The Boathouse, Isle of Gigha #cravingislandlife

“Gigha is a small island off the west coast of Kintyre in Scotland. The island forms part of Argyll and Bute and has a population of about 160 people. The climate is mild with higher than average sunshine hours and the soils are fertile.”

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The Isle of Gigha is an island community that is owned wholly by its residents under a development trust called ‘Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust’. The islanders purchased it in March 2002 for £4million, with help from grants and loans from the National Lottery and Highlands and Islands Enterprise. Interesting Fact: 15th March is celebrated as the island’s “independence day”, as this is when the purchase was made between private owners and the community.

Venturing over to Gigha, although unknown to most, is something I really feel everyone should endeavour to do at some point, especially if you’re already down the South West coastline! I work on the West Coast, and the Isle of Gigha is an island under my Operational remit at the moment, unfortunately only until the end of next week, hence why I wanted to make the most of my last minute opportunity to visit one last time. And god damn was I hella lucky with the weather! It was bloody glorious … as the photos can attest to. The island is accessible via a ferry from Tayinloan, which is situated on the A83 almost exactly between Tarbert and Campbeltown in Kintyre, Argyll.

The CalMac ferries run every hour, on the hour, from Tayinloan to Gigha from 8am until 7pm (Mon – Fri during the season) and every hour on half past the hour back from Gigha to Tayinloan. It only takes 20 minutes to travel between, and it costs approximately £25 for 2 people and a car return journey. If you want more ferry information, either in regards to timings or costs, please visit CalMac website.

Since I am a self-proclaimed foodie, which is why I started this blog in the first place, the key aspect of this post is to talk about The Boathouse restaurant. I’ll touch on where to stay, other ‘things to do’ or general information about Gigha further on , in the hopes that it may seal the deal on your decision to take a trip over to try their locally sourced seafood (maybe in conjunction with a visit to Tarbert and Campbeltown – as there’s plenty to do there too, but more on that another time!).

The Boathouse, Ardminish Bay, Gigha

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The Boathouse is a family owned restaurant with a great reputation for the finest Scottish seafood on the West coast of Scotland, most of which is landed on our doorstep.

When I visited Gigha back in February I didn’t get the opportunity to try this restaurant, as it is only open seasonally (23rd March 2018 until 30th Sept 2018). So when I decided to organise a visit this time around and I knew my Mum was coming with me, it was the obvious choice for evening dinner plans. We booked a table in advance for 7.30pm and (being the fussy, pernickety b**t*rd that I am) I requested a window seat – but being an old boathouse, there only is 2 x small windows with little visibility outside, but I’d still request it if you like natural light. Whilst sitting in our hotel’s beer garden at around 6pm, we got hungry. So I made a phone call to The Boathouse and they accommodated our booking an hour early at 6.30pm and we walked down to the restaurant from The Gigha Hotel as it only takes about 5 minutes.

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Although we’d booked a table, we walked by a few people sat on benches outside and couldn’t help ourselves – we had to sit outside too and appreciate the awesome view … I mean look at it?! Have you ever seen a more glorious backdrop … I think it would undoubtedly win first prize for the ‘most likely assumed to be a tropical island, but actually in Scotland’ award. It might tie in first place with Luskintyre beach in Isle of Harris, but Gigha is in my area right now (Argyll) – so it has my total allegiance and vote!

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My mum and I had already looked up their menu online, but were delighted to find a vast array of local seafood dishes available on the Specials Board. Anything they had run out of was marked with an asterisk (gutted about the mixed grill of fish situation… although it worked in my favour, as I’ll get onto), but regardless there was plenty on offer in addition to the main menu – lending to the fresh ‘sea to plate’ ethos. So much of their produce is landed locally on Gigha – salmon, halibut, lobsters, scallops etc. and the list goes on!

Our order comprised of the following:

Starters

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Langoustine Tails in garlic butter (me)

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Deep Fried Monk Cheek with plum sauce and lime (Mum)

The langoustine tails were finger licking good (like seriously, I’m an animal!) and they weren’t shy with the portion size either so you feel like you’ve won the lottery when the dish is placed in front of you. My Mum loved her monk cheek, and said the batter was crisp and delicious but the lime was a little sharp for her. She said I would have enjoyed it though (as my taste buds live for sharp flavours … pass me the whole lemon please!) Unfortunately at this stage, the damn midges got so bad we had to move indoors, and although they’d given away our table to someone else – they accommodated our request (thank you so much!)

