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.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017


The brilliant Balmoral breakfast sausages
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. 

Thursday 22nd September 2016 - DAY FOUR OF FIVE

Board coach outside Balmoral Hotel
Visit, tour, wine tasting and lunch at Whitmuir Organic Farm
Return to Balmoral Hotel
Arrive Balmoral Hotel
Board coach outside Balmoral Hotel
Board Royal Yacht Britannia for Reception and Tour
Dinner in the State Dining Room Royal Yacht Britannia
Return to Balmoral Hotel
End of Festival

Everyone got a very welcome lie in this morning ahead of our 10:30am on the bus for a one hour ride, visit, tasting and lunch at the Whitmuir Organic Farm. Lenglui and I lolled about doing some casual packing ahead of the morning shower with 007. And Ursula. Then down for the brilliant egg, toast and sausage breakfast and coffee before joining the assembly in the reception. Outside looked a bit grey and windy, though with enough brightness to suggest it would quickly clear. Which it did about 10 minutes out of our destination. Perfect. No rain heralded little mud in prospect.

Veggies on sale at Whitmuir Farm
The bus parked up and we got herded in. Entrance was through a small B&Q style wooden slat and glass door and opened out into a well stocked store full of purchasable items, much to the delight of the Lenglui. We had a quick peruse before getting herded into the Larder. which would serve as our venue for lunch and tasting. We sat for a brief briefing about the dos and don'ts and then it was out into the fields to meet the residents.

Guid Morrrrrning!!
Whitmuir is a 54 ha, mixed upland farm 16 miles south of Edinburgh in the Scottish Borders and priding itself on producing Scottish organic food for retail and eating on site. Owners Pete Ritchie and Heather Anderson moved here in 2000 and operate the farm together with their sons, Joseph and Ewan.  Thanks in part to farm supporters who make regular monthly payments to the farm in exchange for organic food, Whitmuir has grown from the first week shop to where it is now, employing over 27 people. The farm rears beef cattle, sheep, pigs, layer hens for eggs and turkeys for Christmas, along with seasonal vegetables, some soft fruit and lots of hope and encouragement. It is also a learning centre which advocates healthy living through organic food to everyone who visits.

"Mama, are these people going to eat our food?"    "No dear - not without wine..."
The farm butchery started in 2006, and in December 2009 Whitmuir Kitchen was opened for direct sales of farm produce and butchered meats. Both the farm and butchery are certified by the Soil Association which means Whitmuir meets the very highest welfare and production standards. Whitmuir also has Producer Certification for the farm and Processor Certification for the butchery and shop.  Whitmuir is a passionate advocate of organic farming and the long term aim is to develop the farm as a Living Learning Space for sustainable food and farming.  It is both children and dog friendly, though there are requests to clean up dogpoop and to keep them on a lead. Also is best come prepared and wear suitable shoes and clothing and remember to bring wellies - there is always mud. And poop.

Mama Pig and offspring
I had brought my usual pair of Bata boots for the trip, figuring that much time would be spent either walking on road or earth. They were doing sterling service in the fields, though I did notice some of the other members struggling with slippery soles and the occasional raised heels. Our guide for the day was Heather Anderson, one of the two owners of the farm, who proved a hugely informative and engaging guide and passionate about the organic cause. I have great sympathy and admiration for people like Heather. They are all absolutely spot on in their outlooks and brave enough to pursue their vision of living in harmony with the land and seasons rather than farm the bejasus out of the earth and seas. In my earlier days, I embraced the environmental groups' messages and philosophies of wind, sun and water power. Even once visited a Centre for Alternative Technology in West Wales (wonder if it is still there?). But I checked out - at that time it was all a bit great ideas but not much in the way of concrete plans. I remember one guy name of Spanner from Friends of the Earth in Cardiff who had massive ideas for earth friendly technology. But to the young idealist I was at the time they were all hugely impractical. At that time I could not see the value in dreaming - I can now. Looking at all of the windmills and solar cells planted around the countryside, some of the dream is coming true. Though others (like whaling and sharking and tuna-ing) remain shameful blots on the collective human conscience.

