Trenchtown Caribbean Social Club

After reading rave reviews from the likes of Joanna Blythman and being bowled over with excited chatter from friends it was about time to sample the exotic and colourful food and tings Trenchtown Caribbean Social Club had to offer. Trenchtown is a stones throw away from my flat which makes it an ideal candidate for a new local favourite.

The menu is a vibrant selection of mouth watering dishes from jerk pork belly, original Trini chicken curry and curry fish but it was their Trenchtown goat curry that caught my eye. I have always wanted to try goat curry and an authentic Caribbean restaurant with rave reviews seemed like a pretty good place to start; an aromatic blend of top secret house spices, fiery scotch bonnet chilli, citrus juice and fresh ginger make the heart warming curry that was devilishly moreish and insanely hot.

I had always imagined goat to taste like lamb, perhaps because they are part of the same bleet bleet family, but the tender meaty chunks tasted like beef and were absolutely divine. The curry is served with a side of coconut rice an’ peas, sweet onion chutney, green seasoning and Caribbean dumplings; the sweet coconut in the rice worked well with the tangy spice of the curry and the dumplings, beautifully crunchy and golden on the outside and soft and doughy on the inside, were perfect torn into pieces, soaking up the rich, tasty sauce.

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To wash down this scrumptious feast we had pints of Red Stripe Draught; perfectly crisp and refreshing to combat the eye watering spice of the curry. All the flavours worked harmoniously together creating a rich and memorable dish that had me singing Trenchtown’s praises to anyone that would listen.

The guys at Trenchtown know flavour and there is a wonderful no fuss approach to their food; hearty portions of good quality ingredients, each mouthful bursting with spice and heat without taking away from the flavour of the dish. I highly recommend gathering a group, ordering a selection from their wonderful menu and i promise you will never look back.

 

 

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Gusto

Gusto is a gorgeous Italian restaurant at the west end of George street, peaking behind a twinkling curtain of fairy lights the restaurant draws customers into it’s warm, intimate space boasting dark glossy wooden floors and high ceilings with old black and white photographs tastefully lining the walls as you enter.

Mama T and I were meeting for a catch up and i had come across Gusto’s Itison voucher for two courses for two people with a glass of prosecco each. What’s not to love?! We were able to book straight away and were greeted with friendly, welcoming staff that sat us in one of the small alcoves. Our secluded spot was quiet enough to enjoy our conversation and there was a gentle but excited buzz amongst tables as drinks were clinked in heartfelt toasts; cutlery carefully passed between parties wobbling wonderfully with mouthfuls from courses across the menu.

We asked for our prosecco to accompany the thirsty work of making a choice between all the delicious sounding dishes; cold, crisp and the right level of sharpness, this made a wonderfully refreshing start to our evening.

I moved away from my normal go-to picks and chose the creamed garlic mushrooms topped with crispy shallots, served with char-grilled artisan bread. When I read creamed garlic mushrooms I pictured a thick, rich garlicky mushroom concoction that would be mopped up by the bread. The mushrooms were button-like and came whole; happily drowning in a heavy, garlic laden sauce, which in my book is definitely not a bad thing but i did have to add salt as i found apart from the strong presence of garlic the sauce lacked depth in flavour. The bread was slightly too char-grilled for my liking and needed a slight scraping to remove the thin black crust but the crispy shallots were gorgeous, golden brown morsels that brought a great texture to the dish.

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Mama T chose wisely, going for the Tagliatelle with smoked salmon and dill, tossed with cream, peas and spinach finished with fresh lemon. Lets just say I was green eyed with envy; it was divine and exploded with flavour. The dill and lemon harmoniously worked together to perfectly cut through the cream while still managing to compliment the delicate flavour of the salmon and sweetness of the peas. Several bites were stolen off her plate and she was lucky it was only a few small ones!

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Service was speedy and the staff attentive; wine glasses never empty and plates whisked away as soon as cutlery was placed down in defeat, our mains were presented to us before we knew it.

I went for the roast chicken breast with creamed leeks, tomato and caper dressing and fried gnocchi and boy did they deliver. The chicken was tender and moist, topped with golden crispy skin, it rested on a melt in your mouth bed of soft, buttery leeks. The gnocchi were soft, delightfully dense and perfectly browned; soaking up the rich oils from the ripe tomatoes and salty capers.

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My experienced dining companion tucked into the oven baked fillet of cod wrapped in prosciutto served with tender-stem broccoli and fresh sliced chilli. The prosciutto created a deliciously salty envelope around the delicate, flaky chunks of cod and the broccoli gave a nice snap and crunch with hints of fiery chilli in each mouthful.

