Monday, 15 July 2013

Coppers 8 til 8, Specialist Food and Drink Emporium, Gosforth, Newcastle

Not having a car, or being able to drive, can at times, totally suck.

In my day to day life it's totally unnecessary, my work and the city centre being a short walk away. However there are other times, the times when you want to fill up your flat with delicious beers or go to nice farm shops, that being without transport can prove somewhat irksome.

Coppers 8 til 8 is basically the best, most incongruously place corner shop-come-beer-heaven you're likely to find. Not just in the North East, but i'd say anywhere in the country. The fact it's (at least to me and my sense of the city) in the middle of frikking no where, somewhere past Gosforth, a tiny bit irritating.

That we found ourselves in a car on Saturday, purposefully driving to this strange suburban, alcoholic paradise was somewhat of a nice surprise.

Once you're past the fruit and veg, crisps and freezer counters and other every day sundries, a small back room houses a plentiful and incredibly well stocked selection of beers and ciders from around the world. Like a really, really good selection.

Beer cellar at Coppers 8 til 8
We were offered samples of cider, one nice and refreshing, the other, at least to my tastes, was similar to milky cheese. The people who run Coppers were super friendly and super informed, advising on new stock, what to buy and any other info beer nerds like to discuss.

We stocked up on a fair few beers, including a rather amazing Thornbridge Chiron American Pale and a couple from Partisan, and local favourites Anarchy Brew Co, and compared with other shops we've come across found it really reasonably priced. It seemed to have a dedicated following, while we were browsing a string of middle aged men, all who announced they'd arrived in cars, stocked up baskets of beer.

You can find Coppers 8 til 8 on twitter where they regularly post what new stock is coming in and what they have on taster. I'd definitely recommend a drive out to wherever it is they are based (which is actually 17 Princes Road, Gosforth, NE3 5TT). Now, can someone buy me a car?

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

The Best of Edinburgh: Miro's Cantina Mexicana, The Lucky Liquor Co, The Hanging Bat

Aside from my blow-out at Ondine, there were plenty other treats to be enjoyed in Edinburgh, some well researched and planned others very lucky finds. Many of which seemed to have been created by the owners climbing inside my head and making the sorts of venues I dream about. Think craft beer and smoked meats, margaritas and incredible mexican and allllll the amazing cocktails.

Food aside, there were plenty of lovely little shops to keep me and all of my money occupied. This is what I enjoyed across the weekend:

Miro's Cantina Mexicana

God I love mexican food. The lack of it in Newcastle is one of my major gripes with the city. A very small amount of research informed me that Edinburgh was awash with Mexican options and Miro's Cantina Mexicana seemed like one of the best. Tucked away on the otherwise rather touristy Rose Street, the dining room is tiny about 7 or 8 tables. We settled down after the train with some margaritas and homemade corn chips, and amazing guac, salsa and some spicy creamy dip that I don't remember the name of.

The mains were authentic mexican dishes, I had slow cooked lamb with honey and lots of chipotles and smashed green chilli potatoes and the OH had a smokey pork and black bean stew served with traditional rice. All very, very good and under £25 a head.

The Lucky Liquor Co

This was such a find. Earlier in the day we'd been coming back up from Stockbridge and had seen a huge sign saying LIQUOR in the window, which for obvious reasons caught my eye. Later that night after our lovely meal at Ondine, we went in search of cocktails. I'd found somewhere called Bramble but was put off by the dubious r'n'b but fortunately The Lucky Liquor Co as I found out it was called was just down the street.

 It was a smart room, with a throw back style, black and white check floor and white wash walls. I seriously loved it, exactly the sort of neighbourhood style cocktail bar you'd want to find yourself in at the end of the night. There was a hazy romantic old time vibe about it.

We stayed until it closed and let the barman choose our drinks. The menu was short and interesting, with none of the usual suspects, we had a range of whisky and gin cocktails plus a lush beer from Partizan brewing who I definitely want to find out more about. None too expensive either, most of the cocktails came in around the £7 mark which is always nice to see. I really loved it, did I mention that?

The Hanging Bat

The next day, after the effects of Lucky Liquor Co it is safe to say I was not feeling good. What would make me feel better in this situation? Seriously good beer and smoked meat clearly. The Hanging Bat is good for both of these. Some of the decor was a little too knowing and there was some seriously awful art on the walls, but on the whole a really nice room to pass the afternoon. There was plenty of cask and keg options from well known and little known breweries (Kernel, Redchurch, Toccalmatto some of my faves), they also did their own brewing and had their own smoker. It really was all of my favourite things.

The food hit the spot; burnt end beans, pulled pork mac n cheese, chilli dog, reuben were all top, I was sort of disappointed with the chicken wings which I'm pretty sure had the spicy instead of BBQ coating I'd asked for and were a bit acidic for my tastes. Lots of smokey goodness on the whole though.

