Despite having Scottish heritage I’ve never been north of the border, so with the promise of good food, free accommodation and an enthusiastic guide I hopped on a plane to Edinburgh.
Scottish food has had some terrible press over the years – most people would struggle to get past haggis and deep fried mars bars. But this is a little unfair – Scotland has a wealth of fantastic ingredients: grouse, partridge, wild salmon, fresh shellfish and incredible beef. Top chefs like Tom Kitchin and Martin Wishart are reclaiming Scottish heritage and producing food that presents a local twist on Nouvelle Cuisine. Yum.
My goal over the weekend was to try a little of everything and I think I certainly managed it!
Located on Cockburn street (comically near to Fleshmarket Close) this very affordable little café/bistro is pretty representative of a nice tourist dive. Friendly staff serve hearty food washed down with reasonably priced whisky and wine. What’s not to like?
Starter – Smoked Salmon
The salmon was obviously wild (just look how lean it is!) and richly flavoured. Deeply smoked with lovely fruit and spice notes I practically inhaled it. Fennel, salmon and balsamic is an interesting combination, but it certainly worked!
Main – Haggis, Neeps and Tatties
I know it’s cliché, but it had to be done at least once. Haggis is gaining massively in popularity and is popping up on lots of menus – I’ve eaten it in Henley and even served it myself at a dinner party. Here’s it’s served in a neat stack with the traditional swede and potatoes. I prefer to interpret the ‘neeps’ as roast parnsips – to add a bit of textural contrast – but this rendition is lovely and the whisky cream sauce is a keeper!
This was a bit of a treat – The Witchery is one of the nicest restaurants in Edinburgh and has a great reputation. Situated off a little alleyway, just beside the castle it serves fantastic food in a wonderfully quirky ‘secret garden’ dining room – it’s very popular with celebrities. It serves a very reasonable lunch menu £30 for three courses and is well worth a visit.
Starter – Roast Partridge with ‘Scotch’ quails egg and black pudding.
The partridge was lovely and the miniature black pudding delicious, but the real start was the quails egg. I like my yolks runny – but the sausage meat around the outside was incredible. Laden with mace and cinnamon it worked beautifully with the game.
Main – Ayrshire beef cheek on a spelt risotto with a burnt onion mayonnaise and kale.
The beef cheek was fall apart tender and the spelt risotto perfectly cooked (I am definitely borrowing this for a dinner party). The kale was tasty – though I’d happily swap if for spinach. A lovely dish and perfect for a brisk November lunch.
Dessert – Marmalade Brulee
A perfectly cooked vanilla brulee with a lovely layer of marmalade on the base – it’s a great combo and I’d love to try it myself. Some orange liqueur would help cut some of the richness too.
Saturday night is busy in Edinburgh. As we discovered – if you haven’t booked you’re out of luck. After traipsing round the streets for a while we headed for this cosy little place just off Grassmarket. Blessedly quiet it serves simple Scottish food and a great selection of wines.
Starter – Oysters
Scottish seafood is excellent and these oysters were no different. I think my favourites still come from California, but these rank among the best I’ve had in the UK.
Main – Ribeye and Crevettes
I like steak – and Scotland is certainly known for its Aberdeen Angus (which is completely meaningless is North America). This was perfectly cooked in a lovely whisky cream sauce with two enormous prawns all nestled majestically upon a bed of garlic mash.
Dessert – Apple Pie
I also have a real thing for Apple pies – this frankly intimidating slab was delicious. Good pastry, nice filling and plenty of cream.
Breakfast – World’s End Pub
In need of something substantial – this is a traditional fry-up with the addition of Haggis – a definite plus in the morning.
Lunch – The Stand
Now I’ll be honest – The Stand is a comedy club. The improv I saw was fantastic but the show was almost stolen by the nachos. Bought as a quick snack they were utterly phenomenal – the chilli wasn’t made with mince, but big tender chunks of beef in a rich, savoury sauce. We polished off a plate and immediately ordered a second. Beefy heaven!