If you can’t see anything resembling a café in the above picture that’s because it’s hidden within the St George’s Tron Church, the rather large pointy building sitting centre stage. The Church of Scotland opened it in 1808 and it’s still going strong today. We had heard a rumour about this church. The rumour could have been about all the fantastic work they do in conjunction with the Glasgow City Mission and the Bethany Christian Trust to help the most vulnerable people in Glasgow … as explained to us at some length by ‘big Andy’, a lovely bloke who seems to take care of everything here. The rumour could also have been about their ‘gifted soup/coffee’ scheme whereby you can buy an extra coffee or soup which they then offer to people who can’t afford them. The rumour might even have been about their green credentials or the fact that all their bread comes from the Freedom Bakery in Low Moss prison but no, it wasn’t any of those. Would you adam & eve it, it was about scones! We had heard from a very well respected source that their scones were worthy of inspection … and that’s what drew us in here … yes, we are are actually that shallow! Recently the congregation and the Church of Scotland spent over £3m refurbishing the whole building and The Wild Olive Tree Café came about as part of that redevelopment. It is intended to provide a place of quiet sanctuary away from the hustle, bustle and general madness going on just outside the door in Buchanan Street, Scotland’s busiest shopping street. In here, the almost serene atmosphere, seems like another world. The café specialises in soup, scones and cakes … what more would you want? As for scones there was a choice of:
Apricot Date & Vanilla
Cheddar & Sunflower seed
Goats Cheese & Caramelised Onion … wow, and all freshly baked!
I opted for the the spiced sultana and Pat went for the cheddar and sunflower seed … both were wonderful. Mine had a lovely crunchiness on the outside and deliciously spiced on the inside … never before tasted a scone like it! Pat’s was beautifully cheesy with a lovely crunch courtesy of the sunflower seeds. There wasn’t anything not to like about the whole experience … nice surroundings, friendly service, good presentation and fantastic scones … even my drink was Dear Green Coffee, roasted right here in the beating heart of Glasgow … excellent! These were definitely the best scones we have had in ages .. no problem awarding a topscone here. It many ways this place reminded us of our recent visit to the Glasgow Gurdwara where our Sikh friends were also doing lots of good work with the needy. The only problem with both this place and the Gurdwara is that they are required at all in this day and age. Britain is one of the richest oil producing countries in the world yet there are still thousands of people in Glasgow and every other major city who are on the breadline … how come? The lowest state pension of any developed country in the world doesn’t help … lots of old folk living in poverty and hopelessness.
This eight foot long painting hangs in the café and kind of encapsulates the situation. It is a depiction, by the artist-in-residence Iain Campbell, of the Last Supper featuring Jesus among men who have fallen on hard times. We have seen the original Last Supper by Da Vinci in Milan but this version seems much more powerful … sorry Leonardo! At the supper Jesus said “remember me” but somehow all these men seem totally forgotten. Jesus is one of them … you pick! Meanwhile our wonderful government can still spend billions on weapons of mass destruction and, at this very moment, are actively contemplating going to war with Syria? Trump and May haven’t had a war yet so it’s probably to be expected. On whose behalf would they go to war … certainly not these guys, they’ve got much more immediate things to worry about!
ps: To be or not to be … the Pedant has sent us a picture of a brace of K6 telephone boxes in Stratford upon Avon. The question is, are they protecting that wastepaper bin or are they taking it into custody?
The Corinthian Club is a large complex of highly decorative rooms dating back to it’s original incarnation as the Glasgow and Ship Bank in 1842. Since then it has seen several different uses but has been the rather swanky Corinthian since 2010. It consists of several function rooms, dining rooms, a casino and the Tellers Bar where we were ensconced. This is a big operation and they can probably do many things extremely well however our order for coffee and scones tested them to the absolute limit … they simply could not get their head round the fact that we did not want afternoon tea. Every time we asked for coffee and scones they offered us afternoon tea and when we explained that we just wanted coffee and scones they would say “absolutely no problem” .. but we had to go through this process at least six times with different people .. aarrgghh! Eventually the penny dropped and quite quickly the coffee arrived … but no scones; it gave us time to look around at the rather splendiferous surroundings. More than twenty minutes later however, having observed every nook and cranny, and just as we were about to get up and leave, they arrived. Apparently there was a technological problem in the kitchen?? Fresh coffee was brought along with profuse apologies. By this time, of course, our dander was well and truly up. We had already decided that this was the last place on earth to get anywhere near a topscone award .. but, damn it, the scones were extremely good! Two plain and two cinnamon and all of them just right; warm and crunchy on the outside, soft in the middle, lovely jam and cream .. how utterly annoying? In normal circumstances we would have had no problem with a topscone award however there are only so many allowances you can make .. so, although we thoroughly enjoyed them, they were disqualified due to technological problems .. heyho. Technological problems cannot be blamed for us heading off to war in yet another country .. just sheer warmongering stupidity. Perhaps it makes no difference since 1968 has been the only year in the last fifty that Britain has not been at war with somebody. At the grand old age of 111, Harry Patch, the last surviving soldier of WW1 summed it up very well “I felt then, as I feel now, that the politicians who took us to war should have been given the guns and told to settle their differences themselves, instead of organising nothing better than legalised mass murder”.