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Throughout our meal we sipped on a wonderfully cold and delicious bottle of cortese, san silvestro, and out of sheer curiosity and greed, we ordered truffled fries with grana padano and Italian fried courgettes. Crunchy and perfectly seasoned on the outside, and light and fluffy on the inside the fries were highly addictive.

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The batter covering the fried courgettes had a slight crunch but were not well seasoned and cooled and softened quickly. A good dish for sharing amongst a larger party were they would be gobbled up in no time.

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I have now been here for birthdays, Christmas work parties and casual weekday dinners; Gusto caters for every occasion with ease, confident in their food, each experience has been fun and unforgettable. It is easy for time to pass in this cosy, lively bubble of lights, laughter and excellent food. Once you have dined at Gusto you’ll be instantly converted and forever a loyal fan, the minds behind the food know what they are doing and all you have to do is revel in their yummy creations.

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Bentoya

Bentoya serves up some of the tastiest sushi creations i have ever had the pleasure of trying. Just off Lothian road on Bread Street it is tucked away enough that you are sure to always get a table but is well known by locals and the buzz i’ve heard from friends was enough to get me to pick up the phone.This was the next of our flat mate dinners and all three of us were champing at the bit to dine here.

We began with a selection of old favourites and new temptations; green dragon rolls, volcano rolls, takoyaki, pumpkin croquettes, chicken and vegetable gyoza and the 5 piece sashimi set.

I discovered green dragon rolls at our last flat mate dinner and haven’t looked back since; creamy avocado sat upon sweet sticky rice that encompassed savoury crispy prawn tempura topped with mayo, eel sauce and flying fish roe. My new favourite sushi go to, the crunch of the tempura gave a satisfying texture and delicious taste to this perfect bundle of taste bud joy.

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Volcano rolls are similar to dragon rolls but with a fiery twist; dried shredded chilli, spring onion and a generous helping of creamy sauce. The sauce balanced out the heat of the chilli making it a rich, indulgent mouthful with the perfect amount of kick.

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Everywhere we go there are certain dishes we always order, curious to see how they differ with each restaurant and, to be honest, because they taste fantastic. Takoyaki is one of these dishes and these were up there with some of the best; perfectly formed golden spheres of crunchy batter and sweet octopus served with mayo, warm and comforting, these will stay a firm favourite.

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Pumpkin croquettes are another of our favourites and Bentoya know exactly how to hit the balance of the crunchy bread crumb and sesame exterior to the smooth sweet pumpkin filling, drizzled with their ‘secret’ house sauce. The secret is i have no idea what it was but it was bloody delicious.

I used to be team crispy gyoza but recently, and with great thanks to Bentoya, i have definitely jumped on the soft gyoza band wagon. Neat pockets of a scrumptious chicken and vegetable filling that soak up a sharp and spicy vinegar sauce which are perfect for sharing but once you taste them you’ll wish you weren’t sharing.

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I am late to the sashimi hype, if there ever was one, and i am still on the fence; when fresh it is divine but more often or not the fish can taste overly fishy and leave an off taste in your mouth. We ordered the 5 piece set which included salmon, tuna, octopus, shrimp and surf clam. The salmon was fresh and clean, the surf clam had a strong fishy taste which is unusual, the tuna’s texture was good but the taste from the surf clam over powered the taste. The octopus tasted sweet and slightly chewy and the shrimp were similarly sweet and fleshy. I would order the salmon over and over again and possibly the tuna but i’ll happily leave the rest having tried it once.

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We had a rest break but we were far from finished, curious to try more we ordered the teriyaki chicken sizzling plate with rice and spider rolls; crispy soft shell crab and avocado roll topped with sesame, mayo, flying fish roe and tempura flakes. Another great combination of sweet and savoury but not as addictive as the dragon and volcano rolls.

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The sizzling plate was glorious; stir fry vegetables swam in a sweet glossy teriyaki sauce accompanied by sticky rice and lightly battered golden pieces of chicken, it was moreish, tasty and comforting.

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I left feeling full, satisfied and now part of the ever growing group that rave about Bentoya. I have already made plans to go back with friends with suggestions of dishes i have yet to try but are definitely on my list. Now a cemented favourite in my mind of go to places to eat this is not the last of Bentoya but merely only the beginning of a very exciting relationship with one of Edinburgh’s best sushi restaurants.

