REVIEW: Ghillie Dhu Ceilidh Night

Friday night in Edinburgh. What are the options? You can go to the pub. You can go out for dinner. I suppose you could even go to the cinema. OR! You can get dolled up, mosey on down to the Ghillie Dhu, and get your ceilidh on.  This is exactly what my pal Sam and I did last Friday. We popped along to the Rabbie Burns Supper Club to see what it’s all about.

Let’s talk about the space, first. As soon as you hop out the taxi you’re confronted by how impressive the building is. The Ghillie Dhu is inside what used to be the St Thomas Episcopal Church, so it is absolutely gorgeous and totally atmospheric. Winding stone staircases, high vaulted ceilings lit by chandeliers, and huge arched windows: it’s the aesthetic that gothic themed bars like Frankenstein are aiming for but can’t quite achieve.The beauty of the dining and ceilidh room (which is upstairs) really made an impact on me as soon as we walked in.

The evening starts at 6:30pm, but you can book a table later if you like. We decided to pop along at 7:30pm, and some groups arrived closer to 8pm. Our friendly waitress sat us down at a large round table and offered us a welcome drink: whisky or prosecco. We both went for the fizz  because, well, Friday!

The meal consists of a seasonal three course menu. We had a choice of three starters, four mains, and three desserts. It all seemed like very hearty Scottish cuisine, although surprisingly there was not a hint of haggis to be seen. As much as I love haggis, this was quite refreshing. We ordered all three dishes up front to give the kitchen a head start, and kicked back sipping our bubbles and putting the world to rights.

GD food
Clockwise from top: mushrooms, plaice, mousse, rioja

I decided to start with the sauteed forest mushrooms cooked in a light garlic and parsley sauce with toasted ciabatta. The waitress seemed pleased with my decision, saying this is her very favourite thing on the menu. The starter had a lot to live up to, but it did so admirably. I’m a sucker for garlicky mushrooms and these bad boys hit the spot. The ciabatta soaked up the sauce without becoming soggy, while the mushrooms themselves were cooked and seasoned to perfection.

For the main course I had the rolled fillet of plaice stuffed with prawn mousse and served with a crayfish sauce. This was a very flavoursome dish, and I could really taste the crayfish. The plaice was tender, while the prawn mousse made for a lovely light accompaniment. There was also some mashed potato on the plate, which was creamy and rich and simply divine. I love a bit of mash, me.

Finally, we finished our meal with the rich dark chocolate mousse with white chocolate shavings and shortbread. I absolutely love mousse so I was diving in with gusto when Sam said “the bowl almost looks like it’s made out of chocolate too!”. Well guys, let me tell you: it was. We spent a few seconds trying to work out  an elegant, ladylike way to eat a dark chocolate cup but in the end went for bashing it with our spoons then picking up the fragments with our fingers. Good grief!

GD ceilidh

After dinner the tables were cleared away, and we had a little while to relax and enjoy a blether and a drink while the ceilidh was set up. The band kicked off at 10pm with a Gay Gordons. The most important person at a ceilidh is the caller: have a bad caller, you’ll have a bad time. Luckily this guy really knew what he was doing and was perfect at demonstrating and explaining the steps. Soon the dance-floor was crowded (Sam gallantly volunteered to be my man) and we were all twirling around bumping into each other and giggling. It’s a bit of a work-out, let me tell you!

The next dance was my favourite: The Dashing White Sergeant. Unfortunately you need three people for this one. We were just a gruesome twosome and although we spent some time wandering around saying “I need a man!” we couldn’t find one. Where’s Tinder when you need it, eh? Still, it was fun to watch everyone paddy ba-ing away! By the time the reel came around we ended up with a group of, ahem, rather merry students. They were having a great time, and so were we. We ended up dancing the night away until the disco started: at which point we realised it was probably time to head home.

All in all, the Ghillie Dhu ceilidh night is great fun. We knew we’d definitely be coming back, and that we’d be dragging even more pals along next time. The prices are reasonable, too. The Rabbie Burns Supper Club is just £30 a head for three courses and a hoolie, while the ceilidh on it’s on is just a fiver to attend. A fiver!

Seriously dudes, grab your pals and head along next Friday. You’ll love it! Just remember to wear flat shoes.

I was invited along to visit the Ghillie Dhu. All opinions are my own, as always.

7 Most Disappointing Foodie Experiences

When you dine out as much as I do it’s only natural to expect a few disappointments. While getting a crap kebab or a bog standard burger can be a bit saddening, the worst is when you have seriously high hopes for a place only to have them dashed on the rocks of poor customer service. I’ve had quite a few sad foodie experiences in the past wee while, so I thought I’d share them with you lovely people.

