Category Archives: self-service

The Orangery – Hopetoun

A pineapple wall decoration Orangery tearoom at New Hopetoun Garden CentreThis is becoming a habit … eating scones in orangeries that is! It’s not that long ago since we were at an orangery at Ham House in London and here we are at it again … life can be hard. Today we were actually trying to track down Shapes auction house which had notified us of a move to Port Edgar from Edinburgh, when we came on this place. It’s in an excellent garden centre which we have known for many years. It started life in the walled garden of nearby Hopetoun House but twenty years ago moved a mile or so to its present site and became known as the ‘New’ Hopetoun Garden Centre. A sign at New Hopetoun Garden CentreOn the way in you are greeted with this sign which makes you wish you had been here on Sept 5 1792, it must have been quite a day … it was a Wednesday! Not to be confused with Sept 5 forty years earlier in 1752 … not only did nothing happen, it didn’t even exist. That year, in order for Britain to catch up with the rest of the world which used the Gregorian calendar (we know, it is hard to imagine Britain being out of step .. but just try), it was decreed that the day following Sept 2 would be Sept 14 … just like that, eleven days just vanished! You thought time travel was just a figment of the imagination but the entire population of Britain was actually doing it centuries ago! We digress. The Orangery is everything you would expect from a garden centre tearoom … spacious, bright and with a good range of food and drink on offer. Internal view of the Orangery tearoom at New Hopetoun Garden CentreIt is self service but, even though it was busy, we were quickly attended to by some very friendly staff. Pat decided on our traditional choice of a fruit scone but I opted for cherry … hey, why not? Both scones came with loads of jam, butter and cream. A scone at the Orangery tearoom at New Hopetoun Garden CentreThey had really crunchy exteriors with soft middles which made them delicious but a bit difficult to manage … they tended to crumble very easily. We thoroughly enjoyed them though … topscone. Because service is usually a factor we don’t normally give topscone awards to self service establishments but the self service here was great, the sun was shining and we were in a good mood … well done The Orangery! A little bit further along the road we came to Port Edgar near South Queensferry. The ‘Edgar’ bit comes from Edgar Aetheling, the brother of Queen Margaret of Scotland who set up the ferry crossing in the 11th century to help pilgrims on their way to St Andrews. It operated until 1964 when the road bridge was built.

The old Forth Road Bridge over the river Forth with the Forth Railway Bridge in the background
The Forth Road Bridge from Port Edgar with the Rail Bridge in the distance

Originally a naval base it is now a leisure marina. Visitors to Port Edgar are now treated to an excellent view of the new Queensferry Crossing … opened only a few months ago.

The Queensferry Crossing over the river Forth
The Queensferry Crossing from Port Edgar

It is a magnificent feat of engineering and now, with Boris Johnston talking of a bridge across the English Channel, it is perhaps worth explaining some facts about this one. It was built by the SNP government on time and under budget … obviously Carillion was not involved. It was opposed by all other political parties who promptly fell over themselves to take credit when it was completed. There was no funding from Westminster … something to remember if the Channel Bridge ever gets the go ahead. Scotland, like the HS2 and Crossrail projects, will undoubtedly be saddled with 10% of the costs for little or no benefit. Anyway, we did find the new premises of the auction house which was massive but shut, not opening until the end of the month apparently … heyho, we had thoroughly enjoyed our day!

EH52 6QZ    tel: 01506 834433         New Hopetoun Gardens

p.s. our Trossachs correspondents sent this picture. We thought they had been quiet recently but maybe they just can’t get out .. or are just too busy building snowmen!A snowman at Kinlochard

The Café by Benugo

When we were on Orkney we got a real sense of community. People supported each other by making local crafts and selling local produce … staff had time for a chat and all that. There was just a certain honest homeliness about the island and the people so we were not surprised to learn that it was voted best place to live in the UK, five years in a row … in spite of the wind! Today’s venue is about as far away as you can get from that … this could easily be where the Great God of Consumerism actually lives!

