28 May 2017

Feature: Osso's Ally McGrath returns to Great British Menu

CHEF ALLY MCGRATH returns to the BBC’s Great British Menu next where he hopes to improve on last year’s performance that saw him cook for the judges.  On that occasion, Ally ‘s progress was halted by fellow Scot Michael Bremner, whom he will face again in this year’s heats. The Peebles-based chef will be hoping to use that experience to improve his fortunes in the 2017 competition.

Ally opened his restaurant, Osso, in 2007 and it is based in the picturesque town of Peebles in the Scottish borders.   As with last year, Ally will be the only chef from the Scottish heats actually cooking in Scotland with Bremner behind the stove at his Brighton-based eatery, 64 degrees, and debutant Angela Malik running a catering company in London. This year’s brief is centred around summer cooking, where victors will serve their dishes at the Wimbledon Championships – some feather in any chef’s cap (or hat!).

With its relaxed atmosphere and commitment to sourcing local produce, Osso is a firm favourite with the locals in Peebles. The family-run restaurant holds a coveted Bib Gourmand – the only restaurant to do so in the borders.  Ally’s success in the area has led to him recently taking over as Executive Chef at Pebbles Golf Club.  With being so busy, I wondered how the chef found time to practise for this year’s competition:

“I am very lucky that I have such a good team and I can sneak away and try to get an extra hour or so concentrating on the GBM menu rather than the restaurant one. It just takes over everything. You end up thinking about it constantly: is it up to scratch? Does it fit the brief? Can you do it in the time? And then all, of a sudden you go 'Ah! And what about this?!' It's crazy.”

The Scot, who trained under the likes of banquet veteran Richard Corrigan, narrowly lost out on finals week at GBM 2016.  I wondered what he learned from that and if the experience would boost his confidence this time around.

“I think you learn that you've really got to respect the competition and that you need to give it your all.  We had a lot on last year in the run up to filming and I made a couple of mistakes that I shouldn't have; I basically didn't have the time to practise as much as I should have.

“This year I have practised lots more. There has been a lot of fine tuning and tweaking, so I know exactly how I want it. It did boost my confidence a little. You know what's expected and the standard that is required, but I felt the pressure a lot more this year. I really want to go further this year!”

With food tourism such a huge industry these days, a show like Great British Menu can really propel a restaurant into the spotlight, also bringing financial gains to the local area.  Ally told me about the impact the show had on both him personally and the restaurant:

“It has had a huge effect on me and the business. It puts you on a national level and I wasn't really expecting that. We discovered that people were booking for a couple of months in advance, rather than a couple of weekends – it was great. As for the media, it's quite hard to keep up with things after the show airs; last year I basically dealt with Twitter after the show until midnight, then turned it off. It's just crazy!”

 The Scottish heats begin next week (Monday, 29 May) where Ally will compete against Angela and Michael to represent Scotland at Wimbledon.  Unfortunately, Ally wouldn’t give much away about his menu beforehand, telling me to watch out for his dessert:
“I love it! I think it’s amazing!” Be sure to tune in and find out how he does.

You can wish Ally all the best and Tweet him @OssoAlly.

4 May 2017

Review: The Huxley, Edinburgh

THE SUMMER SUN was finally shining on this teasingly mild Sunday morning. The expansive Georgian windows at The Huxley combined with the weather make this the perfect spot to watch the world go by.  I’ve enjoyed the odd burger and hot dog here before (and maybe a pint or three), but today was all about breakfast.

The Huxley is one of two restaurants (steakhouse Kyloe being the other) that can be found inside The Rutland Hotel at the west end of Princes Street, the whole package being the flagship venue of the Signature Group.  We reviewed breakfast at Badger & Co., another of their city-centre ventures, last year and were left very impressed with the whole operation.  That has heightened expectations for this sitting.

Let’s chat about service.  Service is a bit like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re gonna get.  It can elevate an average meal or bring frustration to even the finest food.  I was really impressed by the young team at The Huxley.  I’ve noticed over the past year that young staff on the whole barely know anything about the area surrounding their workplace.  Where is the nearest cash point or bus stop? *Blank look* followed by “I dunno”.  Not here, though.  On entering I asked our server about traffic restrictions, vaguely remembering my brother (he’s a councillor) fighting to stop Sunday charges being introduced.  Our waitress demonstrated sound knowledge of the surrounding streets and was very attentive all morning, as were her colleagues. They all seemed to be trained well and singing from the same song sheet.

I ordered a decent coffee beforehand, and Sarah a tasty raspberry smoothie (£4.50). It was so delicious that I just had to have one.  I particularly liked that it was served at the optimum temperature – not brain freeze cold, not too warm -  to maximise the flavours. 

Under the circumstances, I will always order the full Scottish. Breakfasts like this always remind me of getting up at 7 a.m. when I was still a nipper to make Sunday breakfast for my family. The key to pulling it off is using quality ingredients, especially if the price tag is hovering around the tenner mark. The Huxley’s offering is priced at a competitive £9.50 and I begin by diving in to the two types of sausage – one skinny beef, one chubby pork – both clearly from a trusted butcher.  The black pudding is tasty and well-cooked and the bacon is mildly smoky and doesn’t overpower. Eggs are cooked as you like; in my case, fried, which is executed flawlessly. A full Scottish wouldn’t be a full Scottish without a tattie scone and I’m glad this one isn’t just an oily, hard piece of cardboard.  Finally, there’s a disk of inoffensive haggis that I find a bit mushy but tastes fine.

Sarah ordered the smashed avocado on toast with poached eggs (£8.50) and added bacon for a further £1.85.  This dish is a bit pricey for what it is but that’s fine if it’s perfectly done.  And it was.  My pet hate is ‘ripe’ supermarket avocados that are about as ripe as a bowling ball.  Thankfully, this attempt was bang on the money.  The acid test technique would always be the poached eggs.  They were neat in shape and on cutting achieved a pleasingly oozy centre.  There was a welcome smattering of chilli flakes just to add a little life to a very simple but expertly put together breakfast.

I slump into a bad mood if my food isn’t to my satisfaction and that would have been a terrible waste of a beautiful day.  Fortunately, all aspects of this breakfast shone equally as bright.  The service was highly commendable and the cooking competent. I’d happily eat here again.

Web: http://www.thehuxley.co.uk/
Twitter: @TheHuxleyEdin
Address: 1 Rutland Street, Edinburgh EH1 2AE
Phone: (0131) 229 3402

Breakfast is served daily from 8:30 - 11:30 a.m.
Daily menu served from 12 p.m. - 10:30 p.m.

The Huxley - The Rutland Hotel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato