The army is fast establishing itself as a cornerstone of Edinburgh’s festivals – especially when it comes to serving some of the best-value grub and booze at the Fringe. Peter Ranscombe reports for duty for a spot of military food and wine matching.
Some of the most memorable shows I’ve reviewed over the past few years have been staged at the British Army Reserve Centre on East Claremont Street on the edge of Edinburgh’s New Town.
The former drill hall is home to “Army @ The Fringe”, a series of shows with a military connection.
It’s part of the army’s efforts to engage with the wider community and spark conversions about the armed forces.
The programme is run in association with Summerhall, the arts venue in the former Royal (Dick) Vet School over at the Meadows, and this year the army has hired producer Jordon Blackwood to help further develop its work with visiting theatre companies.
A key part of the army’s offering at the Fringe this year is its “Mess Bar” – which is gaining a growing reputation for serving some of the best-value drinks at the festivals – and its “Field Kitchen”, serving up the kind of grub that squaddies can expect when they’re out on deployment.
“We serve all sorts of dishes in the field,” explained Justin, one of the chefs cooking in the field kitchen.
“Stew, roast chicken, steak, pizza – anything you’d expect to have at home.
“We even make canapes in the field kitchen.”
Keeping something in reserve
Justin is a reservist, so he works part-time for the army as a chef.
His day job is as a hospitality manager, most recently for investment bank UBS in Hong Kong.
“Working front of house means that the kitchen is the one place where I don’t get to work these days, so it made sense to work as a chef for the army to keep my hand in,” he said.
“One of the biggest challenges of cooking in a field kitchen is the planning – you have to think about your water supply, the site location, the wind direction and even the order in which you cook so that you minimise the washing up and the waste water afterwards.”
Food under fire
So, what to choose from the army’s field kitchen menu at Venue 210?
At these prices, you can’t go wrong and it’s worth paying a couple of visits to experiment.
It’s home cooking that’s been elevated to a higher level, with lots of familiar dishes served in decent portions.
Here’s my rundown of the highlights, complete with food and drink matching suggestions…
THE DISH: The army’s famous chicken curry (£4)
Soft chicken and a sauce that’s rich with tomato and a gentle heat – enough so you know it’s there, but without stripping the roof of your mouth. It’s well balanced, with a thickness to the sauce and tangy freshness from the green peppers.
THE MATCH: San Andres Sauvignon Blanc (£2)
A great-value Chilean sauvignon blanc, the San Andres offers lots of bright lemon notes on the nose, leading into tonnes of characteristic acidity on the palate, balanced by more lemon and green apple flavours. The acidity cuts through the richness of the curry’s sauce and brings a citrus lift to the dish, with the food bringing out more of the wine’s fresh fruit flavours.
THE DISH: Vegetarian curry (£4)
One of the most impressive factors about the field kitchen was hearing about all the different dietary requirements for which the army caters out on deployment, from vegetarian dishes through to those meeting specific religious requirements. The veg curry uses the same sauce as the meat version, but substitutes lentils for chicken. The result is a lighter dish, but still with a delicious mouth-coating quality.
THE MATCH: Corona (£2)
The sauvignon blanc was too acidic for the veg curry so I’d switch to Corona. I always forget how much body and malty notes Corona exhibits; you need the body of the beer to match the lighter style of curry. Other options include cans of Tennent’s lager and export, and John Smith’s bitter, each priced at £1.70.
THE DISH: Pasta Bolognese (£4)
The Bolognese sauce to accompany the penne pasta is again lighter than the curry sauce, but still fresh with tomato and with the crunch of fresh celery. I really enjoyed the light and fresh style – I’m guilty of throwing the kitchen sink at my Bolognese at home and that would sit too heavily during a day of Fringe-going. The vegetarian version didn’t cut it for me.
THE MATCH: San Andres Merlot (£2)
The lighter sauce opens the doors to a heavier style of wine and the Chilean Merlot provides enough body to balance the sauce. It’s warm on the nose with vanilla, blackberry and black cherry, with more red fruit flavours coming through on the palate, centred around sharp redcurrant and sweeter red cherry.
THE DISH: Beef burger (£3)
Think summer barbecue in Scotland rather than gourmet butcher’s burger, but at this price I’m not complaining. The patty itself is thin and crispy, bringing back memories of camping or a day out at the farmers’ show. An optional cheese slice, salad and onions are all included in the price.
THE MATCH: Corona (£2)
Back to the beer for me with the burger. The Corona may have body, but it also has plenty of freshness to cut through the indulgent greasiness burger. Other bottled beer options at £2 include Budweiser, Miller and Peroni, with the Italian lager also a good option for the burger.