The Tramway

Okay, first off, does anyone know what kind of tree that is in the middle of the lawn? If you have been to this Secret Garden then you may well know the answer but since most of you probably haven’t, we will tell you … of course, it’s a ginkgo biloba! If you knew that you will probably also know that it used to grow profusely here in Britain, but that was a while back … some fossils date back 270 million years. A native of China this lovely specimen was planted here in 2003 to remind folks about ‘common origins’ … whatever!  Although Pat is born and bred ‘Glasgow‘ this was her first trip to Pollockshields (south of the river you understand) where we were looking for the shop of William Boyle – plasterwork specialists … don’t ask, it’s a long story. It has to be said that, from what we could see, Pollockshields is kind of post-industrial and not a particularly attractive area so, rather than rake around, we asked the very helpful plaster lady who had been looking after us where we could get a coffee locally … and, right off, she told us to just go across the road to the Tramway Theatre!! We had heard of the Tramway but had no idea that the very austere, warehouse looking building opposite was indeed it … there is only a very small sign announcing it’s presence.

Picture of horse drawn tram in Glasgow
from Scotland’s story

It gets it’s name from the fact that it used to be the Copelawhill Tram Works, built in 1899. At that time trams were not motorised, so originally it stabled almost 300 horses. In 1962 the Glasgow tram system was abandoned for good and the building was, after a spell as a Transport Museum, adapted as the Tramway Theatre … and scone oasis. Internal view of the Tramway Theatre caféThe building’s industrial past is evident everywhere you look but the adaption has been done very tastefully. The café is self service and rather utilitarian in appearance but that is also in keeping with the overall look of the place. Unfortunately the scones matched their surroundings rather too well … and not as tastefully. Edible but definitely nothing to get excited about. Picture of a scone at the Tramway Theatre caféYou could, however, get excited about the view from the Café into the Secret Garden with our old friend the ginkgo biloba where there were lots of families having a great time in the autumn sunshine. It is an amazing development, a peaceful haven with an extensive outside seating area for the café. It says “the gardens exist to promote understanding between peoples of all cultures, faiths and backgrounds and to celebrate the universal spirit of nature through horticulture and human culture“. Perhaps the leaders of the modern world should be invited to the Secret Garden for a spot of  enlightenment? Enlightened is a word that cannot be applied to two online petitions started in England to try and get parliamentary support for Scotland to be expelled from the UK … on the basis that Scotland is more trouble than it is worth to the UK. It was signed by hardly anyone in England but thousands in Scotland … you couldn’t make it up. We came away from the Tramway with a full programme of events, so you never know, we may be back quite soon … not for the scones though.View of the Tramway theatre from the Secret Garden in PollockshieldsG41 2PE          0141 276 0953         Tramway Café Bar

The Smiddy

Logo for the Blair Drummond Smiddy Farm Shop, Butchery and CaféIncredible, no sooner have we posted Venachar Lochside, a new and thriving business in the heart of the Trossachs, when along comes another one.  This time it is The Smiddy, or to give it it’s more fullsome name, the Blair Drummond Smiddy, Farm Shop, Butchery and Café … phew! We have watched it being built over the past year on the road out of Stirling, slightly beyond the Safari Park, where it forks for Aberfoyle and Callander, and had heard it was to open towards the end of October. Since we were in Stirling and, having taken the precaution of phoning to see if it had actually opened, we thought we should check it out. Picture of restaurant area at the Blair Drummond SmiddyWhen we arrived, though, we discovered it was much newer than we had ever anticipated … it had been open for all of 75 minutes … breaking news, as they say in the media! So what do you get when you visit a farm shop/café that has only been in existence for just over an hour? Well, you get lots of things that are not quite right: wifi not working; shelves not full; items not priced; staff slightly stressed but you also get things that are very right: pleasant helpful staff; local produce (meat from Old Leckie farm and bakery items from Stag); great coffee (Henry’s) … and great scones! Picture of a fruit scone at the Blair Drummond SmiddyNo cream but plenty jam and butter and the most fruit we have seen in a fruit scone in a long time. The baker at the Smiddy (Harry) had done a great job but after much deliberation we reckoned that they were just slightly too big for our taste and, with there not being any cream, they just missed out on a topscone award … pity. Okay, there were a few teething problems with this newborn enterprise but, given the circumstances, remarkably few. Overall this is a great place and will get even better as it settles down … yet another fantastic stop-off point for the Trossachs. It’s already quite big but you can see how it has been designed with expansion in mind and we are sure it will have to do just that in the not too distant future.

Interior view showing butchery counter at the Blair Drummond Smiddy
The butchery counter and our favourite workbench ever

If only such foresight and planning could be demonstrated by the UK government. The nightmare is, that when it comes to the pantomime that is the US elections, we have been rendered unable to scoff in the slightly superior way that we would like, because our own lot are just as bad, if not worse. What an admission that is!

Picture of lots of fruit in a fruit scone at the Blair Drummond Smiddy
Fruity fruit scones

On a slightly different tack, the Calais ‘Jungle’ refugee camp is being dismantled as we write and the contents scattered around the rest of France. No matter what you think of the politics, on a purely human level it is an absolute catastrophe. Can any of these people even begin to imagine what it is like to sit in gorgeous Stirlingshire on a beautiful day eating Harry’s scones and drinking Henry’s coffee … we doubt it, but let’s hope that some day they can, at least, imagine it. We wish them and the Smiddy the best of luck for the future.

FK9 4UY          tel: 01786 235024      The Smiddy

Venachar Lochside

When you stand on the south shore of Loch Venachar looking over the water to the restaurant/café that is Venachar Lochside, it looks very small in it’s remote location set against the magnificent backdrop of Ben Ledi. It’s a rather splendid and peaceful sight … but don’t be fooled, everything is not as it might seem! Below these tranquil waters lies a dreadful and terrible beast in the form of an evil waterhorse or kelpie. View of the Venachar Lochside café with gardens in foregroundMany lochs have these creatures however the one in this loch is, by all accounts, in a league of its own. As a shapeshifter it can appear as a beautiful horse … or even a handsome man, and it lures women and children into the water where it drags them under and devours them. Just along the road from the Venachar Lochside café is the woodland called Coille a’ Bhroin (wood of lamentation) which commemorates fifteen women and children who fell foul of this malicious kelpie. Picture of the outside seating area at Venachar Lochside overlooking the lochToday, there is a car park across the road from the wood, and few who sit in their cars gazing out across the loch are aware of it’s dark secret. Given the kelpie’s shape-shifting attributes, and with me being a handsome man, our only worry was that my entrance might spread alarm amongst those already in the café …  but no one paid a blind bit of notice! venachar-03Venachar Lochside has been here for almost exactly five years and is a family run concern. We have passed it on several occasions but this was to be our first visit. There is a large eating area downstairs with an open air deck right on the water and upstairs there is a function room where you can get married if you want to? With it being midweek in late October, we thought it would be quiet … but no, it was bustling. Two cheery young girls were doing a great job coping with the multitudes so it wasn’t long before we were seated and presented with our scones. Picture of our scones at the Venachar Lochside caféThey were excellent, and with a little jar of jam and a nice tub of cream we had no problem awarding a topscone. It’s just brilliant to see new businesses like this being made to work so well and thriving in relatively isolated areas like this – that has to be down to astute business acumen and good old-fashioned guts and determination. The Scottish government gets accused of being unbusinesslike for running up huge deficits yet it is required by law to balance the books every year .. something it has done each and every year of it’s existence. Maybe it’s the UK that has the deficit? The sign board outside the Venachar Lochside caféIt also gets criticism for not reducing this deficit, which considering control over: the minimum wage; VAT; corporation tax; fuel duty; oil revenues; immigration; tax avoidance and income tax personal allowances are all held at Westminster, is a pretty tall order … an impossible one.

UK voting pattern for EU referendum
United? Voting pattern in EU referendum

Given that the UK government was dragged kicking and screaming into devolution by the EU, Westminster never intended the Scottish parliament to be anything more than an expensive talking shop. In looking after the interests of Scotland however, we think that Holyrood takes it’s business very seriously indeed, so it is great to see it starting to bi-pass London and open up new ventures directly with other EU countries.  Let’s hope they can be as half as successful as Venachar Lochside.

FK17 8HP          tel: 01877 330011        Venachar Lochside


The life of a sconey is not as easy as some of you may think, no, no, no! It can be a constant round of travelling, photographing, testing, judging, writing. Then there is the worry! Did we judge too harshly, did we just get them on a bad day, should we make allowances? All these and more can make a sconey’s life quite stressful. Okay, not that stressful .. or not stressful at all really. If truth be known, it is an absolute pleasure … even the bad ones! In spite of receiving many and varied suggestions for scone visits we almost never go anywhere simply for a scone, we go places for all sorts of other reasons .. and the scones are just there! But then, sometimes strange things happen … a scone can come completely out of the blue. So it was with this post … a slight meander from our normal path.