 

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Contini

Contini has recently undergone a fabulous refurbishment both aesthetically and with their menus: smaller tasty portions perfect for sharing.

I spotted their offer of 2 primi, 2 secondi and a contorno to share with Venus cocktails for two on Itison and jumped at the chance to try this family restaurant that I have heard many good things about.

Making a decision was hard but helped by the sweet and fragrant Venus cocktail; prosecco mixed with Italian wild strawberry Fragolino liquer, dried crushed strawberries and lavender. The cocktail was heaven but could have done without the dried lavender, it was a chewy mouthful that got in the way of a great cocktail.

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I began with the carbonara; not my usual choice for a starter but the combination of trofiette pasta, smoked pig cheeks, broad beans, Griersons organic eggs and pecorino sardo was too tempting to miss.

I was not disappointed; the smoked pig cheeks were wonderfully salty, coupled with the sweetness of the broad beans and mild nuttiness of the pecorino this gave a classic dish a modern and delicious revival.

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My sister went for the salame; salame calabrese, roasted aubergine, mint créme fraîche, pomegranate and pistachio. This dish was light but full of flavour; the mint créme fraîche and the salame were divine together and the crunch of the pistachio gave texture to this inventive combination.

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We ordered a bottle of the 2016 Trebbiano/Gargenega, Ponte Pietra with it’s almond blossom and green apple aromas it worked well with the food and was exquisite glass after glass.

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Primi’s down and onto secondi’s we were excited to taste the next round. I chose the Milanese; Scottish free range chicken Milanese style in breadcrumbs with toasted almonds, cooked Amalfi lemons, caper berries and gremolata. The breadcrumbs were crispy, the chicken moist and it absorbed the oil and lemon beautifully. Again Contini’s use of nuts in their dishes worked perfectly, the almonds were the perfect addition to a fresh, tasty dish.

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Sister Tinto decided on the Branzino; chargrilled seabass with Pachino tomatoes and Taggiasca olives. The skin crispy and the fish cooked impeccably, we could not fault one thing about this dish.

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We chose the Zucchine as our contorno; raw ribbons of courgette and Capezzana olive oil with Parmigiano Reggiano DOP and fresh chilli. A nice idea that looked enticing on paper but could have used more chilli and the Parmigiano over powered the courgette.

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For small portions you definitely leave feeling full and satisfied, the food is colourful, fresh and delicious. I admire Contini for their bold choices and flavours because it works, so well. I will be coming back with friends to try more of their exciting dishes which are indeed perfect for sharing.

 

Maki and Ramen Sushi Bar

Every couple months the flatmates and I try different sushi restaurants: a true bonding experience over our shared love of all things sourced from the sea and deep fried. On this occasion we skipped down to the newly opened, third addition to the Maki and Ramen Sushi Bar family. On the corner of Fountain Bridge and Ponton street, the spacious dining area and authentic Japanese looking open plan kitchen enabled us to watch the talented chefs working their magic while we sipped on crisp Sapporo beers.

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Going with our standard ordering tactic, try everything, we started with sweet pumpkin croquettes, salty pork gyoza and spicy beef tataki ramen. The croquettes were crunchy golden pockets filled with smooth sweet pumpkin and drizzled with Japanese mayonnaise. Definitely one of my favourite dishes on the menu, my taste buds sang with joy.

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The gyoza were soft steamed parcels, perfect for dipping, that greedily soaked up the salty soy sauce and fell apart in your mouth.

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The beef tataki ramen was a vat of spicy, creamy curry broth drowning a thick heap of noodles, crisp spring onions, sweetcorn and tender pieces of beef with a soft boiled egg. The broth alone was exquisitely indulgent and spicy but when eaten with a little bit of everything the flavours exploded in my mouth; these guys know exactly what they are doing.

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The second wave of our seafood feast was a glorious platter of sashimi: salmon, tuna, octopus, squid and surf clam all nestled in a bed of ice crystals. Paired with tangy ginger and eye watering wasabi every morsel was devoured. Piece. By. Piece.

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And last but by no means least the final wave: green dragon rolls, rainbow rolls and spicy tuna rolls. The dragon rolls were devine; crispy prawn tempura cushioned in sweet rice topped with the freshest, creamiest avocado i have ever been privileged enough to taste.

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The rainbow rolls were a pretty display of avocado, salmon, tuna and sea bass draped over crab stick wrapped sushi rolls that tasted clean and fresh.

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The spicy tuna maki were bitesize, fiery and perfect with a shaving of pink pickled ginger.