Linda Ward sharing wine details
Our first interaction with the beasts was the resident wandering sheep (named Lizzie, God save her) and Mama Pig and her babies. Lizzie was kept under strict lock and key in a field all for herself to prevent her, er, wandering. Mama and baby pigs were quite friendly, though as soon as we approached, Mama decided it was time to take a pee. Never seen a Mama pig pee before - I have now. Once is enough. Totally perfect arc of glistening fluid watering a piece of mud four feet distant. Impressive. Memo to self - never get into a peeing contest with a Mama pig.

Small Plates to Start
Don't seem to remember a lot of what Heather had said, though one thing did stick - she told us that clover is the foundation of farming and without it all the animals on which humans depend would soon vanish. It is the root of the ecology and food chains for many of the planet's lifeforms. The organic way allows for natural grass and clover to get consumed by cows and sheep who are healthier as a result and consequently produce healthier milk for cheese and healthier meat for consumption. Which seems to stand totally to reason. Problem clearly is, the demands of this dominant race of ours vastly outrun supplies and especially when everyone in the world wants to eat burgers and fries. Result - the soil gets driven and overdriven with the result that ultimately it will produce less healthy staples. Equally, the massive declines in bee populations (probably resulting from pollution and increasing temperatures, though the naysayers with agendas naturally dispute this) mean that pollination no longer occurs which will equally result in a massive die off of plants dependent on such pollination. Same with farming fish - smaller and smaller are the fish in the nets because they are not given chance to grow to maturity. And all this time the global population grows, along with the percentages able to pursue the great American Dream of driving cars and going to supermarkets. I fear not for long - I think the great American Dream will ultimately kill off humanity in its headlong rush for the better life. 

Chestnut Mushroom Cassoulet
I recognise this in myself - I do live larger than so many. And it cannot last. A day of global reckoning will come - and much of the plant and animal life (humans included) will be the price. Some assert the earth has already entered a 6th Great Extinction era. And all because of less and less clover. And the voracious appetite of humans. Mental.

After about half an hour of watching the pigs we ambled back to the Larder for a swift and tasty lunch in the bright and naturally lit classroom. Coats were divested and thrown across spare chairs and we sat in the canteen like space (long tables and IKEA style chairs) to listen to a talk on Organic and Biodynamic wines and tasting by Linda Ward of wine importer Vintage Roots. Quite lively and breezy, the tastings would be conducted alongside lunch. 

The Aperitif wine was a sparkler, the Albury Estate, Premier Cuvee Brut, 2013. We got told this is a 13 acre farm outside Guildford and this one was a Gold medal winner. A blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay,it was like light fizzy cider, all crisp fruit and green apples. Very pleasant drinker, though perhaps a shade sharp for the palate at this time of the day.

Beef with the amazing Butternut Squash
We were served three small plates to start which would pair with three wines. There was Chard Omelette with a French white blend, Sorrel Falafel with a Spanish Penedes and Salmon and Lemon Creme Fraiche with a NZ white Pinot Noir. Collectively, there was not a hint of a nose from any of them; it was as if the aroma switch had been flipped off. Or perhaps the wines were too cool. Didn't get a whiff of anything off any of them. Odd. 

Tastewise, the French was light, pleasant and inoffensive, the Penedes was lovely, all fine and fino nuts and chewy, whilst the NZ had a slightly sweet kick and proved the better in match terms of the three. Though in fairness, matching anything with egg and dip is a real challenge. I seem to recall that the Penedes went quite well with the omelette, though the food came off as somewhat ordinary - bit like an amuse breakfast and in need of both coffee and a glass of spring water. 

