The Skinny's Food and Drink World Cup
We embark on a world tour of Scotland to crown a food and drink champion this summer to coincide with a certain football tournament
Football – it’s not a subject that’s brought up much round these parts; we’re much more of a ‘flat white, second-hand shop, then lovely bit of contemporary art with the lads’ bunch. Still, there’s no denying the cultural ubiquity of that football competition they’re doing this month, so we hit on an idea. What if each of the countries in the 32-team field were represented by a venue or item available in Scotland’s foodie establishments, with the aim of finding out which is the best in the most arbitrary way imaginable?
Well reader, we made that dream come true. Mostly. We had to jump straight to the knockout rounds for space reasons, and because we couldn’t for the life of us find any Panamanian cuisine, but the point remains. Consider this a primer on some of Scotland’s foodie gems from around the world, and a source of needless diplomatic tension. Win-win.
Nile Valley Cafe v Serrano Manchego
Representing Spain is the delightful tapas joint Serrano Manchego (297 Leith Walk, Edinburgh), home of incredible meats, cheeses, and coffees with condensed milk in them. Standing in for Egypt from over the border in Sudan are the otherworldly falafels of the Nile Valley Cafe (6 Chapel St, Edinburgh). Dill, sesame seeds, chilli flakes – stick a couple of those in a wrap with some babaganoush and fava beans and you’re onto a winner.
Fylkir of Copenhagen v Einstök Ölgerð
Fylkir (134 Newlands Rd, Glasgow) is a Danish cafe that’s all about delightfully arranged open sandwiches and other lovely Scandinavian goodies. Einstök – the brewery whose beers are available in many of your favourite swanky off-licences – has thrown its weight behind the Icelandic football team with specially designed bottles and general marketing patter. You can’t eat patter though, so the smorrebrod merchants of Fylkir win this one.
Clark and Lake v Bibimbap
Switzerland is all about the raclette – what’s not to love about the warm scrapings from an ostentatiously big piece of cheese? Clark and Lake (8 Gillespie Pl, Edinburgh) will sling you some of that cheesy goodness, but they can’t hope to beat turbo-hip Korean bar Bibimbap (3 West Nile St, Glasgow). We’re suckers for ridiculous design, wild cocktails and crunchy fried chicken – they have all three, so obviously they’re straight through.
Six Degrees North v Pierogi Najlepsze w Mieście
The slight issues of this format begin here; how do you pick between the Belgian-inspired beers of Six Degrees North (24 Howe St, Edinburgh; 566 Dumbarton Rd, Glasgow) and the steamed-up windows of Polish dumpling house Pierogi Najlepsze w Miescie (29 Crighton Pl, Edinburgh)? Well, you do like they do in the world of football punditry, and just pick one or the other. We like Six Degrees North’s apparently endless tap selections, so they’re through.
Casa Amiga v Cafe Cossachok
The Russian culinary gamut gets a full runout at Cafe Cossachok (10 King St, Glasgow), everything from blintzes to borscht to myriad kinds of dumplings. Unfortunately for them, they don’t have the unreal Pastéis de Nata from Casa Amiga (294 Leith Walk, Edinburgh). Pastry that’s both crunchy and flaky, paired with a sweet-but-not-too-sweet baked custard; winner winner, skip your dinner and just have four or five of these.
Gaucho v The Peruvian
A pair of South American concepts clash here – the choice is between swanky-ass Argentinian steakhouse Gaucho (4a St Andrew Sq, Edinburgh) and street food stand The Peruvian (Food & Flea, Edinburgh). If you like swanky furnishings and shiny interior design you’ll probably fancy Gaucho, but we’re more into the ceviche, marinated meats and in-the-street cool of The Peruvian so they’re our pick. Plus, their sign has a llama on it.
