30 August 2016

Great British Menu: meet the chefs battling it out to represent Scotland

Meet Ally McGrath, GBM newcomer and the only Great British Menu 2016 Chef currently cooking in Scotland.

The eleventh series of Great British Menu kicks off this week with the Scottish heats. Ally McGrath, Adam Handling and Michael Bremner are this year’s up and coming Scottish chefs who will be competing under the watchful eye of judge Daniel Clifford, chef-patron of Midsummer House in Cambridge and The Flitch of Bacon, Essex.

This year’s brief is cooking British Cuisine to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s ‘Great Britons’ and the chefs are competing to cook at the first ever televised banquet at the Palace of Westminster.
 It’s set to be a dramatic series as past record scores are equalled then smashed. The regional heats also see one newcomer achieve the highest mark ever given in the competition’s history.

The series airs on BBC 2 at 7.30pm Monday - Friday.

Here’s a little more about all our Scottish chefs:

Ally McGrath, Osso, Peebles

Ally returned to his native Peebles in the Scottish Borders and opened Osso in 2007 after earning his stripes under the likes of Richard Corrigan. He and his wife Helen bought out their partner in 2014 and run the restaurant as a relaxed, welcoming, family-friendly venue serving up local produce in an unfussy, natural way. Osso will be offering diners the chance to sample Ally’s competition dishes in the restaurant from September 2nd.

Ally is the only chef on this year’s Great British Menu currently cooking in Scotland, and Osso is the only Borders restaurant to hold a coveted Bib Gourmand Award in the 2016 Michelin Guide, the 6th year in a row!

Adam Handling, The Frog, London

Masterchef The Professionals 2013 finalist Adam Handling already has a luminous culinary career under his belt, apprenticing under Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles before moving to London and then on to Newcastle to head up his first brigade. He then returned to Scotland as head chef at The Fairmont St Andrews.

After moving back to London he led a brigade of twenty-two chefs at St Ermin’s Hotel in St James’ Park. In September 2014, Adam opened his own eponymous restaurant in Caxton Street, London, which won the title Best Newcomer UK Restaurant in the 2015 Food and Travel Magazine Awards. In June 2016, he opened The Frog in Spitalfields – a more casual, relaxed restaurant with playful dishes and Japanese-inspired cooking.

Michael Bremner, 64 Degrees, Brighton

Born in Aberdeenshire, Michael apprenticed at The Pittodrie House Hotel before moving down to London and gaining pastry experience at the Michelin-starred Orrery Restaurant. He then moved over to become head pastry chef at Quo Vadis when it was run by Marco Pierre White, before travelling around Australia.

After stints in Brighton and Canada he returned to Brighton in 2007 to become head chef of Due South. He opened 64 Degrees in October 2013. Focused on social dining it has gone on to win several awards and was listed at number twenty-four in the 2015 National Restaurant Awards.

17 August 2016

Review: Morningside Spice, Edinburgh

I SEEM TO BE spending a great deal of time in Indian restaurants of late and it’s fair to say that I’ve been on a good run.  Today was date night, which involved a trip to the cinema to see the new Jason Bourne movie, but we needed to satisfy our hunger beforehand. Morningside Spice seemed like the best option given its close proximity to the Dominion Theatre.

My brother and soon-to-be sister-in-law, Jemma, moved to this part of town a few months ago and have dined at Morningside Spice a couple of times. Given we have enjoyed several meals together at their (and our) previous local, Rivage, I trusted their judgement; I just hoped my Indian odyssey would continue positively.

The dining room was compact but spacious, with tables donning white linen table clothes and staff smartly attired. It was hard to interpret the cross-section of diners at first, which can often be the case during the Edinburgh Festival. On closer inspection (I am a nosey little s*it when I’m out eating), there were a few accents, definite students, and some families on this busy Thursday service.  There were plenty of staff on hand to cope, however, and they were very polite and well-trained on first impression.Worth noting that the restaurant is fully licensened and we enjoyed a famliar friend in the form of a bottle of Baron D'Arignac Cabernet Sauvignon at a reasonable £13.95.

