highland blog

Fig & Thistle – An Inverness Beauty

When we first moved back, there was a prosecco and tapas bar on Stephens brae that we never got to try before it shut down. It’s not the first time that somewhere closed down here before I got to it and it makes me want to throw my toys out of the pram. But then Fig & Thistle opened where the prosecco bar once was and happiness was restored. The restaurant has zoomed up to the top of my favourites list so much that this isn’t the first time I’ve written about it, read the other time here. It’s well deserved though, and that post is over two years old. We were in for a birthday dinner but it’s worth noting that they have a lunch menu with mains around the £8 mark.

For starters, both were chosen from the specials menu. Smoked haddock croquettes with accompanying aioli and pickles were lovely. The croquettes themselves were cooked well, a nice crunch but not overdone. The aioli and capers/pickles lifted the whole thing up and my only request would be a little more fish in them. This is the second time I’ve had them so they are winners for me.

The specials board had a seafood risotto that sounded amazing and they very kindly made a similar one as a starter portion for us. I’ve had risotto in here a few times and the chefs make the most gorgeous risottos that I’ve ever eaten, it’s such a strength of theirs so look out for them on the menu. This was the highlight of the meal by far and when we got home we were still trying to figure out how they got the mussels to taste so charred! Beautiful prawns and mussels, little sweet scallops with the creamiest of risottos, it was perfection.

For mains, I chose another dish from the specials board – duck breast with figs, crispy potatoes and jus. The duck was soft, the figs had been dried to intensify their sweetness and the potatoes had a fantastic crunch to them. It was served with a curried purée that gave the dish a splendid warmth. Another winner.

The only dish chosen from the main menu was sirloin steak au poivre. The steak was cooked exactly as ordered and came with a silky, creamy sauce. The homemade chips were crunchy and fluffy inside, and the veg was expertly cooked.

Now, by the time dessert arrived I’d forgotten about taking photos so there are none. Could be something to do with the wine (Chardonnay then Malbec-both highly recommended) but hey-ho, it was my last day as a twenty one year old (ish…and a bit more). The creme brûlée and mango cheesecake were both moreish and solid good cooking. A great way to finish the meal.

I almost breath a sigh of relief when one of my favourites is still as good on a return visit, and Fig & Thistle always step up to the plate. It has a relaxing, informal atmosphere that puts you at ease and dishes that are accomplished and flavoursome.

I’d love to see them change the a la carte menu as it hasn’t changed much since opening, but the specials board always contains some gems.

From a selfish point of view, I’m so glad that Fig & Thistle opened up here. If you couldn’t tell already, it’s a good place in my eyes. Other people that I’ve spoken to have said the same so it’s nice to hear that they have been welcomed to Sneck with open arms. I hope they’ll stay!

Price point: starters around £6-7

Mains around £15-20

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Jocktoberfest – a barrel of fun 

Ten years ago I went to my first festival. Ten whole years ago- that makes me feel so old! I remember all of the planning- buying an 85 litre rucksack and a camp stove, buying as much cheap booze as we could and getting my wellies on. Most of all, I remember the bubble that we were in when we were there. You become so immersed in your surroundings that you almost forget about the world outside for a weekend and feel totally de-stressed. Dancing and singing in a field makes you feel free, there’s no doubt about it. I love it.

Last month we nipped over to Jocktoberfest and found ourselves back in that place again – feeling free and… singing and dancing in a pile of hay. Jocktoberfest has been going on for a few years now but this was the first time I went. It runs in September every year at Black Isle Brewery and pays homage to good beer, music and food.

They sell tickets by the weekend instead of by the day but they are incredibly good value at £35pp (under 13s go free). We just went for the day but next year I think we’ll do the whole weekend, ideally in a campervan if we can get hold of one.

The first thing that struck me when we arrived was how many children were there-maybe about 15-20 or so. Very family friendly. This isn’t the kind of festival for a group of 18 year old lads to get smashed, create a mosh pit and get rowdy so if that’s you then don’t bother showing up. It’s about appreciating some fantastic live music whilst drinking a craft beer and eating an organic lamb burger. It’s a festival for grown ups, some with kids to tag along. 

We started at the bar, where there was an impressive beer selection to work our way around. My favourite was Anything Gose followed by Goldeneye ale. For non beer drinkers they had cider, wine and a few spirits.

We then lined our tummies for the night ahead by sharing some pizza and a lamb burger. Woodburns Sourdough pizzas had a little wood burning oven to freshly make pizza and you created your own toppings.

The lamb burgers were Black Isle Brewery’s own using their own lambs and we’re full of flavour and juicy. Both were perfect for a night of beer and dancing.

Then it was time for the music to start. Calum Jones, a Scottish 17 year old, put on a superb set and we were mightily impressed. Of course we got our dance on! Definitely a name to look out for in the future.

Calum Jones

It’s not a big festival, and on the Friday night there was just one stage then two on the Saturday. I liked how intimate it felt with being so small and how close everything was. There was plenty of sheltered space if it had rained too.

Weekend Set List 2017

Ho-Ro really brought it with the Jock vibe with a modern upbeat ceilidh style set. Perfect for dancing round in the hay lined barn and the atmosphere was amazing.

We even managed to get a first dance arranged for a couple that had got married that day. Everyone created a circle and it was a lovely touching moment feeling the festival love.

For Jocktoberfest there was less prep, but all of the atmosphere that we could have hoped for. We stepped into that bubble for the night and loved every minute of it. It was a whimsical and free night with some pretty damn good beer, food and music. I felt like I’d stepped back to being young again, not a bad thing once in a while. See you next year.

Service with a smile at La Taverna Aviemore 


It makes such a difference to me what the staff are like in a restaurant. It can be the difference of going somewhere because of convenience or making a trip especially. I understand that you can get a sudden rush or be understaffed, and I make allowances for it, but it’s the friendliness that changes everything. Waiting in a busy place is not an easy job but some people are just naturally good at it and put you at ease. Luckily, I’ve found some gems in this category recently. 

Friends of mine kept recommending La Taverna restaurant on the edge of Aviemore but it has such tough competition nearby that I never seemed to get there until last year. Now it’s our favourite place in Aviemore! 


Decor is old school traditional Italian even although the outside looks like a big ski lodge. It has an informal feel, which is probably to do with many of their clientele coming straight off the slopes or from doing watersports. Until March this year we had only visited in the daytime but I can now attest that the nighttime clientele were mainly sporty ones or tourists looking to rest those weary feet. 

Keeping on the informal lines, they do a buffet both at lunchtime and at night, as well as their a la carte menu. I’ve had an a la carte meal once because I wanted to try the seafood spaghetti (delicious) but the buffet is so convenient for us with a toddler. 

They serve a selection of pizza, pasta and salad, and in the evening it includes dessert. We generally visit right at the start of lunch and they always ask what pizzas we like and make things that we want on there – gold star for customer service. 

Then there’s the pastas, at least four on at a time. Little L favours the creamy pesto one and macaroni cheese while my go to is the tomato and chicken. 

Salad isn’t just the normal buffet affair. The orzo salad is my favourite and they have plenty of olives to keep L happy. There’s a few pasta salads, beetroot salad, the normal leaves, a tomato salad, bean salad, coleslaw and more. 

Sometimes we’ll order ice-cream to share afterwards under the pretence that we’re doing it for the child. Think what you will but it’s nice ice-cream. 

La Taverna should be eternally grateful to their staff because, ultimately, that’s why we keep going back and I’m sure we’re not the only ones. I’d describe the service as relaxed, genuine and cheerful. They always greet us with a smile, even the chefs if they are about. The fact that the chefs say bye if they are out front tending to the buffet says it all. How many places does that happen in? 

Miele’s Gelateria Continue Church Streets’ Reign 

Many years ago, about two-thirds of the way down Church Street, was the Stratton dairy shop that satisfied all my ice-cream whims. Sadly it closed down years ago, before Stratton dairy itself did- how I miss glass bottles of milk being delivered to the door. Anyway, I’m not sure if another shop was in the unit from then until now. Then, in December, Miele’s Gelateria opened. This excited me for a few reasons- my love of gelato, they are an independent business & the fact they open until 9pm. 


Naturally I’ve been in a few times since then so I thought I’d better write about it. Their active Facebook and Instagram accounts tempt me regularly and pretty much push me back in the door. It’s not only gelato, there’s the coffee, cannoli, sandwiches, milkshakes…I could go on. 


The gelato is homemade and so delicious. For those of you who are confused about the difference between gelato & ice-cream this is my understanding. Gelato is churned at a slower rate so takes in less air and is therefore more dense and it is stored at a slightly higher temperature so it’s softer. It has a lower fat content as they generally use more milk than cream so the flavour shines through. My favourites so far are the pink grapefruit and the vanilla but I’m sure I will be adding to that list. 


It must be tough opening a Gelateria in chilly December when it’s not tourist season but these guys seem to be doing well- a testament to the terrific products they are selling. Suddenly I’m finding more reasons to venture into town… 

Real & Rare from Loch Ness Gin

This week we were invited to the launch of Real & Rare from Loch Ness Gin. Those who are new to the blog might not know my love of gin, it’s second blog love only to my love of local so this invite was tailored for me. 

It was being hosted by Loch Ness by Jacobite so we got a lovely boat trip in the sun. I’d highly recommend the Jacobite cruise – we are already speaking about going when friends are visiting. 

The night was both fun and informative. The gin was flowing & mixologist Grant had created three perfect serves for Real & Rare. The first, and my favourite, was a gin & Franklin and sons tonic with a fresh kiwi slice. It is a refreshing drink with the kiwi, and a classic. Next I tried the gin with soda and a vanilla pod. I found it too sweet for me, it was a bit like cream soda. Last of all was gin with ginger beer and rhubarb. 

Nicky Marr then talked us through the neat gin tasting. Creators Lorien & Kevin actually made it to be served neat so the flavours are so important to them. The juniper used comes from their estate near Dores on the shores of Loch Ness & the water is running down the hills going into the loch.

Lorien & Kevin (and mixologist Grant serving the drinks)


Grant then demonstrated some cocktails that you could make with Loch Ness Gin. He started with a classic martini then went on to an apple number. I missed the name as I was served a cupcake when he was speaking but it was lovely. 

And I certainly wouldn’t complain about the cupcake interruption because the gin cupcake was delicious. I am already familiar with Bad Girl Bakery so I knew they would be. 

I like the bottle design too – it’s clean and contemporary. The `squiggle’ represents Loch Ness without a gimmicky Nessie wearing a tartan hat and the alcohol percentage (43.3%) is even significant as that’s the average depth of the loch. 

The night was a great success and we left clutching a goodie bag for one final nip once we got home.

Batch 1 of Real & Rare went on sale on Friday and has sold out already! So if you’re interested keep an eye on their website or Twitter (Lochnessgin1)/Facebook for batch 2. 

Purchasing The Highlands

One of my favourite things to do when Mr S has a day off is to go for a jaunt in the car and stop for a coffee or lunch somewhere. If this can be in conjunction with a farm shop or shop where I can buy local produce then there will be a big smile on my face. I wanted to write about a few things that we have bought recently on our little day trips that I’d recommend. 
First of all, I have to go to Duncan Fraser & Son Butchers on Queensgate in Inverness. My husband is in love with this place. I think that it’s important that a butcher can be knowledgable and advise their customers. A while back we were looking for some skirt (flank) steak and another butcher didn’t know what it was- we’ve never been back. On the other hand, there is a particularly friendly and helpful butcher in Duncan Fraser’s that Mr S speaks to before coming home with a lump of beef, pork or whatever his current notion is. Luckily he hasn’t come home with any baby pigs as yet! My mum has always bought her steak mince there and the meat we have tried has been excellent. 
   
 

Across the road is the Old Victorian Market, and within that is Duncan Fraser Fishmonger. We try to go here as often as allows- I hate the thought of Tesco being the only place in Inverness to buy fish. They sell cracking prawns, mussels, hake… I could go on but I won’t bore you. They also have a game section so we tried some venison recently. 

Homemade prawn saganaki using Duncan Fraser prawns


Logie Steading is a country estate near Forres, which houses a lovely cafe and shops to tempt you. I’ve written about Logie previously here. My favourites are the gin and coffee, and we had a tasty pate from there too. Logie is a good place to take visitors so they can view local produce all in one place. 

We bought a bottle of Crossbill Gin- this stuff is far harder to buy than it is for me to drink but luckily Logie saves the day again. 

  

Connage Highland Dairy is also somewhere that I’m full of praise for. I am a cheese lover so mum wanted to introduce me to Connage- what did I do before they were in my life?! 

It’s basically a massive refrigerated room of cheese with a side of biscuits and chutney and a cappuccino to drink. Go, go and tell me what you thought. 

The shop is on the outskirts of Ardersier, perfect if you’re on your way back from Nairn, Inverurie, Keith, Inverness airport, Elgin, Logie Steading (above). Let’s face it, I use any excuse so that I can eat more of that creamy black cheddar. 
  

Finally, this was never going to be written without a mention to The Egg Box Shop at Cromarty. I don’t know who John & Donald are but Cheryl & I would like to extend our personal thanks for creating your shop. If you want to extend it to sell other produce, or if you start doing other things please let us know. We almost had you out fixing the car recently but that’s a whole other matter! I never leave Cromarty without stopping for eggs here and they sell the elusive double yokers. 

Where have I missed out? I’ll do regular local favourite posts if you tell me where to find the best places. 

The Carnivore Club Hits The Highlands 



If you’ve been reading for a while then you’ll know that I love meat, I love local and I love trying new things. So when I was emailed by a company that send you boxes of Artisan British charcuterie it immediately piqued my interest. Each month uses a different charcuterie company and this months box contained meat from a Highland business called Great Glen Charcuterie. 

Great Glen Charcuterie are based in Roybridge, which is down Spean Bridge/ Fortwilliam way. I’d heard of them and been wanting to try their meat so this was a great taster box. They specialise in charcuterie using wild Scottish venison that they make by hand and air dry. 

The Carnivore Club is essentially an online company that send you meat. They use different British charcuterie companies every month so that you can try meat from smaller companies that you might not have heard of. Good for small businesses to get the word out. You can order a box as a one-off for a gift or start a monthly/bi-monthly/quarterly subscription. 

Perfect timing as it’s much easier for us to have a nice dinner in than out right now with a little baby. 


It arrived by courier and the meat was encased in a sturdy gift box. Inside there was a leaflet with information about the box and serving suggestions and five different products to try: two salamis, two chorizos and a venison bresaola. The aforementioned were venison pork salami, green peppercorn salami, chili venison chorizo & venison and pork chorizo. 

The first meat that we tried was the pork & venison chorizo. We used it in place of bacon on treat night in a creamy seafood pasta… delicious! We then used the venison and pork chorizo in place of our regular chorizo in our affectionately named ‘sexy pasta’ that uses roasted Mediterranean veg and herbs. Again, it was lovely. We liked both of the products and the only thing we found was that the chorizos weren’t as oily or paprika-y as normal chorizo so adjust recipes accordingly. 

The salamis are rich and tasty, a fantastic addition to an antipasti board alongside cheese, olives and proscuitto. 

The bresaola is being kept until date night because it is the one we are looking forward to the most. I’ll be doing it the traditional way with rocket and shaved Parmesan on top of the slices then drizzle some extra virgin olive oil over it. 

I thought that the box was good value. It’s £29 if you subscribe and £32 for a one-off and if my maths were right the box had £27.41 worth of products (not to mention the nice gift box) plus Great Glen charge £4.95 delivery so you’re making a saving. Since getting the box I’ve spotted Great Glen charcuterie at The Storehouse & Corner on the Square and they are (obviously) a little more expensive than buying direct so The Carnivore Club are competitive price wise. 

To get it every month you’d have to be a true carnivore, I would say that I am more on the bi-monthly part of the scale. The boxes are compiled using British companies & I hope to see and try more Scottish charcuterie in the future as I like to support local. 

We have friends scattered all over the UK and I’m constantly wracking my brain over what to buy them as gifts that are easy to send but still special so this will really help me out. It’s also a nice idea for new parents who might not go out for a while so that they can treat themselves at home.

I can be somewhat sceptical about these subscription services that send you things because I don’t always feel that they are good value for money but I can honestly say that the box I was sent by the Carnivore Club felt like it was. I’ve seen photos online of another box and it also looked like you got your money’s worth. A nice way to spend some disposable income on or to gift someone. Just not to a vegetarian! 


 
N.B The Carnivore Club kindly sent me a box to try. There was no pressure to be nice about it so I just gave my honest opinion. Im very selective about what I write about so research anyone who contacts me first. I’m actually about to order another box! 

This content will also be posted on my sister blog Girl Around Glasgow 

Camerons – Loch Ness Hideaway

 

Do you ever visit somewhere for the first time and it just feels right? You feel at home and comfortable and fond of the place from the get-go. Cameron’s tea room out at Foyers gave me that feeling from the minute we commandeered those sofas in front of the wood burning stove on a rainy day. 
  

If you don’t know Foyers then take the road out to, and past, Dores. It’s about fifteen minutes drive past Dores Inn along Loch Ness with wonderful views to make the journey feel quicker. 

Cameron’s sits on the left hand side of the road just at the end of the village. It is a golden wooden building with its own car park. 
It’s a little cafe that also has a farm shop part, as well as selling some gift items and a few textiles.
It was pouring down and freezing the day we visited but Camerons kept cropping up when hearing about places to go so off we went. We were greeted by a lovely lady who seemed delighted to see the two babies we had in tow, and was telling us about her grandchild. 
After a chat, we ordered our lunch. A baked potato with prawns came with a nice side salad, coleslaw and crisps. A generous portion of juicy prawns on top of soft potato. The only negative was that the potato skin wasn’t crispy. 
  
The other two lunches ordered were both soup and half sandwich, which were also served with the yummy coleslaw, salad and crisps. Both sandwiches were prawn and one was with a rich lentil soup. 
  
The other was with a homely leek and potato soup. Both homemade and tasty soups. 
  
We sat chatting and basking in the heat of the wood burner for a while then decided to sample some of the home baking along with coffees. 

Carrot cake was well-balanced and the muffin was moist and flavourful. Mrs T who had the muffin loved the lemon curd and is hoping it will be there next time.

 
  

  

My sponge was fab – rich cake bursting with fruity jam and sweet icing. The jam itself made the cake in my opinion because it was packed with flavour. 

 
 
The decor is girly yet not overpowering, and we loved the stag light fittings. 
   
 

The original lady serving us finished her shift when we were in and even came over to say goodbye before she left, we felt so welcome. She was replaced by an equally friendly face and I can see why people grow an attachment with customer service like this. 
   
 

We arrived at 2pm and never left until 5pm when they closed. That speaks volumes in itself. Cosy, homely, friendly, wonderful. Enough said. 

 

Sutor Creek Cromarty

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I’ve written about Cromarty before here so I’ll not bore you by repeating myself except to say that it is our go-to place for a date day. We love the quaint little place. Last time I wrote about Cromarty it was about a cafe called Coupers Creek & this time the subject is its sister venue, Sutor Creek. 

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I first heard about Sutor Creek online in a write up by The Guardian. It was the only place up north being mentioned so I thought it must be worth a visit. I’ve since seen that they’ve won awards for their Sunday lunch so we’ll try that soon.

Inside it is teeny weeny with about ten tables. We have always gone during the week but I imagine you need to book at the weekend. On this occasion we arrived in the middle of the day so the lunch menu had finished and dinner had not yet started. They run the pizza menu all day & it was the pizza that I wanted to try so I was more than happy. We will come back for lunch because the food sounds great, and I can’t wait to have a steaming plate of mussels in Happy Chappy ale.
Talking of Happy Chappy, they sell the range of Cromarty Brewing Co beers and have a selection of malts for those so inclined.


Now, for the pizza. We shared two between us to try what we could. The ‘Gregors’ pizza (£12.50) had lightly spiced pepperoni mixing with sweet sun dried tomatoes and salty olives. A little red onion provided a sharpness and the basil left a fresh taste. All of this mixed with the creaminess of the buffalo mozzarella was just delicious.

The standout quality for me was the base of the pizza, which had been cooked in the real wood fired oven. These are a rarity, and I could taste the difference. The base was crispy and held all of the toppings well.

Our second pizza choice was the Hawaiian (£10), a favourite of mine. A pizza with ham and pineapple is not authentic at all but I love it all the same and, at Sutor Creek, they added Parma ham to the mix. Why I hadn’t thought about doing this before I just don’t know because the Parma ham made this pizza. It took it from ‘that’s nice’ to ‘silence whilst I eat this whole pizza’!

I’ve since been back and had the Hawaiian again but added olives and I’ve decided that this is the pizza for me.

They have now gone down to their winter opening hours so there will be less visits from us Wednesday lunchers but we’ll make time for them elsewhere. They are open on Wednesday nights & all day/night Thursday-Sunday so we’ll swap things around.

