Maison Blanc

This post sees us back in the nether regions of the UK visiting family .. London, or Barnes to be more precise. It is a very pleasant area with lots of parks and a great network of paths that mean you don’t have to walk near busy roads very often .. but you do need to be mindful of over-enthusiastic joggers and cyclists .. sometimes seems like nobody just walks. We walk though and on this occasion our walk took us across the Thames at Barnes Bridge to Chiswick and one of our favourite antique shops .. the Old Cinema. One of Chiswick’s rather dubious claims to fame is that it was the first place in Britain to be hit by a German V-I (doodlebug) rocket bomb. The Old Cinema hasn’t been a cinema since the 30s but obviously survived the doodlebugs because the building has now been utilised  as a centre for somewhat quirky up-cycled antiques. Browsing was definitely the order of the day however since most of the price tags would have to be considerably downsized to match our rather tight Scottish pockets. Strangely, after a pleasant hour or so rummaging, we became subject to a mysterious and irresistible force that pulled us out and around the corner onto Turnham Green Terrace and this place … Maison Blanc, a little bit of France. Maison Blanc 04A self-styled  ‘artisan bakery renowned for its speciality breads, freshly baked pastries, world famous cakes and pâtisserie – all handmade to perfection’ it also boasts of it’s ‘viennoiserie’ … that’s ‘croissants’ to you and me. Maison Blanc 02Apparently they also have a joie-de vie attitude and believe that life should be enjoyed one delicate macaroon at a time. But we British know the French rather well, don’t we; compulsive seducers, lazy, speak only French, drive like the Italians … so, with all their haut cuisine and everything, the big question was, would they be up to making a decent scone? Almost … the scones had scrubbed up quite well, nicely shaped with a glossy bronzed finish and nicely presented with a tub of Cornish clotted cream and a pot of jam of a somewhat indeterminate nature. Maison Blanc 05The more attentive amongst you may have noticed that we have not given a topscone award for some considerable time so we were hoping that this might be our chance, because we do like to give them out, but it wasn’t to be. The rather odd jam; the prepackaged cream; the scone itself … although enjoyable enough the combination was just not right .. pity. On a slightly different tack, we almost never comment on the omni-present piped music because it is almost always awful, but this was an exception .. no Piaf, just the right volume, and a mixture of Howling’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker and Billie Holiday .. perfecto! At the end of Turnham Green Terrace there is a statue of William Hogarth the famous painter who lived locally until his death in 1764. Although a renowned portraitist he is probably best know for his satirical works … what would he make of things if he was alive today; trickle up economics; uppity Arabs; uppity Americans; uppity Scots; looming EU collapse, looming financial meltdown. Goodness knows why people are surprised by talk of a meltdown when nothing has changed since the 2008 crash .. untouchable bankers still gambling with our money. Hogarth would have been in his element! In his heyday he always had something to say about the French .. but probably not about their scone making abilities … or the lack of them .. are we the first? Doivent faire plus d’efforts!

W4 1QP       tel: 020 8995 7220          Maison Blanc

Scones – accents and dialects

Screen Shot 2016-01-20 at 15.48.40Some readers have probably been wondering what happened to the rest of the scones we got as presents over the festive period. Well here they are, two of Dobbies finest cinnamon delights. They did not mind being frozen at all and were absolutely delicious .. although they were so big we did get a couple of neighbours in to help out. Anyway that is all by the by … who would have thought that scones would have been deemed important in the world of academia?? The way people pronounce the name of our favourite baked item could help academics find out how regional accents have changed.
IMG_9578A new app, English Dialects, developed at universities in Cambridge, Zurich and Bern, asks users how they pronounce words including “scone”. Choices are given for another 25 words, or word meanings, after which the app guesses where the user might be from. When the team launched a similar app for German speakers there were more than one million hits in four days. The aim of the free app is to track how dialects have evolved over a number of decades. So the big question when you tuck into your next scone – does it rhyme with “gone” or “cone”? We did all of the questions and it determined that we were from the midlands near the Welsh border .. but then the app only works in England .. typical!. If you want to find out what part of England you are from you can download the app here … now you can’t say we don’t keep you informed of goings on in scone world! Many thanks to our southern correspondent for the info.

Barony Castle Hotel

Regular readers will know that we have a propensity for trying to find things we have read about; Raratongan princesses; Gartmore moon dials and the like … today it is big concrete maps of Scotland. We came across some scrappy details of this thing several months back but had never managed to get round to actually finding it. Mercure 05What we did know was that the weather would have to be kind if we were to get detailed pictures .. and today was one of these days, cloudless skies, no wind, ideal for taking pictures of big concrete maps. We had established that it lay in the grounds of this hotel in Eddleston, however we had not taken account of the fact that in the thirty odd miles it took us to get there the world would be transformed into a winter wonderland with three inches of snow covering everything  .. when we left home there was no snow whatsoever … best laid plans etc etc. Mercure 09Detailed pictures were obviously out of the question, but at least we found it … and it was quite something. A little history … in 1942 the hotel building was requisitioned as a training college for the Polish forces based here to protect the east coast of Scotland from German invasion. In 1968, one of the former soldiers, Jan Tomasi, ended up buying it and for reasons that are not entirely clear, in the mid 70s, set about building this concrete relief map in the grounds … now known as the ‘Great Polish Map of Scotland‘ or Mapa Scotland.

Photo taken from a display board to show the size (40mx50m) and location, the hotel is top right
Photo taken from a display board to show the size (40mx50m) and location, the hotel is top right

It was built exactly to scale so that when the seas were filled with water the lochs etc would also fill. At the moment it is being restored by Historic Scotland so as well as being covered in snow it didn’t have any water either .. great!

Looking from SW, annotated to help orientation. The pole in the middle is to indicate Ben Nevis. Water would normally come up to the top of the dark walls.
Looking from SW, annotated to help orientation. The pole in the middle is to indicate Ben Nevis. Water would normally come up to the top of the dark walls.

With a little imagination however it is not hard to see that, when fully restored, it will be rather special. All well and good but, having completed a lap of the country, scone time was fast approaching so we headed off back towards the hotel feeling frustrated by the lack of good pictures but quite pleased at having found the object of our expedition. Mercure 02The hotel building dates back to 1666 and is  now part of the Mercure Group. It has a slightly foreboding  welcome sign above the entrance but, on the other hand, if He is actually here, would the baking be devine … exciting! Our scones were nicely presented with lots of jam, butter and cream but unfortunately the presentation turned out to be the only good thing about them. The cream was of the scooshie variety which very quickly dissolved into an insipid white liquid. The scones, meanwhile, although looking good, had been fashioned in the style of the Great Map, from concrete … definitely the worst scones we have had in a very very long time .. if God had a hand in their preparation he was definitely trying to tell us something. Mercure 06When it came to paying our bill, we suggested that, if they had any more of these scones, they should put them in the bin … and much to our embarrassment they took them off the bill .. embarrassment because there wasn’t a trace of the scones left, we ate the lot .. such was our appetite after tramping all the way round Scotland in the snow! Embarrassment is obviously not something felt at Westminster, though goodness knows why not!  For the first time ever in the three hundred odd years of the Parliament of Great Britain all Scottish MPs were banned from voting .. the Parliament of Great Britain is now a very different place. The unelected House of Lords was also at it .. trying to rewrite the Act of Union, presumably in an attempt to save it. The fact that they are even thinking about it is tantamount to an admission that the Union is no longer fit for purpose. The 1707 Act of Union was gained through bribery, threats and the support of less than a quarter of Scots, the rest being vehemently opposed, so it will be interesting to see what concoction they will come up with this time in this wonderful democracy of ours. Whatever it is ’embarrassment’ will not be making an appearance. When it gets to the stage that both the Parliament of Great Britain and the Union is seen as broken perhaps the best course of action would be to just ditch both .. hard though that may be .. it probably wouldn’t be as hard as a Barony scone!

