Review: Glencoe Cafe, Glencoe Scotland

No trip to Scotland is complete without a trip up to the Scottish Highlands. While some travellers will jump straight onto a tour bus that goes up to Loch Ness for a daytrip, I’d recommend renting a car and spending at least two days in the Highlands to truly have time to appreciate the scenery. That’s what we did – renting a cute little eco-cabin in the Glencoe/Ballachulish area with fantastic views of the snow-capped mountains and lochs.

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By the time we spent the morning driving up to Glencoe from Edinburgh, we were more than ready for lunch. That’s what happens when you stop regularly along the way at beautiful outlooks over the Highlands – lunch gets delayed and you get hungry! Luckily Glencoe Café, the only real café in the village, is open almost every day of the week, though times do vary.

Baked Potato with Coronation Chicken, 6.95 GBP
Baked Potato with Coronation Chicken, 6.95 GBP

K was after something particularly hearty, so chose the Baked Potato with Coronation Chicken served with potato chips and a salad on the side. I’d never really encountered ‘Coronation Chicken’ before, but found the roast chicken quite enjoyable with its liberally applied creamy sauce with a slight spice. It made for a particularly tasty topping for the plainer baked potato.

The café owner told us that coronation sauce is made up of a mix of mayonnaise, curry powder and a variety of other spices – you can buy bottles of it in the supermarket, but they make their own. My understanding is that it must be a purely British tradition (perhaps created around the time of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation?) because it’s certainly not something I’ve encountered in Australia before!

Carrot and coriander soup with a pesto, grilled red pepper, tomatoes and Monterey Jack cheese sandwich, 7.25 GBP
Carrot and coriander soup with a pesto, grilled red pepper, tomatoes and Monterey Jack cheese sandwich, 7.25 GBP

I liked the sound of the soup of the day, and chose the Carrot and Coriander Soup with a Cheese, Vegetable and Pesto Sandwich on the side. Unfortunately the ‘coriander’ part of the soup was hard to discern, which makes me suspect that dried coriander had been used in place of its more distinctive fresh cousin. Regardless, it was still a wonderfully sweet and creamy soup.

I liked the simplicity of the sandwich as well with its mix of fresh and pre-prepared ingredients – a tangy cheese paired with sweet grilled capsicum is hard to beat!

Highland Chai Tea (grown in Scotland), 2.25 GBP
Highland Chai Tea (grown in Scotland), 2.25 GBP

I tried a locally grown Highland Chai Tea to go with my lunch – a delicious blend with a strong flavour of cloves and star anise that didn’t overpower the tea blend itself. It’s quite a nice blend to have on its own, and improves the longer it steeps.

Vanilla Slice, 2.25 GBP
Vanilla Slice, 2.25 GBP

We finished our meal by sharing a Vanilla Slice – very different from the vanilla slices that we’re used to Australia and more akin to a chocolate cream slice. I particularly liked the biscuit base with its blend of desiccated coconut that lent the whole slice a bit of texture and flavour.

We had a funny experience while at the Glencoe Café. Seated at the table next to us was an older Scottish couple. The husband was quite chatty, telling us all about his dairy farm in the south of Scotland, debating Scottish and international politics, their trip thus far, the fantastic fishing trip he’d been on…we could barely get a word in edgewise! It also helped to confirm how absolutely terrible I am at deciphering accents – there were times when I could only understand half of what he was saying! Ah, the Scottish accent. I’ll conquer you yet…

Glencoe Café is a great place to drop in for simple homemade food while in the Highlands. If you ask nicely, they’ll even wrap up a few sandwiches for you to take away on a hike through the nearby trails. Well worth dropping in for reasonably priced grub served with a smile!

Glencoe Café is located in Glencoe Village, in the Scottish Highlands. A full address isn’t necessarily – the village is so small that the cafe is hard to miss! 

Review: The Elephant House, Edinburgh Scotland

I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that we spent a fair amount of time in the UK on a pseudo-Harry Potter pilgrimage. Not only did we spend a whole day in the Harry Potter Studios in Leavesden while in London, I did my best to tick off some key sights while we were in Edinburgh.

We joined the Potter Trail free walking tour which took us to places like the graves of two people who may have inspired JK Rowling in her naming of characters – Tom Riddell Senior and Junior for example (Lord Voldemort) and a Scottish poet named McGonagall who was very clearly the inspiration for Deputy Headmistress Minerva McGonagall.