I began with the sheek kebab priced at £4.95, which happens to be a favourite of mine at Rivage. Unfortunately, I found this starter a little underwhelming.  While the lamb mince was tender and moist, it lacked the depth of flavour and seasoning that I had expected. It didn’t have the crusty exterior or the barbeque flavour that you get from a tandoor, which meant it was slightly odd in texture.  It also needed a sauce to add a bit of zing as it was pretty one-dimensional beside just a standard salad.

Sarah opened with lamb tikka (£4.95), which consisted of skewered meat that fared better on the spice side and benefited from a smoky barbeque note to it. I found certain pieces a little chewy for my liking, which is why I often avoid lamb at Indians until my trust has been gained that it will be executed properly. Again, I felt a sauce of some description would have helped lubricate the plate, especially with some of the meat being rather on the dry side.

I was right in the mood for my favoured garlic chilli chicken, but felt it would be considerate of me to give it a miss in case I was reeking of garlic at the cinema, thereby preventing some unbeknown punter inhaling my vampire-repelling breath.  I had the Kathmandu chicken (£8.75) instead and it was a real treat.  I found the heat to my liking, and was thankful that I could taste the garlic, ginger and particularly the fine tinge of cinnamon.  The texture and taste of lentils alongside a generous amount of tender chicken went some way to rectifying the initial impression from my previous course.

Over the table Sarah ordered Karahi chicken (£8.75) and it certainly looked appealing to the eye. She found the tomatoes and fresh herbs helped created a lightness to the dish, with pleasantly spiced, soft chicken benefiting from being cooked in the tandoor oven.  Like my main it was quickly polished off with a side of standard pilau rice (£3.25).  Our usual garlic naan was near enough as good as they come at £3.25.

There were a few wobbles on this occasion but the main courses were very tasty and I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to order them again.  They essentially turned around what could have been an otherwise very disappointing evening.  Service standards were set high, too, and the surroundings acceptable. The Indian odyssey continues…

Web: http://www.morningsidespice.co.uk/
Phone: (0131) 447 8787
Address: 47 Morningside Road, Edinburgh, EH10 4BY

Opening hours: Mon-Sun 12:00 - 14:00 17:00 - 23:00

Morningside Spice Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

7 August 2016

Review: The Raj, Edinburgh

SOME OF YOU readers may be familiar with The Raj from the restaurant’s original premises in Leith, but after 30 plus years on Henderson Street, the Indian eatery has re-established itself in Blackhall.  Judging by the number of punters who walked passed and waved to the waiting staff, I’d say they were more than welcome in this part of town, but we would form our own verdict nonetheless.

Blackhall is a fairly built up residential area with not an awful lot to choose from in terms of sit-in eateries, so you could see the logic behind the move. Chatting with the owner beforehand was interesting, as he proudly stated that may of his regular customers from the Leith area now frequent the new site.  It was all shaping up to be a promising dinner, although it was fairly quiet this particular Thursday evening. 

I began with Tangri chicken (£3.50) and what a way to open. Grilled chicken drumsticks soaked in yoghurt with a dry spice rub served up flavours of garlic, ginger, green chilli and a hint of lemon that really delighted the taste buds.  Grilling the drumsticks created a light crust that utilised the skin of the bird and protected the juicy, tender meat that deserved a round of applause.  One of the best Indian starters I’ve had the pleasure of eating, a bucket of those bad boys with a cold beer would see this carnivore in heaven.

Sarah’s Lal Mirchi with chicken (£2.95) was an eye catcher during the selection process, as well as on arrival, so I was glad for the opportunity to sample it. The pleasantly fiery chicken morsels paired well with the tang from the house-made Bengal tiger sauce, which was mango chutney blended with spices; an idea I fully intend of stealing come curry night at my gaff. The meat was set upon some crispy onion bhajis that brought crunch to the dish and a soothing raita rounded off another impressive starter.