View from John Lewis' Café by Benugoby Benugo
View from Café by Benugo

It is, of course, Buchanan Galleries in Glasgow. Even the name of the cafe at the John Lewis store, ‘The Cafe by Benugo’, sounds a bit pretentious. Turns out that ‘Benugo’ is a company founded by Ben and Hugo Warner (see what they did there) in London in 1998.

Portrait of founder of John Lewis
John Spedan Lewis

They now service all the John Lewis stores as well as many others and have over 2,000 employees … well done Ben and Hugo. The John Lewis stores themselves are perhaps not too far removed from the community spirit we found on Orkney. They are run by the John Lewis Partnership, set up by John Spedan Lewis in 1920. After the store had been operating for over fifty years he had the revolutionary idea (for the time) that staff would be better motivated if they had a say in running the company and a share in the profits … something which continues to this day, all staff are ‘partners’ in the company. The JLPartnership also runs the Waitrose supermarket empire and is now a multi £billion business … a far cry from its first day’s takings of 16s 4d (82p) in 1864. What about the scones by Benugo? It is self-service and the seating area is spread around a vast glass balcony overlooking one of the busy concourses. Internal view of John Lewis' Café by BenugoWe opted for a ‘cream tea for two’ which at £8 seemed like good value. It was slightly odd, however, in that, usually with these things, you can have whatever you like to drink … not here! Pat wanted peppermint tea, no problem, but I felt like a coffee …. no, it had to be tea or nothing. A scone at John Lewis' Café by BenugoNo big deal but it just seemed like a slightly illogical  bit of inflexibility. The scones themselves were good though a little on the sweet side for our taste … no topscone unfortunately. Illogical inflexibility seems to be the order of the day with The Spanish government having just removed Catalonia’s autonomy … surely a massive blow to democracy and, unbelievably, it’s happening within the EU. Goodness knows where they will go from here but you can’t help feeling that it will all end in tears. Scotland should beware … devolution is currently under threat with the repatriation of powers from Brussels, many of which may never reach Edinburgh if Westminster gets its way. Hopefully Spain will take lead from John Spedan Lewis and get into some sort of partnership with the Catalans … it worked for him.

G1 2GF     tel: 0141 353 6677       The Café by Benugo

The Orangery – Ham House

FOR SALE des-res in Ham – Thames side location just a short walk from Richmond … price £1,131! Okay, that was in 1650, just 40 years after it was built by by Sir Thomas Vavasour, goodness knows what it would be worth today … only Russian oligarchs need apply. Back then however it seemed to be mainly Scots who had the money. Firstly it was William Murray, 1st Earl of Dysart, then Lord Elgin, then John Maitland, 1st Duke of Lauderdale, then Archibald Campbell, 1st Duke of Argyll … in fact several Dukes of Argyll were born here?? The last Earl of Dysart, the 9th, died in 1935 leaving almost £5million but with no direct heirs so in 1948 it passed to the National Trust … and hence they let riffraff like us in. The Orangery Café at Ham HouseThe interior of the house is supposed to be spectacular but we didn’t bother going in … scones we were after! The gardens are extensive and beautifully manicured and apparently the oldest Christ’s thorn bush in the country is situated right here on the tea terrace outside the orangery. Not old enough to have provided anything for the crucifixion … but old. The orangery itself is said to be the oldest in the country but then again, the country is not exactly stacked out with orangeries. It was a lovely day for sitting out so once we had acquired everything from the self service counter that’s what we did. A scone at the Orangery Café at Ham HouseThe scones were good and were accompanied by the ubiquitous Rhodda’s Cornish Cream that we are always going on about. Down here it seems much more acceptable than it does in the Highlands of Scotland where there is plenty of local cream. There was also ‘National Trust’ jam and a pat of butter. We were here with our daughter who lives not far away from here. Before we realised what was happening she had done her scone cream first … arrgghh, dragged up!

A cream first scone at the Orangery Café at Ham House
What a mess!

