Sunday, 30 June 2013

Review - Three Birds Restaurant Edinburgh

I first visited the Three Birds in Bruntsfield, Edinburgh shortly after it opened last year and I've been keen to return and see how their imaginative take on local dining is getting on. The sort of place oft referred to as 'a  neighbourhood gem', the Three Birds pickles and smokes many of its own ingredients, sources from local, seasonal, sustainable suppliers, and all with a deft hand of foraging thrown in.

They feature good value lunch menus, gregarious sharing platters and fab in-house touches such as the 3Bird dukkah to nibble on and bespoke artisan soap in the ladies (can't speak for the gents). The menu is a world   away from typical restaurant offerings, instead of chicken liver pâté there's venison or beef tongue to start and a range of mains and specials featuring what's good here at this point in the earth's journey round the sun.

3Bird dukkah
The restaurant has a neutral but cosy interior. Sitting there on a midsummer evening with the door open and watching a bit of Bruntsfield go by was a good start to the evening. Hearing the hubbub of fellow diners building around us we settled in for a promising night, the ambiance only slightly dented by the guilty pleasures/Elton John soundtrack in the background.

First up was the 3Bird Dukkah to share. A middle eastern mix of toasted spices, seeds and chopped nuts, it's served with extra virgin olive oil, syrupy shallot vinegar and bread for dipping into. It had an excellent, smoky flavour with hints of coriander, cumin, almond, pine nut and possibly cashew. I loved the shallot vinegar too but the bread was a bit thinly sliced for me, almost too refined for the rustic dukkah. Personal choice but I'd prefer chunkier pieces that would better accommodate the oil and spices.

For the first course were one of two halloumi dishes on the menu. I chose the special, fried Halloumi with pickled red cabbage, black garlic, spring onions and an orange dressing. I have never eaten black garlic before and it's produced by  fermenting the bulbs at a high temperature with balsamic vinegar for 24 hours. It's a different taste, with mild garlic undertones; it's almost sweet but bitter, a bit like dried fruit that's been baked in a Christmas cake. It does however go very well with small but juicy pieces of halloumi (not too waxy) and some joyous pink picked cabbage. The spring onions and a few leaves were great too. I didn't catch too much of the orange flavour but it was there to pull it all together at the back of my palate.

Halloumi (above) and the curious black garlic clove (right)

Smoked Mackerel

The second starter was Salad of Smoked Mackerel, Oyster Mushrooms with a Caper and Egg dressing. Another colourful, well presented dish; the mackerel was strong and punchy and stood up to the dressing. Again, the raw ingredients were of a high standard. Both starters were served on small wooden boards (possibly olive) and though they were starter sized in terms of portion control, the boards made them look slightly smaller than they actually were, my only criticism.

Main course and I chose another special, the Oven Baked Sea Bass, intrigued by the home-smoked treacle bacon in the dish. The fish was perfectly cooked, served with the bacon, crayfish, sea aster (a sort of flat samphire we were told) new potatoes and a sun dried tomato butter. I loved the flavours, the generous piece of fish, the slightly crispy, buttery potatoes and jewel-like crayfish hidden under the bass. The bacon though, while having a great, smoky, sweet flavour that didn't overpower the delicate fish, was just a bit too flabby and chewy in texture for me. I'd prefer it crispier and I loved the tiny bit of rind on it, more of that please! The sea aster was more like tarragon than samphire but I enjoyed the novelty of it, there was bite to the leaves with a hint of the sea air in them. A few of the yellow sea aster flowers had been added as a garnish but these were a bit too bitter, the only thing that threatened to overpower the fish.

Sea Bass

The Second second course was from the main menu, breaded pork schnitzel with a creamy leek sauce, potatoes and boiled eggs. An interesting dish to see on a menu these days, a slight retro feel but rich, comforting if not hugely summery. The pork wasn't too dry and the sauce was really tasty, the only thing missing was a bit of colour on the plate but we still enjoyed it immensely.

The dessert menu too is not short of imagination, I was torn between the Coconut and Cardamom  Sponge and Heather Honeycomb and Truffle Oil Vanilla Ice Cream. In the end the ice cream won, despite a warning from a waitress that the truffle oil flavour was very strong. Apparently this dish has divided customer opinion so far! It wasn't overpowering in terms of taste, which was slightly salty, savoury, but more the texture, which was quite oily but not off-puttingly so. However my dining companion picked up engine oil somewhere in the mix,  as have previous customers!

