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



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.

Lenglui with Tartan Troos Guide
Wednesday 21st September 2016 - DAY THREE OF FIVE

Board coach outside Balmoral Hotel 
Palace of Holyroodhouse
Pick up those not attending Holyroodhouse
Sight-seeing Coach trip of Edinburgh
Leith Vaults and Anfora Wine Bar
Visit, tasting, Andre Simon lecture and luncheon
Return to Balmoral Hotel
Board coach outside Balmoral Hotel
Restaurant Martin Wishart
Return to Balmoral Hotel

Awoke at 4am following a fairly solid sleep and joined 007 for a morning hello. Attempts to get back to sleep proved fruitless so I grabbed the notebook and the proper pen for a sit down on the throne to recount my memories of the previous evening. There was light and space and no disturbing of the Lenglui. Finished at about 6 and crawled back under the covers for a final hour of snooze.

Up and at them at 7pm for early breakfast and an off to Holyroodhouse at 8:15am. Shout out for wonderful eggs and sausages at the Balmoral breakfast buffet - superbly peppered little doggies they were, and they along with runny fried egg with bread and butter became the breakfast of the gods for the next three days. I learnt not to drink too much of the orange juice from previous bus tours - end up squeezing the bladder and running and hunting for toilets everywhere as a result. Never assume a tour bus has a toilet. 

It was also a chance to explore the content of the goodie bag. It was a strong well built tote bag made of hemp or sackcloth and I seem to recall somewhere along the line someone saying it was locally woven. It presently does service storing collections of travel papers and maps awaiting conversions into the peerless prose and witty asides that are the hallmark of this blog. Yes. There was also the booklet on what, where, when and so on which would prove useful reading on the bus and at the venues. Actually the booklet was brilliantly put together - well designed and printed. 

More Holyroodhouse
I seem to recall brilliant sunshine but a bit cool in the shade greeting the assembled as we all clambered onto the bus at 8.15am. Which trundled off pretty much on time, notwithstanding the three extra minutes given by the station clock across the road. Tootling along Princes Street to the gothic Sir Walter Scott memorial tower, and turning off to the right would become pretty much the normal route for wherever we would travel. Mostly Leith. 

The Palace of Holyroodhouse is the official residence of HM Queen Elizabeth II whilst resident in Scotland. I thought I heard a story that Holyroodhouse is not normally open to the public, but someone clearly pulled a couple of strings to get us on a private tour. It only took a short time to reach our destination, which looked glorious in the morning sun. Great light for photos, though many of mine did not come out too well. Bit shaky. 

Holyroodhouse in sunshine
And it was brilliant - so much history in a small place. Standout was the one long room on the upper floor which had portraits of all the Kings of Scotland along the walls, though we were advised no photos please. It is the room where State dinners get held.  Seems we had just missed Wills and Kate the previous day. So it goes. Lenglui has a soft spot for the Royals, especially the young Prince George. He sells a lot of Hello magazines in our household. O Yes he does. 

Lenglui with a Scots Man in a Kilt
As said, Holyroodhouse was brilliant in some bright sunshine - total history lesson in less than two hours with an excellent guide. In his tartan troos. Which was followed by free tea and cakes (though Lenglui had spotted a Cream Scone which we scoffed with the post tour tea) and a quick visit to the visitor's shop to buy some souvenirs. I did a couple more photos of the Lenglui then it was back on the bus for a brief tour of the city which involved a lot of criss crossing of Princes and other streets before a drop off for wine tasting and lunch at the Leith Vaults and Anfora Wine Bar. I quite enjoyed this bus tour, going around then out then back into the city. There are a lot of little historical places we passed on the bus which, without our guide, we would well have missed. And the architecture is wonderful. Mostly Georgian and old and well kept. Though I keep trying, photos from the bus invariably turn out bad - wrong angles, bad light, lampposts or wires or photo-bombing buses and traffic. 

