A long weekend in Perth, largely eating and drinking...
by Slug on January 24, 2010
One downside to staying in a cheap hotel is the need to find somewhere for breakfast after a heavy evening before. While we couldn’t really grumble as our well booked in advance hotel room at the Travel lodge cost a mere £19 a night per room, the search for a good traditional Scottish breakfast took a little while. In the end, we found what we were looking for; a basic and friendly coffee shop, the Upper Crust on South Street in the centre of Perth. I don’t often go for the traditional English Breakfast, but as it was the end of the festive period, decided a final blow out was required. The Upper Crust offered a couple of varieties of cooked breakfast; a vegetarian, a traditional,or one with crepes (sadly off the menu on the day we were there). Breakfast with a drink cost around £5 per head. Those not wanting a cooked breakfast could have opted for a sandwich, baked potato with fillings or simply toast. I was pleased there was a choice of tea coffee or fruit juice, as well as a range of soft drinks. The orange juice while made from concentrate was plentiful and tasty. My vegetarian breakfast was very filling, with two beautifully cooked fried eggs, fried bread, roast potatoes, onions, fresh tomato and baked beans. I was pleased with both the quality and quantity of my dish.While it is quite obvious the Upper Crust is a fairly lowly establishment, the inside of the place is clean, plainly furnished and very tidy. The Upper Crust is open all day, and on certain evenings turns itself into a basic and reasonably priced bistro. The Upper Crust is a good choice for anyone wanting a basic and traditional fry up, or a simple meal later on in the day.
by Slug on January 10, 2010
Our second walk in Perth was hardly revolutionary as it involved us taking a couple of miles stroll up the riverbank through the park, and onto the cycle path to Pitlochry. The walk offered us tantalising glimpses of Scone Palace on the other side of the river, and a peaceful walk along the riverbank, where we would watch the birds bathing and catching food in the river.The first part of the walk took us down from the bridge in the centre of town, and through the playing fields. I marvelled at the folly of youth as the lads from the Rugby Team obviously keen to run off the after effects of the previous night’s Hogmanay celebrations stripped off to their shorts for a practice game in the six inch snow. That I had just been taking pictures of the river reeds and riverbank plants covered in frost and snow made me shiver just a little more violently. I also liked the modern statue of a Scottish thistle at the entrance to the Park. I like modern sculpture and alas the UK seems to have precious little of it on display. The first part of the walk was fairly busy, as local families exercised their dogs and children in the park despite the cold and the snow. We had to dodge one cross-country skiing family as they breezed past. Fortunately, as we stepped further from town, the maddening crowds started to fall away. Here, we started to get a glimpse of the formal park that surrounds Scone Palace. As the sun has started to shine, we enjoyed the blue sky cut against the stark white snow on the ground and on the trees. Here, there are a number of parallel paths which appear to follow abandoned railway tracks. We decided to go for the best view of Scone Palace by taking the riverbank walk. Dotted along are park benches; today covered with snow, but no doubt a welcome sight on a warm day. I was looking for a shop for perhaps a bar along the edge of the park area, but I didn’t see anything handy. Obviously, the moral from my experience is to prepare any drink or food you might want before you set off. As we had decided to meet with our wives after a couple of hours, there came a point just after Scone Palace where we had to turn around and come back. While the walk isn’t the most wild or revolutionary thing I’ve ever done, it’s a pleasant and easy way to get some exercise, and impossible for you to get lost.
