Where to stay
The Balmoral Landmark city-centre hotel next to Princes Street Gardens, just a 15-minute walk from Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace and Auld Toun and a five-minute walk to New Town. Expect fine dining, a brasserie, bar, and an elegant setting for afternoon tea. Doubles from £250. 1 Princes Street, 0131 556 2414, roccofortehotels.com
The Dunstane Houses Family-run boutique hotel in two large Victorian
houses. Quiet rooms with character, plus an all-day dining room and bar
with rare whiskies. Traditional breakfast dishes include Orkney kipper or
smoked salmon, Ayrshire bacon, haggis, black pudding, tattie scones
and local eggs, plus porridge, berries and yoghurt. Doubles from £240
including breakfast. 4 West Coates, 0131 337 6169, thedunstane.com
Millers64 A mile from the city centre, this elegant guesthouse is run with gusty Scottish hospitality by sisters Louise and Shona. Soft lighting, a muted palette and airy proportions in the two rooms make for a very comfortable stay. Opt for the Scottish fry-up come breakfast. Doubles from £120. 64 Pilrig Street, 0131 454 3666, millers64.com
The Principal Historic hotel comprising five listed Georgian townhouses on Edinburgh’s best-known shopping street, a 20-minute walk from Auld Toun and on the northern edge of New Town. Alluring dining room and popular Burr & Co coffee shop. Doubles from £135, including continental breakfast. 19-21 George Street, 0131 225 1251, theprincipalhotel.com
Edinburgh, the Scottish capital, boasts a historic, Unesco-listed cobbled centre overlooked by its iconic castle. Flights from London take around 1 hour, and trains take 5.5 hours. Local time is GMT. In August the average high temperature is 18C and the average low is 10C.
British Airways flies direct from London Heathrow and London City airports to Edinburgh Airport. ba.com
easyJet flies from Bristol, London Luton and Stansted. easyjet.com
London North Eastern Railway runs trains throughout the day from London Kings Cross to Edinburgh Waverley station. lner.co.uk
Visit Scotland is the official tourist board. Its website features plenty to inform your trip, including restaurant listings, cultural sites, places to visit, events and how to get there. visitscotland.com
The Scots Kitchen by F Marian McNeill (Birlinn, £14.99) is a delightful exploration of Scotland’s culinary history offering a trove of recipes.
Where to eat
Prices are for three courses for two people with a half bottle of house wine, unless otherwise stated
21212 The city’s only Michelin-starred restaurant with rooms. Chef Paul Kitching’s menus, which change regularly, offer whimsy as well as the best of Scotland’s produce. Case in point: ‘Kidnapped in Scotland’, ‘Rainy allotment soup’ and a delightful ‘Broken tart’ of custard and lemon barley. From £50. 3 Royal Terrace, 0345 22 21212, 21212restaurant.co.uk
83 Hanover Street Santiago-born Juan José Castillo Castro champions
Scottish produce in his Chilean cuisine. Expect short-rib croquettes,
crispy chicken wings with corn purée, ceviche, and moreish tres leches
doughnuts. If they’re on, try the empanadas (small pies) made by his
mother, Mercedes, when she’s in town, with a Chilean sour cocktail.
From £60. 83 Hanover Street, 0131 225 4862, 83hanoverstreet.com
The Ba’ Bar Small, cosy dining room in The Dunstane Houses hotel. Dishes reflect owner Shirley Mowat’s Orcadian origins: think haggis bon-bons with turnip purée and whisky mustard sauce, followed by lemon posset and poppy-seed shortcake. Try a pre-meal whisky or gin tasting, including the hotel’s own bespoke house spirit, Dun Gin. From £65. 4 West Coates, 0131 337 6169, thedunstane.com
Brasserie Prince by Alain Roux Centrally located brasserie and bar
in The Balmoral hotel. Luxurious dishes include a knockout shellfish
platter, an impeccably cooked rib of beef with sweet potato, and
classic feel-good desserts like rum baba and crème caramel.