Eventually we trundled our way to Leith where a pre lunch tasting had been arranged at what were called the Old Vaults, which date back to before the 12th century. Story goes that around the turn of the century, Edinburgh port was a dropping point for storage of wines from France. In their guidebook, the Leith Local History Society says

"From the Medieval period, wine was imported into Leith. Ships sailed from Leith to Bordeaux and returned with large quantities of wine for the Court, the Church and the nobility. Later there was an extensive trade in wines from Spain and Portugal. It was difficult to transport the wine to Edinburgh for sale, as the route was a challenging journey over about a mile and a half of muddy uneven track. Leith merchants found ways round this requirement and used the deep cellars of the building known as the Vaults for storage of wine. The building dates from 1682 and presently houses the headquarters of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society. It is Category A listed" (ref http://www.leithlocalhistorysociety.org.uk/guidebook/pdfs/guidebook.pdf)

Lenglui before lunch
We were led around the back to a door which took us to an old office style room (with a most welcome and modern toilet) and a circular staircase which led down to the cellar vaults. Here, our host and owner of Raeburn Wines Mr Zubair Mohammed was ready with the flutes of frothing fizz which we all sipped in the dank and cobweb strewn space. Zubair is of Pakistan origin but seems to have embraced Bacchus along with the Prophet somewhere along the way. Seems he still fretted about whether what he was doing was right in the eyes of the Almighties. Our Dr Jag assured him that as long as good was done in the time on the earth then the Almighties would be pleased. Amin and Shalom to that... A table had been set out for the bottles and glasses. Story went that the cobwebs were centuries old and actually listed as preserved items or national assets or something of that ilk. The vaults were certainly from a different age and hugely atmospheric, though perhaps a shade too Addams Family for me. Can't remember if photos were banned for fear of disturbing the cobwebs - I certainly have none. 

One of the older residents of the Bar
We would surface through a different stairway up through a cellar ramp into sunlight and straight in to the Anfora Wine Bar for our tastings and lunch. I recall getting hit by an amazing smell of curry wafting along the air (which unfortunately was not coming from our place of lunch). I did go for a swift search after lunch to try and find it which proved unsuccessful. Can still smell it now - well wicked. 

We clambered through the door into the Anfora which proved quite a pretty though small place for the forty plus of us. It also got a bit stuffy in that uniquely late Autumn way - still warm air stuck in a room needing a hit of fresh air circulation but unable to move as a result of someone choosing to keep doors and windows closed against the chill. We were very cosy around the small tables which would quickly fill with plates and glasses and the piling up of coats and scarfs on any available nail or hanger or spare chair. We all grabbed seating across six tables in two separate rooms, one of which was apparently renowned for the plaster which dated back to the very early days. As I now recall, I think perhaps this was why the doors remained barred against the elements; damp would certainly destroy old plaster quite quickly. I have no notes on the wines tasted nor the lunch, though the photos suggest the food was tasty. Free wifi also. 

Inside the Anfora Wine Bar
After lunch, Zubair gave the traditional Andre Simon lecture (traditional in that one gets given at significant gatherings of the IWFS Clans) of which little memory remains. Lectures are better retained and absorbed when they are given in a lecture hall and not really after a boozy tasting and lunch. Though it is available as a download (https://www.iwfs.org/assets/upload/images/Andre_Simon_Lectures/2016_Andre_Simon_Lecture_Zubair_Mohamed.pdf) some of which is condensed below. 

Salmon and Rye Crispbread
Seems that Leith was one of the chief wine-importing ports of the kingdom, and housed a large number of long established wine firms. The chief wines coming into Leith in the past were claret from Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne via Dunkirk, Sherry from Cadiz, Port from Oporto, and red wines from Australia, usually imported in the cask and predominantly for the use of the Abbot and Canons of Holyrood (which had been an Abbey before it became a Royal Palace).

The Cod, Chorizo and Chickpea
By the beginning of the 14th century the main importation into English and Scottish ports was from the then English colony of Bordeaux (the rule of which was ironically broken by the combined forces of the Auld Alliance of France and Scotland in the 1450’s).

Lenglui after lunch
In the days of Mary Queen of Scots (1542 – 1567) claret from France was the chief wine imported into Leith. This trade continued to grow until the time of the Napoleonic wars, when it increased greatly in price owing to the duty imposed on it by the British Government. 

