The Shore Bar & Restaurant, Edinburgh

I have spent over a year of my life at The Edinburgh Festival. That is both a reflection of the number of times I have performed up here and how most perfomers feel as they enter the last week of another Fringe. There are far too many memories to unpack, good bad and indifferent. For me, the good will always outweigh the bad, which is quite possibly why I keep coming back, although why it is also becoming harder and harder to justify the experience to my wife.

One of my favourite years was 2013 as I had a successful show that I had not expended too much emotional energy on – not only did I come up with the stated intention of simply having fun, I made money and played to decent audiences, which was in stark contrast to 2012. I was also living with two of my best friends, Mick Ferry and Hal Cruttenden, who would go on to be MC and Best Man at my wedding a year later (the speeches were ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.)

Our original flat was an absolute disaster, with rat traps under a leaking sink and so unfit for purpose Mick took one look at it, (while Hal stood screaming on a kitchen chair,) and demanded we were rehoused immediately. I missed all this drama and arrived the next day to a perfectly acceptable alternative and Hal’s pulse rate heading back towards ‘resting,’ or as close as it ever gets. If you ever need an estate agent to be ‘spoken’ to, could I recommend alumni of Counthill Comprehensive, Oldham over St Paul’s every time.

As a result of our enforced relocation, we also received some money back and decided to spend it on a slap up dinner at Fisher’s, which remains one of my favourite meals of all time. I wrote about it here. So good was it that when my girlfriend came up, it was the first place I took her to. I am contractually obliged to point out that this was also one of my favourite meals of all time.

Fast forward almost ten years and that former girlfriend and I had booked a babysitter and determined to try and forge a date night out of the Edinburgh madness. Unfortunately, thanks to my own lack of organisational capabilities, Fishers couldn’t fit us in at a suitable time. So I asked Jo Caulfield, wonderful comic, friend and Leith resident if she had any other recommendations. She suggested The Shore Bar & Restaurant, which happens to be in the building next to Fishers and owned by them. So, a pretty reasonable alternative.

It is a beautiful space – wood panelled throughout, with a vast mirror at one end of the bar to create the illusion of a much bigger room, and slightly more formal seating in a dining room off to the right. The whole place has a vaguely Gallic feel – no bad thing in my book – and I found myself tempted by the advertised Jazz Sunday lunch, which is no mean feat for anyone who knows my opinions about eating to music. A relatively brisk menu of solid fish and meat dishes was presented and I prepared for some serious cooking.

I really wanted to love The Shore, so it’s a pity I think we caught them on a slightly Monday night. So much was perfect, and I know Ms Caulfield to have excellent taste in everything except husbands (I’m going for a drink with him later,) but there were a couple of issues. My wife’s scallops with a burnt apple puree were excellent, but the accompanying greens contained pancetta that could really have benefitted from crisping up. I realise this sounds picky, but as she pointed out, there were a couple of lumps of what was essentially unrendered fat in there, and they were not particularly pleasant to eat. My spiced calamari were thoroughly workmanlike, with a decent, if not overly punchy smoked chilli mayonnaise. There was absolutely nothing wrong with them, but actually, the star of the show was a beautifully dressed side salad, zinging with freshness and crunch.

For main course, my wife had the fish pie with more of the exemplary salad. Frankly, if a restaurant of this calibre can’t get their fish pie right, we would have been in real trouble, but they did and we weren’t. I always feel bouillabaisse, though, should be a slightly decadent delight, a murky sauce holding bags of flavour and all kinds of fishy morsels within. Don’t get me wrong, this had some very good things in it – some beautiful sea trout, a few mussels, three pleasingly plump king prawns and the absolute highlight, a delicious piece of creamy crab toast. But the sauce, which I always feel should have the not-quite-but-almost-gritty consistency of a good soup de poissons felt a little underpowered and thin. It was in no sense a bad dish, it just didn’t wow me like a bouillabaisse should. I was also still quite hungry after eating it, so ordered bread to mop up the rest of the sauce – it may not have been the best I’ve had, but I certainly wasn’t going to waste it.

What felt like a slightly off night for the kitchen was compounded by a tarte au citron packed with a powerfully, lemony filling, but on a pastry that was far too thick in places and a brownie that while tasty, felt more floury than squidgy, which, as we all know, is just not quite right.

It was a good date night. We were child free for a few hours for a start. We had eaten some nice things. But there were a coupe of bits we were not so keen on, and when the bill took ten minutes to arrive I must admit I started doing that face which meant my wife started doing that face. Service otherwise had been great, and I don’t think a bill of £90 for a decent meal for two was anything other than reasonable.

Look. I know we’re in the middle of a cost of living crisis. There are more important things than flabby pancetta, a thin sauce and a floury brownie. I am hugely lucky I can go for a meal at all, let alone to a great restaurant with the mother of my children during a break from a month’s professional showing off. I would go back to The Shore in a heartbeat, I just happen to think we hit a bit of an off night, and as someone who has been coming to the Fringe for longer than I care to remember, I know we can all have those. In fact, I had one yesterday, and my audience appeared far less impressed with me than I was with The Shore. But in a town of reviewers, unfortunately The Shore was  ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ the night we went when we really hoped for ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️. I look forward to another night, when I’m certain it will be every bit as good as the speeches at my wedding, Mick’s way with landlords and Hal’s impression of a fifties housewife.