From £80. 1 Princes Street, 0131 557 5000, roccofortehotels.com
Contini George Street Set in a spacious, colourful former banking hall,
owners Viktor and Carina Contini’s monthly changing menus use produce
from their garden when in season. Homemade pasta and foccacia is
made fresh each day, along with the likes of pan-fried North Sea halibut,
rump of Highland lamb, a dreamy custard and pine nut tart and boozy
coffees. From £65. 103 George Street, 0131 225 1550, contini.com
Edinburgh Food Studio Restaurant and food research hub, where current projects include cutting waste and a visual study of oats. Ben Reade’s seasonal dishes are served at two convivial long tables, and may include asparagus, walnuts and fennel, and mackerel, tomato and lovage. Closed Monday and Tuesday. Tasting menu from £60pp. 158 Dalkeith Road, 0131 258 0758, edinburghfoodstudio.com
L’Escargot Blanc French country classics in Edinburgh’s West End. Chef Fred Berkmiller’s à la carte favourites make use of the finest of
Scottish produce, including Barra snails, venison, Orkney beef and local asparagus – served with Normandy crème fraîche. From £50.
17 Queensferry Street, 0131 226 1890, lescargotblanc.co.uk
Fhior Relatively new, intimate dining rooms and bar in a quiet, Georgian-era street. Chef Scott Smith’s season-driven menus include oyster, fermented cucumber, dill and apple; beef tartare and horseradish; hogget and wild garlic; and strawberry, woodruff and rapeseed. A smaller bar menu offers the likes of smoked haddock croquettes and pork popcorn. Interesting wine list, too. From £80. 36 Broughton Street, 0131 477 5000, fhior.com
The Little Chartroom Small and friendly space with a seasonal menu well worth seeking out. Try chef Roberta Hall-McCarron’s pork belly, black pudding and sauerkraut, or the fish and shellfish bouillabaisse. After the grouse season starts on the Glorious Twelfth, it’s all about the game. From £28. 30-31 Albert Place, 0131 556 6600, thelittlechartroom.com
The Printing Press Bar & Kitchen Iconic, wood-panelled bar and dining
room in The Principal hotel. Classics include haggis and neeps, roast plaice
with capers and brown butter, craft-ale battered fish and chips, Tweed Valley
beef grills, and bread and butter pudding. A great spot for people-watching,
it would be remiss to visit and not try one of its superb cocktails. From £65.
21-25 George Street, 0131 240 7177, printingpressedinburgh.co.uk
Southside Scran Traditional French bistro with a modern neighbourhood vibe courtesy of Tom Kitchin, who has a number of other venues across the city. Expect the likes of endive tarte tatin and roasted vegetables; borders roe deer terrine with dried fruit chutney; duck leg confit, cocoa beans and basil butter. Round off proceedings with one of Kitchin’s famously indulgent desserts, such as a strawberry crepe with chocolate sauce. From £56. 14-17 Bruntsfield Place, 0131 342 3333, southsidescran.com
The Wedgwood Owner-chef Paul Wedgwood’s innovative menu features many locally foraged ingredients in dishes such as Sound of Kilbrannon scallops with cauliflower korma, and Douglas fir-cured salmon. Paul also hosts foraging courses, sharing his knowledge on everything from finding the perfect spot for collecting chanterelles to knowing which flowers can be used as edible garnishes on dishes. From £76. 267 Canongate, Royal Mile, 0131 558 8737, wedgwoodtherestaurant.co.uk
Food and Travel Review
Chef Paul Wedgwood is no rookie. ‘I’ve made haggis all over the world,' he proclaims, with a smile. 'The ingredients and dishes of Scotland inspire me. I make it with vension, pigeon, any meat, so long as it's super-fresh.' Haggis is very much in vogue today, as is Paul's love foraging. I meet him late morning at his eponymous restaurant in Edinburgh’s Old Town, where he has just returned from a search for wild garlic for that evening’s dishes. He forages year-round – elderberry, elderflower and buckthorn for sauces and preserves, herbs for wild green salads, samphire and sea rocket. ‘Every seaweed is edible,’ he tells me. ‘I choose by feel and touch, because no plant tastes or feels the same.’ The fierce volcanic activity of the last Ice Age left fertile soil surrounding Edinburgh’s perimeter, along with a rocky crag at its centre. For Lancashire-born Wedgwood, it is the ideal place for his restaurant.
