Deacon Brodie was an Edinburgh cabinet maker in the mid 18th century and was by all accounts an interesting character … respectable tradesman and City councillor by day and burglar by night. The Deacon’s House Café is situated in what was once his workshop so it has plenty of olde worlde charm to satisfy the legions of tourists who must pass through here having trudged up the Royal Mile with its plethora of cashmere and souvenier shops, seeking some sustenance .. maybe even a scone. On offer were plain and fruit as well as apple and cinnamon scones which they advertise as ‘fresh baked’ but we found them very disappointing .. too big, too hard and too tasteless. Unfortunately there were a number of things that made this place feel slightly unwelcoming • no credit cards of any kind taken in spite of it being in one of Scotland’s busiest tourist areas • orders have to be placed and paid for at the counter before they bring it to your table; if it’s busy this entails a long wait • toilets are on the other side of the close and an access code is required • no wifi that we could find • service could best be described as ‘adequate’. Overall you got the feeling that, because there was a constant stream of tourists coming through the door, they did not have to try too hard .. unfortunately it showed. Brodie’s double life eventually caught up with him and although he ran away to the continent he was caught in Holland, brought back, and hanged in 1788 before a crowd of 40,000 in the High Street .. that must have been a good day out. Parallels can be drawn between Brodie and Scotland’s only Lib Dem MP, Alistair Carmichael. He, you will remember, covertly released a memo which besmirched the First Minister by accusing her of being a David Hameron supporter. Only after the General Election did he own up but by that time he had narrowly held on to his seat in Shetland. Four of his own constituents thought that he would not have won had the electorate known he was a liar and decided to take him to court .. but of course they could not afford the immense costs. Hallelujah, all the costs were met by crowdfunding .. see the connection to Brodie? Perhaps 40,000 people all contributing a couple of quid in order to get justice .. a modern day hanging. The case was not expected to succeed because according to the LibDems “all MPs lie”, however, the court has decided that there is a case to answer and Carmichael will probably have to testify. Today, Carmichael must feel a bit like Deacon Brodie. #CarmichaelMustGo.
Don’t want you all wondering if we just shop and eat scones all day with both the last post, and this one, having a shopping theme. The excuse for this one is London Fashion Week which has just finished and we know that all you fashionistas will have been hanging on every word from the likes of Alexander McQueen and Karl Lagerfeld but did you realise that the people responsible for maintaining fashion at respectable levels in Perthshire and beyond were McEwens of Perth .. one of our favourite shops and one you should definitely not miss if you are ever in the Fair City. This is the North of Scotland’s answer to Harrods, Liberty and Harvey Nicks .. a bit more random but a lot more likeable .. rather like Grace Brothers in ‘Are You Being Served’.Although it is much bigger now with multiple shops, it has been run by the same family from the same building since 1868 which, in this day and age, is well worth celebrating in itself. Now, if you think that Perthshire’s fashion consists mainly of Hunter wellies and Barbour jackets you would not be too far wrong but you might not realise that even back in the 1890’s the managers from this place were visiting Europe and bringing back ‘The Modes from Paris’ and making exquisite copies in their own workshops, exclusive to McEwens. Can you imagine the excitement of the Perthshire ladies? Nowadays it must be much harder to survive modern day commercial pressures .. but survive they do; and in they survive with some style.
Quotes emblazoned on the walls include: “we are all born the same, but fashion makes us unique” and, ‘we are all of us stars, we deserve to twinkle” .. great stuff! Up until recently, in the Upstairs restaurant you would have been waited on by ladies in black uniforms with little white aprons and little white hats .. a bit like ‘Allo! Allo!’ Sadly they have now gone but the restaurant manages to maintain an old worldly charm where an overall sense of calm and Perthshire decency prevails. Sadly the scones were not quite what we expected .. nice enough, but with a slightly pasty texture and taste. Don’t think they were home baked so, unfortunately, no ‘topscone’ award this time. On previous visits we have sampled their range of breakfast bacon rolls .. ‘The Duchess’ is bacon, brie and cranberry .. fab! There .. ‘bacon’ has been mentioned and now we have to try and resist further references to the Prime Minister and his penchant for pork! Can you imagine the disappointment of the Perthshire ladies .. a lot of them probably keep pigs?
If you have ever shopped in Glasgow you will no doubt be familiar with Princes Square on Buchanan Street, an up-market emporium of shops and eating places. If you have never shopped in Glasgow, you should; it is undoubtedly one of the best places to go in Scotland .. and that’s from someone who is pretty allergic to the entire process. However we were not here to shop .. oh no, we were here for afternoon tea and Cranachan was our chosen spot. Now this type of dining may not be to everyone’s taste .. sitting out on the balcony not sure where the boundaries are between this place and the next place but it certainly was not putting people off and in fact it turned out to be a quite pleasant experience all round. We had some bubbles to begin with and then they brought the afternoon tea .. what they didn’t bring was the tea, we had to go and ask for it! Apart from that though it was not too bad at all; good selection of sandwiches and cakes, topped off with little tubs of their own cranachan. What about the scones I hear you cry; what about the scones? Well, this may be controversial, prepare yourself .. they came fully loaded with jam and cream?? Call us old fuss pots but we rather like the whole business of loading up our own scones .. the anticipation .. the decisions; how much jam; how much cream .. it is all part of the scone experience. All these dilemmas were removed and as a result our enjoyment was slightly diminished .. told you it would be controversial! The dilemmas facing Corbyn this week have been even more controversial perhaps. As an atheist republican he has been berated for not singing a song about the monarch being rescued by God; he has been condemned as sexist for not appointing women in spite of all the women turning the jobs down; maybe worst of all he has had to forego his bike and take to the official car to avoid being hounded by baying journalists; to top it all he has also been branded by the government, and hence all the main stream media, a major security risk. Some suspect that the car may have been forced on him because national security risks on bikes don’t provide a big enough target for drone missile attacks. No matter what your politics you have got to feel for the guy .. it’s been a rough tough week! To finish on a more positive note, in spite of our, by comparison, relatively minor issues at Cranachan we had a very pleasant time and we would recommend it to you should you find yourself shopping in Princes Square .. especially if you are too lazy to butter your own scones!
If you would like to make your own cranachan here is a recipe.
On a nice day there are fewer nicer places to be than Culross in Fife. Maybe the only even nicer place would be The Biscuit Café in the centre of Culross. It is part of the Culross Pottery and Gallery whose resident potter Camilla Garrett-Jones makes lots of lovely stuff and runs pottery classes here and in the South of France.
The café is upstairs above the shop and its interior is very homely and welcoming. At the back there is also a small but lovely sheltered garden area set out with tables and chairs. The Caffia coffee was the best we had had in a long time; we even got the very obliging staff to grind some beans for us to take home. The scones were also very good though Pat’s cheese scone could have done with a touch more cheese and the fruit in my fruit scone was also a wee bit sparse .. so no ‘topscone’ award here but these are tiny criticisms in the overall scheme of things. All in all Culross is a great wee place and well worth a visit. It was founded by St Serf in the 6th century and legend states that when the British princess (and future saint) Teneu, daughter of the king of Lothian, became pregnant before marriage, her family threw her from a cliff. She survived the fall unharmed, and was soon met by an unmanned boat. Knowing she had no home to go to, she got into the boat which sailed her across the Firth of Forth to land at Culross where she was cared for by St Serf who became a kind of father of her son. He ultimately became St Mungo, patron saint of Glasgow. As a rank outsider, Jeremy Corbyn must have felt a bit like Teneu in the Labour party leadership race but, like her, he has triumphed beyond all expectation. Doubtful that he will ever be sainted but perhaps we will now see a more humane side to British politics. If nothing else, at least we can now see some daylight between Labour and the Conservatives, so hooray for that. A cheer also for this café with its combination of arts and crafts, shop and cafe .. in fact you could say it ‘takes the biscuit’ .. sorry!
The government’s announcement that it is to take in 20,000 Syrian refugee children over the next five years (on 5yr visas after which they will have to go somewhere else) raises the question – how proud are you to be British .. ‘not very’ or ‘not at all’? There are no other options. Their attempt to show this as Britain at its most compassionate by comparing it to the Kindertransport in 1938 conveniently leaves aside the fact that the Kindertransport itself was a pretty taudry episode in British history only brought about by the government of the day being sufficiently embarrassed by images of Kristallnacht .. the parallels with today’s situation and the pictures of little Alan Kurdis are obvious. At the same time the German government announces that they will take half a million every year for as long as it takes. Presumably this because the Germans are not more compassionate, but because they have a solid economy which actually needs these people whereas we have an economy based almost exclusively on a square mile in the centre of London that cannot even provide quality jobs for its own citizens .. arrgghh. It’s enough to drive you to afternoon tea. The Grange Manor is an old well established hotel at Earlsgate, between Falkirk and Grangemouth. It has seen many changes in its surroundings over the years and nowadays it has the misfortune to have an Asda super-warehouse across the road and an empty car showroom next door. On the plus side it must be the nearest hotel to the Kelpies and that probably generates some tourist business. We were using a voucher for afternoon tea for two for the princely sum of £11 so it was going to be difficult to go badly wrong. It didn’t go far wrong but even if it is cheap you still want it to be good. Everything was fine except the scones which tasted like they had been made the day before .. or maybe even the day before that! Service was so scant you had to go looking for it. It is tempting to ask what you would expect for that sort of money but unfortunately the answer would be … exactly what we got! Unfortunately it seemed to be priced about right with the voucher … thank goodness for the voucher. The Grange Manor, like the government, has got to try harder.
