Haggis, Kedgeree, and a Céilidh: A Trip to Edinburgh

June 23, 2014 | By | COMMENTS

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It began with an off-the-cuff remark. Craig mentioned that his movie was going to play at the Edinburgh Film Festival and I said, “See if they’ll bring me out too.” I never expected that to actually happen but, somehow, some way, it did and before I knew it we were on a plane flying over the ocean. Edinburgh is a funny city for me because I’d actually been there once before, only I was too young to appreciate it. (I spent a summer at Oxford after my junior year at Emory and we did a two-day trip to Scotland.) My memories of Edinburgh were so foggy, in fact, that Craig hardly believed it happened. “Do you remember this from when you were here before?” he teased me as we made our way from the hotel lobby (after dropping off our suitcases) out into the city upon arrival. “Shut up,” I said. “Oooh look at that castle.”

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Edinburgh Castle is a real stunner, the kind of thing that takes your breath away when you first see it. It’s planted high on a hill that many soldiers throughout history attempted to scale, most unsuccessful in their efforts. Instead of storming the castle, though, we first went over to the film festival headquarters where Craig checked in:

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Then I announced I was hungry–we’d been traveling for a long time (it was early evening of the day after we left)–and Craig, who’s journeyed with me many places, knows that when those words are declared, all bets are off. I’m prone to getting hangry.

“You know,” I said, consulting the stars on my custom Google Map (note: my new favorite thing is to make a custom Google map of the city I’m going to visit and to star a bunch of places I read about so that when I’m actually in that city, I can just load up the map and see what’s near me), “we’re near a place called Timberyard that’s supposed to be great.”

“Perfect,” he said.

We walked in and Timberyard was, indeed, lovely:

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Also: booked. Well, the hostess didn’t put it like that. She consulted the kitchen and they said they had several large parties to deal with, so they couldn’t make us entrees, but if we wanted small bites and drinks they could manage that. (In New York, they’d just seat you and make you wait three hours.) We accepted this offer and I’m really glad we did; the food that we ate at Timberyard was some of the best food that we had in Edinburgh.

Craig’s drink, made with local Scotch whiskey, came with wood burning in the glass along with orange peel, to enhance the smokiness.

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Me? I had a Scottish beer.

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The bread was fresh (clearly house made) and served with a bevy of treats, including whipped butter, whipped bone marrow, and salt treated with lovage from their garden (the pepper was special too but I don’t remember why):

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The first of the small bites that we ordered was a pea soup that I absolutely loved except for one major element: the texture.

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It was very molecular in that it was most likely shot out of a canister, creating a pea soup foam, if you will. Pea soup foam? No thanks. BUTTTTT (and it’s a big but) the flavors were so spot-on and alive and fresh-tasting (especially the pronounced pea-ness of everything (yes, I’m aware of what pea-ness sounds like)) that I really did love this dish except for the foam.

This langoustine came on a branch and was a joy to eat:

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And this quail egg presentation wouldn’t be out of place at a Michelin starred establishment in France:

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All of this made me super curious about the entrees on the menu but, alas, they were unavailable so we had the cheese plate:

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This may have been the most stunning, compelling cheese plate I’ve yet experienced. Everything about it won me over: from the choice of cheeses, to the presentation, to the caramelized pear that was served alongside it. Bravo, cheese plate maker at Timberyard.

So we loved our mini-meal there and then sauntered over to the National Museum of Scotland for the festival’s opening night party:

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Then it was off to bed where we slept the sleep of people who’ve been traveling for 36 hours. (That’s the best kind of sleep there is though I did wake up at 4 AM and have a hard time getting back to sleep but then I did fall back asleep at 6, if you’re keeping a chart of my sleep patterns.)

Next morning, I insisted that we have our coffee at this adorable bakery I’d noticed the day before: Lovecrumbs.

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This place really is adorable. You just want to pinch its cheeks. Also, you want to eat everything they set out near the window:

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I couldn’t justify a slice of cake at breakfast, but I could justify a scone with clotted cream and jam along with my cappuccino:

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Even Craig, not a scone fan, had to admit this was rather tasty. Then it was off to the castle.

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I’m not much of a history buff but the history here is so rich and relentless, you could probably fill a library of books with stories of everything that happened within these walls. Suffice it to say, we had plenty to soak in as we explored the grounds all morning.

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Funny, our main takeaway after all this was: “We need to start watching Game of Thrones.”

From there, we wandered the streets a bit, heard some bagpipes, and stumbled into another place I’d starred on my custom Google map: The Outsider, a charming, unpretentious spot that we liked so much, we went twice (more on that later). Here’s a peek at the inside:

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And here’s the grilled sardine salad that I had for lunch:

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You don’t often see grilled sardines in the States; maybe that’s because we can’t get them fresh? Craig’s seafood pasta, though, was a real dazzler. I kept reaching over and stealing bites.

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Of course, we had to pop in next door to The Elephant House. You can see why in the window.

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So here’s where she came up with Dumbledore:

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Look what someone wrote on the glass in the mens’ room:

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Nearby was a cheesemonger:

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And I asked him if there was any cheese we could try that wasn’t pasteurized, something that’d be illegal in the United States. He pointed to this:

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So I bought us a slice:

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And it was righteously funky, way funkier than any cheddar we know back in ‘merica. After that, we explore St. Giles church, which I found rather beautiful.

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Then more walking the streets of Edinburgh:

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I was delighted to see this bar named after Bette Midler’s character in “Beaches” (it’s apparently part of a Margaret Cho routine):

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Then this happened:

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That night we went to the fanciest dinner I’d planned for Edinburgh; dinner at Paul Kitching’s 21212.

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I’ll confess, when we sat down, I started to panic. The room had the feel of a hushed library:

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Craig gets uncomfortable when environments are especially stuffy and formal, and when they came out with a wooden tray with cloth napkins rolled upon it, I worried, I really did. But gradually, the staff came out and chatted with us and the mood was lightened. Then we ordered and the food started coming out and we perked up for real.

The amuse had a layer of vegetable juice and tomato juice and brown butter foam (all described on the blurry card behind the saucer):

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Craig’s appetizer of langoustine and scallop was gorgeously presented:

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And my mushroom/truffle appetizer had incredible depth of flavor:

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For his entree, Craig ordered fish that came with countless delightful components (including baby corn, which we hadn’t seen in forever):

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My Chinese chicken dish had the most perfectly cooked chicken breast I’ve yet experienced:

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Then, between our entrees and dessert, we were presented with oat milk from a cow.

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It was like a better version of cereal milk; instead of soaking corn flakes, they soak oats with cinnamon and brown sugar and then strain the mixture and chill it. It’s so, so good.

And my creme brûlée with turkish delight was nothing to shake a stick at either:

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As much as we enjoyed the food at 21212–and the talent there is undeniable–there is something about the space and feel of the place that needs some attention. The design feels dated; the font on the sign looks like something out of Disney’s Tomorrowland. Otherwise, this is a good place to spend money on high-concept, high-quality food in Edinburgh.

The next morning, we took our coffee at Filmanet to try something new.

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This place takes coffee very, very seriously. The man who made my cappuccino (and I’m pretty sure he’s the owner) called the smaller size “competition size” presumably because it’s what you make in cappuccino competitions. I had mine with a pound cake that was one of the best I’ve ever tasted (I think it has to be the European butter they make it with):

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For lunch, that day (Friday) we went to a place that I’ll go ahead and say is THE essential spot for you to visit if you only have a short time in Edinburgh. That place is The Dogs.

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The space is unassuming; comfortable and bright. Check out the big painting of a dog over the bar.

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This being Scotland, we ordered beer with our lunch. I had a local Joker IPA.

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As for the food, we went full-on Scottish. What makes this menu so wonderful, is it takes traditional Scottish/British dishes and gussies them up; makes them look their very best. So we started with kedgeree, a spiced mixture of rice and smoked fish:

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This I adored. I’d seen a recipe for it in April Bloomfield’s book but didn’t really know what it’s about. Now I do: cardamom, cloves, those kinds of flavors make the rice tingle in your mouth, and the fish lends everything a smoky unctuousness (yes, I used that word, sue me). It’s a great dish.

But–drumroll–for my entree I ordered that most dreaded of Scottish foods: HAGGIS. (Dun dun dun.) I’d watched an old Bourdain episode before the trip where he eats Haggis in a pub and they serve it in a giant sheep’s stomach, sliced open, with the haggis oozing out. Oh, and in case you don’t know, haggis is chopped sheep’s lungs, liver, and heart mixed with oats and spices. I know, you’re grossed out.

But at The Dogs, they take that mixture and combine it with sausage and potatoes and make a cake. Then they sear the cake and serve it in a whiskey sauce and top it with bacon:

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People, I gobbled this up like it was my job (well, it is my job, but still). It had so much going for it, it didn’t taste like punishment at all. Basically, imagine mincemeat–spiced meat with a Christmasy slant–now combine it in your head with potatoes and sausage and fry it and you’ll get the idea.

Not convinced? OK, have what Craig had: fish and chips where the chips are cooked in beef fat.

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The Dogs is Edinburgh dining at its best. My final bit of evidence: a mess–no, really, that’s what it’s called–with short bread, whipped cream, toffee sauce, and dried fruit.

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Trust me: The Dogs is where it’s at.

After that, we hit up the Scottish National Gallery:

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Where a man posed for people drawing on easels:

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And this painting depicted St. Nick (aka: Santa Claus) reviving three boys who’d been killed and salted for meat.

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From here, we continued walking:

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And walking:

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And saw our first poetry library:

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And found another castle:

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At this point, Craig pointed out Arthur’s Seat, which our friend Josh told us on Instagram we should climb.

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Considering what we’d had for lunch, I couldn’t really make an argument against it except for the fact that I was wearing a nice shirt, but I was overruled.

There are many climbs you can do at Arthur’s seat; we did the one that sort of takes you halfway up the mountain and then back down. It’s a pretty stunning view from the topmost point (it’s what you see at the top of this post). Here’s Craig looking suave and triumphant at the peak of our climb:

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That night we returned to The Outsider for a dinner that was just OK (no need to share pictures). We liked it better for lunch.

