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Edinburgh and I have a strange relationship. I was an undergraduate at the University of Edinburgh for four years, so the city should be full of fond student memories. And in some ways it is. But it was also the period of my life during which I felt the least secure, the least confident, and the most depressed. Unlike many of my classmates, I learnt a lot: I threw myself into my courses on postmodernism and phonetics and other useless but lingua-geek topics that I can now barely remember with a gusto that most students reserve for downing a yard of ale. I made friends: friends whose popularity left me agonising about when they were going to see though me; friends who I’ve now mostly lost touch with due to moving overseas. I was cold: cold enough that I could see my breath in the mornings; cold enough that even with three pairs of pyjamas and two duvets I couldn’t keep warm. I was invisible: the girl who no one remembered at parties and who never had a boyfriend. But it was during my time at Edinburgh that I got a chance to study abroad – and that’s how I first came to Amsterdam.
Edinburgh Stop 1: Coffee
Of course, on arrival it was about 12 degrees C and raining, so we marched up Dundas Street and ducked into a coffee shop at the top of the hill: Wellington. The flat whites were chewy and rich (as they should be), the carrot cake was flying off the counter so fast that it ran out, and the scones looked incredible. Sadly, we had dinner to think about so managed to resist…
Edinburgh Stop 2: Beer
If there’s one sure-fire way to stave off the cold, it’s alcohol. So our next port of call was a local pub. I’m much more of a fan of Dutch and Belgian-style beers than British ales and lagers, but there was one Scottish brew that I think would please every palate: Innis & Gunn (which I thought was called Innocent Gun when someone said it to me and I couldn’t see it written down). Easy-drinking but with a bit of body, it’s a perfect session beer and they sell it at pretty much every pub in Edinburgh.
Edinburgh Stop 3: Tom Kitchin’s gastropub
Tom Kitchin was a wee babe when I was at university (and, like I said, I never had any money anyway) so I’d not had the pleasure of trying out his eponymous restaurant: The Kitchin. This time around, I may have been richer but I certainly wasn’t flush, so we headed instead to his more affordable and accessible gastropub: The Scran & Scallie. I’d been craving fish pie for days, so I was thrilled to be presented with a steaming mound of creamy mash, insulating layer upon layer of fish and prawns in a pillowy white sauce. Comfort food incarnate.
Between the rest of the group, we tried the bangers & mash, steak pie, and confit pork belly. All were warmly satisfying and deeply comforting – especially for the Scottish “summer” going on outside.
Edinburgh Stop 4: Breakfast
Next morning, we tried to go healthy and organic at Earthy – a small chain of grocery stores across the city that also happens to have a café at Cannonmills, just around the corner from where we were staying. I can’t pretend it was a roaring success: the breakfast menu was considerably shorter than the menu on their website, and the ordering process didn’t exactly go smoothly. Two of us opted for the classic Scottish breakfast: eggs, sausages, bacon and all that good stuff. It came in its own frying pan, in which everything had been baked in a mountain of chickpeas and tomato sauce (presumably Earthy’s answer to baked beans). We were asked how we wanted our eggs cooked (we opted for poached and fried, respectively) but when they arrived they were baked into the dish like an overcooked shakshuka. Plus, there were the dreaded mushrooms when I’d specifically asked for them to be left out… I was so disappointed I forgot to take a photo.
Edinburgh Stop 5: Haggis
Lunch, thankfully, was a lot better. Halfway down Cockburn Street, just off the Royal Mile, is a haggis and whisky bar called Arcade. I was determined to persuade my American guests to try haggis, and if I had to ply them with whisky and beer to do it – well, then so be it. I had the full haggis, neeps and tatties experience, which came in a swanky stack formation. I’m not sure that’s quite what Rabbie Burns had in mind, but it didn’t impair the peppery flavour of the haggis, nor the sweet starchiness of the vegetables. The haggis burger was a hit with my mother-in-law, while the guys wussed out and bought wraps. They tried a forkful of mine, though, and admitted it was nicer than they expected…
Edinburgh Stop 6: New Scottish cuisine
On our final night in the Burgh, we took things up a notch and – on the advice of a local friend of mine – dined at New Chapter. It describes itself as serving “quality, fresh, innovative Scottish and modern European food” – and that’s exactly what it did. We were still a bit stuffed after our already-gourmet day, so we took it easy and only ordered main courses. My squid-ink pasta with roasted cod, confit tomatoes and saffron sauce was as dreamy as it looks in the picture. The lamb was sumptuous too, and its accompaniments cemented my new-found addiction to cooked lettuce and peas (I ordered a similar side at the Scran & Scallie the night before – it’s a blissfully fresh and yet comforting mouthful of greenery).
At that, we ordered a bottle of rosé to go and passed out at the end of a thoroughly foodie Edinburgh weekend.
For more information on the Edinburgh restaurants mentioned: