[Also published on KQED’s Bay Area Bites.]
Before we left for Scotland, we heard many warnings about the horrors of Scottish and British food. People seem very keen on laughing at haggis and detailing horrible meals they’ve had or heard about in the UK (Spotted Dick anyone?). Well, I’m here to tell you that Scotland has some truly wonderful food. But, like anywhere else, it’s usually found in restaurants and inns that are run by discerning folk who like to purchase quality ingredients, often locally.
Although restaurants that offer well-prepared dishes from organic and/or local ingredients can be difficult to find once you leave your home turf, there are a few wonderful online sites that will do some of the groundwork for you. I spent some time on both TripAdvisor and Chowhound before we left town, and it paid off. The reviews on TripAdvisor led me to some great country inns with fantastic food, and Chowhound helped me find a restaurant or two in Edinburgh that we really loved. We also had the benefit of getting some sound advice from friends in the know — which is always the best option if you have it.
So here are some of the excellent places we found with the help of our fellow posters at TripAdvisor and Chowhound, as well as our beloved friends. We were even lucky enough to stumble upon one by ourselves. These culinary gems are definitely worth looking up if you’re traveling to Scotland. I would also love to hear about other sites people use to find great restaurants or inns while traveling.
The Barley Bree Restaurant with Rooms, just outside Crieff and about an hour north of Edinburgh. (Found using TripAdvisor) — This lovely inn has comfortable beds and a very nice host, Fabrice, who also happens to be a French chef. Fabrice makes everything from scratch, including the bread, and seeks out fresh local produce and meats. For dinner, he served one of the loveliest butternut squash soups I have ever had. It was velvety and creamy without being overly so. He also added slivers of some pickled ginger, which added a bit of spiciness. It was truly great.
This inn also offered the finest breakfast we had in Scotland. It was a sort of Scottish Breakfast/French petit dejeuner that started with yogurts, homemade stewed prunes, grapefruit slices, nuts and porridge, and finished with eggs, homemade sausage, back bacon, haggis (a lovely version created specially for the inn by a local butcher), roasted tomatoes and mushrooms. If you’re going to The Trossachs, this is definitely a great place to stay.
Heatherfield House, in Oban on the western coast about an hour outside Glasgow. (Found using TripAdvisor) — Heatherfield House is run by Gary and Sue, a very nice British couple. One of the reasons I chose Heatherfield is because they have their own chickens and use their eggs for their complimentary breakfasts. So, after a fantastic night’s sleep in the extremely comfortable beds and a shower in the nicest bathroom we saw in Scotland, we sat down to a full Scottish breakfast. We started with berries, yogurts, muesli, and English and Scottish cheeses, before digging into the main portion of the eggy meal. I cannot stress enough how perfect the eggs are at Heatherfield. They are laid either the morning they are served, or the morning before, and the freshness of flavor and texture prove it. The homemade sausage (made at the inn) and back bacon were also fantastic. The dish was also served with blood pudding, and from what I can tell, it was a great version of this dish. I, for one, found that I am not a blood pudding fan, however. No matter how nicely it was made and seasoned, in the end, I can barely suck on a cut finger, let alone eat something that was essentially blood and suet in a casing. After breakfast, my daughters frolicked in the garden while the chickens pecked at worms in the wet dirt. Gary and his wife were very gracious hosts. It was really a perfect place to stay.
The George Hotel, in Inveraray about 30 minutes outside Glasgow. (Found using TripAdvisor) — A small hotel run by the same family for the last couple of hundred years, this inn is nicely updated and has the quintessential Scottish pub on the main floor. The dining room is also nice, but as kids weren’t allowed inside for dinner we ate in the pub. This was just fine with me; the pub kitchen offered the best fish and chips we had on our entire trip. The full Scottish breakfast the next morning, which is included with a night’s stay, wasn’t nearly in the same league as Barley Bree or Heatherfield House, but I think at that point we were spoiled. Our room, however, was beautiful — complete with a whirlpool bathtub and view of Loch Awe.
Oink, in Edinburgh. (Discovered on a fluke while walking by) — Oink is a new restaurant on Victoria Street in Edinburgh’s Old Town district. Each morning the folks at Oink present an entire roasted pig in their front window, and by the end of the day, that pig is stripped clean. Oink offers sandwiches of pulled pork on white buns with crackling or without. I got one with the crackling, but wouldn’t do so again: it was so hard I thought it would crack my teeth. The pork, however, was beautifully cooked and very tasty, but I must admit that I was craving a vinegar and tomato-based Southern-BBQ sauce to go with it. When I asked if they had one, or at least some vinegar, they said that many Americans ask for it, but they instead had a “chili sauce.” Excited at the prospect of something resembling a Vietnamese or Thai chili paste, I instead found that their chili sauce was the equivalent of a jar of Picante salsa. Oh, well. The pork was still mighty fine.
The Mussel Inn, in Edinburgh’s New Town. (Found using Chowhound) — If you like mussels, this is a great place to go. There is a constant parade of heaping pots of fresh local mussels going from the kitchen to various tables in this small restaurant. In addition to the mussels, I ordered some freshly-made pasta with mushrooms for my daughters, which was quite good, and some fresh scallops for me. I was pleasantly surprised to find that they offer the entire scallop — not just the white meaty part Americans traditionally see, but also the roe, which is the coral-colored softer part not usually served here, despite its delicious flavor.
Urban Angel, in Edinburgh’s New Town. (Heard about from a friend) — If I could bring any restaurant home with me, it would be this one. Urban Angel provides Fair Trade, Free Trade, organic, and local fare at a fairly affordable price. I loved the natural and organic ingredients we found in our soups, salads and sandwiches at lunch and hear they have a spectacular dinner as well. I had an incredible frisée salad with couscous, white beans, almonds, and chorizo, while my daughters stole my delicious cream of mushroom soup and homemade bread out from under my nose. I dream of a restaurant like this opening within walking distance of my house.