The Time We Had To Wait Two Hours for Brunch

Cabslam

We popped into Cabslam for brunch one day because we’d heard awesome things. We sat down at 11am, ordered our brekkie, and we waited. Service was a bit slow, but after an hour I started to notice people who had arrived after us happily tucking into their food: in some cases the same food we’d ordered. Hmmm. I called over our waiter: he couldn’t even remember serving us. Then it turned out he’d lost our order. Cue another hour of waiting. Our food didn’t get bumped up the queue, and we weren’t offered free coffees to make up for the fact that we’d finished our drinks ages ago. The worst part is, to use their free Wi-Fi you have to like them on Facebook. So now I have to drool over their food knowing that I can never go back there because the service was so bad and I have principles. Sob.

The Time the Waitress Ate My Lunch

While we were in the Algarve we visited a restaurant known for its mixed grill. This formidable plate is enough for four people to share, or for two to stuff themselves full and still have some for lunch the next day. Thinking the leftovers would be handy for sandwiches the next day, I ordered it and shared with my dad. We asked for a doggy bag but it never came. As we were leaving my dad asked the owner if we could have our leftovers. She looked embarrassed and said “we must have thrown it out.” BUT! Just after our food was taken away we noticed the staff settling down for dinner. Suspicious! I’m not saying they ate my lunch, but they totally ate my lunch.

The Time We Had to Share a Table with Three French Men

The first sign something was off was that it was ‘Fresh Fish Friday’ but the menu was solely comprised of shellfish. The food was pretty average, but we were looking forward to dessert. Just before we could order it the waiter came over and asked us to budge over as he wanted to squeeze three more customers round our wee table. Didn’t really fancy eating my pudding when the guys sitting beside us were tucking into their garlicky starters, but sadly the waiter didn’t fancy bringing us the bill either. Awkward all round.

The Time We Got Served Raw Chicken

Lizarran is one of my favourite Spanish chains, so imagine my shock when I went into one of their restaurants in Madrid and got served this:

Lizarran Chicken

No apologies from the staff, nothing taken off our bill, nada. When I got in touch with Lizarran head office (via Twitter and email) I was also ignored! Moral of the story is, always cut your pintxo in half. Speaking of pintxos…

The Time We Went for Pintxos in Edinburgh

The arrival of an “authentic” Spanish tapas bar in Leith cheered me no end. But after visiting the place in question I realised this was 100% Edinburgh, 0% Sevilla. We ordered some bread and alioli and got about 3 teardrops of garlic mayo and six wee slices of bread for our £3.20. All the dishes were saucy, so we kept having to order more £3 bread baskets to mop up the juices. When my dad complained about the tiny portions and extortionate pricing he ended up in a Facebook slanging match with the owner. So I won’t be going back.

The Time We Went to a Fado Show

Fado

We had an amazing weekend in Lisbon just before Christmas. We ate so much good food, but sadly the weekend ended on a low note with a trip to a fado dinner show. The food was basically disgusting: my duck was overcooked and my rice was inedible. It was one of the most expensive meals we had all weekend. I spent the next couple of days suffering with food poisoning. Whether that’s the fado show’s fault or the Irish sausages my mum fed me when I got back to the Algarve is up for debate.

The Time We Got Invited on The Restaurant Inspector

Shortly after starting this blog, I paid a visit to Iggs. The food was nice but the service was awful. I complained on TripAdvisor and as a result got invited onto an episode of The Restaurant Inspector. Somehow they’d managed to make the restaurant even worse. We were left sitting for an hour waiting to pay for our drinks while the owner schmoozed with the TV crew. Eventually we just walked out, leaving our address in case they wanted to follow up for payment. They’ve closed down now, which is kind of a shame I suppose?

So, although not the worst meals I’ve ever eaten, these were definitely the most upsetting. What are your worst restaurant experiences?

REVIEW: Mumbai Mansion

250 Morrison Street, Edinburgh, EH3 8DT, 0131 229 7173

The 2015 Edinburgh Festival is in full swing, and everywhere you go this month you’ll find plenty of pop-up restaurants and street food shacks. But what if you don’t want to fight off seagulls while tucking into your curry? What if you want a real sit down experience: one with friendly waiters and well presented scran? Well my friend, Mumbai Mansion is the place for you.

Mumbai Starters
L-R: cucumber and chicken salad, lamb shami kebab, chargrilled prawn

 

Its Morrison Street location may seem a little out of the way, but really it’s only 20 minutes walk from George Square (where we saw the absolutely fantastic play Little Thing, Big Thing: catch it if you can). There’s a really nice gin bar next door, The Jolly Botanist, where I can definitely recommend grabbing an aperitif.

Everything on the menu looked tempting so it was quite difficult to decide what to order. I decided that the best way to get a feel for the restaurant was to order the tasting menu (minimum 2 people, £32.95 per head). This included an array of their best starters and some of their showcase mains. We ordered a bottle of prosecco (£18.95) to go with our meal because sparkling wines complement Indian food fantastically, non? The fizz price was on par with many of the other wines on the menu, so we would have been mad not to.

The first dish to appear from the kitchen was the chicken and cucumber salad: little chunks of marinated cold chicken bound with coleslaw and wrapped up in a cucumber ribbon. I’ll be honest here: this didn’t exactly set my world on fire. The fresh apple strips were a nice touch, and the cucumber was nice and light, but the chicken itself was a bit disappointing. Thankfully it was the only weak point in a fantastic meal and otherwise impressive tasting menu.

Mumbai Starters 2
L-R: corn and pea kebab, scallops and mussels, chicken tikka

 

Next to appear was the chicken tikka. The plate consisted of two chunks of chicken marinated in English mustard and yoghurt, with a lovely nutty sauce on the side. The chicken was tender and juicy, and packed with flavour. The spice was subtle and the accompanying sauce really gave it a lift. The sweetcorn and pea kebab, our next dish, was also rather delicious. These little patties had a fantastic texture and were packed with fresh, warm flavours.

The real standout of the evening were the scallops and mussels served with the herby and coconutty Nilghiri sauce. Oh my word, I could eat this dish all day every day. The waiter was already amused by how fast we were inhaling the food he brought out, but I think the speed at which we devoured this particular plate surprised him even more. But can you blame us? The scallops were cooked on the grill first and were done to absolute perfection. The sauce was tossed on afterwards. The result was tender and juicy scallops, complemented by the sauce and not smothered by it.

The chargrilled skewered prawns were brought next, and although they were very tasty our minds were still very much with the mussels and scallops. Sorry prawns! Our odyssey of starters came to a close with the lamb shami kebab. Minced lamb stuffed with ricotta and tarragon, it was a delightful little dish and probably a close second to the scallops in terms of our favourite thing on the menu.

Mumbai Misc

We had a little break between our starters and our main course, at which point we were brought some mint and lime flavour sorbet in a little basket of sesame seed brittle. This was an absolutely wonderful palate cleanser and had us ready to tackle our showstopping main: the grilled Scottish lobster served with Alappy style moilee sauce!

Mumbai Mains
L-R: butter chicken, rice, seasonal veggies, and the grilled lobster at the bottom.

 

The lobster was curried and presented in its shell. How impressive! At this point I thought this tasting menu would definitely impress the ladies on date night (as long she doesn’t have an aversion to seafood or shellfish with its head still on). There were some nice generous chunks of lobster in there, again cooked to perfection, with a slow heat that crept up on me after swallowing a few bites.

The butter chicken was slightly spicier than the versions I’m used to, although it still had a wonderful creaminess that counteracted the heat of the lobster. The seasonal vegetables, naan and rice made lovely little accompaniments to the main dishes.

As if that wasn’t enough, we were brought some dessert: Sticky Toffee Pudding! The plate included a warm cake lavished with hot toffee sauce with some vanilla ice cream on the side. The ice cream was topped with a fennel crisp and some orange crumble. It was exactly the sort of hearty dish you need to warm your cockles on a chilly August evening in the ‘burgh.

Mumbai dessert

Mumbai Mansion straddles the line between fine dining and standard Indian restaurant perfectly. With everyone and his dog currently extolling the virtues of street food it’s so refreshing to visit a restaurant that’s chosen to glam up instead of dress down. If you’re looking for an Indian meal in Edinburgh, but want to take it to the next level, I reckon you should get yourself down to Morrison Street and check it out.

I was invited along to Mumbai Mansion by their PR company. Despite this all thoughts, as always, are my own.

REVIEW: La Petite Mort

La Petite Mort, 32 Valleyfield Street, Tollcross, Edinburgh EH3 9L, 0131 229 3693

I know this great little place in Edinburgh. Tucked along an unremarkable side-street near Bruntsfield Links, a few steps from the hustle and bustle of Tollcross, in a perfectly convenient location if you’re catching a show at the King’s. This cosy little bistro is decorated with mismatched chairs, with low lighting and low laughter. Welcome to La Petite Mort.

La Petite Mort

The menu is small but perfectly formed. There are three starters, five mains, and three desserts to choose  from. Everything sounded absolutely delicious so it took a lot of humming and hawwing before we eventually settled on what we wanted to order. The staff really know their stuff and our waitress was happy to make recommendations and talk us through her favourite dishes on the menu.

This goes double for the drinks. As well as a nicely curated wine list, La Petite Mort also offers a nice range of cocktails. We didn’t partake but I did steal a few jealous glances at the group of hipsters chilling out at another table sipping their expertly mixed whisky sours.

We stuck to wine, and after some serious deliberation chose the white pinot grigio (£18.95) to accompany our meal. It was a lovely bottle, light and crisp and bursting with fruity flavours. Perfect for a summer’s evening. As we waited for our starters to arrive we sipped our wine and nibbled at some freshly baked tarragon and cumin bread. It had a lovely peppery kick, and got me excited for what was coming next.

Freshly baked tarragon and cumin bread.
Freshly baked tarragon and cumin bread.

I started with the black pudding and goats cheese bon bons on fennel seeded confit courgette ribbons (£5.95). I’m a sucker for a good haggis ball, and this was a unique yet similar take on an old classic. The batter was nice and crisp, the rich black pudding and creamy goats cheese complemented each other delightfully, while the tangy sauce and fresh courgette cut straight through the richness.

Black pudding and goats cheese bon bons
Black pudding and goats cheese bon bons

James began with the pan seared scallops on home smoked halloumi with sauce vierge (£7.95). Sounds weird, eh? This was the definite winner of the night and, although it’s the most expensive starter on the menu, it’s definitely worth the extra pennies. Who knew scallops and cheese would make such great bedfellows? The saltiness of the halloumi was the perfect foil to the creamy scallops (which were cooked to perfection, btw).

Scallops with home-smoked halloumi: definitely the star of the show
Scallops with home-smoked halloumi: definitely the star of the show

All of the mains sounded fantastic. Usually I go for the lamb (rump in this case), but tonight I threw a curve ball and chose the trio of pork: roasted loin, braised cheek and a pulled pork sausage roll (£13.95). This was a lovely little plate, with plenty of different flavours and things going on. If you’ve got dinner-time ADHD and always find yourself nicking nibbles from your pal’s plates this dish will keep your fork faithful. The pork cheek sat on some buttery spinach while the loin perched precariously on some creamy fondant potatoes. The poor loin was upstaged by the pulled pork and the pork cheek, but it was still very tasty (especially when smeared with red wine jus).

The Trio of Pork! L-R: pulled pork sausage roll, braised cheek, and pork loin with fondant potatoes
The Trio of Pork! L-R: pulled pork sausage roll, braised cheek, and pork loin with fondant potatoes

James had the pan fried fillet of seabass on celeriac and apple puree with buttered spinach and honey tempura aubergine (£12.95). The skin was crisp, the fish was tender, and the aubergine was divine. I did catch him throwing a few jealous glances at my pork cheek, though.

Sea bass with tempura aubergines
Sea bass with tempura aubergines

We really should have said no to dessert, but when you’ve had a meal as good as this one it’s hard to stop! James went for the earl grey dark chocolate fondant with vanilla ice cream while I went for the marvellous white russian set cheesecake with black russian jelly (both £4.95). Both desserts were yummy, and we unashamedly stole bites from each others plates. We both agreed that the cheesecake was the best of the two, with the cubes of cola and coffee jelly adding a lovely after-dinner boost.

Earl Grey fondant cake on the left, White Russian cheesecake on the right
Earl Grey fondant cake on the left, White Russian cheesecake on the right

For me La Petite Mort is the perfect little date night spot. It’s cosy and atmospheric, the staff are friendly and welcoming, and the prices are totally reasonable. It’s a fantastic addition to the Tollcross area and somewhere I will certainly be returning to.

I was invited by La Petite Mort to sample their spring menu. I was under no obligation to write a positive review, but I have anyway because the food was super tasty and the space was super lovely. All opinions are my own, apart from where I’ve included James’s thoughts.

Click to add a blog post for La Petite Mort on Zomato

 

West Highland Way: Day One

Milngavie to Drymen. 19km, or 11.75 miles if you want to do it the old fashioned way.

“There must be somewhere in Milngavie that sells porridge.”

“There’s Greggs.”

We’d just dropped our bags with our bag transfer company, Ginger Routes, and were about to set off on the hike of a lifetime. But first: breakfast. Having been on a diet for the past three months (THREE. FRICKING. MONTHS) I was quite in the mood for something involving white bread, fried meats, and lashings of sauce ala broon. James, however, had other ideas.

“There must be somewhere other than Greggs.”

Unfortunately for him, the good people of Milngavie seem to have the same idea about what constitutes a good breakfast as I do. After adding about 5 miles onto our walk by trekking back and forth up the high street a few times looking for porridge, we eventually wandered into a greasy spoon for a couple of morning rolls and some caffeine. That out of the way, we were ready to go! Well, almost.

We stopped to take the obligatory photos of ourselves setting off, and we were approached by a chap with two wee laddies. He offered to take our picture, and I returned the favour. He asked us how long we were doing the walk for. “Oh seven days” I said. “We’re doing it in five” he replied. Cue me no longer feeling like an intrepid adventurer, but feeling like a big ol’ wimp instead.

WHW start

Still, it was hard to stop me from feeling excited. It was a sunny morning, we’d met a few friendly faces, and to top it off a mariachi band had set up beside the arch leading to the West Highland Way path and were playing a jaunty wee tune to see us on our way. It was definitely enough to put a spring in my step!

