the Kitchen on the Kelvin

Recipes, news and reviews from my cubby-hole of a kitchen on banks of the River Kelvin, Glasgow


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Winter weekends: A cold, culinary adventure in Dublin

Just a few months ago, my big sister announced she was moving away; not only from Glasgow, but leaving the UK altogether. Her boyfriend, Diarmuid, had been asked to transfer to Dublin where his employer was opening a new office. As a native Irishman, this meant going home; for Louise, however, it was a chance to discover a new and regularly raved about city.

Seven days after we said our tearful but happy goodbyes, my mum, Aunt Susan, Craig and myself set off for dreary Prestwick Airport at 5am, groggy but looking forward to a weekend in the celtic capital to celebrate Louise’s 30th birthday.

After a raucous flight shared with some lumbering rugby fanatics who were already tanked up for the impending Scotland v Ireland game the next day, we hopped into a taxi where stereotypes really lived up to their expectations; the saccharine lull of Stephen Gately and co was playing out over the radio. I thought things might have moved on since the last time I was in Ireland some 16 or so years ago, when I, along with millions of other confused young girls, was in the full throes of Boyzone mania. I was all too pleased to discover, however, that this was some sort of odd coincidence and we weren’t subjected to that kind of aural assault again.

A February weekend in Dublin was always going to be a cold one, but I hadn’t prepared for the unrelenting, biting wind which tore past us, freezing rain stinging our faces, as we explored the city. For 90 minutes of the open top bus experience – necessity had us sitting downstairs – the cold seeped deep into my bones with no plans of easing off anytime soon. It wasn’t until a new lot of tourists stepped on board, only 20 minutes left of the circuit for us, that the driver thought it wise to turn on the heaters. Having presumed there was no such facility on board, I was just a little bit fuming.

Queen of Tarts on Dublin's Cows Lane

Queen of Tarts on Dublin’s Cows Lane

The only thing that could lift my bleak body and mind at this stage was nature’s one and only cure-all: food. On the recommendation of Diarmuid’s sister, we headed to Queen of Tarts on the enjoyably titled ‘Cows Lane’. Stepping through the door, the intoxicating scent of home baking told me that this was exactly what I needed. I opted for the soup and sandwich combo to warm me through. Celeriac soup was served thick and piping hot, just as I hoped it would be. On the side, hearty roast pork loin with apple butter and homemade stuffing on focaccia was exactly the sort of belly-pleasing comfort food my body was craving, with the not-too-sweet but not-too-tart apple sauce ensuring it was moist as well as tender. Bones just about thawed – aside from my perpetually cold feet – we were prepared again to do some more exploring. The sun was even kind enough to kiss our faces for a little while as we strolled through Trinity College, down O’Connell St and along the River Liffey.

Cockle-warming fare: Roast loin of pork with apple butter and homemade stuffing

Cockle-warming fare: Roast loin of pork with apple butter and homemade stuffing on focaccia

After a hot shower back at the hotel which was only a couple of stops on the LUAS train, we were ready to head back out into Dublin. Thankfully, the winds had eased and conditions were a lot more pleasant for an evening out than I’d expected. Leaving plenty of time to have a couple of drinks before dinner, we stopped by The Dawson Lounge, Dublin’s smallest pub, which is essentially a dark, dare-I-say dingy room down a set of stairs through a doorway just off St Stephen’s Square. What it lacked in style and space, however, it made up for in charm. There we enjoyed obligatory pints – or half pints on my part – of Dublin’s most famous export. The last time I had Guinness was on St Patricks Day in Brisbane quite a few years ago and this hiatus was with good reason. However, I did actually quite enjoy it which I can only put down to the Dublin water. Feeling a little merrier, we made our way back to street level and headed for the main event: The Pig’s Ear.

This award-winning restaurant was what I’d really been waiting for all day. Diarmuid had been once before and Louise had also spotted it in Dublin’s Lonely Planet Guide. When she told me that was where she’d booked for her birthday meal, I – impatient as ever – started digging. As they put it themselves on the restaurant website, “At the Pig’s Ear, simplicity, hospitality and generosity are key elements for a warm friendly restaurant. We offer an informal approach, value for money and no frills satisfying seasonal Irish food.” Having retained a Michelin Bib Gourmand since 2009, I was amazed to discover that the Early Evening Menu was available for only €26.95, particularly given this place’s location in one of the world’s most expensive cities.

During our dreaded open top bus tour, I had managed to spot the restaurant as we passed its doorway on Nassau Street opposite the Trinity playing grounds. A glossy, hot pink wooden door was adorned with a large black ribbon tied into a bow, like a luxurious gift just waiting to be unwrapped. For me, quirky touches like this one really amp up the anticipation and I felt genuinely lucky to be visiting one of the city’s most hyped eateries that evening.

All wrapped up: The Pig's Ear, Nassau St

All wrapped up: The Pig’s Ear, Nassau St

Gladly, I was not disappointed. We dined in the second floor ‘Mirror Room’ which was stylishly decorated with – you guessed it – lots of large mirrors and other interesting details. As a pre-theatre style menu, there were three choices per course and all of them were inventive. I’m sorry to have to say this again, but I couldn’t turn my back on the goats cheese starter. To be precise, this was “Whipped St Tola Goats Cheese, Roast Onions, Pine Nuts, Brown Bread”. Having never heard of St Tola before, we asked the waiter of its origins and were told it’s on the west coast of Ireland in County Clare and is made from 100% organic goat milk. As a veteran on the goats cheese starter front, I can say that this was certainly one of the strongest goats cheeses I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating. Not for the faint hearted, it brought with it a punchy, intensely rich flavour – a little too pungent for Craig, as it turned out – with a delicious, velvety texture thanks to the whipping process. The chef’s decision to pair it with baby onions became clear at this point as they were able to stand up to the cheese very well, while the pine nuts added a necessary crunchy dimension to the dish. I realise that my photography skills let me down somewhat on this occasion – no thanks to the ‘dining in the dark’ lighting – and the picture below doesn’t look particularly lovely, but in reality this was a dish beautifully constructed with a taste experience to match.

Sorry, I did it again: Whipped St Tola Goats Cheese, Onion

Sorry, I did it again: Whipped St Tola goats cheese, roast onions, pine nuts, brown bread

For my main, I took the very rare decision to deviate from my usual carnivorous ways and opted for “Pan-fried Hake, Cauliflower, Smoked Haddock, Brown Shrimp, Samphire, Almond and Caper Butter”. I eat a lot of fish at home and, as a result, the meatier dishes I don’t so often cook for myself tend to catch my eye. However, I’m sure you’ll agree that the description poised fish as anything but boring and it was an easy choice to make. A beautifully cooked, chunky piece of hake was the star of the show – as it should be – and was deliciously complemented with tasty morsels of smoked haddock and brown shrimp. The toasted cauliflower provided a satisfying contrast in texture and samphire, which seems to me to be the green of the moment, gave the dish a real visual appeal. 

A beautifully executed fish dish: Pan-fried hake, cauliflower, smoked haddock, brown shrimp, samphire, almond and caper butter

A beautifully executed fish dish: Pan-fried hake, cauliflower, smoked haddock, brown shrimp, samphire, almond and caper butter

Having had a lighter main than I might normally have done, choosing a dessert wasn’t a struggle. I went for “The Pig’s Ear Vanilla Cheesecake, Berry Jam, Hob Nob Biscuits”. Served in a kitsch little jam jar with red and white gingham lid included, this was a cheesecake of the deconstructed variety. The crumbly biscuit base was, I’m sure, an oaty biscuit reminiscent of a Hob Nob, but, having had a pretty close relationship with the milk chocolate variety in my youth, I’m quite confident it wasn’t pulverised McVities. This would have been a cop-out on the part of the restaurant, of course, but there’s a reason why these branded biscuits are a mainstay of builders and grannies alike across the country. Believe it or not, 12 or so years ago, our house was burgled overnight while we slept and I woke to discover that one of the valuables plundered was my tub of McVities Milk Chocolate Hob Nobs. Naturally, I felt cheated as well as confused and completely furious. That’s one to talk through with my therapist, however, so back to the dessert at hand. The ‘cheese’ element of the dish was sweet and creamy as you would expect, while the berry jam was a lovely addition, offering enough sharpness to cut through the richness. Admittedly, this wasn’t the best cheesecake I’ve ever had, but it was a very pleasant end to an excellent dining experience in Dublin.