Scones are a small test for a place like this but, for all its grandeur, we think the Corinthian Club needs to pay more attention to a few basics.
The question is, what do you do when it is tipping it down with rain and blowing a chilly north wind .. go for a walk of course … well some of us do! Those who read our previous post will know that, from time to time, we are prone to a spot of bird watching .. and Linlithgow Loch is as good a place as any to spot all sorts of water birds and sometimes the occasional rarity. Not this day however; the birds, having more sense than us, had obviously run for shelter .. just a few coots and swans braving the elements along with our good selves. Somewhat drookit, we eventually came round by the Palace and came across the recently unveiled statue of Mary Queen of Scots looking out over her former home … not sure about it, what do you think? She was born in the Palace and, because her dad died, became Queen of Scotland when she was only six days old; she also became Queen of France when she was seventeen.. not bad going for a mere teenager. Of course many believe she should also have been Queen of England but that is a whole other story. At the end of the day, her main claim to fame comes through our Canadian niece whose two favourite women of all time are Mary Queen of Scots and Lady Gaga. By now you will have deduced where all this is leading .. a scone refuge! Slightly battered, but nevertheless invigorated, we found our way here to the So Strawberry Caffé in the town centre, enticed inside by the banner ‘Happiness is Homemade’. By the time we had discarded all our wet stuff our scone was on the table in front of us (we had opted to share one because they were quite big, but mostly because Pat fancied their gingerbread) … all their goodies are indeed home-baked. The scone was really nice with a slightly crunchy top and soft inside, just the way we like them, and loads of butter and jam .. no cream on offer, but sometimes you just have to make do .. life can be tough! Again it was a close run thing but unfortunately So Strawberry just missed out on a topscone award .. you see how hard it is! The gingerbread was very good too.
So often, in places like this, the staff can be a bit on the surly side, but not here; all the young lasses appeared to be enjoying their work … lending little festive adornments to the displays. They do something a little bit different here too … miniature cakes for children .. very useful for frustrated parents trying hard not to overindulge their kids.
Today is St Andrew’s day which provides a convenient link between Scotland, France and Syria what with Mary’s french connections and Andrew being Syrian. The government seems hell bent on joining France in the bombing of Syria even though it is extremely unclear how this will help … and not at all difficult to see how it could make matters much worse. Cameron is using the old “Britain must do the right thing” trick to make those opposed to the bombing appear to be doing the wrong thing. Peter Ford, the former British ambassador to Syria says “if we are not careful we will stumble into the Syrian quagmire and the people of Britain, not David Cameron, will pay the price in blood” .. and he should know better than most! At times like these wouldn’t it be wonderful if the government had an opposition worthy of the name rather than the shambles currently masquerading as the Labour party! At least So Strawberry doesn’t have to masquerade as anything other than a great wee café.
Café 33 is run by the Tortolano family from the Lazio region of central Italy so we expected a small family run restaurant with good food and a warm welcome. Strangely though it did not have the atmosphere we normally associate with such places; perhaps it was the weather, perhaps it was the tired decor, perhaps it was the fact that there was no one there except us, but the overall feeling was one of disappointment. However, they are keen to point out that Café 33 is on the sunny side of the street in Bridge of Allan; the street runs east/west and Café 33 is indeed on the sunny side, almost directly opposite Jamjar which we visited back in May. It was not sunny today however, exactly the opposite, rainy and quite cold so it was good to get into the warmth for a coffee. The scones are homemade every morning and are not at all bad but nothing out of the ordinary either; in fact there was nothing particularly wrong with this place, but nothing particularly right either. If you find yourself in the middle of the street (mind the traffic) torn between this place and Jamjar, go to Jamjar. Our sense of disappointment extends to the ongoing Paris situation which continues to generate more heat than light with all the political leaders slavishly following the script written by IS. Never mind that IS’s buddies, Boko Haram, have killed many more people, we are not aware of any bombing raids on them, not even an outcry, in fact, not even a mention … but they are in Africa of course! Instead, we seem to risk getting involved in a war that is essentially an argument between two warring factions of Islam and like all religions each faction regards itself as the only true religion .. so it is a hard one, if not an impossible one, to win. Did you notice Dave’s response at the dispatch box when Corbyn asked if they would go after the people who fund IS before they start bombing .. “yes, yes, that’s all very well but it’s no substitute for bombing,” .. the poor guy is bustin’ a gut to join in; he has been PM for over five years and still hasn’t had a war for goodness sake .. and now would be a perfect time for such a distraction what with the EU referendum, immigrants, the deficit .. and don’t let’s forget the full fiscal framework for Scotland. Also, in these austere times, he has acquired his own private jet, so that he can sit down with the other big boys who all have their own planes … playground stuff really, he just doesn’t want to be left out. It does raise a fairly fundamental question however about just how many countries it takes to completely flatten Syria? In fact, who on earth would want to be Syrian? Oh, St Andrew, patron saint of Scotland, he was Syrian; maybe Dave’s desparate desire to bomb the country is actually subliminally meant to send a message to Scots .. we had better behave! Anyway, besides all that, we probably just got Café 33 on an off day, maybe we will visit again when the sun is shining on the sunny side off the street .. provided we are not at war and scone rationing has not been introduced!