I enjoy discovering types of curry with different influences that have shaped Indian food. Chicken Cafreal originated from the Portuguese and is widely eaten in Goa according to the menu. At £8.95 my curry horizons were expanded when I was met with bags of my old friends ginger and garlic, a pleasant heat and beautifully executed chicken chunks.  I like when curry has a slightly drier, thick sauce and the notes of cumin and cinnamon made this very enjoyable indeed.  I’m not a particularly large eater and this portion was perfectly adequate for me, but if I had to pick a fault, perhaps a little more chicken would be needed to satisfy the larger appetite.

The menu offers a diverse range of fish and lamb, as well as chicken dishes and that deserves to be explored another time with Sarah opting for green Bengal masala chicken (£8.95).  Bursting with herby goodness, this dish was fresh and spot on spice-wise yet again.  It was light, with tender meat and an enjoyable heat that didn’t mask the other flavours in there. We shared a tasty vegetable pilau rice that was accurately cooked with nuttiness from chickpeas, crunch from cabbage and more greenery providing further freshness and flavour.  

I should mention the outstanding naan bread, too, which was light as a feather and packed with vampire-repelling amounts of garlic and sprinkles of fragrant coriander.

You can certainly see why The Raj has been a firm favourite in the capital for such a long and impressive amount of time.  The food was pretty much flawless throughout and the variety of dishes on the menu are a culinary treat that I look forward to exploring further.  The residents of Blackhall are extremely lucky that this restaurant decided to up sticks!  

The Raj Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tommy Miah's Indian Street Food Festival is taking place at The Raj throughout August as part of the Edinburgh festival, with traditional Indian dancing adding further spice to the tasty treats on offer.

For tickets and further information click here: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/tommy-miah-s-indian-street-food-festival

Address: 12 Hillhouse Road, Blackhall, Edinburgh, EH4 2AG
Phone: (0131) 332 2289

5 August 2016

Recipe: Moroccan-style fish stew

THIS DISH REALLY emphasises everything I love about cooking: a goodie bag of ingredients like chickpeas, tomatoes, fish and herbs cooked quickly to yield a healthy and nutritious meal.  I rarely mention my interest in proper nutrition on my blog and I really should, given it ties in with cooking your own food and sourcing quality produce.

I actually saw (a version of) this dish on a menu during last week's review of the Mussel Inn. It sounded right up my alley and the seed was planted for a tasty mid-week supper. It's always a pleasure popping into my trusted fishmongers, Welch's, for my fishy fix.  Their counter displays and quality of fish on display is always excellent.


  • Look for the eyes to be full and glistening, not sunken and sad
  • Fresh fish should smell of the sea rather than fishy
  • Look for red gills as a sign of freshness
  • If buying fillets, make sure they look juicy with firm flesh
  • Supermarkets are guilty of not scaling their fish so run your fingers over the skin (against the grain) to check.
  • SPEAK TO YOUR FISHMONGER!! They are human after all and are full of knowledge


400g haddock or cod fillet, chopped into chunks
200g mussels, cleaned
1x can, chopped tomatoes
1 tsp tomato puree
2x can, organic chickpeas
1x red onion, finely diced
3x garlic cloves, grated
Knob of fresh ginger, grated
2tsp garam masala
1tsp turmeric
1 cinnamon stick
1tsp chilli powder (or adjust to suit)
150g flaked almonds
1 small glass, white wine
Butter or oil
Sea salt
Black pepper


1) Sweat the onion for 4-5 mins then add the garlic and ginger for a further two mins. Now add the spices.  Stir well then add the tomato puree and cook out for a further minute.

2) Now add the tomatoes, cinnamon stick and a little hot water to loosen.  Add the fish and the chickpeas then cook for 6-7 mins.

3) Meanwhile, add the mussels to a pan then add the wine.  Seal with a tight fitting lid and shake around for a couple of minutes.  Remember to discard any shells that haven't opened.  Strain the juices into the stew. Remove the meat from the shells, reserving a few shells for presentation.

4) Next toast the almonds for  minute in  a dry frying pan.

5) Spoon the mixture into a shallow bowl and arrange the mussels around the bowl.  Sprinkle the almonds and parsley.  You could add a squeeze of fresh lemon, too.

Happy cooking!