My admittedly entirely subjective recommendations for friends visiting Edinburgh Fringe 2015
Best stand-up – Kathryn Ryan in Kathbum. Her act is bitchy, witty and fearless and performed with total mastery of her art. Personal reflections on her experiences of being a misfit in her hometown in rural Canada – and, in particular, the challenges this poses on returning for her sister’s wedding - are interspersed with biting observations about popular culture and celebrity. The show flows with seamless ease and spares nobody – least of all herself. A poised and confident performance, easily the best stand-up we saw and probably the best in the festival.
Best character-based comedy – Adam Riches in Coach Coach. Something of a wild card, this was a choice made for us and we knew nothing of Adam Riches before the show. Playing the coach of a tragically unsuccessful Volfsball team, Adam is supported by a cast of ten or so in this largely improvised piece that responds dynamically on audience participation. Chaos ensues and while the pace is sometimes patchy the laughs keep coming. It’s difficult to make a show this unpredictable look slick, but control is never lost. Great fun.
Most talented cast – Not the End of the World. Aside from Starmaker’s own - and extremely talented - Henry Bearman, the young cast includes some spectacular voices and impressive acting talent. The score is nowhere near as catchy as, say, Joseph and the interpretation of the biblical story is dark and challenging, but the production and the performances are magnificent and thoroughly deserving of the rave reviews.
Best cocktail bar – Panda and Sons. Disguised as an American barber’s shop, this bar is themed like a prohibition-era speakeasy and approached down a flight of steps and through a bookcase. Inside, the theme continues with barbershop posters and a couple of barbers chairs, although most seating is pretty conventional. The cocktail list is innovative, both in terms of the drinks offered and the menu design. My twist on the Mojito was served in a tin can. Far enough out to avoid the Fringe crowds but easily walkable, it’s well worth a visit.
Best gin selection – Mothers. Actually a gin and draft bar but we didn’t sample any of the artisan beers. It offers a wide selection of variations on the gin and tonic plus cocktails based on both gin and other spirits. The music is eclectic and the décor welcoming. The waiting staff are friendly and display a good level of knowledge of the drinks on offer.
Smartest bar – The Dome on George Street. The Club Room is luxuriously furnished and when we visited was perfumed by the most enormous displays of white lilies. The restaurant under the central glass dome is equally salubrious, but I can’t vouch for the food as we didn’t eat there. Calm, professional service provides a haven away from the hubbub just a couple of streets away.
Best formal dining – Divinos Enoteca. This Italian restaurant offers delicious and authentic food served by attentive and knowledgeable staff who manage to appear at your shoulder the millisecond after you realise you need them. The wine list is extensive and caters to every budget. It’s tucked away in the lower reaches of the centre of Edinburgh, with a calm and dimly lit ambience that’s a welcome contrast to the noise and bustle above. Formal, but definitely not stuffy.
Best casual dining – Blonde. A little way out just beyond the far end of Pleasance, blonde is a casual and eclectic restaurant serving really excellent food without too many frills. There are Mediterranean and North African twists to the dishes which achieve an excellence balance of flavours. A great choice for lunch or dinner if you’re seeing a show at The Pleasance.
Best lunch spot – The Devil’s Advocate. This new restaurant is halfway down Advocate’s Close just off the Royal Mile. The emphasis is on really fresh ingredients of high quality, with whole serrano hams hanging behind the bar. There’s a terrace outside, too, and it’s surprisingly peaceful given the location. Like Blonde, there are some eclectic flavour combinations here. They need to iron out a few wrinkles in the service, but we couldn’t fault the food or wine.
Best hidden gem – The Water of Leith. Just 10 minutes’ walk north of the city centre you can join the path that runs alongside this river at Brandon Terrace and join a path that passes the Royal Botanical Gardens, The Colonies, impressive stone bridges and St Bernard’s well and reaching picturesque Roseburn in 40 minutes or so. Join the path in the opposite direction round the corner off Montagu Terrace and in the same time – although admittedly through less picturesque territory – you can walk to Leith harbour.