Picture of artwork portraying coffee cups from Costa, Nero and Starbucks
A BIT RICH – at Henry’s HQ. Can you name all 3 companies?  Answers on a postcard

Recently, we were in the local Milk Barn café when we stumbled on some old friends we hadn’t seen in ages. After much catching up it transpired that their lives, like ours, had changed markedly in the intervening years. Most significantly, perhaps, after many years steeped in the coffee industry, they had decided to set up their own company supplying coffee and tea to restaurants all over Scotland … a bold move in a highly competitive marketplace. That was two years ago and the birth of the company coincided with the birth of their first grandchild so the company was duly named after him … Henry’s. And what exactly has all this got to do with scones we hear you ask? Well, they invited us to take a look at the company’s global HQ (garage in the back garden) and, being aware of our weakness, used the lure of scones to ensure our attendance.  We had visions of them being up at the crack of dawn nervously whipping up a scone mixture for the visit … but no, not a bit of it … they bought them! henrys-05To be fair, they did buy them from Mimi’s award winning bakehouse in Leith so they were very good. They were, what we would call, on the hearty side … almost a meal in themselves but nice and light and complete with jam. The cream had accidentally been omitted from the package, but no matter, we thoroughly enjoyed them anyway. We had not heard of Mimi’s but it transpires that it is just down the road from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society … so a visit may be imminent! Unfortunately, until then, these scones will have to remain uncategorised. Henry’s Coffee Company appears to be going from strength to strength, no pun intended, and in a few short years has become the main supplier to dozens of establishments across the country. Their unique ‘Cat’s Pyjamas’ and ‘Blow Your Socks Off’ coffee blends have been every well received, along with their two hundred tea varieties … it is a success story. Sad therefore to read that RBS (the bank which you and I own) has been behaving despicably to businesses such as this through it’s, now defunct, Global Restructuring Group, intentionally driving many small businesses into bankruptcy for it’s own profit. Scotland needs lots of small businesses like Henry’s to flourish but to do so they need banks to be on their side. They also need BT Openreach to roll out decent broadband much faster than they are doing at the moment, instead of just trousering the money. Picture of Henry's coffee company saucer with logoWith worthwhile broadband, businesses like Henry’s should be able to establish themselves all over the country … even in the Highlands and Islands. Many thanks to B and M and of course the man himself, Henry, who we had the great pleasure of meeting … your hospitality was wonderful, as was your spectacular company HQ. More power to your entrepreneurial elbow!

tel: 07471 895015     Henry’s Coffee Company

The Lyric

London means many different things to many different people. From our point of view it has too many cars, too many people, not enough time … and not enough scones. Scones can be remarkably difficult to find in what is supposed to be one of the world’s leading cities. This is largely down to the same reason that Pat finds the capital so frustrating. Her remarkable ability to earwig other people’s conversations at one hundred paces is largely useless down here because they are almost all held in Swahili … or what might as well be Swahili. Scones suffer in the same way … unless you go to a particularly English restaurant or café, and they can be relatively few and far between, you are unlikely to find a good old-fashioned scone. Internal view of the café at the Lyric theatre HammersmithNow all this diversity may be cause for celebration but for dedicated sconeys it can be a teensy bit frustrating. What happens though is that you sometimes find scones in unexpected places and that is always a pleasant surprise.

View from the roof terrace of the Lyric theatre Hammersmith
The garden terrace

London has lots of theatres, a fact not all together surprising when you consider that this city absorbs more than 75% of the entire UK Arts and Culture budget. Suffice to say that we found ourselves here at the Lyric Hammersmith, not expecting it to be a scone adventure, but lo-and-behold there they were, plain and fruit, in the ground floor café … it had to be done. The Lyric was built in 1895 slightly further up the street from where it now stands. After it was scheduled for demolition in 1966, a campaign was launched to save it, resulting in it being moved brick by brick to its current location. Picture of a scone at the Lyric theatre HammersmithThe café is run by Peyton & Byrne, a company which holds the catering contracts for places like the Royal Academy, the National Gallery and the Orangery at Kew Gardens .. so you would imagine that it would be good. However, even though our scones came well presented with lots of jam and cream they were not exceptional … enjoyable enough but nothing more. Just in case you think we are getting a bit highfalutin, we were here to see a production of the Ugly Duckling in the middle of the afternoon … we will let you work it out. It was fab … we understood it all! Understanding, however, is much more difficult when it comes to the current government position on Brexit where our ‘unelected’ prime minister is invoking the ancient ‘royal prerogative’ in order to circumvent any consultation whatsoever with our ‘elected’ representatives in Parliament. Thank goodness Corbyn seems to be getting his act together at long last.

