A Weekend In Edinburgh & the Scottish Borders
Approximately a month after I returned from Glasgow I was back at London City Airport, this time off to spend the weekend in Edinburgh and in the Scottish Borders with the guys from Scotch Beef & Scotch Lamb. I’m glad I got to see both of Scotland’s two main cities within the same span of a few weeks, as it really gave me a feel for a part of England I’d never really discovered before. While Glasgow is all about the new, Edinburgh smacks more of Scotland’s rich history and I think makes the perfect place for a food and exploration filled city break.
After a quick flight and a drive through the city we arrived at our hotel, the incredibly haunted Malmaison in Leith. Now, Edinburgh is a lot like Los Angeles in that the city is actually made up of lots of little town like neighbourhoods with their own instinct character and identity. Leith is a bit set back from the city centre and is right by the water. I did not really get a chance to explore the area that much as I spent most of my time in the old town, but there are supposed to be some fantastic restaurants and cafes in the area, so one to explore on my next visit.
Oh, and a great note about the Malmaison is that while the breakfasts are distinctly average, they do good sandwiches and a fantastic champagne and cocktail happy hour (£5 champagne!) which is perfect if your dinner reservation is rather late and you forgot to eat lunch because of your flight! In all honesty I’d recommend the Malmaison if you’re looking for a good quality hotel that is good value, but next time I’m in the city I might splurge a bit on somewhere a bit more boutique and a bit more central.
Speaking of that late dinner reservation, I could not recommend Timberyard enough if you’re after something for a special occasion in a really magical atmosphere. I wrote a full review on our dinner on Monday.
The next morning we were all up bright and early to head to Edinburgh New Town Cookery School for a lesson in sharpening kitchen knives and butchering an entire lamb shoulder with butcher (and brilliantly patient and complimentary teacher) Stuart McClymont. While I feel like I got to practice a useful life skill, I have to admit that because I can be such a perfectionist, I found the experience both enjoyable and very stressful!
I think the main takeaways from the butchery (followed by a cooking lesson and an eating) session were: Lisette is the person who you want to go to for Bake Off-worthy innuendoes, both Lisette and I look slightly sinister when presented with sharp knives, Lucy looks fantastic wearing a chain mail glove Beyonce ‘Single Ladies’ style, and that if you break down a great hunk of lamb, it is actually a meat you can cook quite quickly. Oh, and I love haggis. Like I really, really love haggis. Like, why had I never tried haggis before? To really get the feel for the hilarity of this session (as well as the chance to see more of our trip in motion picture) I really recommend you check out Kristabel’s vlog of the trip.
After lunch we went off to explore the city. This is The Elephant House, a cafe I would like to actually eat at at some point and sit down to write a little. However, there is one important reason why the pilgrimage had to be made at least to see the outside: this is where J.K. Rowling wrote a very great portion of Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone. Actually, I’d say that a trip to Edinburgh is a must for all Harry Potter fans, because wandering around the old parts of the city, you really get a feel for what inspired a lot of the books.
We stopped in at a fair few lovely little independent shops, and I was particularly taken with Museum Context in Old Town, which I would have loved to fill my home with little curiosities from. Also, if you’re looking for very Scottish, but not tacky and touristy gifts to take home for people are a trip to the city, how great are their Nessie mugs and art prints instructing you how to make a deep fried mars bar? (You can also order online, you can find the mugs here, and the prints here.)
In the middle of the Old Town you’ll find Greyfriars Cemetery. Aside from my fascination with photographing cemeteries, it’s part of the visitors trail because of the lovely story attached to it. It is the only cemetery in the city that legally has a dog buried in it alongside the humans; even after Bobby’s master died he kept on following the coffin, and then later on went and was always found sitting on top of his masters grave. People kept on removing him, but he kept on coming back. He was allowed to be buried next to his master as a symbol of his loyalty. Also importantly, there is a pretty pub next door.
Another little independent recommendation is Bibi’s Bakery, just look at the window display. You know a cake shop is good in this day and age when the cupcakes still look really appealing and not generic at all.