Roll of Honour
The mains were a different story. The Cassoulet was lovely, with the Brie giving a kind of texture fat feel to contrast against the creamy mushroom. I tasted the beef which felt a shade dry and not a lot of taste as a result. In contrast, the butternut squash was fantastic. Rich, creamy, full of fire and taste and totally magnificent with the jus. The cauliflower was equally lovely and tasted full of iron and minerals and vitamins and everything good that was in the wild earth in which it had been grown. You could really taste the terroir in the vegetables. Magnificent food. 

Salut!! Chef, Chef, Heather and Linda
Winewise, the Italian Maremma Toscana was the clear winner and the one we bought for takeout. 100% Sangiovese, nose of dark plum and damson, with sweet cherries and dark fruit in the mouth. Light to medium body, very nice balance with six years bottle aged having taken off the harsh edge of youth and a fair to medium finish. 

Wooo! Look what Lenglui found!!!
The Ameri had a nose of dark plum and damson, full rich fruit in the mouth, in good balance with a fairly full and rich finish. Went so well with the cheese and mushroom, the creaminess of which tamed the larger fruits and settled all into a most pleasant combination. 

The Blue Cheese Souffle promised much but delivered little. Somewhat fluffy in texture, though with little in the way of taste. Perhaps the double baking had sucked it all out. Didn't get this one. Sorry.

In contrast, the fudge cake was a rich Valrhona chocolate bomb full of cocoa and fat and dripping with caramel sauce. The taste of this took me back to Caramac Bars bought in the sweet shops near the school in Grangetown - milky, slight toffee taste, utterly delicious. 

The fortified Malbec was amazing - port-like and silky, though lighter in texture, full of raisins and prunes and tasting like liquid blackberry jam. Not much in the way of nose. 

After lunch we went shopping and picked up a couple of bottles along with some pretty gifts for the folks at home. As said, we bought the Italian (also ostensibly for home) along with some mustard and a jar of brilliantly priced Coconut Oil. Whether it will get used is a good question but as said it was a brilliant price compared to the wallet whack we seem to face for it at home. (NB now writing this one year later - it is still in the fridge...)

Larder at Whitmuir
Aperitif wine
Albury Estate, Premier Cuvee Brut, 2013 England

Small Plates to Start
Chard Baked Omelette (V/GF)
Sorrel Falafel with Harissa Dip (V)
Hot Smoked Salmon with Lemon Creme Fraiche (G/F got fish)
Blanc de Brau, 2015, Chateau Brau, Pays d'Oc
Xarello Curios, 2015, Albert y Noya, Penedes, Spain
Blanc de Noir, Pinot Noir, 2015, Richmond Plains, New Zealand

Chestnut Mushroom Cassoulet with Clava Brie (V/GF)
Slow Cooked Beef Shin with Butternut Squash Puree and Jus (GF)
Maremma Toscana Estaturata, 2010, Baron Pizzini, Italy
Ameri Single Vineyard, 2011, Domaine Bousquet, Argentina

Double Baked Blue Cheese Souffle (V)
Dark Chocolate Fudge Cake with Caramel Sauce (V)
Fortified Malbec, 2015, Domaine Bousquet, Argentina

The stunningly elegant Lenglui with a Kilted Piper
Back at the hotel to laze around and watch more of The Jeremy Kyle Show ahead of getting dolled up and decked out for the main event dinner aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia. This was to be a full on Tuxedo and elegance with medallions affair. All members were again on time and all were indeed looking splendid in all the sartorials and finery. Our usual swift bus ride got us back to Leith and we all got piped aboard by a bearskin headed kilt and sporran wearing bagpiper, which gave a fantastic sense of occasion. Lenglui was most impressed - never had a bagpiper piping for her before. 

