I AM DOING PORRIDGE. At least, I tell anyone who will listen that, on the evidence of my past fortnight’s isolation in a hospital room awaiting insertion of a pacemaker I feel certain I could endure a spell at Her Majesty’s Pleasure inside one of her softer ‘open’ penitentiaries without too much demur or despair.
But this morning I am doing porridge. Literally. Food writing is a branch of journalism in which I am inexperienced despite a half century in the business but having enjoyed a cross-section of food at two major hospitals I am encouraged to offer my take on NHS food with Banksy’s ‘ER Good Grub Guide’ (that’s ER as in Emergency Room, not Egon Ronay!)
The most ambitious failure on the menu at the Edinburgh Royale was toast: a breakfast classic which arrived cold and bendy and won a tussle with false teeth by dragging my top set onto the tray. With no pre-ordering available, slow starters like me had to choose on the spot between cornflakes, Weetabix, Krispies or porridge; do NOT pick their porridge. Although served in a china bowl with sachets of sugar it is served thin yet lumpy and falls far short of the Scottish speciality on offer at La Brasserie BGH, Melrose, which is served hot in lidded plastic bowls with the option of a small pot of cream (Tip: opt for coffee instead of tea and reserve some of your generous cream allowance to make palatable your mug of ‘instant’). Additionally, La Brasserie offers fruit juices and avoids the tortuous toast trap. I plumped successfully for something called a ‘wheaten roll’(?) which was fluffy and fresh and filling, even if the jam and butter on offer was less generous than the Royale’s.
La Brasserie BGH 8/10: Pre-ordered menu, a hearty, hot porridge starter with cream (beg for extra sugar, despite the diabetes!) and prompt, friendly service.
Ristorante Royale, Edinburgh 6/10: Limp toast, lumpy porridge, make your mind up on the spot. Prompt, friendly service.
LUNCH and DINNER
At La Brasserie BGH Good range of wholesome, family-friendly dishes which I largely avoided at lunchtime in favour of excellent soups and rather unimaginative sandwiches (ham, cheese or tuna mayo) followed by jelly and ice cream. Piece of fruit available either lunch or dinner time. I took my main meal at a rather early dinner time (5.30pm).“The best days to be in the BGH are Fridays (Breaded Haddock, Chips and Peas) and Mondays (Beef Curry),” confided one of the ever-cheerful ‘domestics’ who work so hard carrying food and cleaning conspicuously thoroughly. And he was dead right on both counts! But their soups are always top-notch and theCorned Beef Stovies and Haggis, Neeps and Tatties were spicily spectacular.
Slightly more ambitious fare at Ristorante Royal where standout meals included a Lancashire hotpot (and being Lancastrian by birth I’m an authority on the dish) and Haddock with a Spinach Crumb to which I added (look away, Mrs Banks!) sides of cauliflower and roast potatoes. Sadly, the only Ionian influence in my misnamed Greek Salad with Chicken were three black olives!
The ubiquitous jelly and ice cream was routinely available at both venues but the range of cooked puddings from both kitchens (rice pud, Eve’s and Bread and Butter as well as various fruit crumbles) with custard was tasty, homely and heartwarming.
La Brasserie BGH 8/10: Borders country home cooking which rarely failed to give great satisfaction. Downsides were the processed bread and huge plastic waste from the use of 330ml bottled water which was necessarily available all day and the tea/coffee in throwaway plastic cups.
Ristorante Royale, Edinburgh 8/10: Good, nutritious food with some imagination, served (as with jugged water and tea/coffee) in fully multiple-use mugs and glasses – top marks for that.
Smart, friendly bedside service at both venues. A late-night supper offer (tea/coffee/hot chocolate with the option of a pre-bedtime sandwich, cake or biscuits at La Brasseries BGH was a comforting bite before lights out and rather stole a march on the tea/coffee and two plain biccies at Ristorante Royale.
IN CONCLUSION. . . If I am still alive when you read this it will be down to the skill of the cardio-surgical carver at the business end of Ristorante Royale. But the whole NHS, from the district nurse at Coldstream Health Centre who spotted my low pulse rate and insisted on referring my ECG results to my doctor who ordered me into La Brasserie BGH; and the cardiologist who referred me to Edinburgh. . . all deserve equal credit.
So, literally from the bottom of my heart. . .