Mission

Mission: To respond thoughtfully and responsibly to my experiences of drinking and dining at restaurants with regard to the quality, service, preparation, presentation and overall experience received thereat. The standpoint is one who respects the crafts of the chef and sommelier and who seeks to understand their choices in the kitchen and cellar and grow in knowledge. In this, I will seek to be fair, reasoned, direct and constructive and aim to keep my ego in check on our mutual journeys through the worlds of food and wine.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

IWFS EDINBURGH FESTIVAL SEPTEMBER 2016 - DAYS ONE AND TWO of FIVE

This was an IWFS event organised by the Europe Africa Zone entitled the "Edinburgh Festival". About 50 members from across the globe (though naturally most from the UK) got together for three days of food, wine and the delight of enjoying it all.


Monday 19th September - DAY ONE

Spent the day at the office and checked in the bags at KL Sentral before heading home for final preparations and a whack at the Gin. There was some question as to whether the luggage could be checked all the way through (seems One World requires you book all flights through the same operator) but MAS did it no question (note - compare this to BA at Paris on the return who made us get our luggage and manually transfer it from Terminal 5 to 4 at the end of the France Pilgrimage. And with Lenglui doing her best old lady act as well. Bloody French). 

We painlessly got the Uber to KL Sentral, got the KLIA Express to the Airport, where a booked wheelchair was waiting which took us straight through to the Enrich Lounge. Which, in comparison to my previous fantastic MAS lounge experience at Heathrow, proved hugely disappointing. It was full to the gills with people, all of whom were scouring the plentiful but manky looking food to load onto a tiny plate and then scrum and scrap for a canteen style table and chair. And all of this in a darkly brooding lit hall with the decor feeling a bit sweaty and worn. But at least the Gin and Tonic was cold. And the service was pleasant. Though I would not want to go back on this showing. It is far more pleasant strolling around the shops and chomping on a BK burger and fries with a Seven-Up.

As said, Lenglui had insisted on a wheelchair and a driver and it certainly opened the doors. Straight through past the queue at the boarding gate and pretty much straight on to the plane. The Business class felt a bit disappointing compared to my previous experience - no cookies or mid flight snacks on display. Not that it mattered - after the obligatory Satay (which people previously raved about but I found it quite ordinary), Lenglui gave me one of her sleeping pills which knocked me out 30 minutes into the Xmen Apocalypse and I woke up in time for breakfast. And enough time to finish the movie. Perfect. 

Tuesday 20th September 2016 - DAY TWO

Schedule
15:00 – 17:00
Balmoral Hotel Princes Suite
Registration
19:00- 19:45-
Balmoral Hotel, Forth Suite
Reception
19:45 – 23:00
Balmoral Hotel, Esk Suite
Opening dinner

The Wheelchair Transfer from Terminal 4 to 5 was painless - a two minute drive on the oversize golf buggy to the transfer bus, and got told wheelchairs were up around a corner. Nope. Also no one around to ask for one at Terminal 5 at 6.30am in the morning. We may in fairness have missed it. It became a 15 minute wake up morning walk to get to the Security Gate where I managed to whisk Lenglui through the EU lane thanks to a hugely kind Border guard. The walking stick helps immensely in the Old Lady act. Ahead of us was a man of Middle Eastern descent with what seemed to be four wives, all in the black burqa which was taking some time to process. Interesting that they each removed the veil to show the face to the Border guard. Needs must, eh?

Once through the gates, it was into the Terminal Five Hall and straight to the Boots outlet to stock up on Panadol and other bits (mostly the cold remedies we can't get in KL). I have found of late that the Boots meds seem to lack the whack and efficacy of previous years. Whether I have grown more tolerant or there is some nanny state reason behind everything I am not entirely sure. But there is a definite lessening in their apparent effect at dimming the occasional hangover. Don't think will buy anymore. One less reason to visit the UK…