Goodbye gorgeous backdrop for my photos… until we meet again…

Mains

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Whole Lobster (me – told you it worked out in my favour didn’t I?!)

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Grilled Gigha Halibut with avocado, apple, radish, chilli & orange crispy pancetta with walnut arancini (Mum)

The grilled halibut was cooked well and served over a cold salad, which my Mum said was light, crisp and nailed it on the flavour combinations – her smile below was maintained throughout the whole meal, so that always makes me happy; as I love it when I get to share a great dining experience with my Mum. I ended up ordering the lobster, because 1) they didn’t have any of the mixed grill of fish left, 2) I love lobster and 3) it kept drawing my eye, and I’m not on Gigha often – so ‘why the hell not’ attitude promptly reigned supreme in this situation. And I was not disappointed! First of all, look at the size of it! It has a monster amount of meat in it, which made for a very happy (albeit full) girl. It was cooked extremely well, and the light salad  and potatoes were the perfect accompaniments. Lobster meat can quite easily become quite tough if overcooked and not handled well, but the chef clearly knows what he’s doing with this excellent local produce!

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Desserts

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The Boathouse Meringue (me)

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Clootie Dumpling (Mum)

My Mum had decided before she came to the restaurant that she wanted the Clootie Dumpling, as it’s a childhood favourite of hers, and she said it was delicious – the ideal balance of moist and rish. She wasn’t as keen on the whiskey ice-cream that came with it, but that’s a personal preference as neither of us is hugely keen on alcohol infused ice cream. My decision to order The Boathouse Meringue was a direct result of one being placed down in front of the man sitting at the table next to us – it was a total FOMO moment. I was quite full, but I couldn’t rightly leave the restaurant knowing I had missed out on something so spectacular! It was the perfect ratio of crunchy to chewy and the vanilla infused cream and fruit complimented it impeccably in a firework display worthy finale for the overall meal.

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Our server, Annabelle, was polite, smiley and a great waitress for the duration of our meal, which always impacts on your experience of a restaurant. And she put up with facial expressions like the one above whilst I tore into my lobster! The meal came to a total of approx.. £100 (excluding tip), and we left distinctly full and feeling like Violet who just visited Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, but not regretting it one.little.bit.

So much so, that after work the next day, we decided to go back from lunch the next day before getting the ferry back to the mainland. So it wasn’t quite the goodbye we thought for that glorious view, as it looked equally if not more beautiful the next day. Annabelle was working again as well and laughed when she saw we had come back less than 24 hours later and perched ourselves once again at the benches outside and – luckily for us – the midges didn’t make a return.

We decided to share a couple of starters, and opted for more seafood, as clearly The Boathouse knows how to handle its seafood and it would be a damn shame to miss out on all their offerings, so we ordered:

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King Prawns: with garlic hot sauce, cardamom and lime butter and blackened fried noodles

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Seared Scallops: with 12 hours slow cooked pork neck, pear & black pudding bon bons, cauliflower puree and green chilli and orange marmalade

The prawns were succulent, meaty juicy and moreish – with the texture contrast of the fried noodles in a rich, flavoursome sauce that my Mum proceeded to spread on bread (made freshly on Gigha). The scallops (I feel like I don’t even need to say they were cooked perfectly at this stage) were delicate and ideally suited to the cauliflower puree and bon bon accompaniments – I only wish there were more!

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We then paid up promptly, as we thought we could catch the ferry at 1.30pm, only to realise that there isn’t a 1.30pm ferry (lunchtime break) and we HAD to go back to The Boathouse for coffee and cake to await the next ferry at 2.30pm. So it was fair to say Annabelle probably thought we were obsessed by this point, but it was drinking my coffee whilst overlooking the Ardminish Bay that I had one of those rare ‘ahhhhh’ moments. One of those moments where you sit back, breathe in deeply and really appreciate your surroundings; feeling totally content and present in that current moment. We then headed off back to the mainland, having had a totally great time on Gigha, primarily thanks to The Boathouse restaurant, staff and location.

I’m only sorry I never got to try their Queenies, and their crab claws, oh wait … and their lemon sole … and ………. Oh never mind, I’ll just need to go back!

The Boathouse also offers camping and camper van facilities, with toilets and showers within their grounds. So take a trip over, park or tent up and enjoy the view over a glass of wine and some langoustine tails – I swear you won’t regret it.