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A key point on the tour for any Harry Potter fan is the Elephant House Café. JK Rowling is known to have written the first few Harry Potter books in cafes around Edinburgh, before increasing fame made public writing outings particularly difficult and she had to retreat to her country estate to complete the series. The Elephant House Café in particular is well known as her café of choice, affording her good views over nearby Edinburgh Castle and George Heriot School which are believed to have inspired her creation of Hogwarts.

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The café has certainly benefited from its association with Rowling, playing host to crowds of Potter fans every day. Newspaper clippings featuring Rowling paper the walls, and the bathrooms are a veritable treasure trove of Potter-related graffiti from fans all around the world.

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Beyond Harry Potter though, the Elephant House actually served up tasty, if simple, café fare ranging from sandwiches and paninis to soups, pies and pastas. We stopped in for lunch on our first day and made sure to grab a table by the window, on the off chance that seeing the same views as Rowling would inspire me to create the next great children’s book series. No such luck so far…

Fentiman's Rose Lemonade, 2.60 GBP
Fentiman’s Rose Lemonade, 2.60 GBP

We shared a sweet drink between us – Fentiman’s Rose Lemonade. I’m particularly liking the fact that in the UK, many cafes, restaurants and bars don’t rely on the usual Coke and Sprite for their customers. They offer a wider range of non-alcoholic soft drinks and juices, many of which are created by smaller producers and offer more unique or organic options. Fentiman’s is a good example of this, offering other drinks such as dandelion juice which makes for a pleasant change from cola!

Chicken pie with mash, 6.25 GBP
Chicken pie with mash, 6.25 GBP

K chose the Chicken Pie served with Mash and Gravy. Pies are displayed cold in the glass cabinet and can be purchased to take away as is – or if you choose to dine in, you can get it warmed up in the kitchen and served with mash as it is here.

The pie was quite well done, with a buttery pastry and an ample amount of hearty chicken chunks in the filling. You could tell that the sauce in the pie was made from real chicken stock as well – and in fact, the filling tasted like a hearty homemade chicken and vegetable soup that had been thickened up before being served directly in a pie.

Bacon, brie and mango panini with a side salad, 4.95 GBP
Bacon, brie and mango panini with a side salad, 4.95 GBP

I chose a toasted Bacon, Brie and Mango Panini served with a side salad. This panini mix is the Elephant House’s answer to the common turkey, brie and cranberry sandwich mix, but with much more pronounced strong flavours in the crispy bacon and sweet mango chutney. A most enjoyable mix, and one that I’ll be using in my toasties at home from now on!

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While on the surface, the Elephant House Café may look like nothing more than a place of pilgrimage for Potter fans, they actually serve up a tasty albeit simple lunch at a very reasonable price. Do yourself a favour – rather than just entering the café to take photos and add to the graffiti in the bathroom walls, sit down with a drink and lunch to enjoy your time in the café. Who knows, maybe the views will inspire you as they did JK Rowling?

The Elephant House Cafe is located at 21 George VI Bridge in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Review: Wahaca, Manchester England and a Long Weekend in Manchester and Liverpool

Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.

K will vow to anyone that the best burritos he’s ever had are from the Australian Tex-Mex chain Guzman & Gomez. In his eyes, they find the right balance between fast convenient food, and fresh food made to order. They’re great value, the ingredients are always fresh, and you’re guaranteed a good feed. Smaller Mexican burrito bars never seem to measure up in his eyes.

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To put some more burritos to the test in England, we visited Wahaca Mexican Market Eating in Manchester one evening for dinner. Like Guzman & Gomez in Australia, they’re a Mexican chain restaurant with locations around the UK – unlike Guzman though, they’re slightly more formal and do a stronger sit-down date-night dinner than work lunch burrito to-go.

Green and Lean Fresh Juice (apples, cucumber, mint and lime), 3.75 GBP and a Citrus Fizz soft drink (lime, mint, sparkling water and a hint of sweetness), 1.95 GBP
Green and Lean Fresh Juice (apples, cucumber, mint and lime), 3.75 GBP and a Citrus Fizz soft drink (lime, mint, sparkling water and a hint of sweetness), 1.95 GBP

We started off with a drink each – a fresh Green and Lean Juice for me, and a house-made Citrus Fizz soft drink for K. The Citrus Fizz was supposed to have a hint of sweetness, but if it did, it was certainly a lot more subtle than I expected as it tasted generally just of lime and mint fizzed up in a Sodastream. My juice was much sweeter, but still found a good balance between the sweet apple juice and the healthier cucumber juice.

