No it wasn’t flat packed .. and no we did not even need an allan key, the scones at IKEA Edinburgh come in much the same way as any other. We had arrived here with an IKEA virgin (honestly thought that everyone in the world had been here at some point in their lives .. if not every weekend) so it was great to see it through fresh eyes so to speak. You have got to hand it to them, they think of just about everything. After the IKEA journey (follow the arrows) it is perhaps just as well that they have a watering hole at the end of the trail because, by that time, it is very welcome if not absolutely necessary. In true IKEA style there are no frills, self service, follow the arrows, pour your own coffee/tea (as much as you like) and because of all that .. very reasonable prices. Our scone had surprisingly light texture and, all things considered, was rather good. It has been a surprising week. a) the Queen’s speech managed, better than any other single event, to demonstrate how out of touch and incongruous the Westminster establishment has become. As someone said ” a woman in a £1m hat delivers speech on austerity”. b) the draft Scotland Bill has seen the light of day and surprise surprise it outlines some totally inadequate powers for Scotland .. that can only be used if the Scottish Government seeks permission from the single Tory MP in Scotland. c) the LibDems sought to defend the dishonesty of their single Scottish Rt Honourable member by saying that all MP’s lie .. you could not make it up .. something has got to change!
EH20 9PW tel: 020 3645 0000 IKEA Edinburgh
Patisserie Valerie is a well known chain of over 300 outlets around the UK but it all originated back in Soho in 1926 when Madame Valerie came to London from Belgium to educate the English in continental patisserie .. now she is tackling the Scots. This particular one was in Rose Street, Edinburgh but we could have easily gone to any of the other three in the city centre though they would probably all be much of a muchness. Chains tend to have a recipe that they stick to (for very good reasons) wherever they set up shop. The speciality is cakes and their window display can be fairly difficult to walk past without feeling a certain ‘pull’. Since they serve afternoon tea throughout the day and you don’t have to book in advance we thought we would just walk in and give it a whirl .. and it really was as easy as that even though it was early evening. Wicktoria (spelt correctly) provided excellent service though she confessed to never having tried the Mango Tango tea that I ordered from the range on offer. Pat had the traditional breakfast tea but when she tasted mine she was almost tempted to change, it was very refreshing. Everything was pretty much as you would expect, a selection of sandwiches and quiche on the lower layer, scones in the middle and cakes on top. Unfortunately the only problem was the scones. Two fruit and two plain, they looked good and they were warm, which was nice, however we suspect they had been heated in a microwave and that seldom provides any enhancement to a scone. All in all they were pretty solid and unappetising. Pity really because everything else was okay and not too expensive. Everything is relative however and whilst £25 for two people is not too expensive for some, for others it would be totally out of reach. Sad to read that shops in Paisley are selling single eggs for people who cannot afford more .. a scandalous indictment for one of the richest nations on earth.
EH2 3JD tel: 0131 220 1336 Patisserie Valerie
Now we know that if you are looking for a scone you would not immediately rush off to the cinema .. popcorn yes, ice cream yes, but not scones. However if you were at the pictures and there was a scone right in front of you, just begging to be eaten, then you might be tempted.
That’s how it was for us when we went to the Edinburgh Filmhouse and ended up in their well appointed café area where you can get anything from a full blown meal to a pint of beer and a sandwich. There seemed to be only a single scone left so it seemed only right that we put it out of its misery and allowed it to provide us with some sustenance for the film ahead. Presentation was what you might typically expect from a self-service place so scone expectations were not exactly soaring. We were pleasantly surprised however when it turned out to be not at all bad, quite good in fact, nice texture and quite light. The film , Force Majeure, was a Swedish production with subtitles and we did not have high expectations for that either but it seemed like the best of what was on offer. It was excellent. Based round a family skiing trip it laid bare the stresses and strains involved in close family relationships in an intriguing and very honest way. Feeling fairly uplifted when we came out we were rudely brought back down again by the discovery that the former Secretary of State for Scotland had fessed up to being personally responsible for the ‘Frenchgate‘ scandal which could have altered the whole course of the General Election in Scotland … unbelievable! If he had come clean before the election he would not have won his seat and there would be no LibDem representation in Scotland. Now the question is how can he hold on to it when it was obviously gained through rank dishonesty? It has also cost the taxpayer £1.4m to get to the truth. More refreshinglyperhaps, earlier in the week, the Presiding Officer (Speaker) in the Scottish Parliament had to resort to ‘wheesht’ instead of the usual ‘order, order’ to maintain a modicum of decorum in the debating chamber .. and it worked! Anyway we can recommend Force Majeure and and Edinburgh Filmhouse scone if you find yourself so inclined.
EH3 9BZ tel: 0131 228 2688 Edinburgh Filmhouse
Wondering what to do when the rain is thrashing it down outside but you just want to ‘get out’? You could do a lot worse than a visit to the Scottish Antique and Arts Centre on the outskirts of Doune. If you like a good rummage it will take quite a few hours to do the whole place justice. There are lots of different stands offering literally everything from a needle to an anchor. Thirsty work of course so it is just as well that there is a nice cafe area called Café Circa. We ordered the obligatory scone and when it arrived our appetites were whetted by the presentation .. nice cups, cream in a fine china teacup, jam and butter in little pots, everything sprinkled with icing sugar .. what was not to like? Well, the scones actually. They were home baked but for some reason they just tasted like something was missing, maybe it was salt because they seemed more like bread than scones. The baking had also been a bit overdone with the base especially being very hard and crunchy. The cream was scooshie, which is never a great option. Whatever the missing ingredient is, we hope they find it soon because otherwise this is a good place to visit. There seems to be something missing in the North of England as well with over 12,000 (73%) people surveyed in the Liverpool Echo wanting to join Scotland in the event of it ever becoming independent. Can it be that what they are missing is a voice? The times just get stranger and stranger!
FK16 6HG tel: 01786 841683 Cafe Circa
Nowadays, although it is not that long ago, it is quite difficult to think back to the millennium and all that was going on at that time .. remember the millennium bug that was going to throw every computer and hence the world into chaos at the stroke of midnight? In central Scotland the big project was the rejuvenation and rejoining of the Union canal and the Forth & Clyde canal, both of which had lain derelict and unloved for many many years. At one time the canals had been joined by a series of locks but they had long since disappeared so the answer was to build the Falkirk Wheel to raise boats from the lower Forth &Clyde canal into the Union and vice versa.
The result was a spectacular feat of engineering which has successfully put Falkirk, for the first time ever, on the tourist map. It seems to be continually busy with people from all over the world just coming to look at how it works or taking boat trips to actually experience it for themselves. Catering for this influx of visitors is the ubiquitous visitor centre with the usual gift shop and cafe area. The gift shop has all the stuff which you would find in any shop aimed directly at tourists. We always find this disappointing and slightly irritating because tourists to Scotland must find almost exactly the same choice of goods whether they are at Falkirk Wheel or Culloden battlefield or Edinburgh Castle .. kind of the same way as the Queen must find that the world smells of fresh paint. The café here is confusing and disappointing. Difficult to figure out the system and, when you do, it just screams of inefficiency. That said they do have a reasonable range of stuff on offer but it is set up pretty much like a school canteen, a bit cold and clinical .. the service is a bit like that as well, nobody seems to be enjoying working there. It probably suffers in the same way as all places that don’t actually have to attract customers in their own right, the customers arrive to see the Wheel and there is nowhere else to go for something to eat or drink, a kind of monopoly situation. We bought some lunch but because they had banana and chocolate chip scones we thought that, being dedicated sconeys, we had to try them as well. They were okay, quite good texture and definitely tasted .. you’ve guessed it, of banana and chocolate. Fine as a novelty scone but definitely not going to displace the traditional ones .. just call us old fashioned. Apart from the Wheel itself, this was a disappointing experience. We brought some friends from England along who had never been to Falkirk before and had hoped for better. Also hoping for better as the election dust settles and Westminster gets back to work. It does make you wonder about the state of democracy in the UK when 85% of Scotland, 73% of Wales and 58% of England did not vote for the Tories and what do we get … an outright Tory government threatening to do away with our human rights. Scotland even gets a Secretary of State to speak on its behalf, chosen from a shortlist consisting of the one Scottish Conservative MP? There must be a better system!
