EATING FOR BRITAIN: ON THE ROAD WITH RHIDIAN
I meet amazing, curious and crazy people as I travel around, but few have been as beguilingly barking as my new chum, Rhidian. I was put in touch with him by Henrietta Lovell, of The Rare Tea Company, who explained that he often took his obsession with food to ridiculous levels. After one short day in his company, I can see what she means, hanging with Rhidian is a dangerous business.
He reminded me of a character from Wallace & Grommit, with unbounded and infectious enthusiasm for everything and everybody, particularly food and food people. His first sage advice was to have a light breakfast at my guesthouse and I soon began to understand why after I met him as planned opposite The Balmoral Hotel on Princes Street and he began to outline his challenging food itinerary for the day.
First up, second breakfast at a small, unassuming café called Embo where, while Rhidian broke open a decent looking wrap, I found room for a large portion of scrambled eggs and local smoked trout on honey bread.
Next up, one of the highlights of the day, indeed one of the highlights of any number of days. Rhidian took me to meet his chum Mark who runs George Bowers, one of Edinburgh’s top game butchers. Rhidian, it transpired knew everyone there well and would often pop in to help in busy times in return for being taught the skills of a master butcher. This shop is the real deal. A huge chill room filled with ageing beef, game birds waiting to be plucked and butchers of years standing, cutting and trimming with uncanny precision. Rhidian had persuaded Mark not only to show me how they made their haggis, but also to allow me to create my own Chieftain O’ The Pudding Race.
In a large steamer, the carcasses of trimmed game were being boiled to make a deep stock whose gamey fumes filled the air. In a pan, Mark mixed this with the classic ingredients for the haggis, heart, lung, liver and fat. He cooked them off for a short while before mincing with fresh onions and then adding the spices (lots of white pepper, I reckon) and pinhead oatmeal and then it was my turn as I was instructed to rinse off the salted ox stomach used for the casing and then, using the sausage machine, to make a haggis of my very own.
Well, despite the laughter from the assembled, gnarly faced old butchers, I thought I did a rather splendid job and was pleased as punch when Mark wrapped my creation up for me and added to it a fresh Scotch pie for extra measure.
After a quick stop at Luca, one of Edinburgh’s most famous ice cream shops, I was surprised when Rhidian slotted his car into a small space in front of what appeared to be a very ordinary looking Chinese restaurant. Rhidian, as I was realising, doesn’t do ordinary and assured me that I was in for a treat. Chop Chop, run by Chinese chef Jian and her English husband, Roy specialises in dumplings from the Northern East regions of China and, under their guidance the staff presented us with plate after plate of juicy, succulent dumplings both boiled and lightly fried. Alongside these came simple yet flavour packed side dishes of green beans and a particularly stunning plate of aubergine in garlic and chilli. Chop Chop already has great reviews in Scotland and recently came second to the famed Manchester restaurant Yang Sing in a major competition sponsored by Tsing Tao.
One can’t help thinking that any broadsheet reviewer willing to eat outside Fulham and head to Morningside, might just be on to a real winner. I can safely say that, if Chop Chop were in London, it would be as busy as Tayyabs. That’s how good it is.
Next stop was one of my organising, a chance to meet with the good people of MacSween’s haggis. Unfortunately, they are a bit iffy about pictures being taken in the factory, so I don’t have anything to show for a fascinating and hugely enjoyable two hour visit with James and Jo MacSween, but what interested myself and Rhidian, who joined me, most was the similarity in enthusiasm between them and Mark at George Bowers. MacSween may be making tonnes more of the things, but their passion for what they are doing was obvious and their generosity likewise as they plied us with goodie bags to take away.
Rhidian had plans to finish me off with not one but two classic Scottish fish suppers. Unfortunately, after the first, at The Cadora Café, just across The Forth Road Bridge, I was spent. Rhidian had beaten me and, despite his cries of “lightweight” the savoury sweat oozing from my brow told me that I should probably call it quits and head to my next guesthouse.
So, after following him back to his house to borrow a cool bag to store my haul for the day, I headed off through the winding unlit lanes of Fife in the direction of the village of Pittenweem, where I would be spending the night mainlining Zantac.
I am already planning a rematch with Rhidian next time he comes to London. The bugger wont know what hit him.