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Deconstructed desserts: The Pig’s Ear Cheesecake, Berry Jam, Hob Nob Biscuits

Should you find yourself spending a couple of days in this lively city, make a beeline for The Pig’s Ear. Not only was the food incredibly satisfying and interesting, but it provided us with a robust lining in our stomachs before moving on to explore many of Dublin’s best traditional pubs.

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Corfu, Part II: Corfu Town

Watching the people go by in Corfu Old Town

Watching the people go by in Corfu Old Town

Every so often, one of those rare days comes along that I know will linger fondly in the memory for some time. Free from worry, pressure and expectation, our impromptu visit to Corfu Town was just that.

As I explained in my previous post, our days in Ermones had revolved around unadulterated sun worship, gorging on beautiful Corfiot seafood and quaffing a liberal quantity of cocktails by the pool. While too much of that can only be a good thing in my eyes, we would have been wasting an opportunity if we hadn’t taken a foray into the island’s capital, Corfu Town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and only a 30 minute bus ride away.

Just a few weeks before, I’d been drawn in by some striking pictures of the old town on the Instagram account of my Greek school friend, Dimitra, who had spent her summer holidays there. As a native, I knew she’d be able to share with us the insider knowledge we craved: where do the locals eat?

The bus, which eventually picked us up from our hotel after deviating quite significantly from the timetable, reached its final destination on a scruffy plot of land operating as a depot. So far, so unimpressed; I was anticipating a labyrinth of narrow, cobbled streets brimming with a potent sense of the past. But with the help of some 21st century technology, we discovered the old town a few minutes later and got the eyeful of culture we were looking for.

The rich history of the island, which can be read about here, is clearly demonstrated by the formidable old fort which dominates the bustling port. Further into the meandering passages, shuttered windows and flowering balconies are reminiscent of Paris or Venice which is a direct result of four centuries of Venetian rule before the British, French and Greek governments made their own marks.

Back home in Britain, we’re fed emotive images of the great turmoil caused by the crippled Greek economy but there’s no sign of that here. Glossy boutiques exude opulence and indulgence, chic cafes buzz dynamically with expressive conversation and polished ladies laden with the exploits of their spending strut confidently through the winding streets, chichi toy dogs in tow.

After finding our bearings and absorbing the charm of the place, we were certainly ready for refreshments. Settling on a couple of high stools poised outside an elegant little bar-cum-cafe, we would spend the next three hours supping zingy margaritas and enjoying one of the best pastimes there is: people watching. From the bionic blonde whose plastic surgery portfolio could give those of The Real Housewives a run for their money, to the stream of giggling schoolgirls ordering chain-gulped iced coffees from the pretty Greek version of a 20-something Joaquin Phoenix (swoon), this was one of the foremost people watching experiences of my life. Somehow, TV and film can’t compare to the entertainment that comes from surveying the curious actions and conversations of human beings unknowingly going about their everyday lives.

Now for food. Our dinner venue had come highly recommended by my Greek informant, Dimitra. Entered via an inconspicuous passageway off one of the main shopping streets, I reckon Bellissima has to be Corfu Town’s best kept secret. Despite its Italian name, Bellissima serves traditional Greek fare from its charming situation on a romantic little square. Sat outside at tables with red check tablecloths, we devoured saganaki (king prawns with feta in a tomato sauce), spetzofai (spicy sausage with peppers), more seafood pasta (Craig’s true vice) and the ultimate Greek classic of chicken souvlaki.

This was a feast capable of feeding a large family with Grecian appetites so eventually we had to admit defeat with a dull ache of disappointment. The family which runs this place delivered everything we had hoped for from an authentic meal; the warmest hospitality was lovingly combined with food which was unpretentious, homely and bursting with flavour. And just to top it all off, a group of traditional singers, musicians and dancers performed in the square as we ate to make this an all-encompassing experience of Corfiot culture.

