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Friday, June 13, 2014

What's Wrong With British Food?

Nothing. OK, we had our share of "meh" meals during our trip to Scotland - like the fish and chips we had for our first meal in Inverness. But, in fairness, The Filling Station advertised itself as "An American Restaurant and Bar." Our bad, but we'd just gotten into town, were famished, and it was the first place we saw. Even so, the haggis bites were a pretty tasty appetizer. By comparison, I had some great haddock and chips at Hector's Bothy in Kyle, along with a pint of Old Speckled Hen red ale.

This would be a good time to diverge into my beer and single malt tasting. The Brits (including Scots) brew some really good and some really bad beers and ales. Low on my list for this trip were Tennent's lager (think an American light beer), Bellhaven's Best (a low-grade cream ale) and Efes, a Turkish pilsner.  Oh, but there were some delights. Cock of the North ale; Red MacGregor, a Scottish ale from Orkney; Red Cuillin pale ale, brewed on the Isle of Skye; Highlander Ale; Cairngorm Tradewinds, brewed in Aviemore; and Deuchars IPA - a favorite of Ian Rankin's character of John Rebus - unbelievably brewed by the same company responsible for Bellhaven's.

Speaking of Rebus, in Rankin's series teetotalers and cops on the wagon usually choose Irn-Bru. It's iconically Scottish soft drink. There's even an Irn-Bru cycling jersey available from British manufacturer Foska. It's highly-carbonated, bright orange, and tastes like weak apricot soda. I tried it once, and that was quite enough.

Being Type 1 diabetic, I had to give myself a bit extra insulin whenever I had beer or ale with a meal. Not so with whiskeys. Nearly 40 years ago, I was introduced to Laphroig single malt by cousin Henry in the bar of the Cardiff Arms Hotel. I liked the heavy, peaty taste. Not so much anymore. A couple of years ago, I switched to Bowmore, a lighter malt, also from the Isle of Islay (pronounced Illy). But, I thought this would be a good opportunity to sample a wide variety of single malts and see if I wanted to choose a new favorite. I did.

A friend from my University of Wyoming days favored Glenmorangie. As with so many I tried, it had a smooth start and a rough finish. Not what I wanted. Same with Talisker, distilled on the Isle of Sky. A pub where we'd stopped for lunch had a special on Dalmore 12-year-old. It was love at first taste, so much so that I took a tour of the Dalmore distillery in Alness. Still, I wanted to be sure this was what I wanted to buy a bottle of (yes, I  just ended a sentence with a preposition). I tried Cardhu; hated it. A nice blend, Te Bheag, in Sleat.

Then, a clerk at a woolen shop in Inverness recommended two single malts from his Orkney home - Jura and Highland Park. Jura didn't do it for me; too harsh. But Highland Park, ah, that was another story. Beautiful from tip of tongue, through the mouth, and finish in the throat. That was the one.

Interesting economics of buying Scotch. Prices at the Gatwick Airport duty-free shop were higher than local Scottish liquor stores or gift shops. Using my smart phone, I found lower prices at Total Wine, a COSTCO of beer, wine and spirits in Spokane Valley. So, yesterday, I picked up a bottle of Highland Park and a six-pack of Old Speckled Hen, the only one of the British beers I favored during my trip which they had.

Back to food. We usually had breakfast in our flats (porridge for me; a croissant for Karen), ate lunch out, and usually ate a takeout dinner at "home." We had some fabulous meals, including a fall-off-the-bone lamb shank at Aspendos, a Turkish restaurant in Inverness; langoustinos, and venison steak on a round of black pudding at the Gun Lodge Hotel in Ardersier; venison pate, and sea trout with mussels and crisp vegetables at the Dores Inn; sea bass with leek risotto and cherry tomatoes at the Uig Hotel. We also had a variety of insanely good pastries with tea throughout Scotland.

Lamb shank
Venison steak on black pudding round with vegetables

Sea bass with leek risotto
Sea trout with mussels and  vegetables

Finally, a note on Scottish supermarkets. Whether the food court at Marks & Spencer in Inverness, Morrisons, or the Co-operative Food stores (seemingly everywhere), take-out options are terrific. Indian, being the new national food of Great Britain, the stores had ready-to-heat tikkas, baltis, rogans, tandooris, saag, naan, garlic mushrooms, and more; there were lamb shanks and pork shanks; pub favorite cottage pies, steak and ale pies, steak and kidney pies, toad-in-the-hole, bangers (sausages) and mash; roasted duck legs in a variety of sauces.

And now, a couple of pounds heavier, I'm back to cooking. Chicken and mushrooms tonight. And, maybe, an Old Specked Hen.

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