The Dunstane is a little gem of a boutique hotel that I hadn’t come across until I recently found out about the Skerries restaurant there. The restaurant is a wee piece of Orcadian heaven only a five minute walk from Haymarket station. The Mowat family who own the hotel come from Orkney and were keen to share the culinary delights of the Islands with the people of Edinburgh.
I was lucky enough to attend the re-launch night where I got to chat with their new head chef, Paul Hood, who has worked in some of the City’s finished kitchens including Prestonfield House. Paul is passionate about his Scottish menu and told me that it will be refreshed monthly so that every time you visit the restaurant there will be new dishes to sample. Here I am with Chef Paul and winner of Masterchef Professionals 2014, Chef Jamie Scott. I think you could call this a Chef Sandwich!
It was great to see that the restaurant has a close working relationship with its suppliers; their butcher was on hand to talk about how the meat is sourced and prepared. I sampled some delicious canapés including mini venison burgers; why is that things in miniature always taste twice as good? My mouth was watering at the special ‘Orkney Tasting Menu’ filled with scallops, lamb, beef and cheeses all from the Islands.
I hope to return to The Skerries for a full Orkney dining experience soon so stay tuned for my full review!
“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.” – Henry James
Afternoon tea is the best! Dainty sandwiches, scones and cakes. And if you’re really lucky, some fizz. What’s not to love? Have you ever thought about giving it a go at home? Read on for my guide to DIY afternoon tea.
Plan the décor for your afternoon tea; some bunting, a table cloth and some gorgeous fresh flowers will really help to set the scene.
A cute idea is to decorate some plain teacups and saucers with the names of your guests. I did this using fine permanent markers. The result is dry to the touch but will wash off with warm soapy water.
In terms of sandwich fillings, have a think about what your guests would like most. Are they into classics like smoked salmon, cucumber and ham and mustard? Or how about something alternative like pulled pork or cranberry and brie? Choose good quality bread and always butter before adding filling to your sandwich as the butter acts as a barrier to stop the bread getting soggy. Of course, make sure you trim the crusts off and serve everything on a tiered cake stand.
Whilst it’s great if some of your offerings are homemade, it’s totally acceptable not to bake all of the cakes yourself. You don’t want to have to spend three days in the kitchen beforehand! Focus on what you’re good at. If cupcakes are your forte make them; the rest can be bought in. Some of my favourite cakes to see at afternoon tea are Battenberg, choux buns or profiteroles, cupcakes, individual cheesecakes, mini Victoria sponges, custard tarts, chocolate brownies, macaroons and fondant fancies.
Scones are a must at afternoon tea (especially with clotted cream and jam!). Here’s my failsafe scone recipe:
225g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
25g caster sugar
50g slightly softened butter
1 beaten egg
- Pre-heat your oven to 220C.
- Sieve the flour and baking powder into a bowl. Stir in the sugar and salt.
- Add the butter and rub into the flour, creating a fine breadcrumb consistency.
- Add the milk, a bit at a time and work with your hands until it forms a smooth dough. You might not need all of the milk.
- Put the dough in the fridge for 15 minutes.
- Lightly flour your worktop and roll out the dough to about 2cm thick. Cut out your scones with a round cutter size of your choice. Press the cutter straight down, don’t twist or wiggle it as this will make the scone rise unevenly.
- Place the scones on a greased baking tray and brush the tops with the beaten egg.
- Bake for 10-12 minutes until golden-brown.
I’d love to see some pictures of your DIY Afternoon Tea, you can tweet them to me @girlversusfood
With a strong history in brewing and distilling, it no surprise that Scotland is producing some of the best gins in the world, but what has brought about the dramatic increase in the numbers of small craft gin distilleries in recent years?
Several of the most famous gins are produced in Scotland; Tanquery, Gordons and Hendricks to name a few. But in 2009, the landscape changed dramatically when London gin distillers Sipsmith challenged a 250 year old law that classed gin producers with stills smaller than 1,000 litres as bootleg operations.
The Sipsmith license being granted paved the way for craft producers all over the UK; like husband and wife team Martin and Claire Murray from Caithness. Martin had been interested in distilling since university but followed a career in the oil and gas industry. The prospect of an unwelcome move abroad was the catalyst he needed to bite the bullet and pursue his dream in distilling. Fast forward to August 2014 and the first batch of Rock Rose gin, in its distinctive ceramic bottle, sold out within days. “It’s a product we’re immensely proud of,” Martin said, “we’re delighted with the reaction to it.”
So what makes Scottish gin so special? Whilst there’s not one definitive style amongst Scottish gins, what they do have in common is quality. Each distiller is passionate about making an excellent product and pushing the boundaries of innovation. For example, Perthshire distillery Strathearn have produced an unusual oaked gin whilst Eden Mill of St Andrews launched the UK’s first ever hopped gin.
Gin is an accessible luxury where even the most premium brands are likely to set you back less than £10 for a G&T. Edinburgh bar, 56 North, has the biggest collection of gins in Scotland with an average of 170 available at any one time. James Sutherland, owner and Director of the bar, has noticed the public have become more discerning when it comes to gin. “People are interested in quality and want to know where their spirits are made. Provenance is more important than ever before.”
There are lots of opportunities to sample the delights of Scottish craft gin for yourself in 2015. What better way to celebrate World Gin Day than with like-minded people at the Scottish Juniper Festival? Held at Summerhall in Edinburgh between 12th and 14th June, the festival will offer demonstrations and gin cocktails a-plenty. Alternatively, Inverness will host North Hop, a craft beer and artisan gin festival on August 21st and 22nd. Or how about a Scottish Gin and cheese tasting class at 56 North in Edinburgh? You can even see gin being produced first-hand by visiting a distillery like Eden Mill in St Andrews.