This day trip represented one major life lesson learned: never underestimate the value of taking in some culture. We could have so easily have spent our entire week languishing in luxury by the pool at our hotel but this little sojourn enriched our holiday far more than we could’ve imagined.


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Corfu, Part I: Ermones

First things first, I have to apologise for my summertime blogging hiatus. Since starting a busy new job at the beginning of July, I’ve neglected to put aside any time to tell you what I’ve been eating. I’m glad to say that the guilt has finally got the better of me and I’ve now promised myself I’ll get back into the habit of writing regularly.

The event which spurred this sluggish return to Wordpress was a late summer getaway to the lush Greek island of Corfu. Craig and I found ourselves whiling away the hot days and refreshingly cool nights in a very quiet corner of the island called Ermones. Situated on the west coast of the island but not too far from Corfu Town, we stayed at the Atlantica Grand Mediterraneo Resort which was one of only two hotels built into the cliffs around this picturesque little bay with a historical past; according to travel agency Thomson’s guidebook, Homer’s Odysseus washed up ashore here to find a bevy of maidens waiting for him. I suppose this would’ve been the perfect time to pick up this legendary tome, but that sort of a literary challenge doesn’t really pair well with a holiday for me.

The beautiful Ermones Bay

The beautiful Ermones Bay

For the first time ever, we opted to go all-inclusive. This is something that I’ve been very hesitant to do in the past, but the quiet location and a number of positive reviews of the hotel’s cuisine on Tripadvisor gave us the confidence to take a gamble which I’m both pleased and relieved to say paid off.

One of our most weighty reasons for going all-inclusive was value for money. Craig and I admittedly like to enjoy a drink or two on holiday and have felt the room tab fear when settling our bill at the end of a couple of previous getaways. What could be more fitting with a holiday than not having to worry about a budget? The selection of drinks on offer was excellent with plenty of brand names and cocktails forming part of the package. In particular, our hats go off to barman Costas and his talent for mixing some very delicious mojitos which we enjoyed many a late afternoon by the pool.

Well and truly wound down

Well and truly wound down

Lunches and a couple of our dinners were had at the hotel’s Medusa restaurant. This was your standard buffet set-up with plenty of salads, fish, chicken and meat on offer at all times. I found this particularly good at lunch time when I could opt for a light meal, as stodge and a bikini make a beach body not. I was happy with a piece of fish or chicken alongside the ultimate classic of greek salad. At one point during the week, I feared I might have become about 90% feta cheese after devouring so much of the delightfully creamy stuff. Now, several weeks cold turkey, I think I’m back to the standard water:protein:fat:minerals ratio.

Sunset over Ermones Bay

Sunset over Ermones Bay

We spent our second evening at one of the hotel’s a la carte restaurants, Thalatta, which serves Corfiot seafood on the beach. As you can see from our photos, we arrived just on time to see the vibrant sun disappear over the horizon. The food on offer here was the best of Greek cuisine: simple and hyper-fresh with quality ingredients that speak for themselves. The starter comprised a meze of traditional dishes including greek salad with the most flavoursome tomatoes you couldn’t ever hope to find in the UK, tasty anchovy toasts, tzatziki, Corfiot codfish bianco (with garlic and lemon) and delicate fried squid which had to be straight from the sea that day. Already approaching full, we then enjoyed beautiful whole sea bream with grilled peppers, aubergine and courgette. The meal was concluded with a dainty selection of baklava; syrupy, sticky, sweet and nutty, this couldn’t be anything but a real treat.