Leith became firmly established as one of the busiest wine importing ports from this linkage with Bordeaux, and through the centuries Leith-bottled claret earned an international reputation rivaling London and Bristol. When the wine arrived at Leith, it was clarified naturally by long ageing in barrel before being bottled for from ten to fifteen years. The temperature of these wine cellars (which stretched in tunnels and vaults underneath the streets of Leith) remains the same, day after day and year after year, never really changing which make for excellent natural storage conditions. This only changed when the French AOC rules specified that quality wine should be bottled where it was made. 

Champagne aperitif to be served in the Vaults cellars
Champagne Brut Decelle NV, Gyejacquot Freres, Aube

Tasting wines to be served in Anfora Wine Bar
Chablis, 1er Cru Montee de Tonnerre, Domaine Chaude Ecuelle, 2008
Chateau Chasse-Spleen Blanc, Moulis 2012
Auxey-Duresses Rouge, Tres Vieille Vignes, Domaine Alain Gras, 2009
Chateau Moulin Pey-Labrie, Canon Fronsac, 2000

Cured Salmon, Rye Crisp, Creme Fraiche and Herb Salad
Saumur Blanc, Chateau de Breze 2012, Loire
Pan Fried Cod, Tomato, Pepper, Chorizo and Chickpea Stew
Crozes Hermitage Rouge "Silene", Selection Jean-Louis Chave 2011 Northern Rhone

Back on the bus and back to the hotel to rest and freshen up ahead of the evening dinner. Lenglui went shopping again whilst I decided to make a visit to the Golden Mile on foot across the North Bridge. Again, the sun was brilliant in a blue sky though the wind was a bit chill and crisp and necessitating a scarf against catching a cold.  The bridge offers excellent vistas across the city, all of which were and are too large for my Sony box brownie to take in. Lots of little touristy shops selling Tam O Shanters and (yes) tartan troos and fudge and the usual treats. I was off in search of whiskey to take back to the Boys Group of foodies and boozies for their tasting and found a brilliant whiskey store just over the bridge from the hotel. Floor to ceiling single malts of varying age. The new friend there gave me a brief introductory course in whiskey tasting from the bottles that were open on the counter. Would highly recommend it to anyone in Edinburgh. I now get whiskey. But I still won't drink it. I find it seriously bad juju for this brain. I will stick with the gin and tonic.

Shot of the Golden Mile
Got to the Golden Mile and pretty quickly got put off walking too far along it. It was all Tartan Troos and Kilts and more Tartan and pretty much all operated by people of Oriental origin. Which felt a little too much like too many other cities and somehow took a little of the romance of the Mile away. Along the Edinburgh visit, I heard many accents from pretty much all across Europe and the globe in the hotels and on the streets. But our Chinese and Indian friends seemed to have a lock on the knicky knacky tourist retail trade. I turned back and walked further up the North Bridge Road (which had now become South Bridge) where I saw a couple of Kebab Houses and a Charity Shop or two. But I did not get much in the way of charm here. So it goes.

Got back at the hotel to find that Lenglui had somehow misplaced a credit card. She had paid with it at a store, but between there and the room it had gone. It does get hugely confusing when cashiers hand you two receipts and the card in a package and perhaps the card went out with the bag in the bin. Darn frustrating - had to call the Credit Card company to cancel the card and not much chance when one is abroad to sort out a new one. One consolation though - the spending dipped drastically throughout the remainder of the trip.

Had a bath with James and Ursula and climbed beneath the covers to begin my viewing affair with The Jeremy Kyle Show. Jezza as he is known is the UK equivalent of Jerry Springer and brings warring friends to the cameras to uncover inconvenient truths, usually through lie detector tests. Total voyeurism into pretty much sub class styles of life and honour systems - but absolutely compelling television. It is sometimes as emotionally raw and as real as it can get. Kyle is a brilliant ringmaster, stabbing straight to the hearts of matters with piercing questions or direct and personal observations. If it sounds exploitative, well….  I can see how this view can get taken; but the JK Show does a tremendous amount in getting to the roots of people's personality disorders and takes active steps to get them back on a good road through rehab and social guidance programmes. Top man and top team. 

It was a bit wet when we all were leaving for dinner. So everyone stole the remaining umbrellas from the concierge and tried to quickly scuttle out onto the bus. Naturally, lots of waiting at the door whilst the members necessarily disemboweled their brollies before boarding so there were a few growls as those behind got a bit more wet than wanted. But it all faded as everyone boarded in timely fashion and we were off. 

