“Tre prosecco “ I knew this food tour was going to go well: it was 10.30 am in the morning – and I had flown into Rome last night from Edinburgh to meet my friend Fran who had flown from Gatwick – and we were on a four-hour eating and drinking tour with Domenico of Eating Europe Food Tours
On my Edinburgh Food Safari, we visit Armstrong’s of Stockbridge https://ar
mstrongsofstockbridge.co.uk/ where my guests love their famous delicately smoked salmon. Gary Huckle and his team slowly smoke a whole Scottish salmon over wood chips in the back shop, then marinate it in Pickerings 1947 gin.
Armstrong’s source their salmon from Cooke Aquaculture Scotland’s seawater salmon farms in Orkney and Shetland, chosen because the salmon has plenty of strong tidal water to work out with – no risk of flabby fins – and also no need for chemical intervention in case of sea lice, thanks to good currents and cool temperatures.
Off to Orkney
So I was thrilled when I was asked by the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO) to go on a publicity trip to Orkney to learn more about the farmed salmon industry. Salmon is the fish you are most likely to see in a UK shopper’s basket and it ranks in the top three of the UK’s food exports.
We started off visiting the Cooke Aquaculture processing plant in Kirkwall, the main town in Orkney. It’s a very slick operation; thousands of salmon which have been harvested (humanely stunned) at sea, come off the boats in ice – having already undergone rigor mortis, then at the plant, they are gutted, checked, weighed, packed in ice by hand
and then down to Larkhall near Glasgow to be dispatched worldwide within 24 hours of being taken out of the sea and in some cases are actually on the dining plate within 24 hours.
Then, time for feeding – not us – the salmon. We donned bright orange oilskins, wellies, life vests and were taken on a fishing trawler to visit a salmon farm site just off the island of Hoy. Some 20,000 salmon were in a round floating ring structure – about 100 metres in circumference supporting a large net bag hanging in the water. Fishmeal which is a ‘hot’ topic at the moment is fed to the salmon at set times of the day using a huge spraying machine which deposits the food pellets directly on top of the pen area. We were able to jump down from the small trawler to the circular pens and walk round to the feed barge to watch the process via the underwater cameras; the words ‘feeding frenzy’ do spring to mind. It’s all very mechanised; there were electronic microscopes to monitor plankton levels, digital thermometers for the water temperature and gauges showing the feed levels in the stores. Salmon like swimming in shoals, so they will tend to swim together, regardless of the area provided. The SSPO hopes at some point the public will be able to see live feeds from Scottish salmon pens – not quite as cute as penguin feeding at the zoo – but there does seem to be a real effort in the farmed salmon industry for transparency. The SSPO are keen to stress Scotland’s feed suppliers are sourced from responsible and sustainable fisheries.
Our guide lifted a salmon out of the pen using a net – during feeding time. To my untrained eye, the fish had shiny eyes and shiny scales so looked healthy/happy but as miffed as a salmon could be, when removed from its place in the lunch queue.
But what I could see for sure, were so many locals of all ages working in the salmon industry. They seemed to be enjoying and stimulated by their jobs, not just at the processing plants and fish farms, but at the fish pen-making site, the fishmongers, fish smokers and restaurants.
Knock on effects?
Orkney will always attract tourists including masses by cruise ship, because of its rich heritage; it has the best preserved stone age village in Europe, St Magnus Cathedral, wildlife; puffins, seals, seabirds, but tourism alone could threaten to turn a community into a Disneyland film set. Fish farming offers work to people not just on the Orkney mainland, but also on the more remote but also inhabited smaller islands. This does seem to make for an incredibly get up and go dynamic community from house builders turned gin-makers and coffee machine suppliers turned coffee roasters which benefits both locals and tourists.
The salmon was smoked over wood chips, and timed depending which way the wind was blowing, which was a refreshing change after all those machines we saw regulating everything – and it tasted delicious – quite smoky actually.
Its not just salmon, if I lived in Orkney – I could easily create a food safari – there are so many fantastic local products, just check out the Orkney food and drink site https://www.orkneyfoodanddrink.com/
Kirkjuvagr Orkney Gin https://www.orkneydistilling.com/ won Scottish Gin Destination of the Year accolade for its five-star Kirkwall distillery and visitor centre, which we visited; I loved the upturned boat ceiling in the bar/coffee shop. Kirkjuvagr won Silver for its Arkh-Angell ‘Storm Strength’ gin (57-per-cent gin)
There are also fantastic local cheeses – including my favourite crumbly cows cheese Grimbister (also ready to cook deep-fried breaded Grimbister) butter, cheddar, oatcakes, beer , preserves, whisky and even rum.
Many of these can be sourced directly including Cooke Aquaculture Scotland’s smoked salmon from Jolly’s of Orkney https://www.jollysoforkney.co.uk/collections/all so you could too, can have your own food tour without leaving home – which might just inspire you to get on a plane/boat to eat and drink Orkney.
We are running our popular gin walking tours all through August as part of The Edinburgh Fringe – from Wednesday to Saturdays 2- 31 August. Leave the crowds behind as you walk through Georgian streets and past the oldest gin distillery in Edinburgh (1740s) on the Leith Water – enjoy a Edinburgh gin Liquer with prosecco, gin and raspberry marshmallows, gin cured salmon and gin and end with a Highland gin in a cool lowland gin joint.