Before we start and for those of you who do not speak ‘pure Scots’ perhaps we should explain ‘wee blether’. It is when people get together and gossip about anything and everything. A blether can also be a noun; the act of blethering or someone who blethers .. tells stories not necessarily based in fact. You remember an earlier post about the MP for Shetland who mislead his constituents so as to get elected; well in English you would call him a liar, pure and simple, but in Scots, if we wanted to be less harsh, we might call him ‘a wee blether’ .. got it? Meanwhile back in the real world, Russia is bombing Syria, the US is bombing Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia is bombing Yemen and Britain’s nuclear submarines patrol endlessly and uselessly. Fortunately, in the midst of this mess the Wee Blether Tearoom is a perfect oasis of light hearted good sense. We had had it on good authority from a couple of local Kinlochardians (or whatever you call people from Kinlochard) that this place was worth a visit .. they were not wrong. The menu reminds you that “we are not a fast food establishment, not even a restaurant, we’re a small family run tearoom, we strive to provide the best quality food as quickly as we can” .. a good start! It is up to the minute with deals, in fact everywhere you look there are offers that have to be read with some care. However, for not taking themselves too seriously Ricky and Shona (the owners) do a great job of combining a lovely relaxed atmosphere and great food. Sitting in the sun looking out over Loch Ard it is not difficult to relax and the sweet potato and coconut soup accompanied by almost a half loaf of wonderfully soft brown bread was absolutely delicious. When our scones arrived however we realised that the soup and bread might have been a mistake .. they don’t do dainty scones and they came fully loaded with jam and cream. Now we have said in the past that we prefer to load our own scones .. make a scone of two halves then load and eat each half separately, in our opinion that’s the way it should be done. On this occasion at least we were provided with a fork and spoon with which to tackle them .. they were fab! Even although there was not a single kid in the place Ricky came round dishing out sweets to everyone, and, like the big kids that we are, we dutifully took them .. nice touch though. We also took up their latest offer, pay double for one scone and get the second free .. great! This place is friendly and well named .. if you came here on your own it wouldn’t be long before you were having a wee blether with someone .. well done to Ricky and Shona, great place and topscone.
The government’s announcement that it is to take in 20,000 Syrian refugee children over the next five years (on 5yr visas after which they will have to go somewhere else) raises the question – how proud are you to be British .. ‘not very’ or ‘not at all’? There are no other options. Their attempt to show this as Britain at its most compassionate by comparing it to the Kindertransport in 1938 conveniently leaves aside the fact that the Kindertransport itself was a pretty taudry episode in British history only brought about by the government of the day being sufficiently embarrassed by images of Kristallnacht .. the parallels with today’s situation and the pictures of little Alan Kurdis are obvious. At the same time the German government announces that they will take half a million every year for as long as it takes. Presumably this because the Germans are not more compassionate, but because they have a solid economy which actually needs these people whereas we have an economy based almost exclusively on a square mile in the centre of London that cannot even provide quality jobs for its own citizens .. arrgghh. It’s enough to drive you to afternoon tea. The Grange Manor is an old well established hotel at Earlsgate, between Falkirk and Grangemouth. It has seen many changes in its surroundings over the years and nowadays it has the misfortune to have an Asda super-warehouse across the road and an empty car showroom next door. On the plus side it must be the nearest hotel to the Kelpies and that probably generates some tourist business. We were using a voucher for afternoon tea for two for the princely sum of £11 so it was going to be difficult to go badly wrong. It didn’t go far wrong but even if it is cheap you still want it to be good. Everything was fine except the scones which tasted like they had been made the day before .. or maybe even the day before that! Service was so scant you had to go looking for it. It is tempting to ask what you would expect for that sort of money but unfortunately the answer would be … exactly what we got! Unfortunately it seemed to be priced about right with the voucher … thank goodness for the voucher. The Grange Manor, like the government, has got to try harder.
We stopped off at Port Appin for a break and of course the Pierhouse Hotel is the place to go for any kind of refreshment. It is a beautiful spot with the little ferry running back and forth to the Isle of Lismore so there is always something going on .. though in a peaceful kind of way. With so many horrendous things going on all over the world this little oasis on the west coast of Scotland seems like it is on another planet … where everything is just fine. Grexit, Syria, Tunisia are all far far away. And yet, even here, little niggles creep in. They tell us that Scotland cannot survive on its own, that we take more than we give to the Union. So why oh why does the party that refuses to subsidise a disabled person’s spare bedroom so desperately want to continue to subsidise a whole nation .. perplexing! You will be happy to hear that this conundrum did little to disturb the relaxed atmosphere on the shores of Loch Linnhe. Our scones were fantastic and came with lots of jam and cream, and a big pot of coffee. The Pierhouse is a few miles off the main road but is well worth the detour. It has a superb seafood restaurant with beautiful views over the loch towards Castle Stalker, Lismore and beyond .. the place just oozes quality.