In between all the eating we did find time to do a small amount of shopping. In and around the Grassmarket area there are lots of lovely design, book, art style shops. My picks from these are as follows, and they're all within about 100 metres of each other.

Golden Hare Books; Just a gorgeous little book shop, with a lovely children's section and many design and cook books. 

The Red Door Gallery; Prints, design items, card, jewellery and all sorts of other nice things. I eyed up this smart print but didn't commit. 

Analogue Books; Honestly this shop was so nice I wanted to do a small cry. Fanzines, magazines were the predominant thing but also some design and style books. They also had an amazing selection of food magazines from across the world and now I have no money left. The OH was pleased because they had lots of the Cafe Royal fanzine style books in which he'd been after for a while. 

Hannah Zakari; Just next door to Analogue Books this was mainly a jewellery shop, which isn't something I am particularly in to, at all, but what did catch my eye was a shopper bag which I literally had to buy. Twin peaks themed things will always be a winner. 

As it's only an 1.5 hours away, on what has to be one of the nicest stretches of train line in the country, if not Europe, I'm already planning my next trip up.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Review: Ondine, Edinburgh

It's funny how a restaurant can make you feel. I'd say that at the end of the day it's just food on a plate but as I am writing, and you are reading, a blog almost solely about eating out we know that that isn't really the case, don't we? 

I have turned 23 and a sense of uneasiness has set in. The general thread of this lingering worry is 23 sort of feels like A Serious Age. 
I do not feel Serious. 
Ad finem. 

How does a restaurant fit into this? We went to Edinburgh for the weekend for eating and drinking. Given that Scotland is only an hour and a half away I don't know why its taken me so long to venture up. It had been a while, almost 4 years and on the last trip I was with my ex. My appetite for good food was yet to develop back then at 19 and we were both students. 

We fought a lot, had dinner in Pizza Express and broke up 2 weeks later.  

4 years later, I was having dinner in Ondine, one of Edinburgh's best restaurants (located above the exact same Pizza Express), was with a boyfriend who didn't completely hate me, had passed my degree  relatively well and was living in a flat where people didn't accidentally fall through entire walls. That pizza felt a very long time ago. 

What I'm trying to say is that Actually, Maybe, I was OK, and all it took was a lobster and the best meal of my life to work that out. 

Ondine is a seafood restaurant in the centre of Edinburgh, with meticulous sourcing of its fish and produce, and lots of clean, simple and exquisite cooking. I've been quite the fish eater since that meal at Cafe 21 and had been eyeing up Ondine since reading this Jay Rayner piece on it. Having to book a table after 9 meant an excuse to start the night with cocktails at Hotel Missoni before we took a seat in the large curing windows in what was a sleek and modern but not flashy compact dining room. 

The menu, obviously dominated by fish, threw up many tempting options i.e. whether to have the roast shellfish platter, but instead we settled on starters of tempura squid (£12.50) and red mullet (£11.50). My squid was light, crisp and greaseless with a fishy, slightly spicy dipping sauce, but was somewhat overshadowed by the unbelievably good red mullet. 

Perfectly cooked mullet, on a bed of courgette ribbons with tomato and an olive tapenade. Truly one of the best starters I've ever seen (and the other half had eaten) that again made me wonder why I've ignored fish for so long. 

We couldn't resist the Shells section for mains, half grilled native Isle of Mull lobster (£22.50) and scallops with charentaise sausage (£21.95) and some skinny fries on the side. 

 I've developed a taste for lobster recently, I fear for my bank balance. On a recent trip to London I paid a visit to the much hyped Burger and Lobster, and it was a nice introduction to our shellfish friend and very good value (£20 for an entire lobster, salad and chips). It was nothing, however, compared to the lobster at Ondine, which had so much more flavour, was juicier and complemented by pools of luscious garlic and herb butter. 

The other half will never be displeased with a plate of shellfish and pork; super plump scallops, robust spiced sausage, lots more butter. 

Also, it's testament to the fact I was having such a good meal that my photos are so poor. Who can be bothered taking a nice snap when there's buttery fish to be eaten? 

We decided against puddings. Although tempted, getting a table after 9 meant by 11 the restaurant was almost empty and it does give you that strange feeling of being the last people left lingering at a party, the host wants you to stay and enjoy yourself but you can tell they're also thinking about cleaning up for the next day. 

The service at Ondine was without fault, friendly and approachable, happy to explain the menu and give suggestions. I can (just about) afford this sort of restaurant once in a while, but I order the less expensive wine and ask for tap water and like a restaurant that makes me feel comfortable about this. Ondine is one of those rooms.

The bill, all in with service, came to just shy of £100. Ondine is a grown up restaurant, full of grown up food and I didn't feel out of place. It's creating a feeling like that which is why a good meal is so much more than just food on a plate.

Ondine is at 2 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh, EH1 1AD. They're open Monday - Saturday for lunch and dinner, you can book online