The first section of the West Highland Way is a bit like the Water of Leith path in Edinburgh. It’s quite foresty and you bump into a lot of people walking their dogs. It’s pretty easy going at this point, but I think for most of the first day I was pretty apprehensive expecting things to get suddenly difficult.

DayOneA

I think we were walking for about an hour when we were overtaken for the first time: by a group of rowdy young walkers we’d seen in the greasy spoon that morning. We’d taken to calling them the “Yes Campaign” because I overheard them talking about Scottish Independence to their English friends, trying to convince them to vote yes. We got chatting to them for a wee bit, but nothing too deep. We didn’t get round to exchanging names or anything. They asked if we were stopping in at Glengoyne Distillery for lunch: we weren’t. If I’d done my research and known there was a distillery I’d have definitely popped in for a dram (or five).

COO
I needed a drink after seeing this warning

Soon after that the terrain opened up, and we got our first wee taste of Scottish countryside. Hills all around, sheep frolicking in the fields, and beautiful blue skies and sunshine. It’s funny: a few months before we’d been practicing walking in the Algarve. We used to joke about how walking in Scotland would be exactly the same weather wise. Turns out we were right!

DayOneB

I was pretty surprised at how well we were doing by the time we reached the Beech Tree, a wee restaurant just off the main drag. I had to stop and snap a picture of their sign, as they’d written a cute little poem to tempt passers by to come in for a rest. It worked! In we went to order a big plate of chilli nachos to share, and a can of Irn Bru for me. The weather was glorious, so we settled ourselves down in the beer garden and made friends with the cute animals in the petting zoo.

Beech Tree

Ahh I could have sat there all day! Sadly that wasn’t an option, so on we toddled towards our next stop: Drymen. We got overtaken again, by the chap with the two kiddywinks (who passed us while James was taking his fortieth photograph of a baby lamb getting some milk from its mum) and by one of the English girls from the Yes Campaign. She was on her own: I think she was keen to get on to Drymen while the others were quite happy getting stuck into into the drams, man.

Stephen & Julie: Dead or Engaged? I say Engaged. James disagrees.
Steven & Julie: Dead or Engaged? I say engaged. James says “same difference.”

Unfortunately we managed to get off the main path a little bit. Everything was fine: until we decided to follow the John Muir Way along a trail road instead of continuing along the motor road. It was an easy mistake to make, so if you’re planning a West Highland Way adventure any time soon make sure you don’t. Thankfully I was tracking our walk with MapMyFitness (and also feeling a bit paranoid) so I noticed that we’d gone a bit off track. We were able to turn right at the next road and get to Drymen without too many problems, and it didn’t add too much extra on to our day’s walk.

DayOneD

Half an hour later we were at our B&B, the lovely Kip in the Kirk! It’s an old converted church which the owners have transformed into a big dorm room and two B&B rooms. We were given fresh baked scones with jam and cream on arrival, as well as a big pot of tea (for me) and coffee for James. We sat down and got chatting to three other girls who were staying in the B&B section: Hannah, Anna and Rebecca. They were doing the walk in 7 days too, so I allowed myself to feel like less of a wimp.

We didn’t go too far that night, just to the pub up the road, where I had the first of many two course meals. I can’t actually remember what I ate but I’m sure it involved haggis spring rolls…

My Tips for Hiking the West Highland Way

I’ve wanted to walk the West Highland Way for years, ever since my friend Alan mentioned it during a long and boring shift at work back in 2007. Starting outside Milngavie, the 96 mile walk takes in the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond, the desolate Rannoch Moor, mysterious Glen Coe, then onwards up the Devil’s Staircase towards Fort William.

West Highland Way

Over the years I’ve found plenty of excuses not to do it. I’m not sure what made me finally decide that 2014 was the year. All I know is that I spent the day before my 28th birthday picking out some excellent B&Bs and putting together an itinerary. Once the deposits were paid, it was really happening! We were going to walk the West Highland Way!

We did the walk back in April, and although I meant to blog about it earlier life just kind of got in the way. It was such an adventure though that I really want to share it! I’m going to write about each day separately in a wee series (just to bore you all to tears) but first I’m going to share a few tips for any of you who are planning on doing the walk.

Use a baggage transfer company

Why carry a heavy rucksack up and down hills when you can pay someone else to do it for you? There are lots of baggage transfer companies operating along the Way, and the price is very reasonable. They pick your bag up from your accommodation every morning, and drop it off to the next place in time for your arrival. We used Ginger Routes and they were fantastic. The guy even gave us some tourist guides and free blister plasters- win!

But do carry a day bag

Bring a small rucksack with the things you’ll need to get you through the day. Money, mobile phones, a copy of your itinerary, a map, a bottle of water, a torch, some plasters, anti-bacterial gel, and a few things to munch on. We took one small rucksack and it was enough for the two of us.

Stay well fuelled

Jemma mushroom

I joked to James that I’ll probably be the first person to gain weight walking 100 miles, but the thing is you really do need to keep your body well fuelled if you’re going to be marching 14 miles every day. There are loads of wee shops along the way where you can stock up on fruit, nuts, crisps and chocolate bars for snacking on as you go. You should also make a point of stopping half way through the day, even if you’re not starving. There are plenty of pubs where you can stop and have a calorie laden lunch such as chilli nachos, chips and cheese, or a scone with jam and cream.

Pack extra socks

There’s nothing better after a wet and sweaty day of trekking than slipping your freshly showered feet into a pair of lovely clean socks. Makes sure you have two pairs of socks (and pants!) for every day: one for walking, one for feeling clean and fresh in the evening.

Pack some evening wear

Most of the time you’ll be arriving at your destination for about 4pm. Most of the hotels have bars, and if you’re staying in a small town you might want to head out for a knees up in the local pub. You won’t want to be going out for dinner in mud splattered trousers and hiking boots, so bring something nice to wear like a good pair of jeans and a shirt or a couple of comfy day dresses and ballerina shoes.

Break in your trousers

I took the time to break in my hiking boots, but didn’t try my trousers on until the day of the walk. Big mistake! Those m’f’ers chaffed like nobody’s business. I ended up wearing a pair of James’s lycra boxer shorts underneath them for the rest of the trip (over my underpants, of course). So if your trousers are a bit rough round the edges, pack some boxers for underneath.

Use a tracking app

I started out using MapMyWalk to keep track of calories burned, but it ended up becoming a life saver on day one when I compared it with our map and realised we were going off track. If you’re not so good with maps (like me!) I’d highly recommend doing this. Be careful: this can drain the battery on your smartphone. I’d recommend bringing an old handset for emergency phone calls if you’re hiking alone.

Make copies of your itinerary

Put your planned route, where you’re going to be staying, and the phone number of the hotel/B&B. Obviously you should give a copy to your baggage handler: I also gave one to my parents, in case something went wrong, and kept one for myself because I’m getting older and my memory ain’t what it used to be.

Have you walked the West Highland Way? What are your top tips?

Scotland voted no: let’s make Britain great

I originally posted this on Facebook, but I wanted to share it with more people than my immediate friends and family.

Free Scotland and prosper

On Friday, Scotland voted against self-determination. I was heartbroken and in typical Jemma fashion I threw my toys out the pram, decided that I’m not Scottish anymore, and vowed that I’ll never be stepping foot in Britain again. Obviously I was overreacting but that’s me: I’m a passionate person and I don’t see the point in pretending I’m fine when inside I’m torn to ribbons.

On the plus side, 55% of the electorate voting “no” means more job security, and has strengthened the British economy. While this is excellent news for lots of you reading this, it hasn’t made a jot of difference to those at the bottom of society: on zero hour contracts, facing strict benefit sanctions, and struggling to feed themselves.

What I’m saying is, “I’m alright, Jack” isn’t good enough.

No voters: if you woke up on Friday, excited that your financial future is still sound, please think back to that feeling of fear and worry you had on Thursday when there was a possibility that everything might not be okay. That’s what poor people go through every day of every week of every year.

A big reason I voted Yes is that I don’t believe in austerity. I hate the thought that thousands of children will be entering poverty while people like Ian Duncan Smith are spending £39 on breakfast and trying to claim it on expenses. Dude, how!? Did you walk into Greggs and order one of everything?

The reason I subscribed to the idea of Yes was the idea of social justice. Whether iScotland could have sorted everything out or not isn’t up for debate: we’ll never know, so it’s inconsequential.

What we do know is that child poverty is here to stay until we can make more positive changes together, as part of the UK. Today I joined a political party for the first time, and I’ll be donating £5 a month to them. That’s £60 a year- so I’ve decided to donate £60 to the Trussell Trust as well. They need the money as much as, if not a lot more than, our politicians do. I’ll put a reminder in my diary to donate to the food banks again next September, but hopefully I won’t need to do it at all.

If you want to join me in making a positive change, you can donate to The Trussell Trust here. Or choose another charity who are doing great things for the people living in poverty in our country. If you do, I would so appreciate it if you leave me a comment telling me all about them and the great work they do. Who knows- maybe you’ll inspire some other people to donate, too.

Now is the time to make our country an amazing place to live in, and I think we can do it. 

So if your future is secure and your salary is safe, celebrate by sharing just a tiny wee bit with those who have nothing. If I can do it on an unstable freelancer’s income, I’m sure one or two of you can too. You don’t even have to do it online, and it doesn’t have to cost you a packet. Just buy a Big Issue next time you see a seller. Buy a takeaway for a homeless person. If you think a friend might be struggling silently to make ends meet, order her some goodies from Tesco. I’ve just realised all of these involve food, but hey: that’s what I’m supposed to be blogging about anyway, right?