Don't mess with the classics

Greek salad, tzatziki and olive bread: don’t mess with the classics

Beautiful fried sea bream with grilled med veg

Beautiful sea bream with grilled med veg

Another evening saw us visiting the hotel’s fine dining restaurant. Vertigo, perched high upon the cliffs, has an impressive view across the bay and serves Italian food of a sophisticated nature. With no pizza in sight, we started with a scrumptious ravioli appetiser, complements of the chef, which heightened our anticipation for what was to come next. I fear you’ll think I’m becoming a bore, but I just couldn’t let the goats cheese starter pass me by. Two overly generous wedges baked in a contrasting crunchy crumb were complemented with oozing figs, crispy prosciutto and a tangy balsalmic glaze. Safe to say, I had no goats cheese regrets yet again. Craig, always a sucker for shellfish, opted for fritto misto to begin and then a decadent seafood spaghetti overflowing with gargantuan king prawns. In a move controversial for myself, I ordered the veal fillet for my main on the recommendation of our server. While it’s not something I choose to eat regularly,  the meat was delicately sweet and tender and something really quite special.

Delicate fillet of veal with shredded tempura cabbage and carrots

Delicate fillet of veal with shredded tempura veg

The only meal which topped those described above was one we had in Corfu Town. So good, in fact, it deserves its own blog post which I resolve to write over the next few days. For now, I’ll leave you with this mystical shot of the valley beyond Ermones just after sunrise one morning. A little off the most beaten parts of the tourist trail, I’d visit this place again in a heartbeat.

A misty morning in the valley

A misty morning in the valley


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Street Food Cartel @ SWG3, Friday 10 May 2013

I’ve often wondered why Glasgow hasn’t followed London’s suit in bringing decent street food to us city dwellers.

There’s little doubt that this is an area in which the western world has trailed behind South-East Asia, India and North Africa to name a few, but London has witnessed a burgeoning trade in street food over the past decade as trailers and caravans rapidly pop up in markets across the city. Despite a particularly nasty bout of food poisoning contracted after sampling the street fare in Vientiane, Laos, I still think there’s no better way of immersing yourself in a culture when exploring new destinations. As I can tell you myself, there’s always an element of risk when chowing down as the locals do, but it has to be your best shot at authenticity.

For now, Glasgow’s best effort at street food amounts to a late night burger van calculatedly positioned at Charing Cross to draw in inebriated, unthinking revellers heading west from the debauchery of Sauchiehall Street at 3am. I, for one, would be interested to learn the outcome of DNA analysis on those ever-popular patties.

Fortunately, a collective movement for change is beginning to create some ripples in the dank, stagnated waters of Glasgow’s destitute street food scene. A growing number of forward-looking chefs want to bring real, high quality food to the crying-out-for-it streets of the city. However, dealing with the ever-exascerbating Glasgow City Council was never going to be easy and licensing applications have consistently been rejected. Read about why here if you want to get angry.

In a refusal to back down, Street Food Cartel was born. Put simply, it brings the street food experience indoors as a pop-up restaurant based at SWG3 in Yorkhill. This exhibition space and gig/club venue was the perfect choice for an edgy event like this because it’s already a popular haunt of the city’s moustache-toting, horn-rimmed spectacle-clad hipster community. News of the first event in March would spread like wildfire on social media, prompting extra dates to be added and leaving those who didn’t make it along really smarting. Yes, that includes me.

When the next pop-up was announced, I hopped right on that bandwagon and snapped up tickets for Friday 10th May. Expectations were high. After navigating my way to SWG3 – my third or fourth visit but my first time sans pre-bev – I made my way into the former warehouse through a series of unmarked, un-handled doors, eventually emerging into a pretty large space crammed full of makeshift trestle tables and zealous diners. I was offered a complementary Schiehallion beer or a vodka cocktail on arrival and – being a girl – I opted for the latter. Presented in a glass bottle wrapped in a brown paper bag, it was truly Pinterest-friendly. Unnecessary? Probably. Pretentious? For sure, but I won’t pretend that it didn’t meld excellently with the guerilla-style, illegal warehouse party atmosphere going on. It was tart, refreshing and lovely and I would’ve really liked another, but it was a welcome drink only and didn’t appear on the menu. Unfortunately, I also have no idea what was in it aside from vodka, lots of citrus and lots of sugar, making it rather difficult to replicate at home.