Where To Stay: The Gigha Hotel

With its natural charm and delicious locally-sourced cuisine, the Gigha Hotel is a true testament to the finest in island hospitality. Perched quietly above Ardminish Bay, the Hotel offers everyone unsurpassed views of the beauty of Kintyre Peninsula and beyond. Whether you are with us for the day or a week, our dedicated staff will always make you feel welcome! So bring your boat, your bikes, your wellies and relax with us. Stop in at the pub and have a drink with us and allow yourself to be inspired by this wonderful hidden gem.

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The Gigha Hotel is a typical island hotel; the perfect balance between local chatter (locals gather in the reception area for tea), cosy public areas (the front room has lovely couches, TV, games and books), outdoor seating area (for when the sun does shine and you want a beer garden) and quirky elements that make it stand out in your memories later in life (the breakfast order process).

Things To Do: Achnamore Gardens

Sir James Horlick acquired the estate in 1944 he wished to establish a garden to grow his more tender Rhododendrons.  He managed this by cutting small clearings in the Ponticum and trees and by 1970 the garden was full and looked magnificent. On his death he left some of his collection to the National Trust for Scotland so that rare species could be propagated and shared with other great gardens.

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If you’re looking for something to do, the community owned and operated gardens deserve a visit – they settle you into that ‘ahhh’ moment I mentioned earlier even more as nothing quite achieves that more than the beauty of nature.

Local Produce: Wee Isle Dairy

Tarbert Farm is a small dairy farm on the Isle of Gigha off the southwest coast of Scotland, run by Emma Rennie Dennis and her brother Mark Rennie, where we milk roughly 60 cows. The herd is predominantly Friesian, with a few Jersey and other breeds. The farm is owned by the Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust; Emma & Mark’s parents took on the lease in 1968.

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You can drive by the dairy farm and past the cows that produce the lovely milk and artisan ice-creams by travelling north on the island and over the cattle grids. Similar to organic produce, it’s nice to see the animals frolicking around and playing with each other as it demonstrates a happy life on the island for them. Wee Isle Dairy milk is also one of the only producers these days that you can get the truly traditional ‘cream at the top’ of the milk bottle; extra tasty when mixed in with Scots Oats porridge! Their milk is available from various shops in Argyll (I picked mine up in Furnace local shop), and also in Edinburgh and Crieff now too.

Views: Sunset over Islay and Jura

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Top Tip: The Gigha Hotel is currently running an Itison voucher, so why not take advantage at a discounted rate and go see how great the Isle of Gigha is for yourself?!

Mammy’s Viewpoint:

“Seriously WNTL about The Boathouse and Gigha…fantastic service and fabulous food in a ‘far far better than the Caribbean’ setting. My friend and I, with our four legged friends Cerys (Welsh Terrier) and Nina (German Shepherd) are already planning an island hopping road trip in a converted van and will book in advance for the ferry, camping and the restaurant. We’re taking no chances. Can’t wait to return.

 

Whitehouse Foraging #cravingthewild

Foraging is not a new idea – our ancestors have been doing it for millions of years. It is only in relatively recent times that we have relied on farming and then our supermarkets to decide what we should be eating.In today’s busy world, convenience is highly prized but we are seeing a sharp rise in allergies. Our narrower diet, based on a limited range of farmed and processed foods is having an effect on our collective health.

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They currently have a FREE course available to book, which is on Friday 8th June in Falkirk, which you can book via their website.

I have added a link to their Website Home Page here. Alternatively, you can contact Graham via email, or further information is also accessible via Facebook.

Jonathan and I went out foraging last month with Graham & Christine at Kinneil House and the surrounding park. I had meant to update my blog with this way before now, but just didn’t get the opportunity. However, finding out that they are offering a FREE foraging event with wild cooking thrown in, I wanted to make sure I shared it with you.

The two key thoughts I came away with were: a simple forest walk won’t be the same again (you don’t realise how much of what you walk past you can eat!) and that it’s equally important to touch and smell, and not only look, when identifying something. We had an amazing time learning lots about more than 16 different plants, ranging from wild garlic, hogweed and wood sorrel to elderflower and raspberry bushes. You won’t only be shown the different plants; they’ll share different recipes you can try with your foraged goods, when you should/shouldn’t eat it, what seasons are best for what plants and also warn you away from similar looking, but poisonous, plants. 

I’ve included a list of some of the items I came across during our walk, with associated pictures and some supplementary information (photo corresponds to descriptor below).

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Ground elder  – edible, part of carrot family

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Wild garlic: lovely sauteed or used in a puree or pesto

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Rosebay willow herb

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Birch polycon mushroom: can be sliced and used as antiseptic plaster, or used in tea

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Clover root / wood avens: its root tastes like cloves (so you’d need to dig it up)

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Cow parsley: (looks similar to hemlock, which is poisonous – hemlock has no hairs, round stem and smells horrible when you split it) whereas cow parsley has concave stem (seen above), smells nice and has small hairs

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Hedge garlic: leaf garlic and stem mustard flavour

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Nettles: good for soup

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Common hogweed: when it’s you can eat the young buds or as pictured it is lovely tempura battered or fried off in butter

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Elder bush:  for elderberries later in the year, flowers in June, berries in September

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Wood sorrel: taste like apple, good with fish, (only eat wood sorrel, if it’s in a field it’s clover – doesn’t taste the same)

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Dandelion leaf:  French for teeth of lion, salad leaf, roots can be used for little parsnips – roast them, dry roasted or the root can be ground down and used as a coffee tasting substitute

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Golden saxifrage: edible, nice garnish, 5 or 6 yellow dots as marker

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Celandine: yellow flowers as marker, which is ok to eat until purple line appears and then it’s too bitter

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Hawthorne: lime green bush with sharp thorns, lovely white flowers – can eat and use flowers to make champagne

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Hogweed ‘markers’: can indicate where you can find it from far away (will cook these)

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Elf cup mushroom: an edible mushroom (the ones we found were a little past their best though)

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Sorrel: is tastes like lemon (lovely!), great with fish, and has pointed ‘ears’ as its marker, although it can look similar to ‘Lords and Ladies’ which is poisonous but L&L has more rounded ‘ears’ at bottom – so remain vigilant!

Graham and Christine are lovely people and they clearly love exploring the outdoors in addition to sharing their knowledge with others, which helps makes the whole experience something extremely worthwhile. I’ve already made some pesto with my wild garlic, which turned out great. And I’m also drawing inspiration from the lamb shoulder dish I had a Cail Bruich last night which featured wild garlic (which is what prompted me to get my ass in gear and write up this post, but it’s got its own post to follow soon too!)

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So if you’re free on 8th June, go along ! And if not, they offer other dates for trips including seaside foraging (think seaweed etc.) and a trip specifically geared towards mushrooms if fungus is your thing. Graham can also provide details of an app which can help you identify various plants if you’re struggling – advised by experts.

Top Tip: it’s really important to taste and touch what you’re foraging – don’t only use your visual senses when identifying plants.

*Please do not use the above as official identifiers, as it is purely based on my remembered knowledge and notes taken at the time – there may be mistakes due to alignment of photographs to descriptors etc.

Singl-end Cafe & Bakehouse, Merchant City #cravingtrunch

“Bohemian joint serving a wide array of creative dishes, home cooked baked beans and coffees.”

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The definition of bohemian means someone or something that is socially unconventional, or I suppose ‘hipster’ could be another descriptive word we could use for the sake of this discussion. Would you attribute this word to Singl-end? I suppose you could at first glance; with their artisan bread collection, gluten-free and vegan options, eclectic menu and high-waisted jean-clad staff. I’m smiling whilst writing this; as I’ve been Direct Messaging @foodnotes_gla on Instagram this morning talking about the occasional attempt we make to try to fit in with the other ‘real’ hipsters in these types of establishments and failing miserably… earning ourselves the self-proclaimed title of ‘fraudulent hipster’. But in actuality, what dictates whether you are or you aren’t? I find a compelling argument that hipster is becoming more mainstream, and thus doesn’t really deserve its bohemian connotations anymore. With the introduction of all the new trendy brunch spots – Pot Luck, Café Strange Brew, Patrick Duck Club and the likes, it’s becoming the norm rather than something on the periphery of convention.

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We visited the Merchant City branch again this morning, as the location of the Garnethill café has always put me off going for some reason. I think people always have personal preferences of what areas of town they like visiting (i.e. I love Merchant City and Finnieston, but I’m quite as keen on West End for example). This generally has nothing to do with the restaurants themselves, but moreso do to with accessibility for me – I find parking easy in Merchant City, and Finnieston is easy for me to get to coming from the North East of Glasgow. It’s these small things that impact the decisions we make, hence why I’m glad they opened the café on John Street.

31924632_10156492083108578_3019538338970337280_n.jpgPictured above: Meaty Baked Eggs

Their menu is slightly different than what is online (simply because I had Croque Monsieur – pictured below – on our first visit and you can’t see that option online), but the majority of dishes are the same. They also generally have a specials clipboard featuring their Daily Soup and Salad options, Main Dishes and special Omelette. Importantly… even at 10am they serve ALL menu options; even those under the ‘Lunch’ heading, or any of the ‘Main Dishes’ from the specials, which is ideal if you’re more of a ‘full meal’, rather than breakfast kinda person at McDonalds (who even likes the McMuffin’s anyway?!) If you like a myriad of flavours being offered as a supplementary taste sensation over and above your typically classic dishes, then this is a place for you (pictured below – Singl-end Eggs Florentine). I love when chefs take time to really enhance flavour in their dishes, as their passion really does end up on the plate, which inevitably is what draws in the droves of customers in their masses. The fresh baked goods and fresh bread on display as soon as you enter through their doors is a smart marketing ploy, but equally effective in encouraging people to wait for a table (as you can’t book).

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Service is typical of a generally busy café; they’re polite and efficient but often don’t have the luxury of spending too much time building rapport with tables, as otherwise service would suffer. Although I did have a nice conversation with a waitress upstairs today just before I left, which always personalises the experience and encourages you to return somewhere, in my opinion. Having been a waitress myself for a significant number of years, good customer service is one of those elements of eating out that really impresses me, but you also need to take all factors into consideration when reviewing it (i.e. how quiet/busy, informal/formal or staff levels), however regardless of all that – politeness and efficiency are admirable qualities to aspire to.

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Their seemingly hand crafted table tops with old letters and stamps preserved in time for you to peruse over your baked eggs is pleasing, fun and provides a great backdrop for any pictures. I also like their island and Scottish maps up on the walls upstairs, as quite ironically I noticed the Islay map whilst on the phone to a Water Operator on Islay dealing with critical water tank levels due to a Whisky festival going on this weekend (the joys of being on Operational Stand-By…). So I suppose with the funky interior décor, there is the opposing argument for hipster status once again. But dare I say it… they haven’t caught onto the paper straw movement yet (much to my fiancés delight), so maybe it’s time we all admitted that this is simply our current trend, or dare I say ‘fad’ indulgence, for brunch these days? And they needn’t be scared of dropping the ‘bohemian’ tagline in favour of advertising themselves as leading ‘trunch’ providers (that’s trendy brunch FYI), as if I learned anything at my last creative thinking seminar, it’s that a newly created word can draw a loyal audience that transcends even the quality of the item (e.g. Cronut). But I’ll leave you with that for now, as I never professed to be a marketing genius and they’ve pretty much got brunch on lockdown anyway, so that’s a wrap folks!

33576434_10156545699283578_6783485336010883072_nPictured above: Meaty Breakfast (with substitution of vegetarian haggis instead of black pudding)

Top Tip: visit the John Street (Merchant City) branch if you want somewhere handy for parking, and be prepared to wait for a table if you’re going at busy times!

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Salmon Stack

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Altamurra Toast with scrambled eggs & veggie haggis (amazing!)

Paesano, Miller Street #cravingthebestpizzaintown

“At Paesano Pizza we are the first to bring authentic, traditional Napoletana pizza to Glasgow. Cooked in Artisan built wood fired ovens from Naples, our Pizzaiolo take pride in adhering to the process in production of the dough and provenance of the produce to Verace pizza Napoletana standard. Our pizza is a hybrid yeast and sourdough proofed for over 48 hours. The long proofing time together with cooking at an intense heat of 500oC produces a moist, light, soft, digestible crust which is aromatic and delicious.”

Overall Rating: 10/10

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I’ll try to make this review as quick as Paesano makes their pizza’s (90 seconds apparently) – as truly delicious things can’t be described with justice through words and pictures – you just gotta try it for yourself! Pizza can elicit a sense of calm, serene happiness for me; biting into doughy crust with vibrant tomato sauce and delectable toppings is a hard combination to defeat in both culinary aspects or in general life. So when I found myself heading back home from walking the dog last night, thinking “what shall I have for dinner?”, Paesano was firmly always at the top of that list.