Think globally, act locally, and once our battered Britain is repaired we can start to heal the world.

App Review: Clink

Living abroad is great, but it means that I miss out on most of my friends birthdays. Sure, I can send them something from Amazon, but what if I just want to buy them a drink?

I had seen a few adverts for Clink popping up on my Facebook, and since one of my best pal’s birthdays was coming up, I thought I’d give it a try. So how did it go?

Well, the app is extremely easy to use. First of all you pick the friend you want to send a Clink to. The information is fed into the app from Facebook, so all of your best buddies are there. It also tells you who’s birthday is coming up, so if you’ve forgotten to get your wee cousin a birthday pressie you can always send him a glass of wine in his favourite bar.

The next step is choosing the bar. There’s a great selection of Edinburgh boozers on there, from chic George Street cocktail bars to quaint and upmarket locals. My friend lives (and works) down the Shore, so I chose Teuchter’s Landing. I knew it would be handy.

Clink
The birthday boy enjoying his Clink!

If he was having a boring Tuesday night in front of the telly he could think “oh, I have that drink to redeem!” and nip downstairs.

There were a few drinks to choose from, all separated into nice little categories like Beer & Ale, Cocktails, Wine, and so forth. I chose him a nice bottle of Malbec so he could share with his fiance.

The payment process was quick and painless. My pal was sent a notification on Facebook telling him to download the app and redeem his drink. This bit was nerve wracking: I’d just dropped £20 on a bottle of wine, and hoped that the notification wouldn’t get buried under the usual torrent of birthday well wishes.

This is obviously the part where things can go wrong: someone might think it’s spam, or might not check their Facebook.

Of course this can all be averted by the old fashioned method of talking to each other.

Drop your mate a text, or a phone call, and just say “hey, sorry I can’t be in Edinburgh for your birthday: but I sent you a drink through this new app called Clink, I hope you enjoy it!”

Clink is definitely one to watch, and I’ll certainly be using it during some key dates in 2014. They’ll be launching in London soon, too. I highly recommend you download it: you never know who might send you a Clink.

 

 

Essential Edinburgh Eats

Well, I made it back to Edinburgh in one piece and what a whirlwind trip it was!

The first night home we had dinner reservations with most of our friends. I made myself sick by filling myself with curry and wine, and then proceeding to bounce around the place with excitement and joy. The next morning, I drank a can of Irn Bru and then I got my luscious mane of hair all chopped off: it made me happy, but what do you guys think of it?

Hottie or whattie?
Hottie or whattie?

The rest of the week was spent getting drunk and watching Game of Thrones with my folks, visiting my beautiful friend Sarah and her gorgeous wee lad Aston, grabbing lunches and vinos with a rather random selection of pals, and stuffing our faces in some awesome places.

My mum was excited to have me home, so insisted on cooking most nights. Thankfully I still managed to pop out and eat in a few places that I haven’t mentioned on here before. I decided to pull together my favourite places from this trip and make a wee list of awesome places to grab a wee bite, if you only have a few days to spend in my home town.

The Sicilian Pastry Shop

Despite living on Albert Street for six months, and living in Leith for even longer, I hadn’t been to the Sicilian Pastry Shop until this particular visit to Edinburgh. We wanted to thank my parents for letting us stay for the week, and my dad loves cake, so we popped in and picked up a box of treats. Everything was delicious, and everything cost around £1-£3. An absolute bargain when you think about the prices in places like Patisserie Valerie. I loved the croissant with strawberries and cream: so simple but so good. Everything was amazing though.

Sicilian Pastry Shop on Urbanspoon

M1 Sandwich Shop and Deli

We had a lovely day wandering around the boutiques on Easter Road; my parents were both baffled when I pointed out the ‘Dugs n Pubs’ stickers on the doors, and told them that it means they can bring their gremlin Ziggy in. My mum even shouted at my dad in Cornelius, and the poor guy behind the till had to say “no, dogs are welcome here!” anyway, I’m getting off track.

PicMonkey Collage

Aidan (James’s wee bro) told us that M1 make a lovely espresso for 80p, so we ended up popping in every morning for a wee shot of coffee. Lovely and rich, it reminded me of the espresso I’d been drinking in France for the past 8 months. They also have some fresh made jam, cakes, and sandwiches: although we always used to pick up a lovely sourdough loaf for dinner. My dad still pops in there every day. If you want a cheap, tasty coffee: in you go.