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Maki and Ramen is under ten minutes from our flat which is both a beautiful and dangerous thing. We will definitely be returning for many more flat mate dinners; flat mate number 2 loved the dragon rolls so much he ordered two trays to bring home and demolish that same night.

Do yourself a favour and book a table immediately, i guarantee you have not tried sushi this fresh, tasty or moreish. The staff were friendly and polite and the mix of families, couples and groups of young 20 somethings created a carefree chatty atmosphere; with everyone collectively pausing to admire the chef’s culinary skills at smoking some secret delicacy under a bell jar every now and then.

To everyone in the Maki and Ramen Sushi Bar family – thank you. Thank you for reminding me how delicious sushi can be when done right and reminding all three of us to organise our flat mate dinners more often.

 

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Three Birds: Tasting Menu

Three Birds is nestled at the top of Viewforth in Brunstfield and i have always wanted to try their menu; many friends have sang their praises and i was excited to find out why. To test their experimental dishes in preparation for their new menu, Three Birds hosted two tasting days where the proposed new dishes were half price.

Half price food? Table booked, we waited eagerly for Tuesday the 4th to arrive.

We began with a trio of enticing starters, choosing a promising seafood dish, a quirky meat dish and exotic sounding soup. Promising turned out to be divine: sautéed prawns, squid and octopus happily drowned in tamarind recado and pineapple salsa exploding which with tropical, fruity flavour.

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Quirky turned out to be a confusing mixture of rich venison tartare, cold under seasoned cauliflower cream, two overpowering anchovies, whole smoked almonds and a chocolate crumb. The crunchy almonds felt out of place against the softness of the tartare and cream and the only downfall of the tartare was there was not enough.

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The final starter stayed true to not only being exotic but tasting like nothing i have ever had before.  Earthy green curry water cress soup that left a surprisingly fresh grassy after taste, slashed with turmeric yoghurt and a deliciously sweet troupe of shrimp sinking in the middle.

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The old ball and chain chose wisely and tucked into a tender braised lamb shank with anchovy butter and zesty oregano gremolata, sitting on a beautifully simple salad of olive, feta, tomato & cucumber with tzatztiki and small crisp potatoes.

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And finally, a drum roll for the star of the show, a mouth wateringly pink duck breast with a crackling salty skin. The sharpness of the rhubarb kimchi cast a shadow over the slightly bland smoked duck leg khichidi and charred asparagus but the duck egg held it’s own; a bubble of pure poached perfectness.

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Portions are generous and by the end of the main courses i was resembling a wee stuffed chicken. But Three Birds dessert menu was too good to resist; i went for a gloriously dense chocolate mousse which achieved a winning combination of bitter and sweet. Accompanied with wedges of pistachio sprinkled golden honey comb, this dessert was heaven; my only demand was for more of the crunchy golden goodness.

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All of these equisite and educating dishes were greedily washed down with a bottle of Mavum Pinot Grigio which was smooth and sweet.

Although some of the flavours did not work for me in certain dishes, the food was bold and the overall experience unforgettable. The staff were so friendly and helpful which made a comfortable atmosphere and time flew by. Three Birds knocked it out of the park and i can’t wait to see what they decide on with their menu; i’ll be singing their praises too.

 

The Olive Branch

Walking into The Olive Branch we received the warmest of welcomes; the staff were charming, chatty and engaging, like going to a friends for dinner. The floor to ceiling windows, stripped wooden floorboards and bare brick walls give the bistro a bright, stylish look while still managing to create a cosy and relaxed atmosphere.

I started with a refreshing aperitif, as you do having a casual dinner on a Saturday night, opting for a Botanist gin, made on the Isle of Islay. And let’s call the selection of crusty breads paired with rich, moreish pesto, tangy balsamic vinegar and a robust olive oil our ‘amuse bouche’; it was flawless.

The first dish on the menu caught me hook, line and sinker; thick pink pieces of lamb perfectly cooked, nestled beside a nutty parsnip puree and braised cabbage with salty bacon lardons. All resting in a rich red wine jus and generously sprinkled with crunchy parsnip crisps.

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My better other half beelined for the Chargrilled 28-day aged Scotch 8oz rib-eye steak; medium rare, marbled with fat and melt in your mouth. Served with enough greens, golden chunky chips and a spicy peppercorn sauce.

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Each dish was a perfectly balanced combination of flavourful, wholesome food executed with a modern flare. Making a choice is difficult but you won’t regret any of them and we left feeling happy and content.

 

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