An easily defended castle has commanded this rock since at least the 12th century, though the local royalty moved out to nearby Holyrood Palace 300 years later. Medieval Auld Toun links both. Its wide, cobbled streets and steep, narrow wynds, lined with five- and six-storey sandstone tenements, date all the way back to the Scottish Reformation, when Scotland broke away from the church of Rome and established its own kirk. Edinburgh became known as Auld Reekie – or ‘Smokey’ – to the country folk, cocooned, as it was, in plumes of chimney smoke. Out of the reformation came radical ideas – political, economic, scientific – and Edinburgh became a centre of learning. In this Age of Enlightenment wealthier residents formed a new neighbourhood (New Town) away from the overcrowded, smoggy Auld Toun.
Today, 19th-century Waverley station is the city’s beating heart. Lying to the east of Princes Street Gardens, which separates Edinburgh Castle, Old Town and Holyrood Palace to the south from Georgian New Town to the north, it denotes the opening up of the city. Edinburgh lies close to the North Sea (and its bounty), too, just a few kilometres inland from Leith. The Water of Leith, rising in the Pentland Hills and flowing south and west of the city, enters the Firth of Forth here. As it passes the edge of New Town, this fast-flowing river has created a gorge where, for 800 years, Dean Village, now an attractive residential area, has been home to many large water mills.
Just along from the river, in a charming Georgian terrace house, chef Fred Berkmiller is discussing the day’s tasks with his team of chefs. ‘We buy, then we cook’, he tells me, as they decide on the dishes to make with the plump chickens just delivered from a Perthshire farm. ‘I really appreciate the willingness of the suppliers here.’ A native of Tours, Fred came from France to Edinburgh via restaurants in London and Glasgow. He opened L’Escargot Blanc 10 years ago. ‘I asked a farmer to keep blood for me, I use it to make black pudding,’ he says. ‘Large abattoirs don’t have fresh blood, only the small ones – this is the value of the small producer. I’ve also asked farmers to keep back cockerels – the flavour! – and duck eggs.’ Fred sources throughout Scotland
‘Scallops and mussels are from Orkney, at the moment some of my beef, too. But growing tourism there means their PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) cattle are endangered. The steak is from an Isle of Mull Dexter. We have Shetland lamb and snails from Barra in the Outer Hebrides. The monks there eat them.’
Fred is happy in this compact city, where he has access to good producers and to his own walled garden, swept by, though protected from, the sea air, that provides strong greens, fruit and vegetables. At first, he sourced most of his produce from France. ‘Now, only rabbit and a few artisanal products. There’s generations of skills there, it takes years to perfect,’ he says. Scotland may soon have its own newly forged tradition. ‘We have fantastic meats here and our aim in the next decade is to put Scotland on the map for charcuterie,’ says Susie Anderson, co-owner with husband Steven, of East Coast Cured. ‘We even hope to sell to the French.’ The pair locally source native-breed pigs from small producers that they know take good care of the animals. Across town, Scott Smith, chef-owner of Fhior – ‘truth’ in Gaelic – appreciates the new speciality food he can include on his tables, too. ‘My mum and grandmother had a huge influence on me. Both had large gardens and grew their own food,’ he says of his Aberdeenshire upbringing. ‘Now I preserve crab apples from my mother’s garden, or use them in sauces, and lightly ferment her white currants and rhubarb. I keep strawberries and kelp in vinegar, preserve lemons with sea kale and collect wild garlic.’
