Category Archives: Edinburgh

Bed, Breakfast & Beyond.

For those who like that sort of thing,” said Miss Brodie in her best Edinburgh voice, “That is the sort of thing they like.” – Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

Contemporary guest house, 94DR, located on Edinburgh’s Dalkeith Road is, indeed, the sort of thing I like.

Remember when guest houses or B&Bs meant polyester sheets and breakfasts containing eggs that looked as though they’d been lurking around all morning? They were run by Mrs So-and-So who would have clocked your ring finger status as soon as your toe was on her much-patterned carpet, and invariably had monikers such as Dunroamin’, (Duncarin’ more like). I’m perhaps being a little unfair. There is, I’m sure, some really good B&Bs of the traditional kind out there.

Today’s traveller, though, has higher expectations. We’re looking for a spot of luxury when we’re away, or at the very least to stay somewhere that’s as good as our own homes. The quality of the breakfast served is of the upmost importance as is the decor and finishings in the room we’ll be sleeping in. Service should be friendly and welcoming, kind of pally whilst still being made to feel a bit special. Not everyone wants the anonymity, or indeed expense, of a large, chain hotel and these requirements have seen the rise of the boutique guest house and small hotel.

We were travelling down to Edinburgh to attend the Innis & Gunn Beer Tasting Dinner at The Bonham. As it was an evening event, and one that involved booze, we decided to stay over for the night. There were no rooms available at The Bonham so I decided to book us in to 94DR. I’d come across the place before and fancied staying. It looked like our sort of place.

94DR, which holds a Scottish Tourist Board 5 Star Gold Award, is run by a fabulous couple called Paul Lightfoot and John MacEwan, (not forgetting their black Labradoodle Molli who is too gorgeous, and well-behaved, for words!) Paul and John are from a marketing and hospitality background and wanted to create the sort of environment and service that they would expect from a guest house. The result is a beautifully designed 6 3/4 roomed, (the 3/4 is a wee room for the nippers), home from home.

Quality, humour, sincerity and relaxation are 94DR’s watchwords and I would say this is pretty spot on. Both my initial telephone call and the welcome we got on our arrival were extremely warm and friendly. Without sounding completely cliched, it was like arriving at the home of an old friend.

We’d booked in to the Bowmore room, (all the rooms are named after whisky), which had a big bay window looking out on to Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Craggs. The view also meant we were facing out on to the main road but traffic noise was minimal. The Bowmore is a large room, beautifully decorated in greys and creams with a gorgeous old fireplace and rather nice chandelier I quite fancied trying to fit in my suitcase. The en suite bathroom has a Victorian roll-top bath, underfloor heating and has White Company toiletries supplied. Our bed was already occupied when we arrived…by a very cute teddy bear who I’m sure I heard saying, “Please take me home…”!

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I was absolutely delighted to see a couple of Tunnock’s Teacakes had been supplied instead of the usual depressing variety pack of biscuits. The only negative was that the coffee supplied in the rooms was Nescafe. I hate Nescafe instant coffee and I just won’t drink it. However, I’m absolutely sure that if I’d asked for a cup of ‘proper’ coffee or a different brand of instant I’d have got it. As it was, we were rushing back out again so I didn’t really have time for a coffee anyway.

One of the great things that 94DR has, which we took advantage of when we got back from our dinner, is an honesty bar. The bar is part of a comfy, cosy lounge, decorated in the same contemporary style as the bedrooms. The bar was really well stocked and the prices were amazingly reasonable. There were a large number of books on offer as well as some magazines and there also appeared to be a couple of iPads for guest use.

I’m a terrible sleeper but the superkingsize bed was really comfy and I got a good sleep and was ready for my breakfast the following morning despite the beers the night before!

Ah, the breakfast. What can I say? It’s one of the very best I’ve tasted, perhaps helped by the fact that Paul is a trained chef. We were served in the orangery which looked out on to the lovely garden. The room was decorated to the same high standard as the rest of the house and was filled with some stylish and unique touches such as the funky cow milk jugs I’m sure I’ve spotted on notonthehighstreet.com and cups and saucers from a range I’ve been coveting for a long time from Harvey Nichols, (I’m sure they were the pasta girl ones). The kitchen was annexed off from the main room which gave the sense of an open kitchen which added to the friendly, ‘we’re at our pals’ house’ feeling. The mix of guests were a young couple from Germany, a family flat hunting for their university-bound daughter, a couple that looked as though they were there on business, and us. A fairly wide range of people I’d say. John chatted to everyone in the room while Paul got on with the important job of making the food.

Right, the food. These guys care about food. That is really evident. The starters were a choice of a summer cup (granola with natural yogurt, honey and new season strawberries) or porridge with cream and honey. We both opted for the summer cup and it was so delicious I can’t even tell you. The specials of the day were ‘All the Benedicts’ and you could have classic eggs Benedict, Florentine with spinach or Royale with smoked salmon. I swithered over the classic but in the end greed took over and we both ordered the Scottish breakfast: bacon, sausage, tomato, black pudding, haggis and a choice of eggs. We both opted for scrambled, (honestly, we don’t normally order the same things!) I’m pretty fussy about scrambled eggs. I like them to be loose and creamy. I know it’s not easy to make them that way. Without asking though, that’s exactly what I got. Proper scrambled eggs. In my opinion. Toast made with seeded bread, fresh orange juice and really good coffee, (definitely not Nescafe instant), accompanied all this. It was a fantastic breakfast cooked to a really high standard with not a bit of grease on the plate. Health food then surely?

Seriously, this was one of the best breakfasts I’ve had away from home and I’ve stayed in some pretty nice hotels over the years. It’s clear Paul and John are really passionate about food and take absolute pride in providing their guests with a great meal. They also run a twice monthly Supper Club at 94DR under the name ‘Under The Table‘, and I really, really want to go to one of those.

If you’re planning a trip to Edinburgh please have a look at 94DR. Based in the Southside they’re about a 10 minute walk into town and really close to all the usual amenities and attractions. It looks like they book up quickly though so I’d get in there fast! Rooms are £80 – 150 per night depending on time of year, length of stay, etc. You can also rent out the whole place for house parties which Paul and John will cater for. How much do I want to do that?!

I was quite sad to check out and would have happily stayed another night. The handful of Cadbury’s Eclairs Paul gave us on the way out the door sweetened the moment though.

*I would like to clarify I have not been paid in any way for this review. I paid for my stay and all the opinions given are my own.*

A Beer With Your Breakfast?

During breakfast we got talking to John about our previous night’s dinner with Innis & Gunn. John asked us if we were tasters. “No. Just drinkers.”, I replied. He then returned with a bottle of beer for us and said he wanted to give us this but would we be kind enough to let him know what we thought of it. Seemed like a fair deal to me.

The beer was Harviestoun Old Engine Oil Engineer’s Reserve. The Harviestoun brewery is in Alva, Clackmannanshire. I think John said he was doing some marketing work on the beer so was keen to hear people’s opinions.

When we got home that evening we decided to give the beer a whirl and I made a proper, old school Ploughman’s to go with it. John had said he thought it might go well with blue cheese.

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The cheeses we had this with were Blackstick’s Blue, Caboc and a strong Scottish Cheddar. We also had the usual Ploughman’s bits and bobs along with it.

The beer smelled really earthy and treacly. Not dissimilar to a stout. It also tasted treacly and a bit chocolatey as well with a wee bit of smokiness. I need to reiterate here that I’m no beer aficionado and this is purely my opinion. I tried the beer with the Blackstick’s Blue and it was fantastic. It’s quite a salty cheese and the earthy sweetness of the beer went really well with that saltiness.

I’m not sure this is a beer I’d pair with, say, beef, but I’d absolutely drink this again with cheese. The beer’s flavour stood up really well against strong cheeses and pickles and even though it was really dark and earthy it was surprisingly easy to drink.

This is a beer I hadn’t come across before but I’ll definitely be looking out for it in the future. I was just disappointed we only had one bottle of it!

Thank you so much John for your kind gift. It was a great way to finish off our wee boozy trip to Edinburgh.

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Annie Get Your (Innis &) Gun(n)

beer (noun): an alcoholic drink made from yeast-fermented malt flavoured with hops.

Old English beor, of West Germanic origin, based on monastic Latin biber ‘a drink’, from Latin bibere ‘to drink’; related to Dutch bier and German Bier.

I’m no beer aficionado. It’s not something I drink a lot of. An Efes or a Kingfisher is probably as exotic as I get. Certainly pairing beer with food isn’t something I’d ever thought of beyond knowing that a beer with a curry is a match made in heaven. So when I got the chance to go to a beer tasting dinner at The Bonham in Edinburgh courtesy of 5pm.co.uk, (the online booking service for restaurants and health & beauty salons), I was delighted and more than a little intrigued.

The dinner had been organised by Edinburgh brewery Innis & Gunn as part of their 10th birthday celebrations. The story of how Innis & Gunn came to be is pretty fascinating. In 2002 a whisky distiller had approached the brewery’s now Master Brewer, Dougal, saying they were looking to season their oak casks with the character of a full-flavoured beer. Other brewers had been approached but all previous attempts failed. This time, success. After 30 days the beer was literally poured down the sink and the barrels were given back to the distillers and filled with the whisky. Now, some enterprising soul at the distillery happened to taste the beer and discovered that it actually tasted pretty good. Legend has it the beer was then being sold on the Black Market, out of the back of vans, under the counter at local pubs, and the like. Cut to some months later, the distillery contacted Dougal to let him know the beer was getting as good reviews as the whisky. Turns out the oak had transformed the beer into something quite delicious and unique. Innis & Gunn was born and the rest, as they, say, is history.

Back to the dinner. Bobert and I arrived at The Bonham not really knowing what to expect. Would we be in a room full of CAMRA members who would immediately suss out we were far from being experts and quickly show us the door? Tentatively we joined the group in the hotel’s library and were given a bottle of Innis & Gunn Original as a pre dinner aperitif. Very nice. Good start. Looking round the group it seemed to be a pretty mixed bag of both ages and sexes. Listening in to the conversation it seemed there were a couple of ‘experts’ but on the whole the chat wasn’t purely beer-based and we didn’t stick out like the proverbial sore thumb.