Firstly, for being such a damn tasty pizza, they’re so reasonably priced! When you compare the cost to that of its competitors (e.g. Toni’s Pizzeria Giffnock/Gibson St), it comes out triumphant both in affordability and flavour. The price ranges from £6 – 8 per pizza, with the option to add additional toppings if you want (either from the other pizzas or the Specials Board). Their menu has 9 options, with generally another 2 pizza options on their Specials Board, which can vary weekly.

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They don’t take bookings, which can deter some people (but clearly not a lot, as the entrance way is always rammed), but I would encourage you to drop in anyway as the waiting times are minimal due to the speedy pizza making time. You would struggle to be waiting more than 5-10 minutes, and don’t they say ‘anything worth having is worth the wait’? Trust me when I tell you – it is worth the wait!

I can only speak for the Miller Street restaurant (sorry Katie!) when I say that they have certainly got the ‘vibe’ of the restaurant right; long wooden benches with cutlery being supplied in recycled tomato tins, illuminating light from their proud ‘Paesano’ sign on the wall in addition to strategically placed lighting for excellent Instagramable pictures and a constant, excitable buzz about the place to generate anticipation for the mouth-watering pizza to come. If you’re popping in for a takeaway, you’re free to go to the front of the line at the right hand side, where a waiter/waitress should take your order (this will save you standing behind a long line of people who are looking to add their name to the waiting list to sit-in).

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I actively choose to eat the crust and leave the topping section when I find myself getting slightly full… which is slightly backwards when it comes to your typical pizza eater, but crust is the prime time real estate for me on Paesano pizzas. You parents tell you to eat the meat as that’s what costing the money? Not with Paesano’s! Eat the crust first… the flavour in it alone will have you returning time and time again (pictured below is a No. 5 with additional topping of red onion and No. 8 with additional topping of tomato sugo).

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The owners have hit the nail on the head when it comes to what the people of Glasgow are after, hence why Paesano’s is such a roaring success. And considering they ran both The Italian Caffe and The Italian Kitchen so well until they sold it (before opening Paesano’s), I’m not surprised! It provides tasty, delectable, reasonably priced pizza in a chic urban setting for all to enjoy. It was named No. 1 pizza restaurant in the UK by Stylist Magazine for a reason y’know. So let it make all your doughy/ cheesy dreams come true, and I’ll take a bet that everywhere else will pale in comparison forevermore!

Not sure I hit the 90 second brief, but what can I say … I’ve got a lot to say about pizza!!

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(pictured: No. 4 with additional topping of special meat – porchetta)

Top Tip: parking isn’t great on Miller Street, so I would park nearby or take public transport/walk where possible.

The Strathearn, Gleneagles Hotel #cravingperfection

“Representing Scotland at its best – its heritage, history and beauty – The Strathearn experience is like going to the theatre and being entertained. One of the last bastions of first-class Highland dining, The Strathearn’s traditional walnut gueridon trolleys, silver cloches and butler trays deliver the touch of a bygone era, while a setting of elegant grandeur reflects the essence of Gleneagles glamour.”

Overall Rating: 10/10

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I’ve got a confession – I adore Gleneagles. This makes it extremely easy for me to write a review or blog post on anything related to it, as it’s almost like reliving the great experience all over again, whilst trying to articulate the excellence of the experience in words that do it justice. I’ve posted the Trip Advisor review I wrote from my stay at Gleneagles for Jonathan’s birthday treat in April HERE, which focuses more on the hotel itself. I’m going to use this opportunity to discuss my experience of The Strathearn restaurant, as that’s where I decided to dine on my recent visit. The opportunity to stay this time around came as a joyous perk of having a mother who loves Gleneagles as much as I do; she was there to celebrate her friend’s 60th birthday with a table booking in Andrew Fairlie’s. I was tempted to try room service for the first time, but after reviewing the available menu items, I decided to venture out on the iconic allure of the cheese trolley.

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I wandered round from Braid House around 7.45pm and I was pleased to be seated in the conservatory area, beside the window, by the hostess Francesca. My table provided lovely lighting for a few photos as it was still light outside; and meant I had a view of the lawns out to the side of the hotel. The sommelier Elena-Diana offered me the drinks menu, which I declined as I do prefer to spend my calories on food rather than alcohol… depressing, but true. I also wasn’t feeling all that hungry, so I decided I would order 2 x starters followed by (duhhh) the cheese trolley, because, well… cheese. I always have room for cheese; it’s my chocolate dessert belly equivalent (i.e. people who say they can be full to the brim, but mention a chocolate dessert and suddenly they have room for it). Gleneagles offers 3 x courses for £65 in The Strathearn restaurant, but if you aren’t feeling up to 3 courses, you can choose from the same menu as if it were A La Carte.