Inside the Martin Wishart Restaurant
Our restaurant for the evening was the Martin Wishart, a one star Michelin place situated in Leith. Hmmm… Didn't we just leave here four hours ago? Well, Leith is not small, so perhaps the bus is necessary. Though given that our dinner on the morrow would also be in Leith Dock, the Scot in me kind of wondered why we couldn't have found a more local hotel and saved some money. But that is the Scot talking. If we'd listened to him, I'd never have had a bath with JB and Ursula…

"Classically French, Proudly Scottish, and Simply Delicious Cuisine" runs one of the taglines on the website. Chef Martin is a home grown local Edinburgh boy made good. He started his career at age fifteen and trained under many masters of classical French cuisine before returning to his native Edinburgh, where he has earned himself a legion of loyal fans across his restaurants. Chef Martin pretty much focuses on ingredients and produce from in and around Scotland, with Seafood and Game pretty much dominating the menu. The menus change with the seasons, though classical French cuisine remains the backbone of Chef's creations. Restaurant Martin Wishart gained a Michelin star in 2001 and has retained it ever since.

The webbie goes on to say:
"Martin has a great entrepreneurial attitude and is always looking for new and exciting opportunities. To date he has three restaurants, one cook school, outside catering opportunities and an unrivalled reputation for consistently delivering a top-quality dining experience." He is an honorary Doctor of Edinburgh University for his “contribution to the raising standards of Scottish cuisine, specifically in Edinburgh, to the international regard it currently holds” 

The bus pulled up near to the restaurant and everyone disembarked with umbrellas flailing against the quite hard rain that was still falling. The restaurant is set on a canal, which made for a postcard picture vision in the evening rain and light on the cobble streets. Whilst it wasn't black tie, the men were in jackets whilst the ladies were casually elegant. So coats were worn to keep off the rain and chill and again all got piled on the nearest hangers. The restaurant looked like a narrowish place but magically opened out once inside the central dining area. Seats were found and introductions made and all got ready for the off. 

Initially, the atmosphere was again a bit stuffy given all the people and the heaters being switched on to counter the late September evening chill. But as layers of clothes got divested to adjust it all seemed to come into temperature balance. 

The chilled and cherry nosed Prosecco got poured and clinked and came off as somewhat grapey and citrus in the mouth but not bad for that. The full salted and yeasty olive bread gave good carbo substance to soak up the fizz and the remains of the Amuse.

I can't remember much about the taste of the Amuse Bouche. The notes say it was some Horseradish Sauce inside a kind of Macarron French wafer thingy, and came off looking like a Chinese Birthday dumpling.

There was also a dollop of celeriac infused potato mash with scrambled egg for salt and taste and some pelota ham which came off as a misty smooth mouthful. No memory. No photo either. Om.

Wine 1 was apparently a Chenin Blanc and was delightful, with none of the usual oily characteristic I usually associate with this varietal. Nice hit of flinty minerality, sour apricot on the nose. Great texture, with chewy peach on the cheeks and some floral notes leading to a medium finish. Very nice and auguring well for a fine evening. 

Dish 1 was the visually cute Crab and Langoustine. The Crab had been wrapped in  a slice of courgette to resemble a mini Spring Roll and had been parked on the side of a pond of cold pea consomme, in which the Langoustine held court over all on the plate. The Avocado had been blitzed and piped whilst the runner beans had been similarly blitzed and chilled (or nitrogen gassed?) into perfect little cups of misty green mousse. There were a lot of tastes going on here, but they all seemed to work together to give brilliant little zips and zaps and clean green and slap on the tongue delights. The central Langoustine and Avocado was exquisite - the crunchy fresh sweetly salt meat meshing with the creamy green gunky fruit mash - wonderful. Equally wonderful and borderline genius was the addition of Rock Melon cubes on top of the Runner Bean humps - gave a soft fruit sugar crunch to the mushy green vegetable and rocked each others worlds. O yes they did. 

Langoustine and Crab - well wicked
All of which went wonderfully well with the wine. The shellfish sweet meat and vegetal adds lightened the acidity and cleaned up the slight element of chew in the fruit to give a leaner, cleaner mouthfeel. Good match.

