Considering the short flight or train ride that it takes to get to Scotland, it’s taken me 26 years and a special invitation from a friend to spend a few days with her family at a beautiful house they were renting in the Highlands last summer to finally get me there.
I think the strange reason I never went was instilled by my Mum who, in her 60’s and Irish has also never been. For some reason we had naively assumed that Scotland would be exactly like Ireland, so what was the point of wasting a holiday there when we spent every Easter, summer, Christmas and half term darting back and forth between family members across County Meath? Well how wrong we were.
On the way up to stay with the lovely Coxon family, me and my friend stopped off in Edinburgh for 24 hours of sampling the cities culinary delights.
After dropping off our luggage at our ridiculously overpriced windowless hotel room (if you’re not actually going to Edinburgh for the Fringe festival, as alive and fun the city is at this time, avoid visiting it then or be prepared to pay a ridiculous amount for accommodation) we headed out to Timberyard with the hopes of snagging a table. Set in a beautiful old white washed warehouse, as soon as we walked in to Timberyard we knew we were falling in love with the place and all this was before we saw the menu. Of course the setting of a restaurant can be just as important as the food they serve and I am not sure why but this restaurant knocks it out the park. There is something about the serene and airy rawness of the space that balances so perfectly with the delicate plates that come from the kitchen.
Starting with the ‘Bite’ section of the menu we ate sweetbreads with artichoke, baby gem and truffle, followed by a dish of mackerel, tomato, buttermilk, horseradish and lovage. Both of these at the price of £3 each. Take a long hard look at yourself London.
Moving our way through the menu we then had a delicate dish of plaice with clams, leek and sea purslane, followed by a woody dish that tasted like it had been efortlessly plucked from a neighbouring forest – quail, carrot, chanterelle and chard. £7 each. We then finished our savoury courses with a large dish to share of cod, brown butter, fennel, shrimp and beach coriander that was lovely.
For dessert we were split between two choices but were sold on a dish of meadowsweet, almond, honey, and woodruff by our softly spoken pixie like waitress who gave us a very whimsical description when asked what meadowsweet was. I can’t do justice to what she said, but it was something about foraging the herb that grows wild on the hills outside Edinburgh, anyway just as we were with the restaurant, we were enchanted and we ate it all up.
After a sobering experience of walking down the royal mile, we headed to meet a group of friends who were also in town for cocktails. This funny and retro bar does great cocktails and you can buy a round for a group of 5 with a £20 and get change. Spot the Londoners.
Once a couple of cocktails had disappeared it was of in a cab to Leith for dinner on the outskirts of Edinburgh. I had read about Norn in Marina O’Loughlin’s ecstatic review in the Guardian. Marina had also pointed me in the direction of Timberyard in her top uk 50 article last year, its worth mentioning that she, Grace Dent and Fay Maschler are my spirit guides in all things food.
Ok, so after harping on about the perfection of the setting at Timberyard, we have to talk about the usual setting of Norn. Here you will find the unexpected in a carpeted floor, bright lighting, and office blinds going against the grain of how a modern restaurant should be. However I felt the unexpected setting complemented the food perfectly because thats just how it is, unexpected. Marina O’loughlin sums it up perfectly when she says “the room could be hung with Old Masters and they’d still be upstaged by what’s on the plate. Because the food here, from chef/owner Scott Smith (ex-Peat Inn near St Andrews), is beautiful.”
We opted for the 4 course menu at £40. It started strong with a dish of shrimp, marsh herbs, tomato and lovage, followed by a stunning and elegant plate of girollo, beef and sorel. Absolutely delicious. Then we had rich venison with courgette, cherry and crowdie, finishing with yet more of that meadowsweet with bramble, sourdough and tangy sea buckthorn.
Each adventurous and exciting dish is delivered to the table by its respective chef where it is passionately explained. This is a very special and odd place, that feels Scottish yet Scandi, challenging yet effortless and should’t be left of anyones list when visiting Edinburgh.
Waking up with some slightly sore heads from heading back to the bars after our dinner at Norn, we set of with large coffees to the beautiful Scottish National Gallery’s of Modern Art.
After some culture and fresh air, we soothed our hangovers at the charming Gardener’s Cottage. Located in the old gardener’s cottage of the Royal Terrace Gardens you will find this fairy tale picture, fronted with vegetable patches and a path that leads to this tiny restaurant made up of three communal tables. So small this restaurant is that on the way to bathroom I noticed the kitchen extending out in to the garden where a young chef prepared vegetables.
With the same strength in seasonal and locally sourced ingredients as Norn and Timberyard, we feasted on the delights of: Sourdough, heavenly olive oil, and Iberico ham. Carrots with fresh cheese, chamomile gel, herbs and granola. A rich stilton, red onion and chanterelle quiche, and a exceptional roe deer pappardelle with smoked tomato, courgette, hazelnut and ricotta that disappeared far too quickly. We finished with some lovely creamy tunworth served with a dark rye cracker and a wonderful pickle that I have tried to recreate and failed.
Before boarding the train to Fort William I had to pick up some gifts for the host in the form of a selection of delicious cheeses, chutneys and oatcakes from the dreamy cheesemongers I.J.Mellis.
Five hours, two trains and an eerie drive through the Highlands later (where we almost hit a very menacing looking stag) we arrived in the dead of night at the beautiful Kinlochmoidart. After a few wines by the welcoming fire it was off to bed, and not until I awoke did I appreciate the shear magic of this place. Truly one of the most magnificent and special places I have ever been. I was lucky enough to spend the next 3 days drinking a lot wine, feasting on a lot of fabulously comforting cream laded dinners that were full of laughter, wondering the surrounding hills, taking trips to beautiful white sandy beaches and frying up buttery smoked kippers for breakfast from the local smokehouse. Magic. Thank you Coxons.