We were then called through to dinner. There were about 20 of us including 2 representatives from the brewery. Interestingly, both women. We were given a potted history of the brewery and an explanation on how the evening would proceed. Basically the chef had paired each of the 3 courses with a particular Innis & Gunn beer and we were encouraged to first taste the beer without food, then with the food to see if we could taste any difference. I should point out at this stage that I chose not to take photographs of the food so you’ll have to rely on my descriptions of what it was like.

Starter: Summer Isle smoked salmon with haddock Scotch egg and horseradish cream. Served with Innis & Gunn Seasonal Edition Scottish Pale Ale. First taste of the beer was really pleasant and I thought it tasted quite citrusy. Now I’m not a fan of smoked salmon, or any salmon for that matter. I find it tastes fatty and I’d much rather have trout. However, this was pretty good. The salmon was sliced very thinly, which is my preference, and was dotted with the horseradish cream. I have to say I couldn’t actually taste any horseradish. The star of the show, however, was the Scotch egg. It was delicious. The yolk of the quail’s egg was still slightly runny, the breadcrumbs were crisp and the addition of haddock and herbs instead of the usual meat was fantastic. When I drank the beer with the fish I was amazed. It totally changed the flavour. What had been a fairly sharp beer now tasted much sweeter. The citrusy note was still there though. A great start.

Main: 35 days aged sirloin steak with roasted shallot puree, beer pickled onions and hand cut chips. Served with Innis & Gunn Oak Rum Finish. This was the course I was really looking forward to. I love steak but I’m also really fussy about how it’s cooked. My preference is medium verging on rare. I’d noticed that there were no steak knives on the table and we hadn’t been asked how we wanted our steak cooked. This time the beer was a deep red colour that smelled sort of sweet and spicy. There was an almost treacly taste to it, you got the hint of rum and it was certainly heavier than the Pale Ale. Very nice though. The steaks looked really good when they arrived. The beer pickled onion was, in fact, a ring as opposed to a whole onion which had a small serving of Bernaise sauce in the centre, (bizarrely not mentioned on the menu). We needn’t have worried about the lack of steak knives as the meat cut like butter and was perfectly pink inside. You could tell it was an aged piece of meat as the taste was fantastic. Properly dark and meaty. Unfortunately one of the other diners appeared to be having trouble cutting through his with a standard knife but he seemed to be the only one of us having any problems. The shallot puree was served with pieces of crispy shallot on top and was delicious. The chips were cooked and seasoned to perfection. I couldn’t taste beer in the pickled onion but that was maybe due to the addition of the sauce. Regardless, it was really tasty. There wasn’t as much of a taste change with this beer when drinking it with food. I would say in this instance the flavours were complemented as opposed to enhanced. It was a really good match though. I would have always thought about drinking red wine with beef but the beer was equally as good, if not better. This particular beer would be fantastic used in a beef and ale pie. Something I’ll definitely be trying.

Sweet: Dark chocolate fondant with vanilla ice cream. Served with Melville’s Raspberry Craft Lager. I’m not much of a pudding person and I don’t like ice cream but I do like the combination of dark chocolate and raspberries so I was happy to give this a try. Melville’s is Innis & Gunn’s sister company which produces fruit lagers. I love raspberry beer and normally have the Bacchus Framboise beer. The Melville’s was less sweet than others I’ve tried but had a lovely, fruity flavour. Pure raspberries are used in this beer and the ratio is 80% beer to 20% raspberries. This was definitely my favourite of the evening. The chocolate fondant… Well, when you put your spoon into a chocolate fondant the centre should ooze out into a pool of loveliness. Unfortunately in this instance the centre had gone a bit fudgy and didn’t ooze at all. It also had that grainy texture you get when you burn chocolate when you’re trying to melt it. Not good. The bit of sponge I ate with the beer did taste good but you can’t really go wrong putting chocolate and raspberries together. This was definitely a great alternative to a dessert wine. The ice cream was flecked with vanilla seeds and the little bit I tried wasn’t unpleasant. As someone who doesn’t like ice cream even I could tell this was a good one. Luckily one of the other diners didn’t seem to mind that the fondant was overcooked and happily polished off my leftovers.

We rounded off the night with more beer chat, no coffee I’m afraid, and left clutching our Innis & Gunn beer glasses. On the whole the food at The Bonham was fantastic. I’ll happily overlook a bad pudding when I get a perfect steak. It was a really interesting event and I’m completely converted to drinking beer with food. I don’t think I’ll ever spend the night in a pub just drinking beer but, strangely, having it with food made it go down much easier. I’ve always found beer too gassy and filling before. I didn’t think it would work with food for me. I was absolutely wrong. I strongly recommend you have a look on the Innis & Gunn website and try and sample some of their beers. You won’t find them being sold out the back of a van nowadays but their legitimacy in no way detracts from how fantastic their beers are. Bottoms up!

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