On a day like today, when it has been noted that all the traits that made David Cameron a successful politician have failed to make him a human being, it is reassuring to be here at Briarlands Farm where children play on giant inflated pillows without a care in the world. It is a working farm doing all the usual farming stuff but has diversified into a kind of children’s adventure centre based around farm activities .. animals to feed, tractors to ride, strawberries to pick, go-carts to go and lots of other things to keep them busy and enjoying themselves.The café area is called The Farmer’s Den and it is ideal for families with a play area for toddlers and a gift shop for the adults. You have to pay to go to the outside attractions and, depending on the size of your party, it could work out quite expensive but probably worth it to have your kids amused for the best part of the day. Unsurprisingly it was just a scone and a coffee we were after and, perhaps equally unsurprisingly, it turned out to be a good honest hearty farm sized scone. The strawberry jam was of course made with their very own strawberries and, not sure if it was their own cream, but there was plenty of that too. We had a great time going round just looking at all that was on offer but if you just want a quiet scone then this probably isn’t the place to come. It must get a bit frenetic when there are loads of kids playing .. squeals of pleasure and cries of delight … sounds that are totally absent from some areas of the world.
Considering that many of the smaller islands have very little or no choice, for a population of around 100, Colonsay is pretty well endowed with tearooms and eating places. There is the Pantry, the Colonsay Hotel and this place, the Old Workshop at Colonsay House in the middle of the island. It was built in 1935 to do boat repairs and many of the original tools and other paraphenalia are still evident. The baking is done every morning by Katie and Sarah (after they have made the school dinners) and most of their cakes are done as large slabs to which you just help yourself .. cut off as much as you like! Tempting to overindulge but I guess it works in their favour because most folk go for fairly modest portions .. especially if others are watching .. and they are! The chocolate fudge (bottom right in the pic) was yummy. Anyway, enough of cakes, the scones were great as well … soft and light but with a slightly crunchy outer crust. The fabulous blackcurrant jam was made from berries picked in the gardens. The climate on Colonsay is very mild and the gardens are full of sub-tropical plants so being able to sit outside on the little terraced area just finished off the whole experience. Later we ended up on the beach at Kiloran just a mile or so from the café. Pristine and beautiful but sad reminder that there are bodies of children washing up on other beaches in the Mediterranean. If the EU, with all its money, cannot sort this horrendous mess out what is the point of it all?
When you first set foot on the Isle of Colonsay one of the first things you encounter at the end of the pier in Scalasaig is this wee tearoom/restaurant .. the Pantry. Like a lot of the architecture on the islands it has a fairly utilitarian, no nonsense look about it .. four walls, a door, a couple of windows .. there tends to be little in the way of imagination when it comes to architecture in the Hebrides but then again the islands are no-frills kind of places so perhaps it is understandable. The interior is pretty much as you would expect but is a hive of industry. It sells teas, coffees, sweets, beer, wine, spirits and all sorts of souvenirs and other stuff. They also make their own bread and cakes, sell the beer from the local brewery as well as the unique black bee honey from nearby apiaries .. and they have quiz nights every week … phew! If you are ever going to be marooned on an island make it a self-sufficient one like Colonsay. Evening meals specialise in seafood which has to come the whole 100 metres from the harbour. We had a cheese and a plain scone, both of which were very good though Pat thought that the cheese on top of her scone was a bit too tough. Never mind, 10 out of 10 for sheer industry, diversity and endeavour.
We also tried their local Colonsay Crunch which, apart from being very good, raises the question .. is the crunch coming for weapons of mass destruction in the UK? Well certainly not according to the government who have pre-empted the parliamentary vote on Trident renewal by announcing a massive investment in Faslane .. how arrogant can they get? Presumably the poodles are coming under pressure from the US who own all ‘our’ missiles (we just own the submarines) and must want to streamline their destructive capability. Apparently they never go out with the missiles ‘targeted’ because they cannot think of anyone or any place to target but, nevertheless, it is good to know they are there 24/7 protecting our food banks? On Colonsay they must have these weapons of mass destruction slipping past their shores all the time .. a sinister thought that jars horribly with all this beauty and tranquility!