For our second evening in Perth we had more restaurant choices as places reopened following the New Year celebrations. Paco’s Restaurant had been recommended to us by a local, and as we had come across the place earlier in the day, decided to give it a go. It seemed to be run by a local family, and had opened in 1990. As such we were hoping for some good home cooked food. We were particularly impressed with the outdoor fountain at the entrance to the restaurant. In the cold weather most of it had frozen, and it made an impressive view. Inside, Paco’s seemed huge; like a big warehouse shed tacked onto the front of a small entrance hall! I can imagine the place getting a little noisy at times, but we were impressed that the wait staff seemed to dot parties evenly around the space, meaning it felt quiet and private. Paco’s is obviously a very popular place to dine, and the place was filling up as we left. The decor at Paco’s was interesting if a little stilted. In the fashion of an Irish theme bar, they simply had lots of bits and pieces and newspaper cuttings and photographs all over the walls. It made the expedition to the washrooms up a couple of flights of stairs an entertaining, and fairly lengthy business. Everyone in the party had spotted something on the wall that demanded further exploration. Tablecloths were a natty green check, but with the high proportion of child diners, were made from practical plastic.Service at Pacos was friendly, but a little over quick for my liking. Many of the parties contained children, so I guess that explained the keen service. However, I would have preferred a bit more of a linger over my meal. The menu consisted of a slightly strange mix of Italian, American and Mexican. I guess it was to be a warning that the food wasn’t going to be particularly memorable. I always subscribe to the "Jack of all trades, master of none" theory when it comes to restaurants offering a range of cooking styles. Unusually for such a large restaurant, they didn’t have any beer on tap, so I chose a large bottle of the local Scottish beer, which was fine, if a little overpriced at £3.50 a bottle. For starters, I chose a little Mexican dish, which was of a cheese stuffed flat bread, served with little pots of tomato, sour cream and guatomole. While the starter was very nice, I would have enjoyed a little more tang to the tomato. Still, the starter was very pleasant. For my main, to stick to the Mexican theme, I chose the sizzling Chicken fajita. This came with the same sauces so it proved to be a bit of a poor choice. The chicken also tasted a little bit "catering company" as the spice wasn’t fresh tasting, and the chicken didn’t seem particularly good quality. Fortunately, I didn’t choose the same dish as my beloved. While the accompaniments to her burger were good, the burger itself seemed very dry, and again seemed to come from a big batch of pre-frozen burgers, rather than be something made on the spot. As our meals were the best part of £10 for the main course, I didn’t find it particularly good value. I’m sure I could have got something similar in a local chain pub for towards half the price. Overall, although the venue was good, and I can imagine it being a good place to bring kids, we were rather disappointed with the food at Paco’s. At least it’s a restaurant I can scrub off the list should I return to Perth.
Quarrymill Woodland Park is a pretty little woodland park located on the edge of Perth. To find it, walk over the bridge from the main part of the city centre, and follow the signs for Scone Palace. The Park is on the right hand side before you reach Scone Palace. The road is quite busy and fast, so if you are with children, make sure you are a fair way into the park before letting them loose. Our walk was on 2 January, in Scotland this is a bank holiday, and so the small shop and restaurant at the entrance of the park is closed. The park was donated to the city by one of the Bell family, who produced whisky in the town. Proceeds from the shop go towards the local hospice. I won’t describe the park as stunning, but as Scone Palace let us down (they told us their grounds would be open), it made our walk through the snow out of Perth worthwhile. The park used to be home to a quarry, and many of the local houses are built with stone extracted from here. The mill was used to generate energy for cotton spinning, and for grinding potatoes for starch, and for grinding bone meal. Today, the mill pond is the focal point of the park. Obviously, the local birds also enjoy the available food at the mill pond, so it is a good place for bird watchers. There are three short routes in the park to choose; two are wheelchair accessible, but we chose the longest, the pine Tree walk, which offers a bit of a hill climb and a walk through the woods. It was good to get a bit of a view over the area, and enjoy the snow beneath our feet.
Things were starting to look a little grim on the dining front, on New Year’s evening, as most of the restaurant staff at Perth city centre had wearily closed their doors in the early hours of the morning, and had no intention of reopening them for an evening or two.During our afternoon wandering, we had spotted that the Central Oriental, a Chinese Buffet kind of place had opened for afternoon meals. While Chinese food and buffets are far from my favourite things, we concluded that beggars cannot be choosers. As it turns out, we had a reasonable (if not exactly cheap meal) meal, although I did have concerns about the level of the salt in some of the dishes. Staff at the Central Oriental were certainly friendly enough, and although we had some doubts about the language skills of our second Eastern European server, she got us what we wanted, and presented us with an accurate bill at the end of the evening. The restaurant is very clean and modern looking, with lots of blond wood, and a whole line of clean looking serving tables for the buffet food. I was pleased to note that the food looked like it was being kept hot enough. We arrived fairly early on in the evening, and so had no trouble getting a table (in fact there was only one other dining party in the place, and it barely busied up during our meal). We actually had a nice slow meal over a couple of bottles of very nice Pinotage, which at £13.50 (around $20) hardly broke the bank. Be warned, that this restaurant has different charges for different times of the day, and charges you for your "leaving time", and not when you enter. Our meals started off at £10.99 and had increased to £12.99 by the time we had left. Considering the place was almost empty, I anticipated a reduced choice of food on the buffet, but each of the serving tables were groaning with choice. Plates at the restaurant are wisely quite small, so you don’t have to be tempted with filling them up, and then finding you have a plate of mixed mush to eat. I decided to have a specific meal of starters (dum sum), a meal with crispy duck, pancakes and raw vegetables (unfortunately, the sauce was so salty so as to spoil the pancakes), a dish of lovely vegetable noodles and a couple of the sauce dishes, and then prepared fresh fruit to finish (they had more calorific offerings if you can afford to eat them). My only slight criticism is that they only offered the traditional Chinese Curry for the spicier dish. I’ve become more accustomed to restaurants like this cooking Thai type dishes also. However, the vegetable dishes were very nicely cooked, and the vegetables were lovely and fresh.After each meal, the wait staff came to collect our dirty plates without fail (one of the good hygiene points to look out for at any buffet), although we occasionally struggled to get fresh knives and forks. A tip is for you to leave your knife and fork on your napkin, so you can retain it for the next course. Overall, the Central Oriental gave us a very filling meal, and a good quality evening; we certainly enjoyed our relaxed leisurely graze, although the lighting in the place was a little harsh (but again, it meant I could check out the food better). I did wake up with a raging thirst in the early hours of the following morning, but unfortunately that’s my standard experience of Chinese food. Wandering through Perth revealed perhaps 4 Chinese Buffet restaurants dotted around the town centre. While I can’t vouch for the quality of any of the others, the Central Oriental certainly offers a good experience and good food, so makes for a safe choice.
We kind of ended up by accident in Perth for New Year. The plan was to spend the midnight hour and the first minutes of 2010 freezing our nuts off standing in Edinburgh’s Princess Street along with 80,000 other brave souls. As Edinburgh hotels are expensive at New Year, we looked for a place within an hour’s drive to rest our weary heads, and so the stop at Perth was conceived.Given we didn’t have any particular expectation of the city of Perth, we were pleasantly surprised. The city is large enough with around 45,000 people, to boast a number of good and interesting shops, and during the snowy weather, it was good to spend a few hours darting between the icy winds as we explored the January Sales bargains. Likewise, there is a lively pub scene in Perth, and a good local real ale brewery, the Inveralmond. We also managed to find some choice of independent restaurant; although the evening of January 1st itself found many places taking a well deserved break from the madness of office Christmas Parties. There is an interesting looking art gallery in the town; its size seems to bat above the weight of Perth itself. Apparently Bells Whisky was founded in the town, and the grateful Bell family bestowed many imposing buildings upon the city. There is also a live theatre in the town, although the traditional panotomime didn’t take our fancy. We were pleased to see a small multiscreen cinema in the cinema, and rather than spend a few hours waiting in the pub before dinner, entertained ourselves in the cinema. The city itself seems as old as the hills, and as the original capital of Scotland enjoys plenty of history. I liked wandering round the imposing old granite buildings in the city centre. Many Scottish towns are ugly; but not Perth. There is a grand old bridge across the river that divides the city which despite the snow and the wind was worth a linger. Looking down from the bridge, the river water is clear as can be and we were surprised and delighted to spot a couple of otters swimming in the water. That seems a rare sight in a city the size of Perth. Even more impressive, Perth is great for walkers. As the weather was changeable, and there was around 8 inches of snow underfoot, we didn’t stray as far as we might have done. However, we enjoyed our river walk along the park to get a great view of Scone Palace (on the site of where the ancient Kings of Scotland were once crowned from around 850, right up until Alexandar III who died in 1286). We also took an icy walk through the woods and along a pretty stream at Quarrymill Woodland Park on the road to Scone Palace. This is another spot donated to the people of Perth by the Bell family. One minor "yah boo sucks" moment came with our plough through the snow to Scone Palace itself; we found it closed, where an earlier call to the Palace had confirmed the grounds would be open. Despite the minor hiccup we totally enjoyed our New Year’s weekend in Perth, and will have happy memories of the town for months to come.
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