I have to mention the selection of cute pottery jugs that they serve water from because it is touches like this that make me like this place.

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I’m starting to feel like an advert for the people who own the two creek places, who I don’t know by the way. I tell people about them all the time and recommend them on here – a happy customer indeed. I’m just passionate about places that are doing things well. Maximum effort and quality ingredients shine through above other establishments with a quiet confidence that is rare.

A Sutor Creek lunch followed by a walk along Rosemarkie Beach is one of my favourite days.

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Ed’s Diner

A few months ago one of the shops in the Eastgate Shopping Centre was boarded up and they started work on something new. Eventually signs went up that it was going to be a diner – exciting times. Often I’ll be shopping in town then want lunch around 3pm but many restaurants in town are closed between lunch and dinner so the idea of a diner in the shopping centre made sense to me. I’m all for more places opening up in town – now they just need to start a shorter 1 hour or less parking tariff and attract more people in. We’re getting there. 

  

Ed’s Easy Diner is a UK based chain with almost 50 outlets since the first one opened in Soho in 1987. I have come across Ed’s in other cities, mainly in shopping centres, but had never eaten there so a shopping day with Mr S presented the perfect opportunity. 

  

First impressions were good. We were met at the door by a manager who said that she would get a booth set up for us in five minutes. It was a busy lunchtime and I’d expected a longer wait so my belly was happy. 

Ed’s decor formula is the typical old style American diner look and I think it works for them. They continue the theme to the actual tables, where there are mini jukeboxes that play a range of funky tunes for 20p each. The money made from this goes to the charity Action Against Hunger. 
  

I spent a while looking at the menu before choosing a beef burger over a hot dog or chicken option. My thinking was that the beef burger is the mainstay for an American themed diner so it is what Ed’s should do best. They offer the option of a burger by itself or as a plate that also includes fries, onion rings and coleslaw. We both went for the cheeseburger plate option, one with American cheese and one with cheddar. It appealed to me that you can choose the type of cheese in the cheeseburger- little things that make a difference to my enjoyment. 

We didn’t wait long for our food and the jukebox distracted us anyway. There’s always the open kitchen to watch as well. 
  
On arrival the plates looked good. I had upgraded my meal to have sweet potato fries instead of regular fries because the look of the regular fries on other peoples plates that I had passed hadn’t appealed to me. This probably sounds pernickety but they reminded me of the chips they served in my old high school – which I enjoyed at the time but now expect a higher quality from a restaurant. Mr S said they were fine and I tried one and they were ‘fine’ but who wants that when they eat out? My sweet potato variety were much better – crispy on the outside and soft inside. The coleslaw and onion rings were pretty bog standard but I hadn’t expected homemade from a chain. 

The burger itself was of a good size (you can also upgrade to a large patty) with lettuce and tomato. A regular seeded bun pleases the masses – sadly my preferred brioche bun that holds the burger together better was not an option but I suppose this one is more in keeping with the old American style. The patty itself was a bit disappointing. It definitely did not taste homemade and the meat was too ground down. It just reminded me of a frozen burger that you’d buy in Tesco – flavourless. 

The cheeseburger plate costs £11.30, but due to my upgrade to sweet potato fries mine was £12.80. The location of Ed’s in the shopping centre, and therefore high rent for the business, was always going to bump the price up. On the other hand, diners should feel that they are getting what they pay for & I can’t justify that much money when the burger quality was so sub-standard. It might have worked in 1987 but burger places have improved so much since then & you have to move with the times. 
  

The crowning glory of the visit for me was my strawberry shake. It wasn’t cheap but it’s more of a dessert than a shake, thick with ice cream. It was served half in a glass and half in a steel malt & tasted delicious. The drinks menu also had other favourites of mine such as cherry Coke, root beer, Coke floats and Samual Adams beer. 
  
I was trying to weigh up my opinion of the place and it came down to alternatives for me. Nearby restaurants that offer burgers such as the Heathmount, Mcgonagall’s, Fig & Thistle and Cafe 1 charge around the £10 mark but Ed’s win points on location convenience & all day opening. I wouldn’t return for a burger but if I am in town with someone else who really wants to go to Ed’s then I’ll go back and try a hotdog.