Here we are in the middle of an economic recession, mass unemployment and rising house prices – and how does Edinburgh react? By eating cupcakes.
I’ve never seen so many cupcake shops before.
Bibi’s Bakery, Cuckoo’s Bakery, Candy Cupcake, Ever So Sweet – you can’t swing a cat in this town without hitting a moist buttercream cake covered in chocolate sprinkles.
I’m not complaining because I have a sweet tooth. I also have a savoury tooth. OK, I’ll admit it, I just love food. Which is a good thing because Edinburgh has a lot of interesting eateries.
There’s a fish and chip shop on the Grassmarket that’ll deep-fry anything. Mars bars, hamburgers, salads, heart disease tablets. You bring it in - they’ll stick it in the fryer and try to kill you.
Don’t you wish fish and chip shops still wrapped their food in newspapers? Come on, just think how much more enjoyable this column would be if it came with a mince pie.
There’s a couple of great Italian restaurants at the top of Leith Walk and another great one on North Bridge.
I really like Italian food but I’ve never understood their preoccupation with the pepper mill. In any other restaurant anywhere in the world the salt and pepper are on the table – but not in Italian restaurants. The waiter will bring a big mill to the table and sprinkle pepper onto your food. Why can’t I do that? You trust me with a fork and knife – why don’t you trust me with the pepper mill? Maybe they think I’ll run amok, seasoning the food of nearby dinners?
I’m a big fan of Mums on Forrest Road. I like their simple comfort food. And I like the service. They’re very attentive. And that’s something I know a lot about because before I stumbled into the world of comedy I was a waitress. I was a waitress for many, many years. But I was a real maverick waitress. I played by my own rules. I took orders from no one.
I once served Sir George Martin in a North London bistro, and I don’t care if he is referred to as “the Fifth Beatle” and considered to be one of the greatest record producers of all time, he only left a £1.50 tip on a £70 meal!
That explains why I prefer the Rolling Stones over the Beatles. It also explains the surprise Sir George will have received when he got home and opened his doggy bag of leftovers.
So, you’ve got the food right and you’ve got the service right, what else do you need for a good restaurant? The layout.
We visited a bar/restaurant on Rose Street recently. We were shown to our table and it was only after sitting down I realised I was opposite the door to the gents toilets. Every couple of minutes another man would enter or exit giving me a clear view into the gents. Not a pretty sight when you’re trying to eat. It put me straight off my plate of chipolatas. Still, it could have been worse – Victor Palsson could have been there.
I don’t like restaurants that use a “Please Wait Here To Be Seated” sign. Especially when the restaurant is empty. And you’re dining alone.
Last year I turned up early for my show at the Futurist Theatre in Scarborough. I was cold, I was tired after a long drive and I hadn’t eaten all day so after the soundcheck I went to the Pizza Express next door and they seated me in the window. As someone who worked in restaurants I can tell you this is a trick to drum up business. Seat people by the window and it gives passersby the illusion the restaurant is busy and they will subconsciously remember it next time they’re planning on eating out.
Sounds like a great idea doesn’t it? But I travel to most of my shows on my own. Its just me and a microphone. I don’t need a tour manager, or roadies, or a personal assistant. It’s just me. So the idea of sticking me in the window as an advert didn’t really work. Not unless they were selling the idea of one slightly p***ed-off looking woman eating on her own. That’s quite sad.
To make matters worse, the audience started queuing for my show – right outside the Pizza Express window.
Half way through my dinner I became aware that 200 people were standing outside the restaurant watching me. Waiting for me to do something funny. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to entertain a 200 strong audience through the method of mime, armed only with a Fiorentina Pizza – its not as easy as you’d think.
I’m still getting to know my neighbours so I ended the week off by inviting Shirley from next door in for afternoon tea. Big mistake. The water was boiling when I realised I’d run out of tea bags. I frantically searched through the cupboard and eventually found a box of posh tea I’d been given last Christmas. I don’t know if Shirley thought I was slightly pretentious or slightly crazy as I served her a cup of Fortnum and Mason’s finest Duchy Darjeeling – with a mixed plate of Jammy Dodgers and Tunnock’s Caramel Wafers.
That’s what you do here in Edinburgh, isn’t it?