"It's not much but it's ours"

Monday, January 26, 2009


Just by the Brig O’ Doon, where across did Tam O’Shanter ride, in the small town of Alloway, home of Robert Burns, there is an imprint in the soil. It is rounded, deep and shows signs of sticky out ears.

It is, in fact, me shaped. A sort of mud angel created when yours truly went arse over tit into the muddy earth on my way back to my charming B&B after a liquid heavy evening to launch the year of Scottish Homecoming. I arrived, well past midnight, with the slurry of the rain sodden earth dripping from me like chocolate oozing from a well made fondant.

Up to that point, however, it had all been rather fun. The disappointment of finding there was no haggis on the menu for the event (not to worry, plenty of haggis yet to come) was soon forgotten as I sipped on a Whisky based cocktail and then found myself entering the stunning dining room of the Brig o’ Doon, house hotel alongside assorted dignitaries and even the Scottish First Minister himself, gathered to celebrate Burns birth with a blow out meal.

In between each course, of a supper based on excellent Scottish ingredients, we were serenaded by well known artists, including the sublime Sandi Thom, giving us their renditions of Burn’s songs. And, while the meal suffered the usual banquet problems of over saucing, the quality of the scallops and langoustines in one dish alone made the journey from London worthwhile.

Here is a quick competition, the evening ended with a toast to Burns made with one of 250 bottles of 37 year old Famous Grouse. Why are the numbers significant?

Waking up groggy headed and still finding mud in improbable places the next morning, I made my way the short hope to Edinburgh, where, after depositing my car at the next B&B, I headed out to find something to eat. A hugely depressing experience as the best Edinburgh had to offer, outside of its Michelin starred elite seemed to be grubby shops selling, pizzas, kebabs and, for some bizarre reason baguettes. I bought a bottle of wine and some fruit and retired to my room to catch up on my writing.

A solid rib sticker of a breakfast made me feel more sanguine about the whole thing and I decided to make an assault up Arthur’s seat, to make room for lunch. It had been nearly 25 years since I set foot in the city as a fresh faced, idealistic student appearing in a play on The Edinburgh Fringe. It and I were appalling, but my concerns that someone might recognise me and ride me out of town on a rail for crimes against theatre were unfounded and I soon found it time to meet my new chum, Martha Bryce, at her choice of lunch venue, The Dogs.

In a city seemingly filled with poor budget eating options, The Dogs stands out. In fact, The Dogs would stand out in any city and every city, no every neighbourhood, should have a place like it. It is a dining room in the true sense. Well made food in small, sharing portions made from good ingredients with no dish over £5.25. If HP had been with me, I suspect we would have ordered the lot.

As it was, both Martha and I began with soup. My disappointment that the Cullen Skink had run out moments before was short lived when we were both presented with bowls of steaming Scotch Broth. This is the sort of soup my granny used to make with a deep stock offering up a few scraps of meat and lots of swollen pearl barley and a few carrots. Nutritious and nourishing, the sort of dish I was hoping to find on my journey. Like wise a special of Ox Liver with onions, which, gave up pink chunks of offal and slivers of sweet red onion in a sharp sauce. It was spot on, as was Martha’s own choice of haddock coated in crunchy pinhead oatmeal, with only the silly fat, unpeeled chips adding a duff note.

I have a feeling that my experiences in Scotland so far will prove to be common as I travel around the whole of the UK. Incredible ingredients balanced by lots of crappy places selling crappy food and some real gems to be unearthed by happenstance or local guideance.


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Anonymous JimT said...

The numbers are significant because Burns was 37 years old when he died, 250 years ago.

Do I win a haggis?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009 8:56:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is that Kirsty Wark on your table for Burns' Night?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009 12:33:00 pm  
Blogger The Good Shill said...

I live in New York, but my fiance is Scottish. While we were in Edinburgh over Christmas, we never made it to Oink on 34 Victoria Street (at Upper Bow). Supposed to have amazing roast suckling pig on rolls with sage dressing. I've also heard that the crackling (offered on the side) isn't great, so skip it.

If you try it, please let us know if it's worthwhile!


Tuesday, January 27, 2009 3:44:00 pm  
Anonymous C.Elder said...

I agree with yr observation of Edinburgh as a hugely depressing experience with grubby shops selling etc etc.It mirrors my visit perfectly.Went for what was going to be a 4 day weekend,and fled back south after 2 nights as I could not face another day in this depressing place,with overpriced poor food and truly vile inexpensive options.Even the famed(sic) Scottish breakfast at our expensive hotel had disgusting bread,packet cereals,inedible greasy bacon and sausages(the eggs were decent),vile butter and disgraceful jam.So much for great Scottish produce etc.
I think you will have to change the title of your book as you indicated.The Scottish Tourist board should be forced to take a truth serum!

Friday, January 30, 2009 1:31:00 pm  
Blogger Hermano 2 said...

to be fair, I have had some great food too. The breakfasts at the B&B's have on the whole been outstanding (although I can believe that hotels are not great) and a lot of the produce is sensantional. I think the interesting point is the fracture between great produce and what is on offer on the streets


Friday, January 30, 2009 4:22:00 pm  
Anonymous F.Wilkinson said...

What ?Are those chips with skins on them in the DOGS?
Those Scots seem as lazy as some of their Southern restauranteurs.
When did this non-peel movement start?Did it begin with the election of Labour?Is it tied to the increasing Welfare state in this country?Is it the decline in values? There is some political capital in this somewhere.Maybe our Scottish PM Gordie Brown can appoint a commission to look into this worrying trend?

Tuesday, February 03, 2009 3:15:00 pm  
Blogger Hermano 2 said...


Only us Brits could make a positive out of being too lazy to peel a spud


Tuesday, February 03, 2009 3:48:00 pm  
Anonymous Mike Perito said...

Stop the Press!(in homage to your publishing antecedents)...I just saw that McCains(purveyors of frozen foods) have just launched a new "country fries with their skins still on- to leave the goodness in " frozen fry range........thus institutionalising the skins-on fry.Whole generations fed on this frozen food abomination will be subtly indoctrinated into the skins-on cult,and the skins-off purists will become a quaint oddity.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009 1:32:00 pm  

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