Because, indeed, this was an occasion. Whatever one feels about the Royal Family, the fact remains that this ship is living history. All the heads of state across decades who had boarded and sat and spoke and dined, all the growth of the family and children, and all the places where this ship had docked - it all flooded in. This ship was Britain Abroad at a time when Britain was… okay, letting go of the empire but still "great" in many senses of the word - culturally, morally, setting the example and the standard for much of the world. Of which much is now seemingly being lost, and over which few seem to care and which fewer seem to want to mourn. As I age, I increasingly recognise that some traditions are worth preserving whilst others will naturally and necessarily wither. For me, The Royal Yacht is a link to what was and what is, and in consequence definitely worth memorialising. All power to it. 

Rule Britannia
The ship itself seemed smaller than TV memories of it docking around the world. And a bit… ordinary, notwithstanding all the photos and memorabilia dotted around it. We got the tour and saw the bedrooms and studies and captain's quarters. The crew were very friendly and proud to be at the frontline of sharing their knowledge and history of the ship. Everyone was ambling around, fizz in hand, having a well fun time of things. But, as said, just being aboard this timeless chunk of British history was fantastic. Lenglui was in her Royal worshipping element. We stood in the State Drawing Room and later on the deck and felt like… royalty. The nearest most of us would ever get to feeling king of the world. Once in a lifetime - well worth the visit. 

In the drawing room on board the Royal Yacht
We got called to dinner in the State Dining Room and following a couple of speeches of welcome dinner got served. I have very few notes of the food or wine - one of those where it felt best to just enjoy the evening and take the photos rather than seek to record it in writing and miss the fun and sense of occasion. The food was traditionally British in taste and texture and the wines were well matched. The Amuse was Celeriac and Garlic Espresso in a cup, which was a very tasty mouthful of slurpy creamy gunk. The first dish Halibut was okay, the notes say the beef was amazing (combo of rare and well done with wickedly good jus and intense vegetables) and the 1996 Leoville was powerful and intense, with an austere lean green leek feel to it. But the thing that stood out was the service. There was a lovely bit of theatre where all the plates got lowered to the table at the same time on signal from Maitre. The regimentation of it - very clever and well executed. 

IWFS Members in the Royal Yacht State Drawing Room 
The table companions were a bit hard work at first for me - mine had a slight speech impediment which, along with my increasing deafness, must have come off to anyone watching like some old seventies sitcom sketch. But we somehow figured it all out and once the wine started flowing it all fell into shipshape. Clearly a lot of people here who really know their wines and food. And occasional incidental indications of the widely different planets on which they appear to be living. But there you go - we all have our planets and I am just glad there is good food and wine and the Lenglui and the IWFS on mine. And enough ability to generate the income needed to support it. I feel massively blessed in these respects to be able to share this planet. It's a nice planet. We truly need to do more to preserve and conserve it for future generations. Memo to self - eat less meat. 

Waiting for the off
I recall a speech by Ian Nicol - he seemed to be echoing my earlier thoughts about all the dignitaries who had gone before and stood in the same spot as he was now speaking. IWFS Andre Simon awards were given to Hans and Philippa Keller for their participation in setting up the IWFS Zurich branch, and thanks and recognitions were given to everyone instrumental in making the Festival the tremendous success that it clearly had been. Unfortunately my photos did not come out too well. Bit shakey after the dinner. Or maybe someone was rocking the boat...

Table Setting in The State Dining Room

Also somewhere in the mix was a wonderful story from Treasurer John Nicholas about his father being knighted on board Royal Yacht Britannia in Sri Lanka. He promised to present some memorabilia of the event for the Royal Yacht archives, as they seemed to have no records. As Ian Nicol said in the email in which he reminded me of this story, some events in history are worth preserving.

And then it was done. All back on the bus for the hotel to divest the tux and crawl into bed. The morrow would see us all departing on our various paths. Mine would lead to France and CDG then on to the Champagne, Burgundy and Alsace wine regions with the Lenglui and fellow foodies arriving from Malaysia. For more on that, click here. Good night James. 

And Ursula. 

