Scotland is where my journey as a food writer and recipe designer began. This beautiful and underpopulated country whose national animal is the unicorn offers some of the best produce in the world: from salmon that sushi chefs use on the other side of the globe, to scallops the size of your palm, oysters, venison, mutton, rhubarb and more. Here are 6 restaurants in Edinburgh to make you fall in love with Scottish food.
But first, what is Scottish food?
No, Scottish food is not some bizarre meat product served with mashed potatoes and another vegetable most Europeans keep forgetting the name of (turnip). As a matter of fact, when cooked properly (baked in its skin in a bain marie), haggis becomes a delight. But chefs in Scotland took this dish further by coating small haggis bites in gingerbread or panko and frying it, by pickling the turnip instead of serving yet another puree, and by upgrading from the usual dry mash to the creamy, silky haute-cuisine type.
Scotland is blessed with an ideal climate for fruits and vegetables to grow healthily and so much space for animals, both wild and domestic to roam freely and live a happy life. With its 10,000 km of coastline, fishermen have the perfect place (picturesque, on top of everything) to catch good quality, fresh fish and seafood that ranges from scallops to oysters, crab, lobster, octopus, salmon, cod and more. With ingredients like Scotland has, it’s hard not to cook beautiful food! Of course, some chefs do it better than others, and the list below is my top.
Tom Kitchin was only 29 when he was awarded his first Michelin star, and had opened The Kitchin for only half a year. By that age (which I am getting closer to day by day), he had already gained training from some of the best chefs: Alain Ducasse, Guy Savoy, Pierre Koffman. His restaurant was my first Michelin star experience, one that I documented as a novice in the arts of fine dining, in this shy article almost a year ago.
The Kitchin was the first gourmet experience that introduced me to the real beauty of Scottish food and produce. At the beginning of the meal, my boyfriend and I received a little rolled-up map that contained a list of all the main ingredients of the menu, placed carefully in the location they originate from. Scallops, mussels, wagyu beef, milk, langoustines, sweetbreads, roe deer, seaweed, salmon, sea buckthorn populated the map of the locally sourced ingredients in Kitchin’s menu.
The 7-course meal was memorable from start to finish and it is difficult to pick favourites, but I did have some of the most elegant Orkney scallops I have ever tasted, cooked beautifully in their shell with a delicious broth, super tender pig’s head with langoustines, delicious halibut with fennel puree, a delightful and refreshing rhubarb sorbet and a decadent apple crumble soufflé to end one of the most exciting dinners I have everu had.
Dinner price: £85 for seven courses
Lunch price: £33
Aizle was one of my most sought-after dining experiences, after months of struggles in finding a free table. I am convinced that the restaurant’s inclusion into the Michelin guide, its top three ranking on TripAdvisor and is nomination as 10th best restaurant in the UK are both an explanation of why it was so difficult to find a table, as well as a proof of how good the food is. Chef Stuart Ralston, who agreed to answer some of my questions in one of my chefs’ interviews, understands and celebrates Scottish products with great skill and talent.
Their innovative menu – a long list of various ingredients which for sure will be part of your dinner, changes every month and focuses on what’s in season. You can read more about Aizle’s dining experience in this in-depth review. I tasted Roger the sourdough, beef tartar, sea trout from Loch Awe, duck cooked two ways, all from local producers Chef Stuart always gets his high-quality ingredients from.
Dinner price: £45 for five courses
Angels with Bagpipes
It may be the location, or the fact that its name contains the name of Scotland’s most famous instrument, but Angels with Bagpipes offers the most traditional dinner out of the six restaurants listed here, so it can be a great introduction to Scottish food.
Here you can try your first haggis, neeps and tatties, some delicious Scottish crab, black pudding, rabbit and other local ingredients that will delight your palate and make you fall in love with Scotland. You can also read more about this restaurant in my review. One thing you need to remember: you can choose the dishes that you wish, but all of you at the table must agree on the same ones. Basically, avoid going to Angels with Bagpipes with friends who have tastes opposite to yours!
Dinner price: £40 for four courses
Forage and Chatter
Forage and Chatter is what I would have wanted my restaurant to be called, but never knew. It is also a new discovery of mine, as well as a new addition to this year’s Michelin guide. Foraging (in the natural beauty of Scotland) is at the heart of the menu, just as the name suggests. Fun fact: did you know Justin Trudeau had lunch at Forage and Chatter when he visited Edinburgh?
Our dinner started with a traditional Scottish deep fried bread (you may have heard that Scots are famous for deep frying all sorts of things, including Mars bars) with homemade butter, fermented mushroom powder and a herb pesto so good I would have liked a bucket of that to take home. As a starter, I had the pork cheek, cooked beautifully, while my boyfriend feasted upon a delicious portion of beautifully plated cured salmon. Our mains: venison with celeriac, chestnut, juniper and kale, and monkfish with lentils, bacon, capers and parsley. The dessert was so good it goes straight into my top three (yes, ever), and, thankfully, I found the recipe on the restaurant’s blog: sea buckthorn, carrot cake, pistachio and white chocolate.
Does it happen to you that you see a word, feel like you don’t know it, look for what it means, then realise that in the past, at some point in time, you knew that word? Just last spring I was showing my boyfriend purslane growing in our pots of nasturtiums, but as I went to Purslane, the restaurant, my mind went blank until I googled the word. Purslane was another positive surprise of my recent trip to Edinburgh, as well as another restaurant that has been part of the Michelin guide for a couple of years now.
The small and cosy restaurant that can accommodate a maximum of 20 guests has options for the gourmands who wish to taste a bit of everything as well as for those who prefer à-la-carte. The dishes, elegant and well-cooked, celebrate Scottish produce to the fullest. Our seven-course tasting menu consisted in a pork amuse bouche, scallops with black pudding (one of my favourite pairings), a delicious venison ballotine, crispy skin sea bream with kale and champagne velouté, beef (cooked perfectly) with broccoli, new potatoes and wild mushrooms, and ended with another dessert that went straight into my top three as well: a beautifully textured rhubarb compote, as well as a panna cotta with mulled wine fruits sorbet.
Dinner: £60 for seven courses
I remember passing by Lovage a couple of times, while I still lived in Edinburgh, and telling myself ‘I need to add this to my list’, but somehow never managed. Well, I managed, after all. Lovage is a small and cosy restaurant – a very typical feature of restaurants with a focus on local and seasonal.
To my pleasant surprise, they also have a Romanian wine on the menu, which kind of tickled my own national pride. Yes, Romanian wine and Scottish food, that is my dream combination, and that’s exactly what I went for. I enjoyed a portion of pigeon (which I was advised to chew with care, to avoid an accident from some leftover shoot – fair enough, that’s what happens when you eat game), accompanied by panko fried haggis, cranberries, turnip puree and baby carrots. My dinner continued around one of my favourite ingredients: chestnuts, brought forward in a beautiful haddock dish. The dessert: a crème brûlée with mulled wine sorbet (something everyone should try at some point in their life).
With more trips to the lovely Scottish capital that was my hometown for almost three years, I promise to continue this list, and hopefully compile a list with the perfect Scottish food experiences in Edinburgh. Until then, if you wish to stick to Scotland and are curious what else this lovely country has got to offer, you can also read my article on Scottish ales!
Until next time,