Last weekend I was lucky enough to be one of the official bloggers for the Foodies Festival. This festival takes place all over the country and has been going strong now for nearly ten years. This event held in the Edinburgh International Conference Centre was geared towards the season of Christmas. It was apparent from the vast amount of visitors snaking around the maze of treats and delights that this festival is as popular as ever.
Included in the festival were numerous large halls, one containing hundreds of stalls displaying both local and national artisan products such as chocolate, baked goods and meats and other hall consisted of a large array of pop up restaurants and bars, spirit, champagne and beer stalls and Street food stalls.
Here is my #High5 of things that stood out for me at the festival;
You may call this company a travelling piece of heaven, for it’s the first crème brûlée van in existence. I have seen this van all around Edinburgh, saying to myself that I need to try these renowned desserts and eventually I managed to get a taste at the festival. With an selection of flavours I opted for the salted caramel brownie and I wasn’t disappointed. My spoon cracked through the burnt sugar top layer and into the smooth vanilla base, me and my friend looked at each other in amazement. The flavour was simple, pure yet intense and the added salted caramel brownie took it to another dimension. As well as their fantastic crème brûlée they have now launched their range of vanilla paste and sugar which are full of quality ingredients and perfect as a gift for bakers. I definitely wouldn’t bypass this van if I saw it in Edinburgh again and neither should you!
This juniper flavoured spirit seems increasingly popular these days and it definitely showed at this year’s festival. Gin, usually classed as an old fashioned drink, is having a revival and more companies are starting to create contemporary versions of this classic drink and bring it to the forefront of the spirit market. Don’t get me wrong I am all for tradition but it was the more modern products that stuck out for me, not just in branding but also in taste.
Since seeing a bottle of this a while ago in a luxury department store I have wanted to try this Gin. Daffy’s Gin, distilled in Edinburgh has an elaborate sexy and colourful illustrated bottle that oozes glamour and style. Its not even a year old but its causing a storm in the drinks market, winning a gold Quality Award in the International wine & spirit competition. I was so happy when I saw this stand and finally getting the chance to taste this amazing gin. The staff were passionate and eager for everyone to taste their product, served with a small dash of tonic water and coupled with some mint and lime this gin was a definite winner. perhaps it was the added ingredients of Lebanese mint or the rare varieties of lemon but whatever it was it definitely stood out as one of the best at the festival (and I tried a few).
Another one that we can’t ignore is Edinburgh Gin, with its contemporary bottle and distinctive brand logo it is another that stands out amongst the crowd. The first time I tasted this was when they had there gin bar at St Andrews Square in the Edinburgh festival. Queues of people waiting impatiently to taste there delicious arrays of flavours, from Rhubarb & Ginger, Elderflower and Raspberry. At the show I had a chance to taste there Christmas version flavoured with frankincense and myrrh. Difficult to describe its taste this warming edition is still definitely one to have to add something extra special to your Christmas season. My overall favourite though is still the Rhubarb & Ginger, the tartness of the Rhubarb and the warmth of the ginger blend seamlessly together.
Chocolate seemed to take precedence in the artisan hall where exquisite samples were handed out on every corner. It was especially exciting to see so many good quality products from the local area and the passionate people behind the brands. There were flavours that I hadn’t even imagined before and its really clear to see that the luxury chocolate market is becoming ever so popular. Out of all the stalls (and I couldn’t manage to taste everything) there were a couple of brands that really stood out for me.
This brand really stood out to me because of its colourful, fun packaging and its exciting and daring flavours. Located in Northumbria this chocolate company has managed to push the boundaries with their handmade ‘Bizarre’ chocolate bar range. You couldn’t help but screw your face up at some of the more bizarre flavours yet my curiosity led me to try nearly every one available and surprisingly some of them tasted better than I imagined.
The first one I chose was Bacon, yes you heard me right! I put it to my lips and I could smell the smokiness and sweetness at the same time and I really wanted to hate it but there was something tantilising about tasting something so strange. The taste of the bacon was spot on and the chocolate was smooth and delicious, after all we do have bacon and maple syrup so why shouldn’t we have bacon and chocolate.
Other flavours that stood out were bubblegum sundae, a white chocolate full of fun, colour and glitter, it was like chewing on a piece of juicy fruit gum. The Americana was also delicious containing everything I love, peanut butter and pretzels! Definitely a brand to check out if you want something that balances the unusual with a great quality chocolate.
The other brand of chocolate that really stood out for me was Pacari, who produce premium organic chocolate. The branding is very sincere, slick and sophisticated with an array of adventurous and refined flavours, it’s no surprise they have won over fifty awards worldwide. The brand is very environmentally friendly, sourcing their quality organic ingredients in Ecuador from only organically certified farms avoiding the mass plantations which are very damaging. They also work closely with the farmers which provide them with work and paying them what they deserve, which is fantastic for their community. I also loved this stand because of the passion the exuded from the two lovely ladies (I didn’t catch their names) but they were very knowledgeable about the brand and its ethics.
I tried Andean Lemon Verbena which was very fresh and fragrant, and Andean Rose Geranium which was delicate and floral both worked well with the crunchy dark chocolate and the balance of flavour was perfect. I will definitely be purchasing more of this in the future.
Pinnies & Poppy Seeds located in the old town in Edinburgh produces shortbread made only from local and organic ingredients. Again I tasted quite a lot of shortbread from different stands however this definitely stood out against the other products. The first attraction was its lovely traditional packaging of brown paper and ribbon and the second was the passion that exuded from the staff who were keen for you try their products. The All butter shortbread was perfectly crumbly and soft with the delicate taste of butter and sugar, however the cinnamon and sugar took it to another level (maybe that’s because I am a huge cinnamon fan). They also sell a range of other flavours such as chocolate chip, lemon and poppy seed and white chocolate and cardamom. Another product they were offering on the day was Ballantyne toffee, a brittle toffee layered with chocolate and almonds. It was absolutely delicious, they brought three of my favourite things together in one package, so obviously I had no option but to buy one (and eat one) on the day!
I stood and watched this presentation for ages and was so impressed by the product that I had to purchase one. We have all heard of the new craze called ‘Spiralizing’ and this product does it perfectly with no effort at all. Not only does it spiralize, the blade also acts as a peeler that can cut through even the toughest of skins, even peeling a pineapple! It can also be used to shred down lettuce or other vegetables to make a delicious coleslaw. By adding the spirilzing section you can then create dishes such as ‘Courgetti’, twisting the courgette into spirals to make a delicious healthy alternative to pasta. The micro blade is very sharp and built to last, but if it doesn’t you are offered another blade at no extra charge which gave me extra confidence in the product. As soon as I got home I made some sweet potato and onion crisps with shavings of parmesan which were prepared in no time and were absolutely delicious.
Also included in the festival was a cake and bake theatre and chef’s theatre where you could book in to view bakers and chefs demonstrating their skills with different ingredients. Included in these demonstrations was the head chef from Number One Restaurant in The Balmoral Hotel Edinburgh.
Number One restaurant is located in one of the most iconic buildings in Edinburgh, The Balmoral Hotel.
In early 2015 it underwent a £200,000 refurbishment overseen by Olga Polizzi (The Hotel Inspector’s Alex Polizzi’s mum) director of design at Rocco Forte Hotels. It isn’t surprising then that this restaurant is renowned in Edinburgh for its great quality food, amazing service and luxurious surroundings. The restaurants refurbishment saw an increase in space, a renewed bar area and a beautiful selection of art from the Royal College of Art London and Adam Ellis. Included in this revamp was a redesigned menu by Head chef Brian Grigor. Brian first worked in Number one in the early part of his career and now works alongside the amazing Executive Chef Jeff Bland. Brian was demonstrating at this year’s Edinburgh Christmas Foodies Festival so I decided to catch up with him before the show to ask him about life at Number One.
The restaurant is renowned in Edinburgh and there is plenty evidence to back that up. Having had a Michelin star for fourteen consecutive years, voted in the Telegraph’s top 10 restaurants in Edinburgh and coming in at number 2 of restaurants in Edinburgh on tripadvisor, what is the secret to achieving such high status in such a competitive market?
We are constantly trying to improve what we do on a daily basis, working as a team we are always looking at what we can change to make us better. Our regulars are a good source for finding out if we are improving and we look to make small changes often.
The menu in Number One features predominantly in Scottish produce, what do you think makes Scottish produce stand out in the crowd?
Using Scottish produce is important for us as we want to use produce that is as fresh as possible and of the best quality we can get. The less that produce has to travel to the kitchen then the better its going to be. Our guests are often from overseas and they have heard about the great Scottish produce and they want to see if its as good as everyone says. Orkney Beef, Hand dived Scallops and Perthshire Berries are always produce we want to use when in season.
You were crowned Game Chef of the Year in 2012 so you obviously have a huge passion for this food type, what is it about game that you like?
My Dad was a Gamekeeper until he retired this year so I have grown up around game my whole life and its something that I love to cook as well as eat. It takes real skill to cook game properly and its something that my chefs enjoy learning to cook in the kitchen.
Having worked in Number One for fourteen years, what has been the highlight of your career so far?
I first started in Number One in 2002 when I was a commis chef and enjoyed working there so much that I knew that I wanted to return at some point in my career. To now be Head Chef is my dream job and Its great to be back where it all began for me in my career.
I also managed to grab a snap with MasterChef 2015 finalist Tony Rodd who was attending this year’s festival. I asked Tony how he found the festival “amazing event, great produce available and superb guest chefs”. I think that sums it up very nicely.
In between all the food and alcohol were this lovely trio The Ragtime Dolls, captivating the crowds with their upbeat vintage inspired singing and dance moves.
And finally….A big congratulations to David Graham and Neil McCarty who won the festival ticket giveaway on my facebook page. They enjoyed sampling the products on the day and enjoyed a well deserved massage at one of the stands.
I would like to thank Foodies Festival for allowing me to blog and Brian Grigor for taking the time to answer some questions.