Thursday, 31 March 2016

Paris Dispatches: Notre Dame, Nutella crepes and the evening baguette

J'adore Paris.  It was one of my first loves.  In high school I already had mapped out where I would go on my first trip there.  By the time I finally visited, I had been fascinated by the French Revolution and Sylvia Beach's Shakespeare and Company in university studies.  I am delighted to be here again.  I will try not to gush but it is a city of such beauty around every corner. 

Firstly I am delighted with our little first floor apartment in the Marais.  But perhaps I will write more about it another time.  For now, the top photo is our view out the window.

We arrived last night and snacked on bread rolls from Edinburgh airport.  This morning Sylvia and I headed out for brunch.  She had chocolate croissant and I had a baguette with brie and lettuce.  It reminded me of how much I love a French boulangerie (bakery).

This is our view while we ate our brunch.  Sylvia has spotted the gelati shop across the street.  Apparently the weather is meant to get warmer before we leave so perhaps we will be eating gelati.

Meanwhile today the weather was dire.  Wet wet wet.  The buildings are so stylish and gorgeous but it was not the weather to get out the camera.  I took a few of these buildings on the Seine before the rain got heavier.  Nevertheless it was a lovely walk past the Hotel de Ville across the Seine with a few detours into souvenir shops.

By the time we arrived at Notre Dame, it was quite wet and we just headed inside.  I was pleased it is still free to visit.  Strangely enough I remember feeling a little disappointed upon my first visit there.  I can't think why.  It is such an amazing place.  Building commenced in 1163 and it is still inspiring awe in the crowds.

We wandered around the building, with Sylvia asking me lots of questions about Christianity.  I regret that I don't remember as much as I was taught at school.  I loved the stories of the saints but they are not as fresh in my memory as they once were.

We chatted quite a bit about the stories depicted in the sculpted choir screen.  Some were familiar to Sylvia and some less so.

One of the most amazing ones is this nativity scene.  It is so different to the way we depict the navity these days.  Baby Jesus is hardly noticeable in the manger beneath the cattle while Mary is centre stage and far less modest than than in modern nativity scenes.

Afterwards we were unashamedly touristy and ate nutella crepes in on of the cafes overlooking the Notre Dame.  Sylvia loved it.  If I had known how big they were I would have ordered one between two of us.

We overlooked the queue for climbing the towers of the Notre Dame.  I did it years ago and would love to do it again.  However I don't remember such long queues and this on a rainy day!

We walked back by the Hotel de Ville where we found a double decker carousel.  Sylvia had to try it.  It was great fun.  Then we went to department store Le BHV.  We chose a few small purchases and then had a merry dance looking for a cash register that was open.  No wonder the few open cash registers had huge queues.

On the way home I bought a baguette, some fruit and veg and a chunk of cheese for dinner.  Though once we met up with E and I looked at the one baguette, I decided to head back out for another baguette and a few croissants.  Dinner was magnificent.

Now I must turn to the links to Paris eating places that I have been sent and think about where else we might go.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Edinburgh restaurants: Kalpna, Vegetarian Indian

Today is our last full day in Edinburgh.  It has been a day of packing and sorting through belongings.  I arranged to meet my friend Clare for lunch at The Auld Hoose for vegan nachos.  When I arrived with Sylvia, the barman was very apologetic about Edinburgh laws stating that children cannot be in a pub in sight of the bar and they did not have a dining room.  Luckily one of the other places I had wanted to visit in Edinburgh was just around the corner.  We walked across to Kalpna and were very pleased with our lunch.

Kalpna is an Indian vegetarian restaurant that has been there for many years and has always had a good reputation.  I have not eaten there since I left Edinburgh about 15 years ago but it was still providing good food.  The lunch is a buffet of rice, paratha, three curries, salads, sauces, potato fritters and potato dumplings.  It was all very good.

I asked the names of the curries and was told, lentil, pea and potato, and spinach and corn.  When I asked what the sauce was for one I was told pea and potato curry.  I can tell you they were very good, especially the dal (with lentils or split peas).  It wasn't really oily as some curries can be and the vegetables tasted freshly cooked.  I appreciated that they weren't overly spicy.  Sylvia and I would have preferred naan bread but the parathas were nice and warm.

We were also impressed with the decor.  The walls of the whole restaurant were stuccoed with little mirrors used to make patterns and pictures.  They were fun to look for pictures with Sylvia to keep her amused while she ate her rice, tomato and cucumber.

Then we headed off to Summerhall for a cake and a drink to take to the playground at the Meadows for Sylvia to enjoy the swings and roundabouts once more.

I still have a few Edinburgh posts that I hope to share but tomorrow we will be off to Paris.

2-3 St Patrick Square, Edinburgh
0131 667 9890

Kalpna Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, 28 March 2016

Glasgow day trip: Stereo, The Tenament House, Willow Tearooms

Sylvia and I had a day trip to Glasgow yesterday and enjoyed ourselves despite the rain.  We got home late last night and then discovered that the clocks go forward for daylight savings today.  Hence today was a bit of a wipeout and I left E to make dinner for Easter Sunday (more about that later).  Meanwhile in Glasgow, we ate well at vegan restaurant, Stereo, and Glasgow icon, The Willow Tearooms.  Sightseeing was mostly the Tenament House Museum.

It is not ideal to be finding our way about an unfamiliar city in the rain, clutching map and umbrella.  Even worse, when we arrived at Stereo, I found that the lane was closed.  We had to walk around to the other side of the lane to get to the doorway to the restaurant.

Stereo was pretty quiet when we arrived early for lunch but by the time we left it was full with very few vacant tables.  We started with a soy hot chocolate and a Fentiman's Curiosity Cola.  I ordered hummus with flatbread and vegies for Sylvia because she has had so many less vegies than usual on our trip.  Curiosity drove my own ordering.  I ordered buffalo cauliflower and pizza with haggis, caramelised onions, roast potato and cheese.  All amazing.

Sylvia turned up her nose at seeing the oil drizzled over the hummus.  I stirred it in but first impressions were powerful and she mostly ate the flatbread and a little vegies.  The hummus was really nice with a generous amount of tahini while the flatbread was warm and lovely.  The buffalo cauliflower were nice but a bit spicy for me.

I was also surprised that the haggis pizza was also spicy.  I kept wondering if I had ordered the spicy sauce on it but I am sure I didn't.  Despite the spiciness I loved the pizza.  It will take an amazing vegan pizza to beat this one.  It was huge, perhaps too big.  Everything was nicely presented but even so I think it would have been better not to have the pizza hanging over the edge of the plate and to serve the salad in a separate bowl.  But I loved the soft onions, the slightly crispy edges to the haggis and the creamy stringy cheese.  I asked about the cheese and was just told it was from Austria.

We took a taxi to the Tenament House Museum in Buccleuch Street.  It is a 4 room tenament flat that was lived in continuously by a family for 54 years during the 20th Century.  The period detail is really lovely.  Sadly my camera battery gave out before I reached the kitchen.

The flat only had one bedroom but three beds.  Two of these beds were in little closets with curtains.  (They are like Perks bed in the Railway Children if you have seen the 1970s film.)  I love the ingenious use of space.  It was fascinating to look at a model of how 3 traditional bedtime flats had been changed into 2 modern flats.

The Tenament House is closed over winter and was only opened for the year the day before.  As it was the Easter weekend there were kids activities.  Every room had Easter eggs with letters beside them and kids had to collect the letters and make a word to receive an Easter egg prize.  Then there was craft activities in a room where Sylvia made a paper plate bunny and did some colouring in.

Then we walked to Sauchiehall Street to have afternoon tea at the Willow Tearooms.  The tearooms were designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, who is famed for his beautiful art nouveau designs.  This photo was taken just as we were leaving and the place was closing.  When we arrived we had to wait for a table because it was so busy.

Sylvia was given a kids menu with a colouring in picture of Maisie the Cat at the Willow Tearooms.

I wasn't starving after Stereo but I wasn't about to pass up the opportunity to have afternoon tea on a posh three tier plate.  As with Stereo, we didn't eat everything.  We couldn't!  The bottom plate was sandwiches.  Vegetarian and vegan options were offered for these so I had a mix.  Cheese and chutney, tomato and avocado, cream cheese and cucumber, and spinach and hummus.  The next layer was scones and the top was a cake of our choosing.

I think my favourite was the scones with jam and cream.  The raspberry jam was lovely and the cream was the thick clotted kind.  I would have liked the scones to be warm but I guess the logistics of this in a busy tearooms is tricky.  The staff were constantly on the go.  Sylvia noted how fancy they looked in the old fashioned black dresses and white aprons.

Then we checked out a few shops in Sauchiehall Street and collapsed onto the train to go home.  It was lovely to spend time in Glasgow.  Sylvia's impression was of a cold wet and windy city.  I felt we had just scratched the surface and would love to spend more time there.

22-28 Renfield Lane, Glasgow, G2 6PH
0141 2222254

Tenament house museum
145 Buccleuch St, Glasgow G3 6QN
0141 333 0183

Willow Tearooms
217 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow G2 3EX
0141 332 0521

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Edinburgh cafe: Mimi's Bakehouse

As our time in Edinburgh is drawing to a close, I am feeling a bit sad about the lack of time to return to some of the wonderful places where we have eaten.  Though I did return for some lovely simnel cake at Summerhall today.  Mimi's Bakehouse on the Canongate in the Old Town is one such place.

We stopped at Mimi's about a week ago for a cuppa and cake and I really wanted to return for some of their lovely sandwiches.  Yesterday we passed by and the few tables were full.  Nae chance, then!  No wonder it is popular.  The food was really good and the place is charming.  Upon entering, it is warm and welcoming with pink lights, bunting and a beautiful display of cakes.