Nevertheless, no matter which way you prepared these scones they were very good, not topscones but very good. All in all this was a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon. A friend from Maryland who had stayed with us some months back had become fascinated by the word ‘dreich’ … which in Scottish means ‘inclement’ or ‘pretty miserable’. He emailed to see if it could be applied to hurricanes or if we had another word for that. We had to let him know that ‘dreich’ was about as serious as our weather gets so, no, we didn’t have another word. It made us realise, though, with Hurricane Irma reaking havoc all through the Caribbean, how lucky we are to have the weather we have … even though all we do is complain about it.

TW10 7RS     tel: 020 8940 1950      The Orangery TA

Riggs Coffee House

Coffee cup at the Riggs Coffee House, FalkirkCall us boring, call us unadventurous if you like … our previous post on Sorochas was from Falkirk and here we are again posting from Falkirk. We can explain … we haven’t been anywhere else! So … continuing with our boring unadventurous lives we ventured once again into the nether regions of the town, this time to Riggs Coffee House, which until a month or so ago, was Forth Valley Butchers. Advert at the Riggs Coffee House, FalkirkIt’s hard to keep up with our ever-changing high street as yet another coffee house replaces a traditional business. The burning question, of course, was … would this newcomer have scones? Riggs specialises in Italian coffee and makes quite a song and dance about it – the advertising appears everywhere. It is difficult to understand the thinking behind putting a picture of a young, presumably Italian, stud lying on a beach with a beautiful girl and a Vespa, in front of people in Falkirk on a wet windy Wednesday afternoon. A tad annoying … especially when you’ve always wanted a Vespa … got the beautiful girl already! Doubly annoying when there’s great local coffee, made and sold here in Falkirk, in the form of the Cat’s Pyjamas … why don’t they make a song and dance about that, it’s very goodThere is a problem though – what sort of equivalent picture could be used to advertise Scottish coffee?? Tricky one … suggestions welcome. Anyway Riggs is on the corner of the High Street and Lint Riggs (fields of flax) which used to be the centre of the linen industry in the town. The flax (lint) was prepared here before making its way a few hundred yards to Woo’er (weaver) Street to be made into garments. All that is long gone now and in 1903 the state of the street was considered to be so poor that it was demolished in its entirety and a new Lint Riggs (the one you see to the right of the header picture) was built. Interior view of the Riggs Coffee House, FalkirkRiggs Coffee House is tastefully done up but when we entered the chap behind the counter looked as if his entire staff had just phoned in sick … not a happy chappie! He did have scones though! Apparently he had not intended to stock such unitalian items but a lady came in one day and offered to supply him … the resultant trial period had  scones flying off the shelf so now they are a permanent feature … one up for the scones! A scone at the Riggs Coffee House, FalkirkThere was a choice of plain, fruit or treacle and we opted for fruit. They were very good, nice texture, plenty fruit and they went very well with the much vaunted Italian coffee which, in spite of not being quite “the cat’s pyjamas”, we had to admit was very good. In fact, with the exception of the scone, nothing we had here; jam, butter, coffee, came from Scotland … shame! In the end this was not quite a topscone … good effort though, well done that entrepreneurial lady. Oh, by the time we were leaving your man’s demeanor seemed to have improved dramatically so we wish him and his venture every success.

FK1 1EY        tel: 01324 627028       Riggs Coffee House FB

One of our correspondents, fondly known as “The Pedant” has been in touch to say he came across a K6 (Kirkintilloch variety) at the Henry Moore Collections in Much Hadham, Hertfordshire. Don’t worry the telegraph pole sticking out of the roof is not a new design feature.A K6 at the Henry Moore Collection in Much HadhamMuch Hadham sounds like the sort of place that the EU should be conducting its Brexit negotiations. Last year, the oil company Shell, which operates in 70 different countries, paid tax in all of them e.g. it paid the Norwegian government £4.3 billion to add to its £1trillion Wealth Fund. Our brilliant negotiators here in Britain ended up paying Shell £187 million so presumably Shell must operate out of Much Hadham as well.

A K2 telephone box in London
A London K2

How come, with all the hundreds of billions of oil money that has rolled in over the past thirty years the UK, in stark contrast to Norway, has simply acquired massive debts … where did it all go? While you write your answers on a postcard can we make a plea for some Norwegian negotiators to come over and help us with the Brexit talks. Still on the subject of telephone boxes, our ever adventurous Trossachs correspondents have sent a photograph of a rarely seen K2 on a recent visit to London. Don’t know precisely where it was manufactured but was most likely, Kirkintilloch. We will endeavour to be more adventurous in future – we must be running out of new cafés in Falkirk anyway … musn’t we?




It was way back in January that we got a tip-off about the scones at Dobbies Garden Centre just outside Stirling.

January, afternoon tea with two Dobbies scones

Our ever diligent Trossachs correspondents had bought some to take home only to find that they had been given some extra ones free. This was more than they could handle on their own, so they passed on a couple to us and we ate them as part of an afternoon tea we were having with some neighbours. At the time we thought they were rather good, if a little bit oversized … we had to split them up to make them more manageable for our guests. Since then, we have been promising ourselves that we would visit Dobbies and do a proper review … seven months later, today is the day.

Internal view of the restaurant at Dobbies Garden Centre, Stirling
Just part of Dobbies’ restaurant

The garden centre is big and they have a restaurant to match. It is a little bit surprising to come in and find so many people out shopping and then to find a large restaurant which is equally busy. The servery area is also big and, rather than wait in a long queue we opted to go to the automated self service part. There is normally some sort of problem with these vending machines … and so it was, however the problem was not so much with the machine as with the operators.

Automatic coffee vending equipment at Dobbies Garden Centre, Stirling
Coffee machine about half way through delivering and it cannot be stopped

Basically, from the large array of cups, all of which looked identical to us, we selected what turned out to be a tea cup and of course it was far too small for the quantity of coffee being delivered … a kind of Niagara situation ensued. We were a bit bemused by this until we noticed that there were similar but slightly larger ‘coffee’ cups … trauma over. We had opted to share a cherry and coconut scone because they were all so large and also we hadn’t actually tasted that particular combination before. Perhaps we should have stuck to what we know because we found this combo somewhat insipid … the tiny pieces of cherry were relatively few and far between and the coconut, although there, did not feature strongly enough. The scone itself was fine though, still too big for our taste … no topscone here but maybe the prize for the biggest.

The problem with Westminster and Holyrood being on holiday is that there is nothing much to report – witness the BBC’s interminable coverage of athletics. But wait a minute, apparently the end of the world has just got a whole lot nigher … we should report that in case any sconeys get caught unaware. With the great big ‘Goliath’ madman in Washington threatening unimaginable fire and brimstone against the wee ‘David’ madman in Pyongyang who likes dressing up like Ruth Davidson, there may not be much time left. The big question, of course, is … will Scotland manage to become an ordinary self respecting  country before armageddon? The man in the know, Alex Salmond is predicting 4 years for independence but that may be too late. However, with HMRC admitting that Scotland’s economy is actually £15b bigger than they had reported … oops, and the latest figures showing that England ran a massive trade deficit in 2014 and 2015 whereas Scotland had an even greater surplus in those years, perhaps we can just squeeze in a wee bit of self respect before we are all blown to smithereens. How to avoid complete annihilation? We think that Trump and Kim Jong should sit down together over afternoon tea … the civilising influence of a good scone cannot be overestimated and the size of the Dobbies’ scones should almost match their egos!

FK9 4UF     tel: 01786 458860     Dobbies Garden Centre

BREAKING NEWS: Our Tyrolean correspondents have lodged a report on what could possibly be the first ever scones to be baked in Austria … you heard it here first! They were in Scotland for a few days and became so obsessed with scones that when they returned home they baked some of their own ‘Austrian scones’. First scones to be baked in AustriaThey look good and by all accounts were good. No information on whether Austrians go jam or cream first but together, dear readers, we are taking scones to the world … and the world will be a better place! Many thanks C and M.

Legends Coffee House

Our island hopping adventures have sadly come to an end and we are now back in the real world … at Legends Coffee House in Stirling to be precise. The legend referred to in the name is, of course, William Wallace, Scottish hero, general all round good guy and star of the movie Braveheart. This facility serves visitors to the Wallace Monument … it is where you start and finish your visit. Internal view of Legends Coffee House at the Wallace Monument, StirlingYou should drop in … especially if you have just completed the climb to the top of the monument. We had friends from Arizona with us and we had already forced them up the Abbey Craig (the hill on which the monument stands) and the 246 steps to the top of the monument with the bribe of a scone when they got back down …  we were having to pay up. Memorabilia at the Legends Coffee House at the Wallace Monument, StirlingMost of this place is  new since we were last here and thankfully takes up the site previously occupied by a diabolical statue of Wallace. The shop is full of the usual stuff that we suspect tourists must get really fed up with after they have been round some of Scotland’s main attractions because it always seems much the same  tartan or saltire emblazoned memorabilia everywhere you go. That said, Legends Coffee House, in spite of being quite busy, was clean, tidy and appeared well run. But, dear oh dear, our scones felt really heavy! So heavy, in fact, we thought we might have to brandish Wallace’s mighty double handed claymore to cut them in half … hopes of impressing our American friends with a good Scottish scone were fading fast. A scone at the Legends Coffee House at the Wallace Monument, StirlingAs it turned out, however, they tasted quite good and our friends were fascinated by the butter, jam and cream rituals which we don’t even think about … and at least it was all Scottish produce. All in all, it evolved into quite a good experience for everyone … but not good enough for a topscone unfortunately. This monument to William Wallace is here because of his famous victory over the much larger English army at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297 which helped establish Scotland as a free and independent nation. Goodness knows what he would have thought of the ‘parcel of rogues’ that, almost 400 years after his death, forced Scotland into a union with England and, even worse, that Scotland is still in it. He was hung, drawn and quartered in London and his head and body parts distributed throughout the land as a warning to any other uppity Scots … so no grave to spin in, but if he had one, he would would just be a blur. His statue looks down from its stance high on the monument at Scotland’s present day subordination and it must be thinking “what a right feckless bunch I gave my life for”!  Our friends are back on the other side of the pond now, having survived Scotland … and the scones.

Evening view of the Wallace Monument, Stirling
The Wallace Monument stands on the Abbey Craig in the evening light.

FK9 5LF    tel: 01786 472140     Legends Coffee House

BREAKING NEWS Our Middle East correspondent has just filed a report on a post box he came across in Jaffa, Tel Aviv. Readers may know Jaffa from the biblical stories about Jonah, Solomon and St Peter but more probably through cakes. The post box in question was manufactured by McDowall Steven & Co who, in 1912 took over the Laurieston Ironworks in Falkirk and made post boxes until 1958 when it closed. Jaffa was occupied in 1947 so presumably these post boxes date from then. There’s nothing quite like scones to broaden the mind.Letter box in Jaffa, made in Falkirk


The Wee Big Shop

Well … the morning after the night before … devastation, who is going to have to do the decent thing and get hitched? Guess it could be said that the Tories in their never ending quest to sort out their internal party politics, have led us directly towards the “coalition of chaos” that they were banging on about throughout the election campaign …. and here’s us thinking that they were advocating voting for them to avoid that … silly us.  Harsh reality means that Theresa May must now seek some sort of marriage with an equally unsavoury bunch in the DUP, itself a damaged party in a damaged parliament. It remains to be seen  what sort of dowry will be extracted by the DUP but whatever happens it is liable to be an unholy alliance. Maybe the answer is for Theresa and Arlene Foster to hook up here in Gretna Green and undergo an ‘unconventional’ marriage… given the current state of British politics nothing would surprise us. When we visited Gretna we had a scone her in the Wee Big Shop … it’s a kind of tardis, hence the name. Interior view of the Wee Big Shop in Gretna GreenThe place is swarming with tourists, Chinese, American, Japanese, you name it, they are all here rushing around buying tat before getting back on their buses and heading off to buy more tat in Edinburgh.  Scones at the Wee Big Shop in Gretna GreenThe café here is big as well and obviously caters for busloads all the time judging by the number of scones on display – the picture above is just a small selection. You are faced with a battery of different machines from which you know you can get tea or coffee in all its various forms but just no idea how to do it. Eventually some of the serving staff arrive to salvage the situation but even for them it takes a while … why not just serve the stuff in the first place, it would be so much easier and pleasanter. Scone at the Wee Big Shop in Gretna GreenWe eventually got to our table with our scone … no cream, unless you wanted the ubiquitous Rhodda’s Cornish yuk stuff. It was edible, that’s all we are saying. This whole place which is supposed to give you the ultimate in romantic weddings is entirely geared towards hordes of tourists which although not a bad thing in itself, doesn’t seem particularly romantic to us. It started because the law in England allowed parents to stop a wedding if either of the participants were under 21, whereas in Scotland, they could get married without parental consent and provided there were two witnesses anybody could conduct the ceremony … usually the blacksmith. Gretna was the first place over the border so this where the youngsters would come for their “runaway marriages”. Wedding picture at the Wee Big Shop in Gretna GreenAs you can see, even though we are over 21, we tried out the blacksmith’s ceremony … romantic or what? As far as we are concerned though this would be the last place on earth to get married unless you really, really, really had to … oh yes, Theresa and Arlene really really really have to … it will not end well. Next week, as the promised “strong and stable” UK enters into EU Brexit negotiations looking like complete plonkers, we don’t imagine that will end well either. Interior view of the Wee Big Shop in Gretna GreenDG16 5EA          tel: 01461 339912           The Wee Big Shop

The Beatson

This scone is from the The Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre which, thankfully, is renowned for things other than baking! If you just happen to be here however and a scone confronts you, what are you supposed to do? Obviously no one ever wants to contract this disease but if you have managed to get through life without being touched by cancer in some way, then you are a very fortunate person indeed. The Beatson used to be part of our working lives but this particular state-of-the-art building was just opening as we retired and, of course, we never expected to be back.

Bust of Sir George Beatson
Sir George Beatson

Someone near and dear to us is going to need the services of this place for the foreseeable future however, so suddenly it has become more familiar than ever. Suffice to say it is a fabulous facility  which works like a well oiled machine, belying all the scaremongering headlines about NHS Scotland, … but best of all, it is a happy place. It is named in memory of Sir George Beatson who, although born in Sri Lanka in 1848, was brought up in Campbeltown and ended up specialising in the treatment of cancer in Glasgow until his death in 1933. As well as being a highly skilled physician we think Sir George must have been an optimist. Someone once described an optimist as “someone who figures that taking a step backward after taking a step forward is not a disaster; it’s more like a cha-cha” and that sentiment pretty well sums up the feeling you get when you visit the building that now bears his name. Not the sort of place you would necessarily seek out for a scone however and we are certainly not advocating that you do … but since we are here!

Reception area at the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre
Reception area

There is a franchise café in the reception area but we tend to use another one on a lower floor which is run by volunteers. It is self service but no young whippersnappers here asking if you want to ‘go large’? You get the impression that the staff have either had cancer themselves or have known someone who has … and, of course, they were all smiling and can’t do enough to help. A scone at the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer CentreThere are probably more staff than would be required by a profit seeking enterprise but you just know that any profits generated here are not going very far. There is a good range of food on offer but, predictable as always, our eyes were on the scones. We got them all wrapped up in individual cellophane packets on paper plates together with the usual little packs of butter and jam. Coffee came in paper cups and the knives and forks were plastic but who cares in a place like this? It was all good and we will certainly be supporting them on our return visits over the coming years.Café area at the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre What cynical carping political comment are they going to make in a place like this, we hear you ask? Only that the doctor we met was fabulous … she oozed positivity and optimism from ever pore of her being and was an absolute joy to speak to … she had been working at the Beatson for four years … she made us feel very happy … she was from Seville. We asked her what would happen to her in the brave new world of Brexit … “I have no idea” she replied cheerily. If only there had been some words of comfort we could have offered in return!

