The Scottish Cafe

As we walked back to Waverley station in Edinburgh we had to pass the Scottish National Gallery … you can’t miss it, it’s the large imposing Parthenon like building at the bottom of the Mound. View towards the Scottish National Gallery, EdinburghAs you have probably gathered by now, Pat and I are not exactly what you might call ‘mad keen culture vultures‘ but we do have our moments; the odd concert here and there; the odd exhibition now and again. Sooo, as we approached the rather grandiose home of Scotland’s art treasures we had but one thought … ‘they must do a scone in there’!

Gallery at the Scottish National Gallery
Inside the Scottish National Gallery

Once inside and as we walked around one of the galleries we paused in front of a small Rembrandt and wondered if you might be interested in our thoughts on the iconicity of the gesture spatially undermining the substructure of critical thinking … or … if you might like us just to get straight to the scones? Okay, the scones have it! Like many galleries it is both fabulous and pretentious in almost equal quantities but The Scottish Café wins, hands down, when it come to pretentiousness … who came up with that name? It had better be good!? Internal view of the Scottish Café & Restaurant at the National Gallery, EdinburghEarly signs were less than encouraging because it’s a bit of a soulless barn of a place and all self service. The young girl we got to help us was not from the UK and acted as if she wished she had never come … when asked if we could have something other than a paper cup for our coffee … no, was the monosyllabic answer! Ah well, after our recent sojourn at the Wee Lochan this was a bit of a let down. It’s not cheap either … £3 for a fruit scone must have had deceased sconeys everywhere spinning in their graves. In their favour, it has to be said that the café and the rather nice looking restaurant next door, do try to use locally produced Scottish fare and a large blackboard, next to where we sat, explained it all in exquisite if somewhat bewildering detail. Food source map at the Scottish Café & Restaurant at the National Gallery, EdinburghThere was only one scone left which meant that we had no option but to share, so we got a pain au chocolat to share as well. A scone at the Scottish Café & Restaurant at the National Gallery, EdinburghAfter we had cleared a table to sit at we looked at what we had got; a self cleared table, an expensive scone, a wooden knife, two pats of butter, a wee bowl of jam and coffee in paper cups. Things were not looking too good. Pat, however, started on her half of the pain au chocolat and was soon making all sorts of soft “mmmmm” noises. Eventually, once I had unpacked the butter and spread the jam, I took a mouthful of scone and, damn it, it was good as well! Maybe it was because of our expectations being lowered to such an extent by the surroundings and the service that we thought they were good, but no, they actually were good. In fact it might have got a topscone if we hadn’t felt it would unfair to the likes of Fonab Castle and the Wee Lochan where the value for money is much much greater – no topscone! You see, we can be ruthless when it comes to maintaining standards!

View from the Scottish Café & Restaurant at the National Gallery, Edinburgh
View from The Scottish Café & Restaurant

Talking of standards, we watched the debate in Parliament about Trump’s state visit later this year. It was good to see our elected representatives at full throttle, giving it wellie on both sides of the argument while struggling to make themselves heard over the anti-Trump protests going on outside in the street. The visit will go ahead of course because, at the moment, the government is grasping at anything that looks vaguely like a straw … but it’s a pity he won’t be able to address Parliament … with all the eloquence of a football manager, it might have been a good watch.

p.s. apologies to football managers everywhere.

EH2 2EL    tel: 0131 225 1550   The Scottish Café & Restaurant

Wee Lochan

Table decor at the Wee Lochan
Table decor

We visit Glagow a lot but it’s not often we find ourselves on the Crow Road in the west of the city … even less often do we find ourselves on the Crow Road with time to spare … but today was one of these days. You may have heard of the Crow Road because, in local dialect, it is sometimes used to describe someone’s demise, as in “he’s away the Crow Road” but much more likely is Iain Banks’ best-selling novel by that name which is set around the street. In it he describes a young man’s struggles with life and his attempts to find God, universal purpose and the afterlife … concepts his father point blank refused to accept. We have our own similar problems, but today, at least, we discovered that there is a God, in as much that, in this somewhat unpromising street, we came across the Wee Lochan, an absolute godsend. As soon as you walk in you just get the feeling that it is going to be good. The staff were happy, friendly and welcoming and although everything was set for lunch, when we said we only wanted coffee and a scone, a table was cleared immediately and we were ushered to our seats. Interior view of the Wee LochanThere are many nice touches in the Wee Lochan e.g. they have art exhibitions and don’t take any commission from the artists … fantastic! Best though, especially at our age, they have reading glasses hanging from a central pillar for folks who have forgotten theirs! A scone at the Wee LochanThe whole place is alive with chat … not a note of musac in sight … great, this place was made for us! Scones came in a variety of options; Pat opted for ‘cheese & chive’ whereas I went the safer and more traditional ‘fruit’ route. It was very busy so we had to wait a while but when our scones did arrive they were beautifully warm and the fruit one came with loads of jam and whipped cream. In order that we could judge them rigorously and fairly on your behalf we split the scones, half each … honestly the things we do for you readers! Pat started on hers and I could immediately tell by the wee smile on her face that it was topscone material. By the time I was getting near the end of my half of the fruit scone however I was feeling a bit reluctant to give up the other half … it was fabby! We did swap however and, as a consequence, we are reporting on a duo of topscones … well done the Wee Lochan.Interior view of the Wee LochanOdd, that after our last post about the Scottish Korean War Memorial, with the murder of the Supreme Leader’s half brother, it should be headline news again … purely coincidental we assure you. Someone commented that Korea’s problems are due, in no small part, to its lack of scones … but all civilised people now that places without scones tend to be a bit iffy! Anyway, brace yourselves, we are going to agree with Donald Trump … “the media is dishonest“. Okay, he is only saying it because they happen to be giving him a hard time at the moment but closer to home we have newspapers like the Mail, Express, Record and others all spewing nonsense, particularly when it comes to Scotland and Brexit … and the BBC backing them up. We definitely deserve better from our media! The world needs much more thoughtfulness … places like the Wee Lochan that provide spectacles for those who cannot see.

G11 7HT        tel: 0141 338 6606        Wee Lochan

Cupcake Café Bar

Readers will remember from our last post regarding an unintentional visit to Bathgate and the Coffee Club that we drove around Cairnpapple Hill to get there. While we were doing that, about a mile or so out of Linlithgow, we passed a sign for the Scottish Korean War Memorial … the what? We didn’t stop but it raised our curiosity. You could probably write what we knew about the Korean War quite comfortably on the back of a postage stamp … so it made us wonder. It made us wonder so much that, in an attempt to remedy the situation, we decided to go back and actually visit the place to find out what it was all about.

Gate to the Scottish Korean War Memorial
The gate to the Scottish Korean War Memorial

Apologies to folks who know all this already but it turns out that Korea was occupied  by Japan from 1910. At the end of WWII, however, when Japan was defeated, there were difficulties agreeing who was to rule thenceforth … and believe it or not, the US and the Soviet Union got involved in what the US saw as a war against communism. From 1950 to 1953 twenty one countries fought on the UN side, Britain being one of them. Five million soldiers and civilians lost their lives … incredible, so soon after the end of a very bloody World War.

View of the Scottish Korean War Memorial
The Korean style shrine contains name boards listing all the 1,114 men who died.

The Memorial, the only one in the UK,  takes the form of an arboretum of 1,114 native Scottish trees, one for every British soldier who died,

The Flag of South Korea
Flag of S Korea

and a shrine surrounded by two mounds in the shape of the Ying and Yang on the Korean flag. It is a quiet peaceful place and judging by the fresh flowers placed beneath trees still very much a place of remembrance for the relatives of those lost. Exterior view of the Cupcake Café Bar near TorphichenFeeling much better informed we decided to head for home but we had hardly got started when, on the other side of Torphichen, we came across signs for the Cupcake Café Bar. Not somewhere we had ever heard of in spite of it being only a few miles from home and being in existence for over three years … our ignorance knows no bounds! It had to be done. Once we had negotiated the bomb-crater sized potholes in the driveway we arrived at an old converted farmhouse set in a large nicely laid out garden. Inside, it was surprisingly modern. Interior view of the Cupcake Café Bar near TorphichenInterior view of the Cupcake Café Bar near TorphichenWhen we ordered our scones from a lady with a rather mischievous look in her eye, she told us in no uncertain terms “you will enjoy them” … we felt duty bound! She was right of course, we did enjoy them … nicely presented with plenty butter (local), jam and clotted cream. A scone at the Cupcake Café Bar near TorphichenThey were soft and light with just the right amount of fruit … the coffee was good as well. Again, not quite a topscone but yet another admirable attempt. Back in Korea, a cease fire was eventually brokered in 1953 by dividing the country into North and South with a ‘no man’s land’ in between. Both countries are still officially at war to this very day! The communist North is now led by the 34 year old Supreme Leader, Kim Jong Un, a man who is generally regarded by the western press as more than a little ‘unhinged’. Thank goodness we don’t have anything like that in the west … oh, hold on a minute?? Kim is the only one in the country allowed to bear the surname ‘Jong Un’ all others with the name were forced to change. We suspect that no force at all should be necessary for the Trumps of this world.

EH48 4NQ      tel: 01506 654697       Cupcake Café Bar TA

The Coffee Club

Why do you think you would find yourself in Bathgate on a cold winters day? By accident, of course … why else would you be in Bathgate?

Linlithgow Palace across the loch
Linlithgow Palace and a scaupless loch

We had started off with a walk round Linlithgow loch hoping to  catch sight of a scaup because sometimes these relatively rare ducks make an appearance here. We did the first half of the walk with snow falling quite heavily and the second half in brilliant sunshine …  Scottish weather at its very best! No scaups unfortunately but a really enjoyable walk. Instead of going into Linlithgow for a coffee we thought we would visit a place called the Vu which involved a few miles of driving round the side of Cairnpapple Hill. We had been there a couple of years back and it was nice. Nowadays, however, it has turned into a wedding venue, no coffee, no scones, nothing … they told us to go another mile to Bathgate where there were lots of cafés and bars. Hence we found ourselves, by accident, in downtown Bathgate … a post-industrial town which is obviously still struggling with the effects of defunct coal mining and British Leyland’s demise in 1986 followed by Motorola’s closure in 2001 with the loss of over 3000 jobs. In spite of the earlier claim there seemed to be almost no sconeries … this one, The Coffee Club, seemed to have little in the way of competition. Interior view of The Coffee Club in BathgateThe surroundings could only be described as ‘basic’ however we were warmly welcomed and you got the feeling that they would happily make you anything you wanted, even if it wasn’t on the menu. The Coffee Club, however, does not do local produce … our scone appeared, ready sliced (what’s that all about), with English jam, Irish butter and a great dollop of scooshie cream from goodness knows where, but in spite of all that the scone confounded our expectations by not being too bad, fairly light if a little short on fruit – I had seven sultanas in mine … okay,okay, I need to get a life! A scone at The Coffee Club in BathgateTopscone it was not but a commendable effort nevertheless. The town nestles in the shadow of Cairnpapple Hill which, 5000 years ago, was home to the Beaker People, so called because of the shaped pots found in their graves. You cannot help but wonder what they would make of things if they were to make a return and gaze down on the world from their lofty hilltop. Obviously they would need an iPad or two to bring them up to speed but we think there would be some serious head scratching when they saw what supposedly educated people had made of things in the intervening five millennia … America tearing itself apart over Trump and religion; the EU (surely mankind’s greatest achievement in the last 100 years) tearing itself apart over populism; the UK tearing itself apart over Brexit. Perplexing, or what? But perhaps most astonishing of all for these wee Beakers would be to find that Scotland was being lorded over by a parliament five hundred miles away that doesn’t care a jot about it. As Lesley Riddoch puts it “if the UK Government can completely ignore Scottish democracy on a big issue like EU membership, does anyone seriously think Scottish interests will matter in any other policy decision reserved to Westminster?” ‘Reserved to Westminster’ means just about everything meaningful for Scotland … too much for even the most hard-nosed Beaker to stomach!

If a Beaker was to go into the Coffee Club they would probably think it hadn’t changed that much … joking, many thanks to Bathgate and The Coffee Club for making us welcome.

EH48 1PD    tel: 01506 656352    The Coffee Club FB

The Loft

Perhaps you are aware that we have a fondness for shops that, by today’s standards, could be termed “a wee bit old-fashioned”. Maybe it’s because of the pace of modern life, maybe it’s because of standards of service … maybe it’s just us? We don’t think of ourselves as “not keeping up” nor do we think of ourselves as particularly old but when you come across the likes of the much missed McEwens of Perth and the still current, Valentines of Crieff you do feel as if you are stepping back into a more comfortable, less frenetic world … and it’s nice.