Slow-cooked pork cooked for hours in a habanero & achiote marinade until meltingly tender, served with pink pickled onions, 7.15 GBP
Slow-cooked pork cooked for hours in a habanero & achiote marinade until meltingly tender, served with pink pickled onions, 7.15 GBP

K chose the Slow-Cooked Pork Burrito, which is served with corn chips on the side. Burrito aside, these were some of the best corn chips I’d ever tasted in my life – crispy and freshly fried, they had a great corn flavour to them and needed no additional embellishment.

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According to K, the burrito itself was satisfying but didn’t quite measure up to Guzman & Gomez. For one, it just simply wasn’t as large at only about three-quarters the size – which honestly, just reflects the fact that we’ve enlarged our stomachs so much through over-eating on this trip through Europe! Secondly though, he thought it just lacked an overall ‘punchy’ flavour – the pork hadn’t been as heavily marinated and cooked as thoroughly as meat mixes are at Guzman’s. While still an enjoyable burrito, it didn’t quite tick all his boxes.

The Sonora Salad (avocado, pumpkin seeds, beans, organic British spelt and cos lettuce tossed in a light chipotle dressing and served in a crispy tortilla bowl with grilled achiote chicken), 8.95 GBP
The Sonora Salad (avocado, pumpkin seeds, beans, organic British spelt and cos lettuce tossed in a light chipotle dressing and served in a crispy tortilla bowl with grilled achiote chicken), 8.95 GBP

I chose a slightly healthier option – the Sonora Salad with Grilled Chicken. To be honest, I could have chosen an even healthier option by having the salad served in a plain ceramic bowl rather than a taco bowl – but of course, I chose the taco bowl, which meant that I finished off my meal by eating deep-fried carbs. Mea culpa.

At least eating the salad itself made me feel virtuous. As a bonus, it was an incredibly tasty salad with delicious marinated and grilled chicken (a tad on the dry side, but that worked in the salad with the dressing), and a great mix of seeds, beans, and spelt to make it filling. The fresh herbs, creamy avocado and crisp lettuce rounded it off nicely.

Corn & bean salad (Mixed salad leaves tossed with diced avocado, corn & bean salsa topped with toasted pumpkin seeds), 3.95 GBP
Corn & bean salad (Mixed salad leaves tossed with diced avocado, corn & bean salsa topped with toasted pumpkin seeds), 3.95 GBP

To build up our greens intake, we shared one more side salad between us – a Corn and Bean Salad. A nice and light salad to share between two, with a nice tang thanks to the salsa, and a crunch thanks to the pumpkin seeds. Simple but effective.

Wahaca does fairly decent Mexican food in a nice setting. It’s more expensive than Australian prices – but what isn’t more expensive in the UK? The mains are well priced though, and large enough to satisfy one person. It’s only when you start to order multiple tapas-style smaller dishes that it starts to become a bit more expensive. Order according to your budget and your dietary choices, and you’ll be guaranteed a tasty and even semi-healthy meal.

Wahaca is located in the Corn Exchange Building in Exchange Square, Manchester. They also have other locations around the United Kingdom.

Just as an addendum, a quick recap of the three days we spent in Manchester, with a day trip to Liverpool! We did free walking tours in both cities – Manchester with an independent guide, and Liverpool with a Sandeman’s New Europe guide. The independent tour was far superior…I’d highly suggest checking it out!

We also ate out a little bit in Manchester as our Airbnb wasn’t particularly conducive to cooking too much at home. Federal Cafe and Bar was a highlight, but unfortunately the Rice Bowl can’t be recommended. K also loved our discovery of the Greggs bakery chain which serves up a pretty tasty sausage roll – and I won’t lie, we had one almost every day!

I also enjoyed the lunch we had in Liverpool at Wagamama, but it was definitely helped by the fact that we had some fantastic company in the form of my friend Tanya, her husband Mark and their daughter Samantha. All through lunch, I couldn’t get over the fact that the last time I was in England, Samantha hadn’t even been conceived yet…and now she’s in primary school! Mind-blowing.

Manchester and Liverpool aren’t the usual destinations for most people when they go to the UK. They’re a little more working class, a little more Northern, and tend to dull a little in the shine of the southern cities. However, as our guide in Manchester said, the city is coming into a new and vibrant period – bars, clubs, cafes are opening up regularly, there’s a strong live music scene again, creative types are opening up their own stores…there’s a lot to see and do now, and I’d recommend a quick visit for anyone!