EH45 8QW     tel: 01721 730395     Barony Castle Hotel

Johnston’s Bar Bistro

Johnstons 05When I was a mere sapling, long before I met Pat and long before I realised that not all the scones in the world were baked by my mother, this place was a favourite hangout for us cool dudes … but at that time it was called the Temperance Cafe. In about 1920, as was prevalent at the time, the proceeds of a will had been used to buy the Crown Hotel in the Lint Riggs and turn it into a temperance public house as an alternative to the plethora of licensed premises all through the town. A couple of years later it famously became the scene for the first ever television broadcast by John Logie Baird, born in Helensburgh but whose family were local  farmers at Sunnybrae in Camelon. Little did he know that that single brief event would change the world forever. The equipment Baird used broadcast a live image of a colleague from one part of the building to another, and became known as ‘the Falkirk televisor‘. However … as an impressionable youth, my personal abiding memory of the Temperance took place one day when four of us were sitting round an upstairs table, talking about girls, politics and the price of milk .. well maybe not the last two. Johnstons 04We watched a man walk to the top of the stairs … stop … and then, to our astonishment, falling, like a felled tree, face first down the steps. Shocked, we jumped over the banister (these were the days) and caught him just as he reached the bottom. The management ask us to carry him to the kitchen until help arrived but we could not get him through the door because his arm was sticking out rigidly to the side. It turned out that he had had an epileptic fit, something none of us had heard of at the time, so it made quite an impression … especially the intense deliberations over what to do about the arm that refused to bend .. we had to turn him on his side so that it pointed straight up, no mean feat for four puny wastrels. Anyway, the whole temperance thing never really took off so, after several other incarnations, it has been Johnston’s Bar & Bistro since 2012 … one of the town’s favourite meeting places. Johnstons 06We decided to share a fruit scone because they were quite large but when it arrived it was accompanied by the biggest pot of cream we have ever come across .. probably enough to do twenty scones … needless to say, almost all of it was left, but the scone itself was very good. Their strap line is ‘Food, Drink & Service as it should be‘ .. a strap line delivered, because we thoroughly enjoyed our visit. It’s really quite amazing to think, when we sit watching pictures beamed directly into our living rooms of Strictly Come Dancing; Johanna Lumley crossing Siberia; Cameron trying to look as if he is negotiating something massive with the EU; Osborne pretending to have some sort of control; children being starved to death in Madaya … and take the means by which these pictures reach us completely for granted … that it all started here, sending pictures between two rooms in this building.

FK1 1DG         tel: 01324 637299          Johnston’s Bar Bistro

Cameo Picturehouse

We are members here and try to visit whenever we can … it is smaller and more intimate than the local multiscreen cineplexes and tends to show more interesting and foreign language films. The weather was typically January so it seemed like an ideal day to squirrel ourselves away somewhere dark and cosy with a good film. Cameo 03Arriving with enough time to spare for some tea we decided to give their scones a go as well, although having looked at them on the counter we were slightly fearful, they did not look at all promising. Well appearances can be deceiving, as they say, because, although not topscones, they were pretty good .. fruit and cinnamon, maybe a bit too crusty on the outside but nice and soft on the inside, with plenty butter and a nice little cup of jam. If only our film had been as good! Cameo 07There were three to choose from and we chose ‘The Lobster’, a near-future story about single people staying in a hotel and having 45 days to find a romantic partner .. if they failed they were turned into an animal of their choice. The main character had his brother with him all the time .. a collie dog; he had failed on a previous occasion. In the event of similar failure our man had chosen to be a lobster .. apparently a lobster can live to over a hundred and remain sexually active throughout .. never realised that lobsters had so much fun. We would have enjoyed the start of the film a lot more if we had known that it steadily went down hill from there. It was co-produced by companies from Ireland, Greece, France the Netherlands and the UK .. and it kind of looked like a film made by a committee … won’t say more though in case we spoil it for you. Cameo 05Sitting in the cinema we thought it was a pretty dystopian surreal experience until we came out into the daylight and realised we had women being brutalised in Cologne; another shooting in Paris; people starved to death on purpose in Madaya; Saudis bombing the Iranian embassy in Sana’a; Pyongyang‘s H-bomb test; China‘s stock market collapse … and that the answer to all these problems might be Donald Trump! Maybe we should have stayed inside where it was all much more believable .. thank goodness for the scone … even though it only had a cameo role .. sorry!

EH3 9LZ       tel: 0871 902 5723     Cameo Picturehouse

Howies Bistro

Our first venture out into the big bad world of 2016 was to the Fair City where we like to shop occasionally in McEwens of Perth department store.