EIT Climate-KIC, a European knowledge and innovation community came to Edinburgh for a climate change conference and were looking for a novel way to eat and see the city. Edinburgh Food Safari was delighted to host the group – which started at 40 guests rising to 47 guests- the biggest Edinburgh Food Safari so far! The brief was Scottish food – a whole traditional meal – and see Edinburgh.We split the group of 47 into two groups – 23 and 24 with 12 veggies and vegans in the mix. We started off with smoked salmon flatbreads and a welcome dram of single malt from Wick – Old Pultenay – called the maritime malt as the distillery is located so near the Wick harbour.
We then enjoyed afternoon scones with homemade jam and cream, and Scottish tea blended to suit our soft Scottish water. Then a lovely saunter through The New Town –a world heritage site – and lots of looking through windows to see New Town residents relaxing in Farrow and Ball restrained coloured- sitting rooms.
Then toasted marshmallows on a stick – not traditional – but I challenge anyone not to revel in the absolute pillowy softness of Nicole Roberts aka The Marshmallow Lady’s freshly made marshmallows. This season we are trying to resist too many caramel apple and pumpkin spice marshmallows.
We ended our two- hour safari at The One Place for a plate of haggis, neeps and tatties – with vegan haggis a very delicious option. The second group who had a different start place came to join us – making 47 very happy safari travellers who had indeed tasted and seen a bit of Scotland.
A food safari is a great way for groups to naturally mingle as there are four eating and drinking stops and no one gets stuck in one seating for two hours. Also as we walk in between stops we are building up an appetite so more food can be sampled!
I LOVE SCONES and am keen to start a new safari devoted to the ultimate
scone experience in East Lothian – tracking down the best possible ingredients then cooking them. First stop on my search was Mungoswells Farm just outside Longniddry. I met farmer Angus McDowall and his assistant Alison – pictured below with a genuine Swiss Army mobile flour mill. The mill is really like a giant pen knife as it folds out when stationary to become a fully active mill ready to mill wheat at a drop of a Swiss cocked hat! The mobile unit, which was built in 1977, was originally designed to go out in the field with the soldiers
and provide them with flour to make bread and feed them during missions.
When it arrived at Mungowells it was all ready for action – even with two unused brooms. See Alison modelling with brooms. The wheat is grown on Angus’s 550 acre farm and milled on the site – making it the only mill in Scotland to grown and mill their own wheat.
You can buy Mungoswells flours in several independent retailers in Edinburgh – Realfoods .Next stop is Yesterdairies for cream and milk and hunting down a good jam maker and also a good venue for afternoon teas in East Lothian who can make a scone with some of the best freshest produce you can possibly buy. Stay tuned and follow!
I went to London for a three-day trip – never like to stay with anyone for longer than three days – based on the premis that guests and fish go off after three days.
The reason for my visit was my great friend Genevieve Fox was publishing her first book https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/jan/29/milkshakes-morphine-memoir-love-loss-genevieve-fox-review .Milkshakes and morphine is an un-put-downable down memoir – I devoured it one evening pre publication and experienced a torrent of different kind of emotions for the author and also as a friend. Do buy and read: Milkshakes and Morphine: A Memoir of Love and Loss by Genevieve Fox is published by Square Peg (£14.99)
And of course with London I wanted to eat – the in-crowd may have moved on but I wanted to try The Chiltern Firehouse which is a former fire station dating from the 1880s, this refined, high-end hotel is surrounded by bars, restaurants and shopping in the fashionable Marylebone district http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-5319709/Princess-Eugenie-parties-Chiltern-Firehouse-again.html
My friend Lu secured a table – one with a actual fire pole -so we imagined the action that bit of metal had seen as we looked for celebs – Eugenie hadn’t turned up yet…
From the range of starters top pick was this crab doughnut £7
I love to see a bit of London I don’ t know and I would recommend going on an airbnb experience -https://www.airbnb.co.uk/experiences/145488 I thought Roberta’s tour (£20 per person)- a gorgeous mix of economy and history from Bloomberg’s latest scraper to the recently discovered Mitra temple with coffee thrown in in a crypt church and Roberta ended her tour on a high at the Skyscraper Bar in the city.
Coffee in the crypt in St Marys le Bow London
and as Roberta was Italian – of course we got the best coffee and sandwich tips – Panini Gusto in the city from Milan a Parma Ham sandwich packed with ham and mozzarella. And enough walking why not hop – or in my case pour myself into a mini and have a tour of the city – seeing the big names and the lesser known sights https://smallcarbigcity.com/ Samantha picked us up from exposed pipes but cool pan Asian food at Caravan restaurant Bankside where I had just eaten a very fine crispy tofu with fermented black bean paste – through Borough Market in a mini – ‘these are great salted caramel doughnuts’ – Sam said – ‘oh yes please I said’ as I begged the Borough Market bread vendor to pass one through the roof – which was open and then we were off again
Samantha with her whizzy mini – and finally before I let the train take the strain back to Scotland I was delighted to find there is a food market – wednesdays to Fridays at Kings Cross Railway Station http://www.realfoodfestival.co.uk/real-food-markets/kings-cross-market/which is great if you have a hankering for fresh doughnuts – even I had had enough – to Moroccan carrots and felafel and feta and lentil salad with dried apricots for your train journey which I ate as headed north through England’s Green and Pleasant.