Noted the excellence of the service at this point. We were being overseen by tall young slender men in grey suits who had been taught to fold the napkin and put in on the table when someone left the table. Box duly ticked.

My initial note on Dish 2 says "wow!" This was the Orkney Scallop and Cepe and the Scallop would prove absolutely magnificent, putting the little doggies we get from Hokkaido to shame in terms of size and fullness of taste. Darn near perfect. The Cepe sauce (which is Porcini Mushroom with shallots and garlic and ham) dotted with the roast hazelnuts kind of coated the upper mouth and cheeks, though not overpoweringly so. The Foie Gras was in there, but again not so that it dominated the ensemble with overtones of goose liver. The whole was a mouth of brilliance and balance, texture and finish. Beyond sublime. Triple wow. 

Orkney Scallop and Cepe - magnifico
It was being paired with an Alsatian Riesling which was clean on the tongue and zippy on the cheeks. Light to medium body, mouth of pineapple and citrus, lovely understated acidity presumably from its four years in bottle and leading to a clean firm finish. Good for cleaning the gunk from the cheeks and standing up nicely to the Cepe and Foie Gras elements. Another great match. 

Wine 3 was delightful, and I initially thought it was a full on classic Chablis of banana and tropicals and body with a good belt of citrus. This frisky fruit bomb set the senses singing "Zing went the strings of my tongue" - lovely zappy drop to toast with the table. Which was now proving quite talkative after a somewhat slow start. Slap me across the face with a kipper when I discovered the wine was a South African Chenin. This cheeksucker was so, so good, giving off peach further down the glass. As elsewhere said, my Chenin experience has been one of oil on the cheeks, which seems to invariably get combined with harsh throat raking aged apricot and sour mango. Have to start looking out for this one on the Malaysian shelves. Good stuff. 

Dish 3 was the soft Shetland Squid and salty Bellota Ham perched on a dollop of lentils rising out of the brownly saltish rouille. This felt the most French Bistro of all the dishes to date given the richly dark and brooding gravy. Two knobs of what felt like fine mashed potato got blended in with the rouille to add some necessary butter to the mix and send the Provencal sauce to church. Texturally, the squid and ham fit well, though the squid lacked the rubbery firmness we associate with the boy here in Malaysia. In terms of flow, this Bistro bomb seemed a bit at odds with the lightness and delicacy of the foregoing and, looking at the menu, the forthcoming dishes. But it was still seafood and there was game to follow, and I get it that no way can seafood follow game. It had to fit where it had to fit. So. 

Shetland Squid and Bellota Ham - well French
A bold dish needing a bold wine - the Chenin stood up well to the rich Bistro style. Can't recall the match in any great detail, but it was far from a mismatch. No notes usually mean I was enjoying it with the table. My notes just say "so good, crispy crunchy zippy zing citrus bomb". Yum.

As said, the table was warming up and I recall talking to a new American friend Dennis Marsh about 1970s music and a band Kansas in particular. I shared my Youtube and Wikiloops sites with him and he advised to look out for the Kansas DVD documenting the miracle of their road to global dominance from the middle of America. Have yet to find it. But we shared memories of our favourite songs and concerts which made for a fun evening. He also used to play bass guitar but hadn't picked it up for years due to a workplace accident. I tried to persuade him to get back to it. Not sure I succeeded. Have to get in touch to see how. 

Also met up with an apparent old friend of one of my Law Lecturers from University College Cardiff days (now Cardiff University) who had been trying to reconnect without much success. So I offered to help. Within a day I had got an email address and passed it to the table mate just before checkout on our final day. He was very happy. 

Dish 4 was a Ravioli of Borders Partridge, which on first bite felt like a big rich whack of foie gras woof - big meaty sucker. It was a bit like biting into a Chinese dumpling and the jus exploding in the mouth (and down the shirt if not careful). The second bite got through to the delicious Partridge, and the now lessened jus made for a delightful bite of bird and pasta, with the genius cabbage giving perfect vegetal backbone and structure to weld the tastes together. Not sure I am a great fan of partridge, not having much occasion to eat the thing in the past, but have to say that this one had a creamy texture about it whilst retaining enough of a gamey whack for interest. 