Found an abandoned wheelchair outside the WH Smiths and wheeled Lenglui around the Terminal to get my steps in for the day. Got darned frustrated with the auto check out at WH Smiths - first the sucker wouldn't scan the magazine, then it wouldn't take the money. Which was later repeated at the WH Smith outlet in Edinburgh Airport. Way too sensitive. On a side note, I later found similar experiences on a November visit to Cardiff at the Poundstretcher - the auto machines didn't seem to take my instructions easily, necessitating the assistance of someone to operate the auto machine. Which somehow seems to destroy the point of the thing. There you go - I will not buy from auto machine stores again. I know it is the trend but sometimes you need people at a checkout. They are flitting around to help, but it is a total inconvenience and an anger inducing waste of time trying to negotiate a fricking machine. Foreign visitors must have a hell of a time with this nonsense. Or maybe I am just getting old. Ultimately I can't be arsed with it all and Smith's lose my business. Their loss. 

(Postscript note - on a 2017 visit to Cardiff, I noted that WH Smiths on Queen Street had installed cashiers. My patronage got restored!)

I parked up with the wheelchair to nap whilst Lenglui toured the Designer Brand stores at the other end of the comprehensive and large Terminal 5 shopping area. I ended up watching over and over again a large TV screen advertisement screen for some fragrance with a lady in bridal white ditching a crinkly (presumably wealthy) aged fiancee for a James Bond style pick up by a young Lothario in a helicopter. Can't remember the fragrance, but she was hugely pretty in a Natalie Portman kind of way. Lenglui returned to say she had found a decent looking place for breakfast and we had excellent pork burgers and coffee prior to our flight to Edinburgh. 

Which would prove awful. BA had sub contracted the flight to some company which packed everyone in like proverbial sardines. Very little space between seats and full to the brim - not the kind of flight to undergo after a 13 hour trek across the globe. It was also a walk up the steps to the plane as I remember. I seem to recall a request (well, a prayer actually) to just get us there safely…  which it did. But not a flight I would gladly repeat. Do the train next time. If there is one.

Edinburgh Airport was clean and pleasant with cute stores which naturally attracted the Lenglui to investigate. As said, the WH Smith checkout experience was repeated so Superdrug with their charming checkout lady got the business for a bottle of water. Out into the Scottish sunshine, we followed signs for taxis which took us on a ten minute luggage push to the Taxi desk. We got lucky with the driver who proved both entertaining and informative on the ride into the city and our Balmoral Hotel. We passed spots where JK Rowling (writer of the Harry Potter Books) lived and walked and wrote. Also the building that served as inspiration for Hogwarts. He was clearly very proud of his city and its history and gave us a running commentary which made the half hour drive pass quickly. He also talked about "Tartan Troos" (trousers) with the result that all weekend the only thing I heard from the Lenglui all weekend was that I must buy a pair. Either that or a kilt in the family tartan. Yes. It brought back memories of a pair that my parents had once made for me when I was about six (they were both in the rag trade, having met at a clothes maker name of Masters in Cardiff after dad got demobilised there after WW2). Made me look like Rupert the Bear. No. No kilt nor Tartan Troos got bought. 

We got greeted at the Balmoral by a dour tall lanky Scot in (yes) Tartan Troos and waistcoat and a "Guid Morrrrning Sirrr". Our bags got parked at reception pending readying of the room, so we decided to hit Princes Street and find the Marks and Sparks. One of both mine and Lenglui's favourite shopping stores, I stocked up on some of their excellent value Chinos whilst Lenglui picked up various bits for the wardrobe. We ended up doing lunch at the Marks and Sparks Eatery - shared a sandwich and crisps with a very good Cappuccino coffee - then a slow walk back to the Hotel. Somewhere in this I made a brisk stroll to the HSBC bank to double check a Card Pin number in case of a need to withdraw cash. Princes Street in blazing sunshine is wonderful, though all the stops at the traffic lights to get further along the road were a bit of a pain. It was also a bit cool in the shade and there was a definite winter nip in the air making hat and scarf and gloves necessary. The various homeless with their dogs on their cardboard mats parked on Princes Street hoping for charity must really freeze at night. But the views of the grand Gothic towers and statues and Georgian style buildings and the facades on the shops in the sunlight were fantastic. Sound of bagpipes, lots of space and air. And all against the amazing backdrop of the Royal Mile. Glad to have done this. 