On the independent trail, my biggest ‘if you go to Edinburgh you really, really can’t miss out on’ spot is Mary’s Milk Bar. Now, this is not exactly a hidden gem (it usually has quite an impressive queue outside) but it is truly worth it. We grabbed cones and milkshakes and headed out to sit on the slope outside the castle. There were plenty of thumbs up to the Salted Caramel in our group, and I can personally vouch that the English Plum sorbet is rather good. However, the gelato flavour I was obsessed by which I honestly still have not shut up about yet is the Orange and Poppy Seed. The seeds provide a lovely, nutty flavour to the rich ice cream, dotted all over the candied pieces of orange peel. If they have this on offer when you visit, get it.
With only an hour to go until dinner, we hopped in a cab back to the hotel to quickly get changed before heading out to The Scran and Scallie for dinner. I’ve reviewed that one too, so click through for my post.
The next morning after another early start we climbed on the bus and out to the Borders, driving through the Scottish countryside. I’d love to do a Scottish road trip at some point; the Heather was starting early, so the tops of the hills were already getting carpeted in brilliant purple.
Our destination was Hardiesmill Farm, where they farm 100% Prime Aberdeen Angus and produce the most wonderful steaks and charcuterie. Alison Tuke farms the 482 acre farm, and her husband Robin heads up the marketing for all of their wonderful meat. We gathered in the farmhouse for tea and a chat about how they both came to farm the land and about how they get the best quality beef. Essentially, happy cows create happy meat. They use special Quality Meat Scotland certified transporters for their cows, because one harsh break can seriously stress out the cow and simply ruin the flavour of the meat.
Also, did you know that most of the beef and beef products you buy in British supermarkets that are marked as Aberdeen Angus are not actually 100% pure bred Aberdeen Angus? They can still call it Aberdeen Angus if just a parent of the cow was of the breed, or even just grandparents. Read all of the small print the next time you see something claiming to be Aberdeen Angus in store.
I feel I can’t really go a whole third and final post of an entire weekend spent in the company of fashion bloggers without commenting on my outfit choices for the weekend. Edinburgh was my first real taste of Autumn this year. Both Kim and I spent the weekend wrapped up in our Liberty print Barbours (they were both navy blue, but different as they only make a limited amount of each print – mine is from last season, so you can still get it here). As I was packed hand luggage only, I pretty much lived in my Levi’s. I’ve said this before, but I swear by their Curve id jeans. I first had them when I lived in Los Angeles, and I usually get them on Carnaby Street. Finally, I had a rotation of Boden jumpers with me; all from last year, but I’ve included some similar options in the widget below.
After meeting the cows we headed back into the farmhouse for a spot of lunch. We started off with some of their Tombuie charcuterie from their own cows. I was more than slightly obsessed with their Sweet Cure Beef, which thanks to the cure tasted a lot like Christmas! You can order their delicious charcuterie from their website, but you can also call them up to order charcuterie and steaks and chat about what they have in on 01573 410797.
Wine, bread, watercress, pea shoots and some of the most delicious home grown cucumbers I’ve ever had accompanied a tasting of different steaks; it is amazing how much difference in flavour there is between the different cuts, and how you can actually taste the aroma of the grass and the hay on the farm in the meat. Everyone has different tastes (my favourite was the onglet, a lesser known cut I’m used to seeing a lot more in France), so I’d really recommend trying different cuts side by side (maybe you could throw a steak tasting dinner party?) so you can get to know what you like and be in the know next time you visit a steak house.
There were a pretty great group of girls on the trip with me who were such fun to spend the weekend with. You can catch up with all of our antics by checking out the #scotchbeefmeatup hashtag on Instagram, and by heading over to check out some of the posts they’ve already put up on their blogs about the weekend. Over on Lisette’s blog she’s put together her own review of our dinner at Timberyard, a whistle stop guide to the city and a post about our trip to the farm. Kristabel has put together posts on the trip here, and here, and Lucie has one here. Kate has also reviewed our dinner at Timberyard, and Kim has a great outfit post up with some snapshots scattered throughout. I’ll try to Tweet some of the other girls posts as and when they post them.
I want to say a massive thank you to the team at Scotch Beef and Lamb for inviting me up for the weekend, and especially to Laurent who proved such a fantastic tour guide throughout the weekend and brought fantastic bottles of French wine to every gathering. I think after just a few hours in Edinburgh I decided that it was a city I’d have to get to know a bit better, so watch this space!
I traveled to Edinburgh as a guest of Scotch Beef and Lamb.