Over at The Balmoral Hotel’s Brasserie Prince by Alain Roux, chef Phil Hickman also sources in Scotland’s north-east. His day starts early with a text from Stevie Fish, telling him what has been brought ashore. Stevie Fish began his career in Ayr fish market, one of Scotland’s oldest. Before he delivers to Hickman he picks up scallops collected by a family of divers near Inverness. Trout, haddock, salmon and kippers from East Lothian’s Belhaven Smokehouse also arrive for the kitchen. ‘People have been enjoying Scottish produce without knowing it,’ he says. ‘Now that we realise what we have, the future is good. It’s very different from 10 years ago.’
Well-flavoured breads from Twelve Triangles grace Hickman’s tables. I catch Edinburgh-born bakery owner Rachel Morgan in her small café before the lunch rush. Morgan unearthed a love of sourdough in San Francisco and, back home, determined to produce her own naturally fermented loaves. Today she uses local, hand-milled, organic flour and a fine-flavoured starter, provided by Cumbria bread expert Andrew Whitley. ‘In the last few years the bakery and café have attracted a younger crowd,’ she says. ‘I’m happy they are so interested, as these skills should be kept alive.’
So, too, says Rory Mellis, of IJ Mellis Cheesemonger, in Auld Toun’s Victoria Street. ‘Many small cheese producers are now in their fifties or sixties and, as their kids move away, they could be the last generation.’ But in the past three years there have been encouraging new signs. ‘People want “farmhouse” now, and more restaurants are asking for these special cheeses,’ he says, showing me a 25kg wheel of Isle of Mull cheddar. ‘Almost all our Scottish cheeses are made from raw milk, and this gives them real character.’ I suspect a winter feed of some spent grain from the island distillery might contribute, too. I try two distinctive Lanarkshire cheeses – ewe’s milk Corra Linn and Lanark Blue – and can’t resist Auld Reekie, a 12-month ripened cow’s milk cheese smoked in old whisky barrels.
Edinburgh-born chef Tom Kitchin shares a similar mantra – to embrace modern Caledonia in its entirety and, with his four landmark city eateries, he is a man of his word. While we are talking he receives a text from his chefs downstairs, happy at the prospect of working with the whole lamb just delivered.
‘We use the entire animal. Not so long ago, menus used to be chicken breast, salmon. Now, the phones buzz in the morning and I’m told winkles, cockles.’ For him, western Scotland in particular has something very special about it. ‘Trawl boats can’t access the lochs because of the jagged rocks, but shellfish can be harvested in all of them,’ he says. ‘And wild berries have no problem with our inclement weather.’ Nor do grouse, it seems. ‘Open up a wild grouse and it’s full of blueberries, so we make a blueberry sauce to go with it.’
Edinburgh’s food world today is quite different to the one Carina and Viktor Contini’s grandparents found on their arrival. ‘They had to bring in nearly everything from Italy’, Carina tells me, in their restaurant Contini George Street. ‘Now, I grow fruits and veg for our tables in our one-acre garden; we revel in their seasons.’ The city’s cosy coffee shops are another legacy of early Italian immigrants, something surely appreciated by JK Rowling when she sat at a café table behind steamed windows to write her first Harry Potter novel.
This hospitality – the essential component of any good table – greets me at chef Paul Kitching’s 21212. In an elegant dining room in a Georgian terrace house, Kitching reminisces. ‘I was excited the first time I worked in a kitchen, and that sensation has never left me,’ he says. ‘I want my chefs to feel this, too. I like to encourage a feeling of anticipation in my guests. If they smile when a dish is put in front of them, I’m happy.’ This evening, Kitching is a happy man.
A decade ago, Kitching, Fred Berkmiller and Paul Wedgwood recognised the fine quality of Scotland’s produce, and created restaurants to match. Today, young Scottish chefs are strengthening these links with native food artisans – the fishermen, cheesemakers, smokeries and beekeepers – and drawing on their families’ knowledge of kitchen gardens, foraging, preserving, pickling and baking. As one of them, Tom Kitchin is clear about the future. ‘Scottish chefs are working abroad, then coming back with new skills and knowledge,’ he says. ‘There is a deep respect for both the places they’ve been to and the foods they have at home.’
Food and Travel travelled courtesy of Visit Scotland. visitscotland.com
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