Picture of frosted plant at Bennybeg near Crieff
Frosted hemlock at Bennybeg

Our Stenhousemuir correspondent (oft referred to as the Steni Brain Fart) once had the temerity to suggest that the sad demise of McEwens of Perth had been caused by, what he felt, was a rather caustic scone review … okay it wasn’t great but it was entirely coincidental to the downfall of our favourite shop  … the nerve! Valentines of Crieff, on the other hand, is much smaller by comparison but still alive and well and kitting out the good folk of Crieff as it has done for years. It is one of these places where, if your dress or trousers don’t fit exactly, they alter them until they do … for free. So it was that, after an hour long walk at Bennybeg Nature Trail (we saw a robin … yes, just a robin), we were back in Crieff picking up some alterations to purchases made a couple of weeks back when we were visiting an aunt (see Royal Hotel). Picture of the interior at The Loft, CrieffUnlike McEwens, Valentines does not have a café but next door is The Loft, a shop spread over three floors, selling furniture and lots of beautiful novelty items … and scones in the café at the back of the shop. Picture of a scone at The Loft, CrieffAgain we decided to have lunch then share a scone between us. In spite of it being very busy the service was great … holding back our tea and scone until we had finished lunch. Served with nice little pots of butter, jam and cream our scone was really good but just a gnat’s whisker off topscone material – good try though and we thoroughly enjoyed looking round the rest of the shop … worth a visit if you find yourself in this neck of the woods. What with the final section of the Queensferry Crossing being placed as we write, ‘bridges’ seem to be the talking point of the day. Just down the road from where we are in Crieff, Dollerie House has a crooked bridge within its grounds specifically designed to stop witches crossing. And continuing with the bridge/witch theme, Theresa May’s offer to become a bridge between Donald Trump’s USA and the EU, has been roundly rejected by the EU. Best laid plans and all that, maybe she will try holding Putin’s hand next? With Trump’s travel ban on Islamic immigrants now in place it is also interesting to look at the official US fatality figures for the past year where exactly 2 Americans were killed by Islamic immigrants compared to 21 killed by armed toddlers and 11,737 killed by other Americans … you have to think seriously about whether or not we want a bridge at all? Seems like a different world to the one at The Loft and Valentines of Crieff … long may they prosper.

PH7 4DL        tel: 01764 650008        The Loft


Only in Aviemore … tempted as we were by the tables and chairs in the rain and snow outside Cobbs café, after thinking about it for a full nanosecond, we decided that inside was best. As you can see from the photo the weather was pretty awful so we did not spend much time looking for somewhere for a cuppa, Cobbs was the first place we came to and they had scones … look no further! Aviemore itself is an odd sort of place, but then again, most places whose raison d’être is skiing, are a bit odd. Hard to put your finger on exactly what it is … a slight garishness, a general air of impermanence? Perhaps it’s because the town, as we know it today, only really began to take shape after the chairlift to the top of Cairngorm opened in 1961, so it hasn’t been around that long? Perhaps it’s just us?

Interior view of Cobbs, AviemoreAnyway, it turns out this particular Cobbs establishment is only one of fifteen scattered across Scotland but it was definitely a first for us. We are not skiers but we suspect that the skiing fraternity probably looks for places that have half decent food in fairly large quantities at reasonable prices. This place ticks all these boxes and the fact that it’s a bit ‘no frills’ probably doesn’t matter. Picture of a scone at Cobbs, AviemoreOnce we had been systemised by being told, in no uncertain terms, how to obtain food (quite regimented) we took a seat and waited for something to happen. Something happened pretty quickly in the form of our lunch arriving along with a scone to be shared between us … you see, sometimes we are capable of exerting an element of self control. Lunch was good but the scone turned out to be pretty much as expected … no topscones being dished out today in Aviemore. Today, though, wmarks the 98th anniversary of “The Battle of George Square” in Glasgow in 1919. The government, in the form of Winston Churchill, sent 12,000 English troops (Scots troops were locked in their barracks for fear they would side with the people) to the city along with a whole load of tanks. There was heavy artillery at the City Chambers along with machine gun emplacements on roof tops around the Square. All of this to quell a riot … and the reason? Disillusionment with politicians and broken promises … just saying!

PH22 1PD       tel: 01479 811266         Cobbs Café