El Cartel Mexicana v Mr Eion Coffee
One of the greatest culinary gifts Mexico’s given the world is the taco, and there aren’t many better in Scotland than those at El Cartel Mexicana (64 Thistle St, Edinburgh), served in a room that straddles ‘cool ambience’ and ‘can someone turn a light on’. Costa Rica has blessed us with great coffee – micro-roasters Mr Eion (9 Dean Park St, Edinburgh) serve up a fruity, sharp small-batch Costa Rican coffee, but it can’t quite beat those tacos.
Maki and Ramen v Koelschip Yard
Our favourite ramen spot Maki and Ramen (97 Fountainbridge, Edinburgh) flies the flag for Japan in this one, and given that this is the World Cup we need to ensure that England are knocked out embarrassingly early. That said, England is home to some fantastic craft breweries whose beers can be regularly found on tap at some of the Central Belt’s best bars – we’ll shout out Koelschip Yard (686 Pollokshaws Rd, Glasgow) this time around.
Nile Valley Cafe v Fylkir of Copenhagen
At this stage in the competition, we’re looking at things with a finer eye for detail, something that both these spots grasp but in different ways. Fylkir’s smørrebrød are all intricately designed pieces of art topped with all manner of lovely goodies; Nile Valley’s wraps are wonders of culinary engineering, balancing a whole host of flavours and textures in a lunchtime treat the size of a small cat. However, on the finest detail of all – ‘does this venue actually represent the country it’s matched with in this tournament?’ – Fylkir takes the biscuit.
Bibimbap v Six Degrees North
We’re also looking at range – what options are on offer? Six Degrees North really can’t be touched on this one, offering a boat load of their own Belgian-style beers as well as a constantly changing range of guest beers in each of their bars. While Bibimbap do have some banger options, there’s unfortunately always going to be one dish that gets in the way of ordering anything else. Fried chicken that’s literally too good – feel free to have that one for a poster quote.
Casa Amiga v The Peruvian
A clash of styles here, between phenomenally sweet and sugary and impressively savoury. We’re going to put through Casa Amiga for two reasons – you’ve always got room for dessert, no matter how much you’ve eaten, and those custard tarts are much easier to transport around than a delicious plate of ceviche. You can’t pocket-munch ceviche. Believe us.
El Cartel Mexicana v Maki and Ramen
Ah yes, the point in any sporting tournament where two of the very best competitors come up against each other slightly too early. Both of these are great, and to be honest they’d be near the top of the office hitlist in almost any circumstance. As it is, we’ll give it to El Cartel, as it’s much harder to embarrass oneself with a taco than it is flapping around with a pair of chopsticks. It's not impossible – salsas move in mysterious ways – but at least the chances of accidentally taking an eye out are a whole lot lower.
Fylkir v Six Degrees North
A trendy upstart versus an established big boy here, and unfortunately we’re going to have to side with the larger of the two. Six Degrees North’s beer selection is always impressive, we like to party, and there’s something reassuring about knowing there’s nice beer waiting at either end of the M8 (plus one of the guys from 6DN was very nice to us at a beer festival, and this wouldn’t be a sporting tournament without some questionable nepotism, would it?)
Casa Amiga v El Cartel Mexicana
Each of these spots has been something of a one-dish team so far – Casa Amiga for their custard tarts, and El Cartel for their tacos. But there’s only so deep in a competition you can go behind one star, which is to say that the coffee in Casa Amiga is kinda average, while El Cartel’s menu also features cracking margaritas and Mexican dips with about 40 visible ingredients in them. So long Pasteis De Nata, you did your best.
The grand finale – Mexican food vs Belgian Beer. While the beer is delicious, the tacos' endless flavours and opportunities to much about win the day. Myriad options, all working in harmony – Total Football, but in a corn tortilla. What we’ve learned from this experiment is that Scotland is home to some incredible options from across the culinary world. We’ve been reminded that, when it comes to picking your next night out, sometimes the choices you have to make aren’t fair. But more than anything, we now know that, according to this highly arbitrary tabulation, El Cartel Mexicana is the best place in the world and that Mexico are going to win the World Cup. You’re welcome.
The 2018 FIFA World Cup begins on 14 Jun; food is available all year round
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