James and Ursula. In my bathroom. Yersh...
The Balmoral is old school grandeur. Large suite rooms, lots of wood and big chintzy furniture. And surprisingly well lit, with lots of windows letting in natural light and looking out onto the city. It is directly opposite the Railway Station, where the story is that the Railway Clock is always three minutes fast to allow people extra time to make the trains. Apparently, it has been this way for decades. This would prove quite useful at breakfast, where we would often go straight to the daily bus and always have three minutes to spare. We figured to splurge on the Balmoral rather than find a cheaper nearby alternative since it was easier to get dressed for dinners or run back for anything forgotten. It was a pleasant stay, though once in a life is probably enough. 

Back to the hotel, where we got our keys and lift up to the room. The room was huge - big long and high windows covered in massively heavy drapes and dominated by what must have been a double king sized bed. Monster. The Hotel has an affinity with Sean Connery aka James Bond 1 (well, 2 actually - David Niven was 1 in the first Casino Royale) - seems he re-opened the hotel some years back after a refurbishment. There was a lot of his presence around the hotel. Though I couldn't quite fathom why a large photo of him helping Ursula Andress do a handstand was hung in the bathroom. Still can't. Never mind. The bath was large and fantastic. 

It was getting a bit late in the day and there was a registration / reception taking place in the Princes Suite down the stairs so I quickly showered and changed and went to do the necessary whilst Lenglui opted to rest. On getting to the suite, the registration turned out to be a wine and potato chips session with the early birds and late lunchers. I duly registered (which as I remember was little more than Chief Organiser Ron Barker saying "Hello - Brian is it? Here's your goodie bags. Have a glass?") and we were off. The Princes Suite was equally huge, dotted with tables and chairs laden with glassware and bowls of potato chips. Through some gloriously large and open windows, the Suite looked out onto Princes Street and the greenery dividing it from the Golden Mile. Wow. Welcome to Edinburgh. Thank you.

Dr Bones and daughter
First face I saw was Dr Jag the Bone Corrector who was parked at one of the tables with long term squeeze Dr Malkit and daughter and son in law who had clearly signed up for the bunfight. I joined them and quickly got into the swing of things. Did a round of the room saying hello to old faces and getting introduced to many new ones. To help break the ice, the IWFS always gives out name tags to avoid the very British clumsiness of not having been properly introduced and therefore being unable to break the conversational ice. At least with a name tag saying your name and where you are from gives an opening. Previous tags were those which swing on a lanyard around the neck, which made trying to read them look like a contortionist's pose. The ones we had been given were magnetic - you could put the magnet inside the frock / monkey suit and the equally magnetic nametag stayed in place. Perfect. And no safety pins to ruin the tuxedo with a hole through the silk. Brilliant. They also make for cute fridge magnets on the home freezer - a nice memory. 

Dr Jag, Nicola Lee, Ron Barker and Marise Lee
Chatted with Ron Barker, a big bearded bear of man with an easy jolly temperament - someone you feel would always be unfazed and unflappable and well solid. Also Chief Organiser Ian Nicol who also came across as well convivial and warm and welcoming. 

Most of the talk revolved around mutual Malaysian friends and upcoming events. In particular, one that was upcoming in London in May 2018. One of the IWFS Stalwarts whom we had met in KL came to say hello and immediately launched into how the plans were proceeding and who was on the Committee. Lenglui would later say she looked a bit tired, and had perhaps lost a bit of the zip she remembered from our time in KL. Maybe. Some people need a drop of the booze to get into gear. I know I do. Or perhaps it was the after effect of a long lunch. They happen. 

In doing these rounds and sipping and cheering, the delightful refills from the charming Senorita Sophie were insisting on a bit of carbo and the chips were beckoning. There had been a little voice saying "don't eat them" but there is only so much delightful acidity one can take before the need for some salt and carbo kicks in. Leastways that's how it is with me. Trouble is, once you get the taste then the whole bag vanishes. I think I hoovered up about three bowls in ten minutes. Lethal. That voice somewhere told me I would pay for it. And I would. 