Old school wafers

Far more interesting was the honey rippled through the ice cream, it tasted like nectar, like wild flowers, like sun on a rocky hillside, I felt like a fat greedy bumblebee. We shared the ice cream, but for one person it was too big a serving. Because the whole combination is quite intense, half that amount would be enough. The restaurant buys its ice cream from Over Langshaw Farm who make it specially for them. They've several other interesting flavours including blue cheese and Guinness and Baileys. Although they prepare a lot of their other ingredients such as the bacon perhaps outsourcing this is a cannier move to take the pressure off the kitchen.

All this was being washed down with a carafe of gluggable Spanish white wine, 100% Macabeo grapes. Not too dry but not lacking personality it was good value, working out at £4 per large glass. There is a small, reasonable wine list with a nice Prosecco I tried last time I visited, and the usual teas and coffees, none of which we had on this occasion. Like the wine, The Three Birds can be summed up by good value; considering the imagination, sourcing and flair that goes into their menus it's hard to beat in terms of cost, with all this coming in at £65 (including wine). It's the kind of place where you spend half the evening excited to be there and be talking about the food itself which is no bad thing. We're lucky to have places like this on the doorstep in Edinburgh.

Three Birds Restaurant
3-5 Viewforth
EH10 4JD
0131 229 3252

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Crail Food Festival - 16 June

Tucked away in the furthest corner of the East Neuk of Fife is the seaside village of Crail. This part of the world is has more in common with Cornwall than other parts of the Scottish coastline. White washed cottages, cobbled streets rolling down to a picture perfect harbour, a rocky shoreline only smugglers would brave and of course some of the tastiest food that side of Edinburgh.

Now in its third year, the annual Crail Food Festival takes place in June and I headed up and over the bridge to Fife to enjoy some of the best of the region's produce. Organised by a loyal community of local volunteers, the festival takes place over a weekend. Because this is Scotland, the Saturday featured an indoor market with cookery and tasting area, followed by a fabulous dinner and music event in the evening, this year featuring a three course Fife menu with King Creosote and friends bringing the tunes (a sellout!) Then, on the Sunday, the festival takes its chances and sets up shop on the famous harbour, the most photographed in Scotland apparently!

2013 must have seen some sun dances taken place, or perhaps a pact with the foodie gods as Crail basked in some of the best temperatures this year. Sadly unable to make a weekend of it and drove up only for the Sunday, but were rewarded by the journey nonetheless; inland or taking the coast road, it's spectacular. A worrying band of cloud stayed over the hills and the sea sparkled as far as the eye could see.

Set up as a celebration of local food and drink and a showcase for some of Fife's finest produce, the festival aims to encourage visitors to make the journey and enjoy all this in a fabulous setting. It had done the trick as the place was packed but luckily the trusty Micra was small enough to find a parking space. We joined the throngs of people walking down the pretty streets to the harbour. Approaching the harbour from the east is one of the best views from Scotland on a day like that. Blue, blue, blue and East Lothian visible in the distance.

On arrival at the harbour it had been transformed with stalls selling a diverse range of goodies including Arbroath Smokies, sweet waffles and chocolaty crepes, fresh pizza from an oven in the back of a horsebox (really) and pigeon on the menu from Wild Rover Foods. All this against a backdrop of boats, lobster pots, rambling cottages and the tangy air of the sea. Priorities, after the drive we needed sustenance so we headed to the lobster shack after seeing people walking past with their plates filled high with local crustacean. Cooked lobster with a squeeze of lemon juice and dressed crab ready to go we sat on the harbour wall and picked every scrap of juicy sweet meat out of it in the sun.

As well as the stalls along the harbour there were foraging walks from professional forager Galloway Wild Foods and the Fife Diet team who also brought their carbon-neutral smoothie bike! Continuing the emphasis on local food were Food from Fife who had a prime spot at the edge of the harbour wall with info, recipes and chef demos from Christopher Trotter, Paul Wedgewood, and Scott Davies. They also had some shellfish demos from local seafood expert Jim Knox who put a lobster through its paces. More on him soon on this blog!

As part of the build up to the festival, myself and other food bloggers have been contributing to the Crail Food Festival blogging project with guest posts about the producers and people attending the festival. Mine was all about the Food from Fife initiative and the work they're doing in Fife. Read about that and the rest of the posts on the Crail Food Festival website here.

Back in the village, the shops and tearooms were open and we visited the butchers and the greengrocers, snapping up a punnet of the tiniest, sweetish local strawberries. Ostensibly for the week ahead, they barely made it back home! back at the harbour, there was just time to pick up a couple of goodies including incredible patisserie from Sucre Coeur, before we headed back up the road.

It was wonderful to see the harbour busy and buzzing, and to see so many people coming together to enjoy all this great food. It's also good to see a real community project come together and be a success; so many events now are corporate, sponsored and identikit, let's hope if the festival expands to meet demand it won't loose any of the charm and character that marks it out as a must see on the foodie calendar.

Friday, 14 June 2013

June Slow Food Supper at Edinburgh Larder Bistro - Nose to Tail with Gorgie City Farm

Monday night saw me attend a Slow Food Supper at the Edinburgh Larder Bistro, a restaurant committed to using the best local Scottish produce. Slow Food Suppers are an opportunity for like minded people to come together to chat and enjoy really good food. This element of conviviality, of the enjoyment of sharing good, clean and fair food together is central to the Slow Food movement. Edinburgh Larder Bistro have hosted a number of suppers and are keen supporters of Slow Food.

In recent months the Edinburgh events have welcomed special guests and suppliers such as Clyde Valley Tomatoes to talk about what they produce and why it's special in today's world of tasteless mass-produced food. This time, the speaker was Donna from Gorgie City Farm in Edinburgh who talked about the pigs they raise there. At the farm she does amazing work helping disadvantaged and troubled children and teenagers by getting them involved looking after the pigs and learning more about farming and animal husbandry. At the heart of its local community, the farm is a valuable place where the kids can find out about where their food comes from, but more importantly helps them feel engaged and included in their often troubled lives.


I was there supporting both Slow Food and the farm, where I have been volunteering with their 'Fork to Fork' gardening and cookery lessons. Our feast for the evening was some of Gorgie Farm's very own pork, raised less than a couple of miles from where we were sitting. These pigs have a happy life, something Donna is passionate about, having grown up on a farm and been around animals all her life. She draws the line at giving them names, only referring to the Gloucester Old Spot we were eating as 'Pig 006'. Using as much of the animal as possible is important to her, and this nose to tail ethos is shared at Edinburgh Larder Bistro. We started with some crackling, I'm not always a fan but this was wonderful, crisp, not too chewy and flecked with spices including sweet roasted fennel seeds.

Pig 006

From the choice of mains we had to try Pig 006, including different cuts cooked different ways. There were choice slices of pan fried loin and then slow cooked belly and cheek (I think), with a decedent layer of  fat. Also included was the oink, so I'm told, although I didn't spot it I ate it all up. The pork was served with braised peas and lettuce in a jus and garnished with wild rocket flowers. Our table played a game of 'guess the foraged wild flower' for a while!

Also on the menu was home smoked Pollock with cauliflower, heritage potatoes and bacon. This was a  generous slab of fish, highly seasoned and served with some perfectly cooked veg. A veggie option of spelt and barley risotto unsurprisingly didn't get a look in! I wasn't planning on having  a dessert (extra in the price), but the Espresso and Pecan tart with homemade ice cream changed my mind. I love coffee and pecans so I had to have it; the ice cream, though a small portion tasted had a pure, milky taste, worth ten yellow scoops from a carton. The tart was good, the pecans were excellent, however I didn't get a strong taste of espresso but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Though it was exciting to visit the restaurant, somewhere that's been on my list for a while, the supper wasn't all about the menu. It was a chance to meet some kindred spirits and share the evening talking about food, life and everything else (if there is anything else!). More so, it was about showing support for those that care about where food comes from and celebrating the work they do. That can go beyond producing and selling us the best in artisan produce, it can have a life changing effect. Gorgie Farm is a charity, so if you're in Edinburgh do visit, see the animals, buy some sausages and help them continue to make a difference.

Edinburgh Larder Bistro, 1a Alva Street, Edinburgh EH2 4PH

Slow Food Edinburgh

Gorgie City Farm, 51 Gorgie Road, Edinburgh EH1 2LA