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I knew I would be ordering the beetroot and goats cheese starter, as it had lingered on my taste buds since my visit in April. So my only real choice came down to whether I wanted Scottish Langoustine Bisque or Wild Mushroom and Fennel soup. I hadn’t noticed the soup on the menu the month previously and although not directly responsible for the food menu at all, I need to thank Elena-Diana for her recommendation to try the wild mushroom soup. Our logic was neither of us had tried it, but both loved mushroom and I’d had the langoustine bisque numerous times before. I’m extremely glad I took her advice, as the depth of flavour in my bowl was staggering. I didn’t get a particularly aesthetic photograph, which is maybe my failing as an experienced blogger but I’m blaming it on greed and anticipation; I didn’t relish pausing the waitress whilst she poured the warm soup over a nicely constructed pile of fennel and mushrooms in my bowl. It all tastes the same when it’s in your mouth anyway, so I didn’t feel so bad about not catching the little vegetable mountain in all its glory before it was swallowed up by fungus-decadence. So my personal thanks to Elena-Diana, and also the chefs for this wonderful new and delightful addition to the menu!

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Following my soup, I had the Heritage beetroot, goat’s cheese and baby leek salad with truffle honey and toasted seeds. I enjoyed it so much when I tried it on my last visit in April, I HAD to get it again. As I said to Elizabeth who was one of the waitresses attending to my table, I genuinely thought it was even better than last time (if that’s possible!). The earthy smell of the fresh beetroot is what assails your senses when the plate is placed in front of you, followed by the vibrant colours against the stark white of the dinner plate. The pickled radish provides a sharp contrast to the rich sweetness of the truffle honey and fresh beetroot. I thoroughly appreciated every mouthful of that salad; taking my time with it and revelling in how such few ingredients can be prepared and treated with such care and attention to gift diners with so many zeniths of sensory delight from one ‘simple’ dish. Another small touch, which really sets Gleneagles apart, was Elizabeth remembering me when I mentioned to her she had served me the month before. She even remembered what Jonathan, my fiance, had ordered! She must have an excellent memory, but it truly elicits the experience and feeling of exemplary service.

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To close, I had a final course, which I had been leading up to with fervour and anticipation… the cheese trolley. Cheese is included in the 3 x courses for £65 menu at no extra charge, but you can allow them to bring you a selection or you can ask for the trolley to pick yourself. Being a bit of a control freak in certain aspects (Jonathan would say many!) I prefer to pick my own. I also think having the opportunity to see the cheeses and ask questions about them are part of the experience; one which Christina helped grandly with. I’m a big fan of soft, strong cheeses and goat’s cheese (unless that wasn’t already obvious with how much I raved about the beetroot and goat’s cheese salad). So apologies in advance if you’re a hard cheese or blue fan, ‘cause I’ll be disappointing you miserably with my recommendations here! I chose 6 x cheeses from the trolley:

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You can see from above I’m clearly a French cheese fan, oui oui!

My favourite of the evening was the St Maure (11 o’clock position), but I cleared the plate so they were all delicious! Only disappointing element of the evening for me was that they didn’t have any of the charcoal crackers I like, which they usually do have available. I’m not an oatcakes with cheese lover so I asked for some more of the pumpkin seed bread rolls, which was no issue at all. This was also accompanied with truffle honey (again, I know… but it’ so yummy!), quince and chutney.

Whilst enjoying my cheese, I became acutely aware of the piano playing Clair Du Lune followed by Tale as Old as Time in the background and I just stopped for a moment to appreciate my surroundings and the ambiance created within The Strathearn. I left feeling well looked after, content and happy, and I really couldn’t have asked for much more than that having eaten alone. Thank you!

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Francesca greeted my Mum and I warmly again the next morning for breakfast and seated us at the same table I’d had the night before. Sunshine illuminated the room and the conservatory was heating up quite quickly due to the greenhouse effect. Thankfully there were a set of doors behind us that were opened up, providing some cool air and a welcome breeze. I won’t delve too much into the breakfast on this review (I’ve shared some photos on my Instagram), but let me know if you want to know more about it on another post!

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Service: 10/10

Food: 10/10

Ambiance: 10/10

Value: 8/10

Instagram: @laurenscravings