Cafe Renroc

I used to walk past this place all the time on my way to James’s house, but I haven’t actually been in until this year when my parents moved into town and started frequenting Renroc all the time. They’re on first name basis with the staff: although I think that’s down to the staff’s friendliness, more than anything else. My folks took us out for a nice Sunday breakfast.

renroc2

It was delicious. I had a ‘full monty’ (full english, basically, ’cause I’m a fat pie) while everyone else went for something a bit lighter. What can I say? I love me some baked beans! As well as having tasty food and friendly staff, the place is also beautifully decorated with a nice big downstairs. There’s a really lovely atmosphere, and I’d love to come back one night for dinner and drinks. I know that in the summer they put on entertainment, so y’all should make this your new after work hang out spot!

Café Renroc on Urbanspoon

Amigos

This wee takeaway is perfect for a late night snack. I got a vegetable wrap (potato wedges, chilli sauce, garlic mayo, awesome) and chips.

Jemma Chips

 Unfortunately my mum didn’t think it was awesome, although I think James’s dad got jealous when he saw just how many chips I got to stuff into my fat face! It was super cheap too, and probably one of the best takeaways on the East End of town. Give it a bash next time you’re staggering home.

Amigos Edinburgh on Urbanspoon

Sushiya

There’s some debate over which sushi restaurant in Edinburgh is the best, but for me it’s always going to be sushiya. Nothing beats their rainbow roll. It’s the first place I ever tried proper sushi, back when I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to nibble it or chuck the whole thing in my gob in one go. I’ve had amazing dates there, I’ve dined there after kicking ass at laser quest: it’s one of my favourite wee places to pick up a bite in the ‘burgh. We popped in for lunch and the food was just as great as it usually is, although I didn’t take any photofaffs.

Sushiya on Urbanspoon

Where should I visit next time I’m in Edinburgh? Let me know what I’m missing out on!

Burns Suppers in Edinburgh, 2013

One of my favourite Scottish festivals is coming up: Burns Night! I love it because you get an excuse to eat haggis, drink whisky, and recite poetry by our national bard, Rabbie Burns.

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while will know that I love haggis. Sadly, the French don’t share my enthusiasm for what I’m calling boudin Ecosse, and it would cost at least £20 to get a McSweens haggis shipped down from Paris. I don’t love haggis that much, but I also don’t grudge those of you in Edinburgh the chance to munch it til your heart’s content.

So here’s a list of Burns Suppers in Edinburgh, for 2013. Cheers to the Scottish Government’s Winter Festivals PR team, who sent this info on to me. Aside from the last one, which I threw in myself 😉

The Scottish Café on The Mound

The Scottish Café is throwing a Burns Night and ceilidh on Friday 25th January, from 7.30pm – 1am for £26.50pp. For a fine meal and a ceilidh, I’d say this is pretty good. I bloody love ceilidhs. I was almost falling asleep at my best friend’s wedding earlier this year, but once the ceilidh started up I got a new lease of life. James had to ply me with vodka shots to try and slow me down! (didn’t work).

Here’s the menu…

Starter: Cullen Skink: Traditional stew made of smoked haddock, potato and East
Lothian leeks

Main: Findlay’s of Portobello Haggis with East Lothian organic neeps
and tatties (plus a complimentary dram)

Dessert: Traditional cranachan with Scottish raspberries and Graham’s
Dairy double cream

And here’s a photo of the ceilidh master! AKA me.

Me ceilidhing like a mofo
Showing off my awesome ceilidh moves. Oh yeah.

Earthy at Canonmills

James’s younger brother works (or worked, I can’t remember) at Earthy, and I think any Edinburgh foodie worth their Maldon salt has been in to peruse their goods at least once! For both those reasons I reckon this one will be awesome.

Earthy is staging an alternative Burns Supper in conjunction with the Soil Association. From 7.30pm guests will be able to enjoy an alternative menu for £25 followed by speeches celebrating the land. Investigative food journo Joanna Blythman is one of the speakers.

Burns Night Supper, Whiski Rooms, Edinburgh

Coming in at £35 per person, this  traditional Burns Supper starts at 7pm with bagpipes, speeches, haggis and of course a tasty selection of whisky in the stunning world heritage location that is the Whiski Rooms. I’ve heard their whisky cocktails are rather good, too.

Find out more on the Whiski Rooms website.

Innis & Gunn Burns Supper, Angels and Bagpipes, Edinburgh

At £40 a head, this is the most costly Burns Supper. Although I’m sure it will be worth it, as Innis & Gunn (the foodies favourite independent Scottish brewer) will be hosting the evening. There’ll be a speech about I&G’s history from one of their marketing folks, who will then talk you through three tasty oak-aged beers as you enjoy a Scottish feast. There’ll be a bagpiper and some lovely Burns poetry, too.

Find out more here.

Your Local Chippy 

Or if you’re not feeling fancy, pick up a jumbo haggis supper with lashings of salt and sauce from your local purveyor of chips for around £4 pp. Head home, open a cold can of Irn Bru, and enjoy. You anti-social sod.

If you know of any other awesome Burns Suppers taking place in Edinburgh this year, let me (and my readers!) know in the comments.