Partridge Ravioli
The Chinon had a lean and firm fruit mouthfeel of cherry and dark berry. Firm tannins, with fair degree of raspberry and redcurrant in the mouth but absolutely nothing in the way of finish. Total fruit bomb that fizzled in the gut. Odd. Again, must admit to little experience with Loire reds, so perhaps this is the style. And I must say it sang with the food - the combo of veggie, jus, bird and pasta melted the tannins and the fruit simply soared. There you go - should always think about foods when drinking a new wine and never judge on the immediate taste. Good reminder of an old lesson. Another score to Chef and Sommelier. 

And on to the Grouse - my first ever taste of it. For some reason, I got taken back to childhood and tins of Spam; total pork luncheon meat in texture and mouthfeel. Though I also got a large hit of Foie Gras. It was like located somewhere between the two; solid foie gras Spam. Which initially felt quite strange, though it came into focus when chewed in context with the rest of the plate. The sweet crunchy onion, the mushroom nimble in the mouth and the walnut risotto all lent their textures and tastes to create an amazing blend of rich, salt, sweet chew and taste. Very good indeed. Now there is a baseline for Grouse breast - all future can be measured against. Lead me to the shoot.

The Grouse
It was being paired with a 2001 Musar, a Lebanese wine which seems to sell well in Malaysia (I have attended tastings and it has been served at some of our KL IWFS events). Though frankly I have yet to get the Musar - to me it seems over priced for what it seems to offer in taste and development in bottle. Though some compadres salivate at the thought. There you go. This one presented a shade rough - firm acidity and tannins, and I found the fruit a bit sour. One of those that sends a shiver down the back - brrrrrr..OUGH!!! They were still pouring the Chinon which made for a WAY better accompaniment, letting the food remain tasty without getting in the way. 

And finally dessert, which also got a "wow" in the notes. Spiced rich Valrhona (apparently 100% cocoa) chocolate with pineapple and clementine melded into a gunky goo that was both richly sweet and citrus sour and loaded with toffee apple caramel. This was perhaps the most AMAZING mouthful of chocolate goo ever to pass the tongue. Sinful and wicked - but only if you think so. 

And the tokaji was lovely. Mid weight, raisins and honey sweet. Not as bold as those others tried previously; more delicate and subtle. Gorgeous wine, which matched reasonably well with the dessert (thanks mainly to the fruit elements) but for me the only thing that goes with chocolate is ice cream or coffee (and whiskey, for some reason, according to my whiskey snifter buddies). 

And the decaff coffee that came quickly out did indeed cap the dessert off perfectly and bring to a close an absolutely cracking evening of wine and food. I am often a bit skeptical with the Michelin star places but I have to say that the Martin Wishart was fantastic. The food quality, the preparations and presentations, the service and the selection of wines were all indeed stellar. Very, very happy to have done this. Highly recommended if you find yourself in Leith. 

[Note - subsequent to the Festival, the IWFS EAZ awarded the Restaurant Martin Wishart with an, er, award and were forced to revisit Edinburgh to present it. Also to meet up again with Zubair from the Leith Vaults. Oh, the pain...  ]

Can't remember the ride back to the Balmoral on the bus. Think I snoozed. Crawled into bed to the sound of the news on the TV. Slept like a pig. 

"Mair waine fer eeyeou Mizz?" Why aye!!
Kir Royal or Prosecco Brut, Borgo Molino, Treviso

Crab and Langoustine
Courgette, Runner Bean, and Avocado
Savennieres, Trie Speciale, Domaine des Beaumard, 2010 Loire

Orkney Scallop and Cepe
Warm Duck Liver Parfait and Roasted Hazelnuts
Riesling, Rolly Gassmann, 2012 Alsace

Shetland Squid
Puy Lentils, Lomo de Bellota and Rouille
FMC Chenin Blanc, Ken Forrester, Stellenbosch 2014

Ravioli of Borders Partridge
Cabbage and Truffle Cream
Chinon, Domaine de la Noblaie, 2014 Loire

Grouse Breast
Wild Mushroom, Caramelized Onion and Walnut Risotto
Chateau Musar 2001

Spiced Valrhona Chocolate
Macerated Golden Pineapple, Cocoa Tuile and Clementine Juice
Tokaji, 5 Puttunyos, 2009 Royal Tokaji

Tea or Coffee, Petit Fours