It was about 5pm when reception finished and I got back to the room. Lenglui seemed to have disappeared so I crawled under the covers to take a well earned nap. Around 6.15 I surfaced and got dressed, and Lenglui came in at about 6.30 laden with bits from a venture out into the shops. Of course. 

Edinburgh from the Forth Suite - bit fuzzy, but I love the atmosphere and lighting
I remain continually amazed at how quickly the Lenglui can get ready for a dinner when the clock is against her. Zip, zap, bling, hair, face - done and down for 7.05pm. 

The Suite was already buzzing with the assembled happily guzzling on their flutes of well tasty fizz - light and crisp with enough body to interest though not so much to impede. I opted against canapes, still feeling full from the reception chips and hoping dinner would not be too large. We recognised a few faces from previous IWFS Beanos (Taiwan Eddie) and exchanged pleasantries whilst getting to know new folks (New York Julia). I remember standing at the open window watching the lights on the Golden Mile start to twinkle as the chill evening air entered the room and feeling somehow part of a chain of souls who had stood exactly here looking at this magnificent view. Many gone before and many to come after. Humbling. I had to run back up to the room to get the forgotten camera, and when I tried to get some photos of the Golden Mile, someone had closed the window against the chill. Bum. So they came out a bit blurry. But the memory is chilled into the brain - fantastic vista of an Edinburgh late autumn sunset. 

Eddie Hu and Cheryl from Taipei with the Lenglui
We got called to dinner and searched for out table (at the back of the room) and made acquaintance with our table guests. The Esk Room is one of those ornate, high ceilinged, corniche encrusted, grand City Hall style affairs. And, being closed against the elements, stuffy in that centrally heated kind of humid atmosphere. But the chairs were comfortable enough and once the booze got flowing everyone soon settled in. I think someone did eventually open one of the glass door windows to let the room breathe. Which also let in the noise of the evening revellers on their various ways to boozy nirvana. There were a couple of speeches from the organisers and then it was on with the motley and into the trough. 

Seated in the Esk Suite, Balmoral Hotel
The chef was having fun with his presentations. I think most of the room did fair justice to the first three courses. The Cullen skink soup reminded of my mother's all purpose standby for when we were under the weather - fish in creamy parsley sauce. Tasted exactly the same too. Lovely salt on the fish, which set off nicely the firm nutty Manzanilla, which was quite full yet frisky in a light nutty kind of way. 

My notes say that at this point, I reached for the "pen" that I had previously seen in the IWFS Bag (as a result of which I had left my other pen in the room). The "pen" turned out to be a torch. The result was that most of these notes were made at 5am in the morning sat on the throne with James and Ursula for company.

The salmon was excellent - full in the mouth, great oil, rich, intense and full of powerful flavours. And large - there must have been half a kilo of fish on the plate. Which got demolished - it was very good and just slipped through the alimentaries like Lindsay Vonn on the Piste. It was accompanied by some potato cake chips to lend some necessary texture. The nicely intense Chablis was a fair match, though I thought the oaky butter fought a bit with the oily fish. Clean, restrained and refined in the mouth though with a Premier Cru whack in the throat and on the finish. Yum.

Balmoral Cured Salmon. Total. Lush.
The Haggis, Neeps and Tatties came in the form of a short tower which reminded of the mountain from the Close Encounters movie. The mash on the bottom, turnip in the middle and the minced lamb on top and all in a perfect cylindrical shape. Chef had fun with this one. Wonder how he got it all to stand for so long in its sea (well, pond) of gravy. Didn't really get this one - kind of a regimented Creme Brulee which had a good full taste of rich meat and gravy with a slight chili oil hit. Like a Mexican Shepherd's Pie. Think I tasted a bit and sopped up some gravy and passed. Sorry. Was also getting near to full.  Can't remember much about the Loire. Notes say it was a bit young and rough and red and a Cabernet Franc from Northern France where the red doesn't grow so good. 

Haggis, Neeps and Tatties. Om.
But a shoutout to the water!! Clear and crisp and chilled perfectly. Wonder if they bottled it where they caught the salmon? Excellent drop of God's juice. And also to the service - elegant, swift and efficient. The wine man (think it was Michael Messent) explained all the wines and the thinking behind the pairings throughout the evening. I didn't take much of it in - felt a bit flagging at this time of the day after the flights and booze. 

