In many ways, the Edinburgh Festival 2021 was far from being traditional. But I've tried to keep this year's coverage on the site as familiar-looking as possible. And regulars will be aware of one particular feature that we haven't had yet: after an entire week of me babbling on about the shows I've seen, I hand over a page or two to Spank's Pals so they can present their own highlights and lowlights.
I can never be sure in advance as to how many of the people who came to Edinburgh with me on a particular year feel the urge to write about it. This year, I'm pleased to announce that a full 100% of my travelling companions have contributed. So here's The Belated Birthday Girl, who's doing her usual thing of focussing on the food and drink highlights of Edinburgh, seeing as The List Eating And Drinking Guide is impossible to get hold of these days. (But she mentions a few of her show highlights as well.) Enjoy.
For our first meal of our Edinburgh 2021, we went to an old favourite, Chez Jules. Although we usually go there to take advantage of their insanely good value set lunch, proximity to The Stand (where we were booked in for an evening showcase of Scottish comedy) meant that this year it made more sense to go for an evening meal. Not that that stopped us having almost the same meal as we would normally have for lunch.
The one big variation was that I had 5 big garlicky prawns for my starter, not offered as part of the set lunch, which were messy and tasty. Apart from that, Spank’s goat cheese starter followed by steak and my main of moules frites could at an earlier time of day be had for a fraction of the still-reasonable price. Reliable classics, accompanied by the excellent Chez Jules simple green salad and a bit of bread and some olives and salami. It’s great to see Chez Jules still going – and still busy – and still good value, any time of day. Washed down with a glass of house red for Spank, and of Picpoul for me, it made a great and familiar first meal for a somewhat unusual Edinburgh festival. The comedy at The Stand afterwards was great, too: another place I was very happy to be in again.
Our limited time in Edinburgh this year, plus the fact that we pre-booked more than we normally would in terms of meals as well as shows, meant there wasn’t much room for discovering new places for dinner. But breakfasts were left more open, and we discovered a great little place on our route out to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art for the terrific Ray Harryhausen exhibition. The Painted Rooster had some great-looking cakes and bakes, but we went for rather more substantial cooked breakfasts.
One thing I always look forward to on trips to Scotland is getting some veggie haggis, and if a cooked breakfast offers that, I’m always going to order it. The traditional breakfast at The Painted Rooster comes with a choice of 3 items, with others able to be added on as extra. I maybe got a bit carried away with ordering 5 items, as I didn’t realise there were going to be 2 of everything. So with fried eggs, potato scones – another food item I will always order with a Scottish breakfast, given the chance – veggie sausage, veggie haggis and some terrific fried chestnut mushrooms, I had far more food than I could eat, but it was all very good. Spank, on the other hand, was taken by the idea of an eggs benedict with haggis of the non-veggie variety instead of ham, and was very pleased with it. Maybe if we get back there again on a future visit, we’ll get to try some of those cakes.
Red Squirrel is another place we’ve been to a number of times over the years (and is in fact the site of my first ever taste of 5am Saint, which lead ultimately to the whole BrewDogging thing), but we wouldn’t have been there at all this year had it not been for another favourite – Mussel Inn – having to close at short notice. But it was a good alternative, with decent quality food and a good range of craft beer: I don’t think we’ve ever been disappointed by a meal there, whether breakfast or lunch / dinner. On this occasion, there for a dinner, I chose the salmon fillet with gremolata and parmesan crumb, while Spank decided on the panko breaded chicken, with mozzarella and red pepper caponata. The salmon was moist and flavoursome, and the chicken nicely done. And to drink, we had a couple of local beers – Campervan’s Leith Juice and Fallen’s Local Motive.
One of the pleasant surprises of the festival was the discovery of the Dovecot Studios, and the terrific Archie Brennan tapestry exhibition there. That gave us an excuse to pop into the nearby City Café for breakfast, a place I largely know as a venue in the before times for Laughing Horse Free Fringe. I’m not sure we’ve had a breakfast there before (although Spank thinks we’ve eaten there before a show some time), but for a good and straightforward Scottish breakfast you could do far worse. I went for a morning roll with scrambled eggs and hash browns, while Spank chose the smoked salmon and scrambled eggs. The scrambled eggs were nicely done, which is a good thing since we both had them, and the breakfasts were very reasonably priced.
Another absolute favourite on any trip to Edinburgh is probably Edinburgh’s best vegetarian restaurant – at least the best one I know – David Bann. We fitted this in between a couple of the highlights of the festival for me – the first ever live-in-front-of-an-audience No More Jockeys and a trip out to Edinburgh Park for Black Country, New Road – and it was one of the highlight meals, too. The food at David Bann is classy and inventive, and for what you are getting actually ridiculously good value.
Although there were a number of tempting starters on the menu, we skipped straight to the mains, where it was – as ever – difficult to decide exactly which one to have: useful that we get to try each other’s. One that had appealed to both of us was the chilli pancake wrap with chocolate sauce and sweet potato fritter, but I was also keen to try the baked beetroot pudding with potato and swede dauphinoise, so I left the former to Spank. Chilli and chocolate is a classic combination, and here it was done as well as you’d expect. The sweet potato fritter was probably the most conventional part of the meal, but worked well in combination with the rest. My baked beetroot pudding was outstanding, made with apple and blue cheese, making this a combination I am very keen to try at home in a different dish. The potato and swede dauphinoise was rich and tasty.
We couldn’t quite resist the lure of a dark chocolate souffle with vanilla ice cream to share as dessert, and it was very good, and beautifully presented, so we were glad we hadn’t tried too hard. Although David Bann has a few decent Scottish ales, we decided that a glass of red each – Rioja for Spank, merlot for me – would suit our mains, and as these also went well with the dessert, that worked out just fine.
Finally, our last dinner in Edinburgh for this trip, following on from the last show we went to, the excellent A Toast to the People with Inua Ellams and Saul Williams, was a return visit to Mother India’s Café, another place we’ve had a few terrific meals in over recent years (although we’ve still never managed to get into any of the Glasgow branches). They’ve gone a bit small platey, and we thought just a couple of little dishes would suit us fine for a late-night meal, as we expected to be having a late lunch at The Outsider: but as that wasn’t to be, we were happy to fill up on a decent selection of excellent and tasty dishes. Between us we shared a saag paneer, a karahi mushroom, aubergine with baby potatoes and a prawn biriani, sharing a naan on the side. Everything was delicious, with the mushrooms possibly the highlight for me. Accompanied by a couple of Punk IPAs, it made a satisfying and comforting end to the trip.