What makes a vibrant food scene?


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Brew Lab coffee

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Bar Kohl’s signature burger

I’ve just been to Edinburgh to visit my brother. Lucky for me we had a personal tour guide to take us around and select the best places to eat; and lucky for us Edinburgh has a vibrant and varied food scene with cuisine ranging from Brazilian to Indian street food, gourmet burgers to gourmet coffee. Eating out when you’re on holiday is always a bit hit-and-miss. When you’re not familiar with an area finding a suitable place for lunch or dinner can become an exercise in frustration ending in arguments. Before I go away, I like to do a little research and even it’s only one place to seek out, at least you know there’ll be one meal worth remembering. Hopefully. It doesn’t always work out…. With a stop at Alnwick Castle on the drive up, and a tour of Greyfriar’s Cemetery for a peak at Tom Riddle’s grave, our trip had a bit of a Harry Potter theme, so my brother and his lovely lassy took us for lunch at Spoon on Nicholson St. JK Rowling used to sit at the big high windows of this 2nd story cafe and write. The locals seem passionate about embracing their national cuisine, and Spoon is a fine example of how traditional fare can still be fresh and relevant for today’s edgy food-loving urbanite. The Elephant House was also a cafe where JK used to write and you can see why with their inspiring views of Edinburgh Castle . But we didn’t go there, instead we had coffee at Brew Lab artisan coffee bar on College St, where my brother swears by for the best brew in Edinburgh.

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Black Forest cake from Falko

Two memorable meals were also had at Bar Kohl who specialise in burgers and Tuk Tuk who serve Indian street food-inspired small plates. Bar Kohl looks small on the outside but can accommodate lots of hungry diners in their super-cool site at 54 George IV Bridge. With a large variety of burgers to please every palate, the stylish burger joint went above and beyond all of our expectations with incredible burgers, perfect chips, and a fine selection of ales. Tuk Tuk on Leven St, was also a nice large space with plenty of tables and fast friendly service. We ordered nearly everything on the menu between us and feasted on chutneys, kebabs, chicken wings, samosas, omelettes, curries and dahls. They even had chips and non-spicy chicken lollypops for the not-so-adventurous (like my 2 boys). There’s no alcohol served but you can BYO or try one of the Indian sodas like Thumbs-up cola or Limca lemon pop. It all felt like a lot of fun. Finishing with an enormous piece of Black Forest cake from Falko the German Bakery, I’d say we sampled some of the very best that Edinburgh has to offer when it comes to food. Now that I’m back in Maidenhead, I’m left feeling wanting when it comes to the food scene. I know that big cities always have more to offer when it comes to price, cuisine and variety but I also know that some suburbs can really bring it on, regardless of how big or small they are. Consider Bray; it’s small, but it’s packed with a gourmet food scene that’s known throughout the land. Or how about Southall – packed with eateries that people from far and wide seek out. In Maidenhead we’re blessed with a wide range of franchises with as many as two Costas, a Starbucks, Greggs, Nero and Puccino’s, MacDonald’s, Pizza Express, Noodle Nation…and while there’s certainly a place for these kinds of places, I think we need to make more room for independent establishments. I have noticed a few new places quietly open up on the kebab strip of Queen St, and of course there’s the fabulous little eatery Thai and Far Eastern Food Store and everybody’s favourite Italian stalwart Francesco’s  and must admit that pizzas at The Bell Pizza Kitchen are pretty amazing, but I want more. I want more places like Krakow, the new Polish restaurant that’s opened up in Nicholson’s Lane, and the delightful Hand and Flowers pub – not the fancy one in Marlow, but the cosy little den on Queen St that serves amazing burgers. I love pubs, especially ones with personality like The Grenfell Arms, The Dew Drop Inn in Hurley and now that I’ve moved into Cookham, I also enjoy a meal at Uncle Tom’s Cabin in Cookham Dean with their excellent food and lovely beer garden.  But there are plenty of pubs already and they’re all spread about. Unfortunately wandering into Maidenhead after dark brings you nothing but regret. It’s not a place for families. It’s not a place where you can just turn up and ask yourself “what shall we choose for dinner?” Why don’t we have a rip-snorting burger joint or diner serving thick shakes and pumping out juke-box favourites? Why can’t we get good falafel and Bahn Mi, why can’t we have proper coffee shops with an ambience that isn’t out-of-a-box? A vibrant food scene works when you’ve got the interest of the locals, the support of the media outlets and council planning and most importantly profit for the business owner. I guess it’s hard to encourage new businesses when they’ve got to compete with the cut-price, cookie-cutter cafes and fast-food joints that promise you the status quo. Why would an independent coffee house open up when local planning policies favour the franchisee? Why would you open up a restaurant on the High St when everything shuts at 6pm leaving a desolate mall dotted with shady pubs and loiterers? I applaud people like Jo Randall of Perfect Friday Wine, and Esther B’s street food festivals, the gang at Deliciously French who set up their food stall on Thursdays, and others who are crusading to bring good food to Maidenhead. The RBWM recently tweeted asking the question – how would you spend the 2014 budget to improve your town or village? I responded that I would use it to attract high quality & more variety of food establishments. Bakeries, street food, REAL coffee shops. If you want to see more and better food in Maidenhead – tell the council. Visit the RBWM website and click on the survey at the Ways to Get Involved section of the website. Money can be used to attract businesses and entrepreneurs to set up a shop on our High St or in the mall, policies can be changed to encourage and support these small businesses. If the demand is there, the supply will come.  After listing the places that I like just now in this post, I’ve realised that actually things aren’t so grim after all. There are lots of places that you can get good food in Maidenhead, but they are few and far between for a town as big as ours. I think we could do better  – we have the population and the appetite for European patisseries, artisan coffee houses, Lebanese diners, burger joints, hearty steak cellars, sushi bars…. High quality doesn’t have to mean expensive, fine dining – it means good food, freshly prepared and made with care.  It’s not an easy business to be in, so be sure to support the local indies where you can and maybe we can grow our own vibrant food scene.

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