G12 0YN      tel: 0141 301 7000           The Beatson Cancer Centre

The Ground House

Although the City of Stirling is only about 11 miles away from our home we hardly ever go there … Edinburgh yes, Glasgow yes, Stirling no. Occasionally we might dip into one of the out-of-town retail parks but never into the city centre itself. Mostly we just drive past it on our way to somewhere else. It was recognising this sorry state of affairs that led us to purposely go from one of these retail parks into the centre  just to check it out. On the face of it, of course, Stirling has a lot to offer – a castle, a big pointy monument on a hill that can be seen from miles around and lots of other historic attractions full of guides dressed in period costume just in case you happen to be totally devoid of imagination. When you get to the centre however it is pretty obvious that Stirling, like most other towns, has not escaped the effects of all these retail parks on the outskirts … it looks a wee bit sorry for itself. Logo of the Ground HouseFinding a tearoom was surprisingly difficult, we ended up having to ask but were soon directed towards this place The Ground House Coffee Company on King Street. It has a pretty relaxed vibe with lots of students sitting tapping away on laptops and checking their phones but .. hey, so were we! The system is that you are given a menu, you take a seat and decide what you want then you go to the counter and tell them what you want, then you go back to your seat and wait for them to bring it to you … is this self service or not? Internal view of the Ground House, StirlingWe bucked the system and ordered before we sat down because they had a selection of plain, cherry, fruit and apple and cinnamon scones right there in front of us at the counter … no point in wasting time looking at menus. Pat opted for fruit and I thought I would try the apple and cinnamon for a bit of a change. They didn’t have cream (not even scooshie) and they didn’t tell us the scones were going to be toasted but when they arrived they had almost been char grilled. We are never sure if this is scone abuse or not? In a way it seems a bit unnecessary but in another way it can sometimes work out quite well … maybe you should just be given the choice. Turned out that The Ground House was a place of dilemmas: the ordering system; the toasted scones; the lack of cream; the question – do you have jam with an apple and cinnamon scone or do you treat it more like a savoury cheese scone?

Scones at the Ground House, Stirling
Toasted apple and cinammon to the left and fruit to the right … is this scone abuse?

If you know the answer to this last point please get in touch. I decided to try and answer it myself by having one half without jam and the other half with … but the result was that I enjoyed both! If I had to stake my life on it I would probably plump for jam, but it’s a very close run thing? We are constantly wrestling with such problems … stressful! At the end of the day we enjoyed the scones and the coffee was excellent … we would recommend The Ground House Coffee Company to anyone – their pizzas look great by the way! Internal view of the Ground House, StirlingJust across the road from this café, on top of the entrance to the Atheneum building, there is a statue of William Wallace … known as the Wee Wallace, presumably to differentiate it from the somewhat larger one on top of the hill about a mile away.  You can make out the Wee Wallace left of centre in our title photograph above. We wonder what he would have made of Theresa May’s announcement today that Scotland cannot have a second referendum … apparently because it would not be fair for the people to have to vote before they know the outcome of the Brexit negotiations. These weasel words try to ignore the fact that Scotland voted to stay in the EU … end of,  hence the need for another referendum before the UK leaves … or is she saying that the UK might not be leaving after all?? We don’t think so … Wee Wallace doesn’t think so either and the Big Wallace certainly doesn’t think so!

FK8 1AY      tel: 01786 357606      The Ground House FB

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