August 2022

The Potted Pig, Cardiff

I first ate at The Potted Pig on 13 Dec 2019 on the recommendation of the UK’s foremost warm-up artiste and bon viveur Mark Olver. Some of you may recall that was the day after a deeply traumatic event which ushered in the worst administration in British political history. If you can’t remember, I admire your ability to forget, or disavow your refusal to accept. Having stayed up late with a bottle of wine that grew more miserable with every glass, a slight hangover was abated with a superb mushroom dashi and some of the best roast pork I had ever eaten, but the trauma was clearly still too much for me to sit down and write about it when Britain had just elected the most unsuitable candidate to the highest office in the land with a quite overwhelming majority.

It’s quite something to realise now how much more trauma was to come. Considerably less meals in restaurants for one thing, although some of you might quite reasonably consider that to be one of the less horrific consequences of a global pandemic. One constant has of course been the crashing awfulness of that unsuitable candidate who has, in the well worn phrase, set himself very low standards he consistently failed to achieve. So it was, if not with a spring in my step, certainly a palpable sense of relief that I walked into Cardiff town centre to reacquaint myself with The Potted Pig in late July 2022, even if I knew I had a long afternoon ahead of me, reworking the Edinburgh Fringe show whose entire line of attack had been fundamentally altered by the enforced resignation of the Potted Prig a couple of weeks earlier.

The restaurant is in an underground vault that could be deemed oppressive if it didn’t feel like you have been admitted to a rather exclusive and comfortable bunker. On the day I was there, possibly a little too exclusive, which was a shame as it is always good to see good places busy. Still, we are all struggling at the moment – a fact possibly not unconnected with those in charge of the country.

Luckily, those in charge of the restaurant were doing a considerably better job. Kat, my chatty and enthusiastic waitress was on hand to bring me a very reasonable martini and talk me through what was an extremely tempting, if not inexpensive menu. It was also one of those relatively rare examples of a menu from which I wanted to order more or less everything, which might have made my choice of main course all the more surprising. She also informed me the restaurant was on its third head chef since my last visit, but luckily, change of leadership has clearly not meant declining standards. I wish I could say the same about Liz Truss.

To start, I had the smoked chicken, pancetta and spinach risotto topped with a delightful chicken skin scratching, for which I have only one criticism – it was a bit titchy. Mainly because it tasted so very good. It was also served on of those wide bowl-like dishes whose only actual area to fit food into is a small indent in the middle of the plate the size of half a boiled egg. I don’t like them. I find them difficult to eat out of, and in this case, I would suggest there wasn’t quite enough space to fit in as much risotto perfection as I would have preferred.

But still, it was a starter and set me up very well for what was an outstanding main course. I don’t often go for the vegetarian option, although I do regularly feel sympathy for vegetarians that the word ‘option’ remains resolutely singular on the vast majority of menus. It’s less an ‘option’ than a stipulation if you don’t eat meat. However, in this case, a number of factors pushed me towards a quite superb beetroot and truffle terrine. Firstly, to be honest, the price. Wages everywhere are stagnant, but they have been positively comatose on the comedy circuit for over a decade, and, as we all know, the cost of everything else has rocketed. Justifying £30 on a main course when you’re away working has become not just hard, but practically impossible to justify. The second reason is that I have grown some beetroot in my garden this year, and my, er ‘invention’ of the butter addled confit beetroot means I am planning to grow little else next year. This was an absolute delight, a wonderful contrast of textures with the soft earthiness of the sliced beetroot within and the crisped without, all offset by deeply pungent and satisfying notes of truffle. A perfect fricassee of greens alongside meant that I felt my lunch had also done me as much good as my run round Cardiff Bay that morning (were it not for the martini,) and at £18 it represented pretty good value for money too.

Desserts looked very tempting, but also veering towards the more overtly sugary end of the market, and for some reason my sweet tooth had deserted me for the day. Instead, in what is again a relatively unusual move for me, I opted for a selection of Welsh cheeses that were not only delicious, they also had the benefit of making me feel like a proper grown up. Maybe Boris Johnson should try some.

All in, with impeccable service, the bill came to £56, which is a lot to spend on a working lunch, but I justified the expense by driving off to a thoroughly hilarious, tiny and charming festival in Herefordshire called ‘Rock the Barn’ before returning to the joys of The Glee Club in Cardiff for the evening.

I then had the pleasure of driving home without the doom of a Tory election victory hanging over proceedings, before heading off to Edinburgh to give Boris Johnson the roasting his calamitous Premiership so clearly deserves. I suppose it’s also a small consolation to reflect that The Potted Pig would probably have done an even better job of it than I ever could.

July 2022