More York Reviews

Finishing the reviews of things we did in York last weekend.

The Biltmore
Had a bit of a lucky escape here, to be honest. We walked past one lunchtime and it looked nice so we went in and booked a table for that evening. It took them ages to find someone who knew how to take our booking and we were on the verge of walking out. When we got there in the evening, it was completely different. It was like the set of Footballers’ Wives – full of really tacky and loud people desperately trying to impress each other. Not our kind of place at all. We changed our mind and walked out.

Four High Petergate
Having walked out of the Biltmore, we went here instead. And we were so glad that we did. This was exactly our kind of restaurant. Top quality modern British food served by knowledgeable and friendly staff. The place just exudes class from the second you walk in. It’s apparently a hotel too. We’ll definitely consider staying there the next time we’re in York.

It’s over thirty years since I was last in York. And Jorvik wasn’t there then, so I really wanted to go to see it. It was ok. I suppose that when it first opened it was revolutionary. But I’ve been on so many “dark rides” that they stop being exciting. I thought it was quite expensive for what it was. It would have probably seemed better value for money if we had spent more time in the bits of the exhibition after the ride. But it was quite crowded so we wanted to get out pretty quickly.

York Castle Museum
This was a bit of a spur of the moment thing. We saw the signs as we came out of Jorvik so we decided to have a look. And I’m really glad that we did. We spent about half an hour in Jorvik and for a pound less we spent about two hours in the castle museum. I particularly enjoyed their Sixties exhibition.

Nice little wine bar that we went into for lunch. Particularly enjoyable plate of nachos.

El Piano
Very interesting restaurant that we popped into for a quick bite before going off to the concert on Saturday evening. Almost like a tapas approach – all the food turns up on small wooden boats – but completely vegetarian. Another place where we would have spent more time had we discovered it earlier.

The Black Dyke Band
This was completely unplanned, but on our first evening wandering round the city we saw a poster advertising the Black Dyke Band playing in the Minster on Saturday night. It’s not really my kind of music but I thought that we couldn’t turn down the opportunity to see one of the world’s best brass bands in such a great venue. We managed to get restricted view tickets for a tenner each. The concert was largely enjoyable – although we both agreed that it could have been a piece or two shorter. I was surprised at how much of the material was classical pieces. I didn’t realise there was such a bit crossover between brass bands and symphony orchestras.

York Art Gallery
It was raining heavily on Sunday morning, so to kill a couple of hours before our train left we decided to wander round the city art gallery. Unfortunately, it was the kind of art gallery that takes about half an hour to see. There was a big Stubbs exhibition on, which would have been great if you like Stubbs – which I don’t. There was an interesting exhibition about political cartoons and some nice stuff about still lifes. But it didn’t engage our attention for long enough so we ended up back in the Guy Fawkes Inn.


Reviews of York

We were in York last weekend, so here are some quick reviews of some of the things we did. Only time to do half of them today. More tomorrow.

Galtres Lodge
The hotel we stayed in. It can’t really be beaten for location. It’s right in the centre of York less than five minutes walk from the Minster in one direction and the Shambles in the other. Location is about all it has going for it though. The room we had was very small and cramped. When we first arrived we thought it didn’t have a toilet. Then we found it hidden in a cupboard. Had it cost us £50 or so a night we’d have been quite happy, but it was double that and not really worth it.

The Olde Starre Inn
Pretty much the first pub we came across and as it is the oldest pub in York we though we’d try it out. Not very impressed to be honest. It was a bit dingy and there was a strange smell. The selection of drinks was ok and the staff were friendly enough, but it didn’t have much of an atmosphere. Of course that might be because we were there at about 5pm on a Thursday afternoon.

The Bengal Brasserie
We quite fancied an Indian on our first night. The sign in the window said that this place had been listed as one of the thirty best curry houses in the UK. The award was in 2005. Things have obviously changed a bit. It wasn’t the worst curry we’d ever had, but I’m sure there were far better places to go.

The Old White Swan
We thought we were going for a quite drink. Then we saw the band setting up in the corner. Turned out it was a jazz band. Not a bad jazz band all in all, but we left when they started getting their mates up out of the audience to sing. It felt a bit like we were intruding on a private party. The pub seemed nice though. And their sausage selection looked very impressive. We would have gone back to try some if we hadn’t discovered the Guy Fawkes Inn.

National Railway Museum
Does exactly what it says on the can. Lots and lots of railway engines in a couple of huge rooms. And it’s free to get in, so you can’t say you don’t get your money’s worth. We spent an enjoyable hour or so there. They have a “Yorkshire Eye” there too. We didn’t bother with that.

St William’s Restaurant
We had a very nice lunch in the restaurant at St William’s College, which is attached to York Minster. Had it been just a little warmer, we would have sat out in the courtyard, which looked like a really nice place to spend an hour or so.

Richard III Museum
This was one of the highlights of the weekend. The tiny museum is in one of the gatehouses in the city wall. It’s a really strange museum, mainly because it doesn’t have any exhibits. Mostly, it consists of a load of posters on the wall which explain why you shouldn’t believe a word you read in Shakespeare’s play. It’s obviously a passion of the chap who set it up. On the day we went, he was manning the shop and was very pleased when my wife bought most of the stock to use as material in English lessons.

York Minster
Of course, no visit to York would be complete without a visit to the Minster. We bought the “see everything” ticket, which was cheaper than usual as the Treasury was closed for maintenance. Our ticket included a visit to the tower which involved climbing 275 steps up a really narrow spiral staircase. I’m glad I did it, but I won’t bother again. By the time I got to the top I was too knackered to really appreciate the view.

Guy Fawkes Inn
I didn’t know that Guy Fawkes was born in York. Apparently this is the house where he was born. It’s right in front of the Minster and therefore only a few minutes walk from our hotel. Once we discovered this place we didn’t visit any other pubs. It had a really nice atmosphere, very friendly and helpful staff, a decent selection of drinks and great food. I can’t really think of any way it could have been improved. Oh, and it’s a hotel too. So you can actually stay in the room where Guy Fawkes was born. Room 10, I’m told.


Translating from Russian

A few day ago, I noticed this Russian blog entry which used one of my photos of Montserrat. When adding the link to Delicious I commented that it would be good if could read Russian so that I understood what was being said.

(Another) Dave reminded me that Google has a translation service which claims to do Russian to English translations. So I tried it, and the results were really pretty good.

City after volcanic eruption

In summer 1995, in one of the islands in the Caribbean eruption occurred. As a result, Plymouth city was almost completely filled ash. A layer of ash in a half meters.

In the town of 4000 people lived, and was the capital of the island. Clear solidified lava flows and ash was too expensive. The capital is moved to another city. A Plymouth declared a zone of exclusion.

The single comment just says “terrible”. Of course the translation isn’t perfect. But it’s a lot better than I expected it to be.


Colossal Caving Adventure

About nine years ago I was on holiday in Somerset with my wife and stepdaughter. As part of that holiday we visited Cheddar Gorge and, in particular, the caves there. Whilst wandering round the show caves is all very interesting, my stepdaughter’s attention was grabbed by the fact that they also ran “adventure caving” trips where a guide took you deeper into the caves. We pointed out that the minimum age for the trip was 12 and that she was therefore too young. We promised to bring her back when she was old enough and promptly forgot about it. Until this year.

This Christmas we went back to stay in the same cottage in Somerset. When we asked my stepdaughter (who is now 20) if she wanted to come with us, one of the first things she asked was “can we go adventure caving?”

And that’s how on the day after Boxing Day the three of us found ourselves entering one of the Cheddar Gorge show caves in boiler suits and wellies, wearing hard hats with lights on the front.


The Joys of Tube Travel

Yesterday I was late getting to the Tube station and unfortunately got involved in this unpleasantness. I arrived at about 7:55am to see a train just pulling out of the station. It turned out to be the last one for about forty minutes.

All of that time, the Underground staff were advising us that service was suspended at that we should use alternative routes. They always say that. No matter how trivial the problem is, as soon as service is suspended for whatever reason, they start to encourage people to use alternative routes.

Now I’ve been using the tube pretty regularly for about twenty-five years. I’ve seen a lot of tube suspensions and in all of that time there have been maybe five occasions where taking an alternative route was the right things to do. Most of the time the right choice is to ignore the tube staff and stay put. Usually the service will restart and get you to your destination quicker than any other option. Think about it. If the alternative route was any good you would probably have taken it in the first place. And now it’s just going to be overcrowded from the people who are talking TfL’s advice and switching from your original route.

And that’s how it worked out again yesterday. Yes I had to stand about for forty minutes. But there’s no way that either getting a train to Victoria or a bus to Stockwell would have been any quicker. They would have both been massively overcrowded.

So that’s my advice. Always stay put. Of course, it would be nice if we could get a bit more useful information from the tube staff. But they always seem to think that the current problem could potentially drag on for ages. And, to be fair to them, sometime it can. But on more than one occasion I’ve been on a tube that has finally been given the signal to move on when the platform announcements are still saying that they can’t say how much longer the problem will last.

There was something else that struck me yesterday. And this might be a bit more controversial. Yesterday’s incident was caused by someone banging their head on a tube. We were told that some had been taken critically ill which might be overstating the case a little. The tube was held up for over half an hour whilst they got medical attention for this person. All that time there were thousands of people waiting for a tube to take them to work. In that situation do you leave the person on the tube waiting for medical attention that might take some time to arrive. Or do you get the person off the train as quickly as possible in order to minimise the effects on the rush hour tube service? Maybe they need platform staff who are better trained to make that judgement call. Personally, I think you need a really good reason to bring the kind of chaos that we saw yesterday to one of London’s main transport routes.

But maybe I’m a bit of a heartless bastard.