Scottish food doesn’t have the best reputation; Edinburgh seems to be more renowned for its deep-fried mars bars than its collection of Michelin star restaurants. But, beyond the stereotypical dishes and grease-laden, battered snacks, you’ll find fresh seafood, grass-fed meat, and seasonal produce. Contemporary Scottish cuisine has a strong focus on local, organic, farm-to-table food, and a great deal of influence from an array of international cuisines.
Eat Walk Edinburgh’s food tours are a great introduction to modern and traditional Scottish cuisine. We’ve already covered their Canongate Food Tour, so today we’ll be looking at their Old and New Town Tour which includes the country’s most infamous foods, along with some delicious, lesser-known dishes. And food isn’t the only highlight – the guides are incredibly knowledgeable and provide a fantastic insight into Edinburgh’s intriguing history along the way.
A hotel with a history
The tour began at Hotel Du Vin, a boutique hotel with a rather macabre history. During the 18th century, the building was used as an asylum, which housed poor patients who often weren’t able to afford private treatment. Conditions at the asylum were notoriously horrific, and patients were treated as inmates, locked away in stone wall cells. The area where patients once dwelled is now a bright spacious bistro, tastefully decorated to enhance and reflect the building’s lengthy history. It was difficult to imagine those former remnants in comparison.
After a brief tour around the building, we were seated at a table in the bistro and served our first tasting on the tour: a plate of smoked salmon, sourced from a family-run smokehouse in The Highlands. It was incredibly fresh, with a silky texture and smoky flavour.
A taste of Scottish tapas
Next, we headed to Makars for Scottish-style tapas: a miniature serving of braised ox cheek on mashed potatoes and a small slice of Stornoway black pudding (blood sausage). The ox cheek was a highlight from this stop – it was rich and full of flavour, with a melt-in-your mouth texture.
The tapas were accompanied by a sweet, fizzy cocktail made with Prosecco and gin-infused raspberry liqueur from the Edinburgh Gin Distillery.
Scotland’s most ubiquitous food & drink
From here, we walked from Old Town into New Town and stopped at The Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Housed in a beautiful Georgian townhouse, it was once only open to members, but the ground-level bar and restaurant area is now open to the public, with members’ exclusive lounges on the top floors.
We sampled a single cask malt whisky called ‘New Carpet in a Sweetie Shop’. I’m no whisky connoisseur by any means, but – according to the society’s description – it had notes of fruit, sweet vanilla, Turkish delight, and rainbow drops. Each bottle has a uniquely written name and description, infused with a playful, humorous tone – which I loved.
Then it was onto the main event: haggis, neeps, and tatties. Scotland’s national dish – sheep innards with oats, onions, and spices – may sound a bit repulsive or adventurous, but it’s basically just an oaty, spicy mince – quite similar to stuffing. It has a soft, crumbly texture with a spicy, peppery flavour, and most people are pleasantly surprised when they first taste it! Served alongside the haggis are turnips (neeps) and mashed potatoes (tatties). This dish is delicious and filling – it’s Scottish comfort food at its best!
Cheese and lager
Up next was a platter of Scottish cheese and a pint of beer. A glass of wine is optional, but our group opted for a Scottish beverage instead – a pint of Innis and Gunn, a local oak-aged beer.
The cheese platter included a creamy Morangie Brie, a strong Strathdon Blue, a nutty Isle of Mull Cheddar and a mild Applewood Smoked Cheddar.
A very Scottish dessert
Our final stop was Ghillie Dhu, a traditional Scottish bar housed in the historic building of a former Episcopal Church. Here, we sampled one of Scotland’s best sweets: cranachan. Often served in a tall glass, it looks similar to trifle, and consists of whipped cream, whisky, fresh raspberries, honey, and toasted oats. Ghillie Dhu’s version is a bit different – the aforementioned ingredients are layered into a ramekin-sized dish made from chocolate, and topped with a piece of shortbread. Regardless of how it’s served, cranachan is delicious – it’s simple and not-too-sweet, and it’s one of my favourite Scottish desserts.
What’s your favourite Scottish food?