Bridge of Allan is the kind of Belgravia of central Scotland .. a favourite hangout for the well off to live and play so there are lots of hotels, cafés, bars etc. Today we decided to stop off at the JamJar Café. A nice day though not quite warm enough to sit outside on their pavement patio area but inside it is toasty no matter what the weather with a couple of big log burning stoves blazing away all day. It has the atmosphere of a well run but relaxed bistro and you can get pretty much anything you want from a Sunday lunch to a snack.
Needless to say we were after the scones so I got my usual fruit one and Pat got a savoury cheese one. Since our last post, of course, the election has come and gone .. and what an election. The media are having a field day trying to figure out what happened with the loss of three party leaders within as many hours. Scotland, typically some might say, has gone off on its own in a direction almost diametrically opposed to England which managed to get PoshDave returned with an overall majority thus proving that polls are not worth the paper they are written on. Again typically, Scotland seems to be getting blamed for all the ensuing problems; bringing down Labour , bringing down LibDems and, for all I know, bringing down UKIP, though I am not sure that can actually be classified as a problem. NastyNige bleating on about his 4 million votes being worth only one seat whereas the SNP’s 1.5 million votes gets them 56 seats … conveniently forgetting that the SNP only stood in 59 seats compared to over 600 for UKIP. However, the most interesting statistic to emerge was the one that determined that if every single voter in Scotland had voted Labour (or any other party) it would not have made the slightest difference to the result .. and that for me encapsulates ‘the Scottish problem’. When it comes to voting, Scotland may as well not bother .. except maybe this time with virtually the whole country turning yellow, it might be different .. emphasis on ‘might’. Anyway PoshDave and his classmates can pretty well do as they want now but I suspect that most of England will not be happy with the results .. and that, along with the EU, the Union, and him being unpopular within his own party, may turn out to be the least of his problems .. “he is gonna catch a cold, from the ice inside his sole” as Christina Perri would say. It will be fascinating to see how it all pans out. Meanwhile the scones in the JamJar Café were consumed with varying degrees of indifference. Pat didn’t finish her cheese one and although I finished both of mine (I got two because they said that they were a little bit small but they probably just wanted rid of them) it was only because I was peckish. They did not seem fresh and certainly not produced on the day. Everything else looks good in the JamJar, and it’s busy so they are obviously not depending on their scones. On the plus side log burning stoves are great, the service was efficient if not overly friendly, the daughters of Bridge of Allan are probably forced to work here so they can experience ‘the real world’. No passwords for the wifi, it is just there, brill … so why is the website so useless?
FK9 4HR tel: 01786 831616 www.jamjarcafe.co.uk
It is perhaps fitting that with just one day left before polling starts in the General Election that we find ourselves on the edge of the Roman Empire. Here in Callander the Roman Camp Country Hotel reminds us of the fact that this was about as far as the Romans got before they gave up with troublesome Scots and retreated south where things were easier to manage. Like the Romans many UK unionist politicians are currently wondering if they should do the same. The conservatives may do better than predicted and if they manage to retain power I will have to concur with Aneurin Bevan when he asked “How can wealth persuade poverty to use its political freedom to keep wealth in power?” Anyway this close to polling it would seem unlikely that a scone blog will change the outcome substantially. However, another recent and troubling phenomena has been the arrival of a Royal baby. Very nice and all that, but the near hysteria it has created is worrying. 120 years ago, when King Edward VIII was born, Keir Hardie said “From childhood onwards this boy will be surrounded by sycophants and flatterers and will be taught to believe himself as of a superior creation”. I fear the same fate awaits baby Charlotte .. and her big brother. Sitting, cocooned by a roaring fire in one of the Roman Camp’s sumptuous sitting rooms you could easily forget about all such matters and just sit back and watch the rain thrashing down outside. This is a lovely place and they boast quite openly, and as it happens quite justifiably, about their afternoon teas. They serve it slightly differently … in courses. Most places serve everything at once so this was a welcome variation. Our first course was a Haggis Bon Bon .. sounds unlikely but it was delicious. Second course was all the savouries, a range of sandwiches, sausage rolls, quiche, gougére .. delicious. The sweet stuff followed in the third course, cupcakes, panna cotta, drizzle cake, tiffin, meringues .. delicious. All done at a very leasurely and relaxed pace over a couple of hours with as much tea or coffee as you wanted. The scones were perfect, light and fluffy, and definitely get ‘topscone’ status, no problem. There was both fruit and a plain each accompanied by plenty jam and cream. The fruit one was packed full of goodies and was particularly yummy. All in all this was a wonderful experience and, given half a chance, we would definitely go back for more of the same .. first class. We will leave you with this little piece of advice (don’t know who to attribute it to but hope they don’t mind) prior to the election results being announced.
