To someone who was lucky enough to be raised in a French capital of gastronomy by a Japanese mum with lots of culinary talent and imagination, something called Scottish cuisine would sound at best like a joke. During my childhood, talks of Scottish food invariably triggered expressions of disgust from friends and family, who would cringe and eeeew at the mention of haggis. No wonder this national dish made of sheep’s heart, liver and lungs encased in sheep’s stomach would earn Scotland a reputation for having the worst food in the entire world.
But if you think it cannot get worse than haggis, think again. When I first set foot in Scotland four years ago, the national diet widely exceeded my expectations. Bags of haggis flavoured crisps, deep fried chocolate bars and pizza, Heinz’ baked beans for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Greggs sausage rolls, Irn Bru soda drink… Add a few pints of insipid Tennent’s lager to this list and you have won a one way ticket to obesity and cardiovascular doom.
Luckily I stopped my Super Size Me experiment before long and set out on a quest for the renowned wild salmon and Angus beef instead.
Mind you, without a handsomely filled wallet, you can give up on the idea of tasting Scotland’s better food. It took me four years to make my way to Dexter beef carpaccio and deer steak with matching glasses of ales - or wine - but it’s worth every penny if you have some to spare.
Should you ever find yourself in Edinburgh and start to feel the pangs of hunger, do not give in at the first promise of a homemade steak and ale pie. Walk your way to Stockbridge and sit yourself down to a meal that can make a Frenchman swoon. There are talented hands at The Scran & Scallie who know how to make the most of the freshest local produce. If you walk past the restaurant early in the morning, you might catch a glimpse of a whole sheep or live chicken being brought into their kitchen, as testimony to the freshness of the meat and the skill of the chefs. Weekdays are usually quiet, so just stroll into the bar and enjoy a seasonal whisky cocktail in a cosy atmosphere of tartan and sheepskin while you have a browse of their unique menu. If you are positive that your teeth won’t fall off, you can order crispy pig’s ears & pork scratchings to nibble on. Not recommended for those among you who have delicate jaws but for the others, it is one of The Scran & Scallie’s specialities. You may not instantly fall in love with all the chewiness and crunchiness but they sure will awaken your curiosity and appetite.
Depending on the season, you can push the challenge to having pig’s ears carpaccio or pig’s head pâté for starters. A good alternative for adventurous foodies is the bone marrow that will melt on your tongue and make your mouth numb from the mellowness… a favorite of mine! But if either choice is too bold for you, let the more classic rollmop herrings or smoked salmon mousseline tickle your taste buds. You can then move on to a Wagyu beef burger to die for, or continue your culinary exploration with braised hogget or game steak, usually served with root vegetables. Let me assure those who, like me, want their meat somewhere between deep pink and dripping blood, that you can trust the chefs to cook it to perfection. Do also have a look at the specials’ board as you do not want to miss the opportunity of a whole roasted lobster or côte de bœuf for two. Now, I am not a sweet tooth but on this occasion, be mindful to leave some room for puddings. Have at least one guest at your table pick the sticky toffee pudding and let the rest dip a spoon in for a mouthful of pure bliss. The chocolate brownie is a good choice when served with homemade stout ice cream and those who have very little space left should go for the cranachan, a light and refreshing dessert of oat, cream and raspberries.
The Scran & Scallie also has a comprehensive wine list with a good selection of wines by the glass to accompany your meal and bring you to an even higher level of happiness. Otherwise ask one of the knowledgeable waiters for the perfect pint and let them guide you while you relax and enjoy what you never thought possible, a good meal in Scotland!
The good news is that The Scran & Scallie is not the only place in Edinburgh where educated palates find contentment. Try Michael Neave’s Kitchen and Whisky Bar too. Hidden in one of the windy underground streets of the Old Town, this restaurant is a jewel of creativity from a very young chef. Fish and seafood aficionados will love The Ship on the Shore in Leith, or Fisher’s in the city. Smaller budgets and stomachs who are keen on local delicacies will pop into the Edinburgh Larder for a hot salmon and chutney sandwich. And there’s plenty more to surprise you… So after you’ve eaten your heart’s content of fish & chips, sausage & mash and Scottish breakfasts, do not rush into the nearest Italian restaurant. Scotland has a lot better in store for you.