Street Food Cartel: the menu

Street Food Cartel: the menu

Sitting in a group of six – a couple of whom had attended the debut SFC in March – we opted for ‘one of everything, please’. Within just three or four minutes, our end of the table was overflowing with spicy, Mexican fare from Lupe Pinto’s Deli, the Great Western Road stalwart famous for its chillies, chorizo and hot, hot spices. All of it was delicious, coming with soft tacos and sides of guacamole, pico de gallo, jalapenos and sour cream. As a disciple of the mighty chilli pepper, I embraced this spicy offering as a scrumptious kick-start to the system. ‘It all starts to taste the same after a while’, I heard a couple of people in my party utter, but I disagreed. The beef, chorizo and chipotle chilli was brimming with richness and flavour and heat, while the sweetcorn, three bean, ancho and cinnamon veggie chilli was a much more piquant palate-cleanser. For me, however, the chicken tinga was the outright winner. I’m always really impressed when someone takes chicken from a fairly standard filler to a genuinely satisfying feed, and that’s exactly what Lupe Pinto’s did here. The poblano chillies offered it plenty of heat, but the white beans added a smooth, creamy texture that delivered a new layer to the usual formula of (Tex-)Mexican cuisine I’m used to. Teamed up with tender, well-seasoned chicken, the dish was very nice indeed.

You’d think that would be enough, but there were still four dishes to come from scoop. At the forefront of the campaign for street food in Glasgow, scoop is operated from a silver, bullet-shaped caravan that wouldn’t look out of place in a 60s sci-fi movie. Chef Jonathan Macdonald founded the company after spending many years travelling the world and cooking as he went, including a five-year stint as head chef for the McLaren F1 team. A quick glance at the SFC menu tells you that scoop’s style is undoubtedly influenced by global flavours and ingredients. First out were the Thai haddock and prawn cakes which, I can tell you, looked like beautiful golden nuggets atop a crunchy, contrasting herb salad. I cannot, however, tell you how they tasted. Unfortunately, there just wasn’t enough to go around six people. As a lover of fishcakes, this would have been particularly devastating for me if there weren’t plenty of other dishes to distract me from my anguish. Blending Asian, North African and Mediterranean cuisine, the butternut squash spring roll, beetroot pesto, feta and toasted hazelnut dukkah marked a big in-your-face to those who slate vegetarian food. Flavour, texture and aroma: it had it all. The (insanely tender, gelatinous and melt-in-the-mouth) beef rib and the confit pork belly weren’t far short of divine, but this veggie combination was sensational. Not only that, but it was ‘clean’: it tasted like it was good for me; it offered a welcome lift from the full-bodied, excess of rich, meaty flavours I’d been gorging on all evening. The butternut squash spring roll was easily my favourite dish of the night and I only hope I’ll get to try it for a second time in future.

After finishing off with some of Lupe Pinto’s churros – decent cinnamon pastries and beautiful, bowl-lick-worthy molten chocolate sauce – we were out of there, aware that the next round of eager eaters were waiting with much anticipation to get a hold of our end of the table. There’s no denying that the food was excellent and I’ll certainly be snapping up tickets for the next round, but I do hope that a few teething problems will be addressed. Firstly, it was near impossible to hold a conversation with anyone who wasn’t directly to your left or right because of the beats booming around the cavernous, exposed brick space housing the event. I really commend the addition of a DJ because it emphasised the uniqueness of SFC, setting it far aside from your average restaurant meal, but emerging from dinner hoarse isn’t ideal. I’m no sound engineer, but maybe just turning down the volume a little would resolve this issue I’ve heard quite a few grumbles about. Secondly, I was very keen to sample the Tapatio tequila con verdito, but our round never showed up. As we made our way out 30 minutes after ordering these and not having had a waitress in earshot during that time, I saw the barman pouring six tequilas which were probably bound for our willing necks. There had clearly been a bit of a breakdown in communication which could probably be resolved quite easily with the addition of some more waiting staff.

Street Food Cartel: the aftermath

Street Food Cartel: the aftermath

Sorry I didn’t manage to capture even one tantalising dish for you: an unmistakable animal instinct took hold of our pack and the food was long extinct before I could even consider resting my jaw to grab my iPhone. You can check it all out on the Street Food Cartel Facebook page here.