a poster in McEwens
a poster in McEwens

It is a long established shop and this poster made us think that it might be interesting (just to get the brain cells operating after all the indulgences of the festive season) to see how many of you can convert these prices into modern day currency, e.g how much is a pure silk tie? Answers please in the comments box but beware, you may be giving your age away! Today we had breakfast in their Upstairs restaurant and discovered that they actually have another restaurant that we were totally unaware of .. it’s that kind of shop, you discover another part of it every time you go. We did visit this new discovery later on in the afternoon but since the same bakery serves both restaurants and we had already reviewed Upstairs, we decided, in the interests of variety and sconology to brave the elements and find somewhere new. Howies 05Voila .. Howies Bistro, a mere stone’s throw from McEwans, just outside St John’s Kirk. This is a nice wee cozy restaurant which seems to do everything and be very popular with the locals. Most folk were having lunch but, as ever, we just wanted to try the scones with a coffee so we ensconced ourselves in a nice area with big comfy sofas, set aside for just that. Our fruit scones were great, served with plenty jam and cream, but there was a problem with the coffee .. it looked strong but tasted weak. It was such that we thought we should at least mention it to the management .. probably Mr Howie himself who was buzzing about making sure everything was in order. Howies 07He responded initially by offering another coffee, which of course we did not want. Later, however, he came and thanked us .. he had tested the coffee and realised that the machine needed to be recalibrated and was mortified to find that he had, unknowingly, been  serving such inferior coffee. In fact, he was so grateful that he refused to take any money at all from us .. this is good management; taking on feedback and acting on it immediately! stjohnskirk-450The nearby St John’s Kirk is dedicated to John the Baptist and dates back to 1126. Perth was the capital of Scotland for over 600 years and as a result King Alexander III’s heart was buried here after his premature death (fell off a cliff) in 1286, an event which left Scotland without a king and propelled it into two long Wars of Independence with England. Although Scotland prevailed in both wars it threw it all away in 1707 with the Union of the Crowns which most Scots were against at the time and goodness sake, 308 years later nothing has changed! For those with a footballing interest and who have wondered why Perth’s local football team (currently 4th in the Scottish Premiership) is called St Johnstone .. it’s because of this church … it became so important that for much of the 16th century Perth was called ‘St Johnstoun’ .. might be a good trivia question. Another trivia question – when was the last date that an Irn Bru bottle could be returned for a deposit .. Dec 31st 2015 … end of an era. What is not in question is Howies Bistro, definitely worth a visit, if only to retest the coffee.

PH1 5SZ       tel: 01738 440777      Howies Bistro


2016 – Dobbies

Hope you all had a great time over the holidays and are looking forward to another year of sconology. In fact we thought that the symptoms of scone withdrawal might be reaching fever pitch so have opted for a slightly unusual but quick fix for you. Not based on a visit to some cafe deep in the nether regions of the Scottish countryside but rather on some scones we received as a gift over the festive season .. such are the fringe benefits of being sconeys. Boyle 03 Our benefactors had purchased them at Dobbies Garden Centre in Stirling complete with a range of jams. Don’t worry, we realise that for a full and proper report we actually have to go there, and, since we take our responsibilities seriously, we promise to do that before 2016 is out … but in the meantime, hopefully this will suffice. I elected to try the cherry scone (family size) and Pat dutifully warmed it in the oven and whipped up some cream to go with it.  With cherry scones however there is that ever-present problem ..  a suitable jam … strawberry just does not seem right, but, as luck would have it, we had also been gifted a pot of Morello Cherry and Port jam .. the perfect accompaniment. In spite of these scones having been in the freezer for several days everything was absolutely delicious but a topscone award will be reserved until we have actually visited Dobbies. Ah yes, awards .. Boyle 04we know that many of you will have been shocked, after scouring the New Year Honours lists for our names only to find them absent! This came as a bit of a shock to us as well because the last time we spoke to the Queen (not that long ago) we convinced ourselves that there was a bit of a wink and a slight nod which seemed to indicated that she was going to see us alright .. if you know what we mean, nudge, nudge! Obviously we mistook the body language and for all we know, even though we did our best to put her at her ease, it might have been a slightly clumsy attempt at a curtsy. Anyway, as it turns out, it saved us the anguish of deciding whether or not to accept. Given that we would find an OBE or anything else with ’empire’ in it a tad difficult to take, (an OGE; Order of the Glasgow Empire is more our style) we did notice that the list consisted of the usual worthy and unworthy individuals. Always good to see people who give selflessly of their own time to helping others less fortunate getting some recognition but it also seems slightly galling that people such as politicians and civil servants should get these awards as well, simply for doing their jobs .. equally so for sports personalities and the usual catalogue of luvvies and thespians .. surely they get enough gongs and awards already? At least Jon Snow, one of the few principled journalists left in the media had the good judgement to turn his OBE down saying he could not accept awards from those he was paid to investigate … a least he realises that stultifying criticism is what it is all about. Surprised though that BBC Scotland were not in line for some sort of award having taken on the mantle of the only effective opposition to the SNP led government at Holyrood. Now if this all sounds a bit like sour grapes let us assure you that it is exactly that .. the benefits of making, presenting and eating scones and the role scones have played in creating this wonderful country needs to be recognised sooner or later .. sooner would be good .. before we both turn into humpty dumpty lookalikes. Many thanks to the wonderful people who gifted these scones … you know who you are. We will be  back on the scone trail very soon, Happy New Year to you all.

ps for those who were unable to find the Buckhaven scone in the last post, it is 4 down and 4 across from the left on the header image.