Closing Dinner Royal Yacht Britannia
Reception in the State Drawing Room
Aperitif and Canapes
Camel Valley "Cornwall" Pinot Noir Rose Brut, 2012, Cornwall, England

Dinner in the State Dining Room
Amuse Bouche
Cured Halibut, Crab Salad, Pickled Cucumber and Avocado
Collerisio Pecorino, Terre di Chieti, Italy
Roast Fillet of Orkney Beef
with Fondant Potato, Parsnip Puree and Port Wine Sauce
Chateau Leoville-Barton, 1996, St Julien
Constantia Glen Five, 2011, South Africa
Mango Tart with Raspberry Sorbet and a Passion Fruit Coulis
Gewurtztraminer, Vendange Tardive, 2007, Hugel, Alsace
Coffe and Hand Made Petits Fours
Graham's Tawny Port, 20 Yr Old, Douro Valley, Portugal

Sunset over Leith from the Britannia

Cured Halibut, Crab Salad, Pickled Cucumber and Avocado
Roast Fillet of Orkney Beef

IWFS Members Hans & Philippa Keller who helped start-up and run Zurich Branch getting their Andre Simon Bronze awards from IWFS EAZ President Ian Nicol 

IWFS EAZ President Ian Nicol (left) and Edinburgh Festival Organiser Ron Barker (right) with Awards Officer David Chapman who prepared the Awards and Citations for the Festival

Mango Tart, Raspberry Sorbet and Passion Fruit Coulis


Friday 23rd September 2016 - DAY FIVE OF FIVE

Post Festival Schedule
Friday 23rd September
10:00 – 10:30
Balmoral Hotel
Forth Suite
11:00 – 12:30
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society, 28 Queen St, 
Malt Whisky tasting
11:00 – 12:30
Valvona & Crolla VinCaffè, 11 Multrees Walk,
Italian Wine tasting
12:45 – 15:00
VinCaffè, 11 Multrees Walk,

There was a post Festival schedule on this day which we would necessarily miss due to a 1pm flight to Paris to join our Kuala Lumpur pilgrims for a, er, pilgrimage around some of the wine holies (Champagne, Burgundy, Alsace). These were the EAZ AGM at the hotel along with a Malt Whisky tasting at The Scotch Malt Whisky Society and Italian Wine tasting at Valvona & Crolla VinCaffè. Can't do everything, eh? 

So we took it easy with a lazy pack and late and final sausage breakfast, which saw us saying goodbyes to some of the new friends and a taxi to the airport by a more traditional parsimonious Scot who could not understand why people would spend more than five pounds on a bottle of wine.

Edinburgh Airport check in for Easyjet was tremendously easy thanks to some human help at the tagging place. Off for a coffee and sandwich ahead of boarding. Very pleasant and comfortable flight, far more so than the BA nightmare we had endured three days and an eternity earlier. 

Getting to the Ibis Styles at Paris CDG Airport would prove a nightmare. We got the bags to the bus stop for the hotels and promptly got on the wrong bus. Forty minutes later we got off at the place we started. Got on to the right bus but the driver nor the metallic announcing thing on the bus announced the stop for the hotel. Around we went again to our point of embarkation where we met The Governor and wife and helped them with their luggage. Disembarking at the correct stop involved a ten minute walk through a MRT station to the hotel where we ran into Dear Leader Wong was on his way to a meeting. 

Got the bags to the room with both of us feeling very stressed and hot and bothered and cheesed at the total waste of two hours getting to this room. So we opened that bottle of italian red we'd bought at Whitmuir and drank from the plastic bathroom cups the hotel provides. Sometimes sacrifices are necessary and you use whatever is available. It was wonderful. We quaffed half the bottle in 20 minutes.

The original plan was to dump the bags and head into town for a shop and something to eat - the time wasted on the CDG internal transport had put the absolute kibosh on that. We settled for a pleasant and easy burger and fries at the Ibis restaurant and an early night. There would be a lot of food to come on the trip.

And can click below for the start of the Champagne, Burgundy and Alsace Pilgrimage 2016 Blog reports

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