W6 0QL       tel: 020 8741 6850       The Lyric

ps: a bulletin has just arrived from our ‘south coast’ correspondents regarding the scones they found on a weekend visit to Torquay. They thought these Devon beauties were great, but not quite up to our topscone benchmark. We have never been to Torquay but now we may have to go and test them ourselves. Many thanks for the report. Picture of scones at Dot's Pantry, TorquayIt looks suspiciously like they have put the cream on first … what are these Devon folk like??

TQ2 5QB    tel: 01803 294396     Dot’s Pantry

Café Gandolfi

Believe it or not this restaurant/café derived it’s named from a camera … the famous plate camera made for 120 years by Louis Gandolfi and his family in London.

Picture of a 5"x4" Gandolfi plate camera
Gandolfi 5″x4″ plate camera

And believe or not, at the risk of appearing much much more ancient than I actually am, I did all of my training at Napier College in Edinburgh using these cameras. It wasn’t that long ago … honest! At the time, PhotoShop had not even been thought of so all converging verticals and other distortions had to be corrected using camera movements … and heaven help you if you got it wrong by a few millimetres, you were sent back out again until you got it right! When I see the ease with which photographs are taken nowadays, even I can hardly believe that this is what we used to use … complete with a dark cloth over the head so that you could see the upside-down 5″x4″ image on the ground glass … seems like another world. Recently we dropped in on a photographer friend at Wildgrass Studios near Lix Toll and imagine my surprise when he said “Bill, I have to let you see my new camera”. I expected the latest digital whizbang thingy but instead he dragged out a huge box from which he proudly produced an old 10″x12″ plate camera … and  he uses it to produce stunning images that he sells online … brilliant! As a plooky youth I did not really appreciate the fabulous workmanship in these hand crafted items and usually lusted after the all-metal MPP or Sinar equivalents … oh, the foolishness of youth!

Picture of stained glass at Café Gandolfi
one of Gandolfi’s stained glass pieces
Picture of artwork at Café Gandolfi
not the angel of the north – part of a permanent exhibit

Another photographer, Iain Mackenzie, who hailed from the Isle of Lewis, did appreciate them however, and when he decided, in 1979, to start up a restaurant in the old Merchant City, a very run down part of Glasgow at that time … he opted to call it Café Gandolfi, presumably to reflect the fine craftmanship he hoped to reproduce with his uniquely Scottish food. With it he introduced the first cappuccino machine to Glasgow and gave the city a taste of the flourishing café society it enjoys today. We were slightly fearful that such a trendsetting place would find scones a wee bit mundane however our fears were groundless … we were told that scones were available upstairs in Bar Gandolfi, so up we went! This is a relatively new addition but it is very much in the Gandolfi style. They normally have lots of art on display but unfortunately we visited in the few days between their monthly exhibitions. Not to worry we were looking forward to our Gandolfi scones … and when they arrived we were not disappointed. They were just the way we like them, crunchy outside and soft in the middle. Picture of a scone at Café GandolfiThere was no cream but the jam and butter more than made up for that. After much deliberation, however, we decided that they just missed out on topscone … but only by a very fine whisker, pity! Louis Gandolfi was an Italian immigrant who, like lots of other immigrants, decided to move here and establish businesses which would help and contribute to the overall well-being of both themselves and the UK. In other words, they expected, like most immigrants, to contribute to their host nation through taxes and such like. It is ironic therefore, to say the least, that Trump is now being hailed by his supporters as a ‘business genius’ for having paid no tax whatsoever in the past 18 years. Picture of the Gandolfi works in LondonAbhorrent as this may appear to all right minded people, it seems strangely indicative of the times we live in. If readers spot anyone who isn’t avoiding tax at this week’s Tory party conference we urge you to get in touch with the BBC … we are sure it would make headline news … not! We also suspect that Louis Gandolfi was a much better business man than Donald Trump could ever hope to be so it is appropriate that his name is commemorated so fittingly here in Glasgow … definitely worth a visit!

G1 1NY      tel: 0141 552 6813      Café Gandolfi