- How To Start The Day
- Open a new file on your computer
- Name it ‘David Cameron’.
- Send it to the recycle bin
- Empty the recycle bin.
- Your PC will ask “Do you want to get rid of David Cameron?”
- Firmly click ‘Yes’.
- Feel better
FK17 8BG tel: 01877 330003 Roman Camp
Callendar House is a great Georgian chateauesque building in the centre of Falkirk. It’s history goes way back to the 14th century when it was built for the Livingstone family but since then it has played host to many historical figures including Mary, Queen of Scots, Oliver Cromwell, Bonnie Prince Charlie and Queen Victoria. I think the tearoom we see today is part of the restoration after the house was partially demolished by Cromwell’s forces in the mid 17th century. I have a particular affinity to this place because my dad was head forester on Callendar Estate and as a young lad I regularly had to accompany him to visit the offices which were in the west wing of the house and at that time the house and its policies very private with few people ever getting to go anywhere near it. The riders and hounds for fox hunts always started off from the front door. It was eventually taken over by Falkirk Council in 1963 and since then it has been run as a public amenity for the people of the town. The turbulent times in the past brought about by Cromwell and the Young Pretender are not all that far removed from what we are witnessing in GE2105 with only a few days left before polling. All the Unionists parties seem to be hellbent on neutralising Scotland’s MP’s in Parliament without, apparently, realising the irony of what they are doing. If Scotland is effectively disenfranchised then Scotland, to all intents and purposes, is a foreign country .. end of Union. The Union will not be preserved by ignoring the settled will of one of it’s constituent countries so, hoary old sceptic that I am, even I cannot imagine that they are all as thick as that. England does not ‘need’ Scotland it sure as hell needs Scotland more than Scotland needs England. We were here for the Fabrizio Gianni photographic exhibition which was great but of course we soon ended up gravitating towards the tearoom which is absolutely beautiful, but unfortunately has ‘council’ written all over it .. the epitome of inefficiency. Although it could easily be decked out with tasteful tables and chairs that you can buy for buttons at an auction, instead it has the ‘council’ conference style furniture which jars grotesquely with the surroundings. There is a fantastic fireplace .. but no hint of a fire? When we arrived there were no staff either although someone eventual appeared from some distant room. It was a very odd atmosphere. The staff were friendly but had to work very hard fetching everything from afar. They advertise afternoon tea with freshly baked scones and cream however our scones were certainly not baked that day, the worst scones we have had in some time, and we were told that they “don’t do cream”. What with the Falkirk Wheel and the Kelpies, Falkirk has become a major tourist attraction, but c’mon Falkirk Community Council, you can do better than this with such a splendid location!
FK1 1YR tel: 01324 503770 Callendar House
McTears is one of many well run auction houses in Scotland and one which we use on a fairly regular basis. This time we had to go through and pick up a bottle of whisky and a sextant (don’t ask) that had been bought on line. It is always good fun at auctions but even just visiting can be interesting, lots of stuff going on and lots of interesting people. By the time we had paid for and acquired all our goodies it was scone time and it just so happens that McTears have a great wee café serving hungry antique hunters. We were served by a very friendly lady who soon had us fixed up. When I asked if the scones were home baked she shrieked and said “if I had baked them you would have to go to the dentist to get your broken teeth mended” .. such honesty. So no home baking here but then again you come here to buy antiques not scones. Last night there was the three leaders debate on QT. Normally these things are notable for their lack of excitement and, to some extent, this one was no exception. PoshDave maintained his track record by telling a whole load of half truths as well as some blatant lies, LibNick maintained his track record by not saying anything .. but, RedEd, as well as stumbling off the podium (that will be the headlines) seemed to say that he would prefer that PoshDave carried on in power rather than him do a deal with the vile NatNic. Coming from a Labour leader that is quite extraordinary and perhaps explains why in Scotland, RedEd’s party is known as the RedTories and poor old Keir Hardie is spinning in his grave. As it happened the scones were okay, exactly what you would tend to expect from bought-in and no dental damage whatsoever!