But payback for those chips came with the venison. Huge, magnificent looking chunks of deep purple meat parked on the plate. Boy, did this whack the belly - bit gamey, pretty rare. Which in the end proved too much - the protein and the texture and the volume was way too big for the belly. I now understand why some people starve themselves ahead of a large meal. But I would defy even these to stand up to the amount of food being put before us to consume it all. Huge portions of food. I think pretty much the entire room left much of the magnificent hunks of deep purple venison on their plates. Felt like a huge waste of beautiful food and a sad end for the father of Bambi. The Rioja was lovely - medium, light body great forest nose, complex and full mouth and with that meaty fruit driven rich sleek texture that one keeps in the mouth to savour for a while before letting gravity take over and roar to a satisfying, lingering finish. Good choice. Got a couple of refills of this one. Yum yum. 

Bambi's Dad. Rich, dark, potent - and discarded...
Dessert was fruit and a kind of meringue (as I recall) with cream and redcurrant acidity which cut it beautifully. The 2001 Rieussec was superb - lots of raisin and honey and brilliant even balance across body and texture. Got refills of this one too. Thank you.

Edinburgh Fog
The table company were fun and pleasant. We had Bill and Cathy from New Orleans, Nicola and Marise from Singapore, and Margaret from England (apologies to the others I have no notes nor a table plan). Margaret was wonderfully charming, endearing and idiosyncratically British Joyce Grenfell kind of manner. Absolutely delightful. I had completely forgotten that this outlook existed as a result of my thirty years outside of the country and it was nice to be reminded of it. Kind of reassuring that there will always be a Britain as long as we have this capacity to charm and stiff upper lip ourselves through anything. 

Lenglui had related the story about the Tartan Troos and had amassed the support of the ladies of the table in an attempt to pressgang me into buying a pair. I managed to deflect by launching into an old song from my childhood named "Donald Where's Yer Troosers?" (remember Andy Stewart?) and got joined by Ron Barker in the chorus. The lyrics are 

Let the wind blow high,let the wind blow low
Through the streets in mah kilt I go,
All the lassies say 'Hello,
Donald where's yer troosers?'

Order!!!  Order!!!  What?
I seem to remember we also launched into a chorus of "I Belong To Glasgow" - strange how the old songs come back when you've had a glass or two? Though I am not sure how this was received by the resident Brits present. Perhaps it was the dourness of the room and the spectacle of all the IWFS Peeps dolled and frocked up in the best bib and tucker, but it all didn't quite melt into the friendly roaring that I have gotten used to at IWFS KL events. Not that it was unfriendly - indeed, there was a wonderful and easy formality to everything and the evening was excellently structured. It was just that it…  it seemed to be missing a final touch of warmth.  A Very British Meal, in many respects - there is ceremony and ritual and decorum and all are required to be observed. As I age, I increasingly see the rationale for this. Indeed, this would also be evident at the dinner on the Royal Yacht. Interesting to experience this. 

The belly was totally busted. Totally defeated by food. Waddled back to the room and a James Bond pee. Slept like a pig. Phoooo...

Opening Dinner at Balmoral Hotel
Aperitif in Forth Suite with Canapes
Hambledon, Premier Cuvee Brut NV, England

Dinner in Esk Suite
Cullen Skink Soup
Manzanilla Pasada, Pastrana, Hidalgo, Spain
Balmoral own cured Salmon, Potato Scones
Chablis 1er Cru Vancoupin, Domaine du Colombier 2014
Haggis, Neeps and Tatties
Saumur-Champigny, Cuvee Tradition, Clos des Cordelier, Domaine Ratron, Loire 2014
Collop of Venison, Confit of Venison
Roast Vegetables with Honey and Oatmeal
Redcurrant Sauce
Prado Enea, Gran Reserva, Muga, Rioja, Spain 2006
Edinburgh Fog with Pear and Redcurrants
Chateau Rieussec 2001

Coffee and petit fours

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