The next day, Saturday, our last day in Edinburgh, we went for a healthier lunch at a place called UrbanAngel:

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The setup there is weird; there’s a counter, but you don’t order at the counter, you wait for a table, but if you don’t want to wait for a table, you can sit at the tables by the counter but you still have to wait for waiter service and they take a long time to come over? It’s a strange setup.

This salmon sandwich was nice, though:

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And Craig, to my shock, and disbelief ate mushrooms and kale:

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I guess the huge plate of fried food the day before was making him feel guilty.

At this point, we took a walk over to Stockbridge, something I highly recommend: it’s a charming part of town that I didn’t photograph very well. But there’s lots of stores and places to sit and drink beer, like this place.

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We also discovered, as we made our way back, that it was Edinburgh Gay Pride that day, so we popped in for a drink at the place next to C.C. Blooms (C.C.’s was less lively at the moment):

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Then Craig put on his filmmaker cape and flew over to the screening of his movie at the film festival where a festival programmer conducted a lively Q&A.

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The audience was really great; there was even a woman there who told me she read my blog and was from Florida like my family. It was nice meeting you if you’re reading this!

Then we had a buffet dinner at Zucca (sponsored by the festival):

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But the highlight of the whole trip was probably what came after; a Céilidh (pronounced Kay-Lee)—a big dance that’s sort of like a square dance, only more fun. Here’s a bit I shot on video:

Yes, I participated at one point in a big group number that involved holding hands with strangers, charging the middle, and swinging your partner around on the arm. It was a real blast and a great way to end our time in Edinburgh.

Now I’m in London, eager to get some shut-eye (I’ve been up since 5:30 this morning having gone to bed last night at 1:30 so I’m a bit delirious: put it on the sleep pattern chart) but I wanted you to have this post to read on Monday morning, so here it is! We loved our time in Edinburgh. Someone described it best to us as a big little village. That’s exactly what it feels like; it’s a charming spot with fantastic food and hills and dancing to help you burn it off.

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Categories: Travel

  • Maria

    Loved reading this; thanks for sharing your adventures! Enjoy London!!

  • Stephie

    Sounds like a great trip so far, thank you for sharing your experiences with us. Hope the rest goes just as well!

  • Balooh

    Lovely pics! Edinburgh Castle is truly magnificent! :-) Enjoy your stay in London! :-)

  • jill

    That fish and chips looks so great!

    Have an amazing trip. I hope the audience is digging the film.

  • Anonymous

    Terrific writing, as usual. Does Paul Kitching’s restaurant serve anything without foam?

  • Jill

    Your fun descriptions of Edinburgh make me feel like I was there with you. Thanks for such a grand tour! :))

  • Eleanor

    You’re a great storyteller. Loved reading about your adventures.

  • BobYes

    Looks like you lucked out with the weather. Both times I’ve been its been chilly and drizzly. That haggis dish looked terrific.

  • Mirya

    It was great to meet you at the film, Adam! Great description of Edinburgh. The scones and baked goods are out of the this world good – it must be the butter! (The reader from Florida)

  • Sy_ra

    amazing article… feels like i know you hahah. which is surprising coz i just stumbled upon ur writings and i guess its just the way you write..very compelling :)

  • Tinne from T&T

    Fabulous! I’m sending this to my husband, who I have been trying to agree to go on a city-trip to Edinburgh with me.

  • Karen@Mignardise

    So glad you enjoyed Edinburgh! And the blue sky – lucky you!

  • WendyR

    I love when you share these travel stories so we can enjoy vicariously! Can’t wait to read about the rest of the trip. :)

  • Meghanssj

    After reading this, Edinburgh is now officially on my places of interest list. I will certainly refer back to this post for ideas of what to eat and where to explore. Awesome.

  • A

    Kedgeree is actually an Anglicized version of a South Asian staple of rice, lentils and spices. Another one to chalk up to colonialism.

  • Rosebud

    Adam, did you get my email?! Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you in Berlin or Paris – or London – or anywhere else in Europe!!! p.s. your blog is great and I’m so glad you loved Edinburgh, it is a real jewel :) p.p.s. I promise, haggis is delicious even when it’s not ‘deconstructed’ like yours was.

  • Ttrockwood

    What an amazing delicious trip!! And the google map is genius!
    And you can easily get fresh sardines in so cal- they’re super easy and fast to grill, usually pretty cheap too, just check at your nearest fish monger.
    Have fun in london! I love reading your travel posts…..

  • Caz

    Haggis is scary but actually really delicious. We ate it all over Scotland when I was there. I’m glad you tried it.

  • http://peckishadventurer.blogspot.com/ Amanda

    Edinburgh has been one of my favorite places to visit, and the Scots are just fantastic! You lucky devil!

  • Patricia Fraser

    Too bad I was in Edinburgh the week before you were, I could have used the info on places to eat! Loved the National Gallery, though.

  • Carol Feltman

    Can you guys be any sweeter—I love your wittiness and your love for a new eating adventure—thank you for always making me smile when I read your newest blog :)