I was quite interested by the drink options.  Given that I don't drink coffee and rarely drink alcohol, it sometimes feels that there aren't many fancy drinks offered that interest me.  So I was drawn to the raspberry ripple hot chocolate.  Unfortunately I don't like cream on my hot chocolate so I didn't get the full whammy of the drink topped with cream and ripples of chocolate.  I still enjoyed something a little different and the hot chocolate was delicious.  E also enjoyed his salted caramel latte.

The cupcakes were really cute but we were drawn to the slices.  E chose a Mars Bar Slice and Sylvia had a Malteser Slice.  I shared some of each slice.  What really impressed me was that the slices were not cold out of a refrigerated display cabinet but were room temperature.  Both tasted wonderful.  They were fresh and decadent with lots of crunchy bits and a creamy chocolate ganache on top.

I really liked the sound of the sandwiches.  Mull of Kintyre cheddar with caramelised onion chutney.  Or Applewood smoked cheddar with sweet chilli jam.  On the online menu for the Costorphine bakehouse is also a vegetarian breakfast with glamorgan sausages and veg haggis that sounds delicious.  Sadly we are unlikely to have a chance to try these on this trip.

Nevertheless it was lovely to stop at the bakehouse and enjoy a warm drink and delicious slice in such a stylish room.  And I knew they were people after my own heart because above the counter is written "it's all about the cake".  Amen to that!

Mimi's Bakehouse
250 Canongate, Edinburgh
0131 556 6632
Open: M-F: 8am - 6pm, Sat-Sun: 10am - 6pm

Mimi's Picnic Parlour Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Edinburgh cafe: Summerhall

E was pleased to find our holiday accommodation was just around the corner from Summerhall (which is opposite the children's playground in the Meadows that Sylvia loves).  It is a fascinating arts complex with a cafe inside.

The first thing we notice is the sculpture in the front yard.  It looks like random furniture and bits of building have been thrown out the windows.  Sylvia tells me they must have put some powerful glue on some sticks and thrown things at them.  A notice on the fence tells me that it is an installation called Virus by Antonio O'Connell in 2014.

Summerhall is in an amazing old rambling building.  However as there are no exhibitions on at present, it is hard to get a handle on it.  The most accessible area is the cafe.  It is large and light-filled with large windows down one side.  Chairs are made of rough hewn wood or you can sit at a comfy old sofa.

We plonk our bags down and head to the counter to order.  The staff are friendly and there are lots of vegetarian options.  Soup, salad, risotto, pasties and sandwiches.  On the recommendation of the staff I order the Blue Monday toastie that is filled with blue cheese, apple, honey and walnuts.  An excellent tip.

Speaking of tips, the sign on the tip jar is rather amusing.

While we wait for our order, we browse the shop.  It has some really tasteful arty gifts as well as fun stuff for kids and lovely postcards.  I buy some because the bear on them amuses me.  Upon purchasing them, I am delighted to find that I am talking to the artist.

We don't have to wait long for our drinks.  Fentimans cola for me and a soy latte for E.  Sylvia goes with Irn Bru.  We are all very happy with our drinks.  (Many places in Edinburgh don't have soy milk and E says this is one of the best soy lattes he has had on this trip.)

My Blue Monday sandwich is superb.  Really unusual but the umamai, sweet, crunchy, melty combination works so well.

E has not had enough millionaire's shortbread in Edinburgh and is pleased to find a piece here.  It is very good, though I only have a bite.

Later we wander into the courtyard.  It would be a lovely place to sit if the weather was kinder.  Inside are lots of parents with young children in strollers; there is plenty of room for them,  I imagine in warmer weather many of them go outside.  It is a Fringe Festival venue so it must be busy during the summer.

Not being an Edinburgh native, I assume that the sign on the building outside is some art student joke.  However E takes it in his stride as Edinburghers know very well that Summerhall resides in the building that was formerly the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies.

Sylvia and I return for lunch a few days later before heading to the park.  I try the Highlander toasted sandwich with vegetarian haggis, cheese and tomatoes.  It is nice but does not wow me as much as the Blue Monday.  Next visit I must try the quinoa salad.

On this occasion the place is far busier, the staff more harried and the ambience less relaxed.  Sylvia has a white chocolate and berry muffin because she is eating lunch elsewhere.  And we amuse ourselves with Connect Four after we find the stash of games and children's books.

Summerhall is a fascinating place and I feel we have only seen the tip of the iceberg.  Many events are listed but are not happening during our stay.  However I really liked this jukebox which has been set up as a project for people to donate money to charity. 

Update 25 March: Returned to Summerhall again today with Sylvia and my niece.  The savoury offerings were a bit more basic because the kitchen is being renovated but I had a lovely potato and leek soup.  Then because it is Good Friday, I had a piece of simnel cake.  I am not sure it is quite traditional but was very nice.  It was a sponge cake with a few raisins, a buttercream filling and a marzipan topping.  Sylvia and her cousin then went to the park for a soft serve ice cream but Sylvia was not so keen on hers and said she would have preferred a muffin from Summerhall.

Summerhall Cafe
1 Summerhall Place, Newington, Edinburgh
0131 560 1580

Summerhall Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato