This was my first trip to Edinburgh. I’d been in London for the past ten days, I’d been drinking heavily and I had a pretty rough cough; I thought that perhaps I could use the time in the North to recover…
On my first afternoon in town I met Niall and Phoebe at Bon Vivant. This wee little bar was an appropriate introduction as all I wanted to do was drink single-malt whisky; it has medicinal properites.
I’d done some work previously writing about the Bruchladdich distillery but it’s difficult to source their whisky in Australia so I was yet to try it. I asked Jack, the bartender, if he had Bruchladdich, he gave me a wry grin before wrangling five bottles from the shelf. Their range included both peated and un-peated. He had the obscure ‘waves’ vintage and most intimidatingly he had Scotland’s most heavily peated whisky, the Octomore. I started with the ‘Laddie Ten.
I took a corner seat to myself and was left with my glass and my thoughts. My glass was refilled a number of times before Niall and Phoebe arrived. There was much hugging and excited smiles and rapid-fire retelling of times since we’d all been together in Byron Bay.
After a few more whiskies we headed to check out a band at the music college. The band was called Dingus Kahn. They had three drummers and four guitars. Their front-man was a lunatic and somewhat of a genius. They’re sure to be at a festival near you soon, don’t miss it. We drank terrible whisky and a couple of Red-Stripes.
Jo and Josh knocked-off work around midnight and we all met up at Under-the-Stairs. This place is rad, but I was falling asleep in an arm-chair, so we went home to bed.
The next day I rose late. The only plans I had were to meet Jo and Josh at 2:30pm, when they had a break from work. Josh had pointed me in the direction of some coffee shops and vintage stores so I headed off into the fog and haze of a damp Edinburgh day. London had been chilly as I’d just come from the sunshine of Indonesia but Edinburgh was freezing. My denim jacket and hoodie were woefully inappropriate.
I dashed in and out of bars and cafes hiding from the rain. At the Black Crow I found some wi-fi and chatted to family and friends at home. Like a honey-bee buzzing from flower to flower, I picked up the sweet nectar of free internet connections.
With my head down and my hands pushed deep into my pockets I headed back to Timberyard to meet the lads. Timberyard is Edinburgh’s newest and most fabulous restaurant. Jo’s parents are stalwarts in the Scottish restaurant game and in this venture the whole family, and plenty of their friends, work together. The bare-bones of the building is an old timberyard and the renovations are minimalist and modern. It’s all come together with a painstakingly careful focus on the details, the deft eye of the owner/operators ensures it has a coherent balance between the old and the new.
I was welcomed by smiles and hugs and a latte. I sat at the bar while the boys finished up. There was a meager grey light coming in though the big windows. It lit the brushed concrete in a stark industrial glare but the soft and worn browns of the bare timber flooded the place with warmth.
We were all set to go when we turned to see that it was snowing. Well that’s what I called it, apparently it was hail or sleet, either way I wasn’t keen to head back outside. We debated our options, we drank some whisky, I looked down at my torn canvas shoes and my cotton jacket with hesitation, but I was assured we would check out some op-shops on the way so I could find an overcoat.
Eventually the hail/sleet/snow eased, we were on a mission to find haggis and the promise of a hearty meal warmed my bones.
By all reports Deacon Brodies Pub had the best Haggis this side of Islay. We were ushered upstairs and the waitress’s eyes lit up when we ordered Haggis all round, with whisky sauce. She looked less impressed when we ordered half-pints.
I had a strange sense of unease while waiting for the food. Haggis seemed such a cliché. A dish of offal and organs cooked in the lining of a sheep’s stomach, it was almost a myth. But I was determined to get through it no matter how it tasted or looked.
It turned out to look like this, and it tasted real good. It was a heavy, stodgy meal and it was perfect for the grey and wet day. Scotland’s food and booze is unique, it’s a product of its environment, it’s weather and its temperament. The food fills you up and keeps you warm, the whisky is refined but it has balls. You can taste the peaty bogs and the salt water of the coast in those single-malts, the years it spends in the barrel, moving in and out of the wood, it stores the flavours of its locale to warm your bones and lighten your head.
We headed down the hill to the Whiski bar. On the way we touched the foot of some statue that had the familiar bronze tip from so much superstitious fondling. We then dutifully spat on a tiled section of ground that was in the shape of a heart. The stories around this tradition vary but my favourite spoke of this being the old entrance to the tax office. There was a suitable puddle of loogies.
At the Whiski bar we made an awkward pose for a photo and the whisky was excellent. Their range was one of the biggest in town and it was arranged alphabetically, Matt A. would have had heart palpitations at the options. I stuck to Bruchladdich, Jo tried a highlands belnd and Josh had a Guiness.
Outside we were greeted by sunshine. It was ridiculous and glorious and was perfectly in tune with our frivolous day that was little planned. We headed back up the hill and took more photos.
Jo had to go back to work so we waved him farewell.
Josh took me a to a vintage shop and I found myself a sweet Burberrys duffel coat. I’d been to many op-shops and not had any luck but on this day, after an appropriate amount of persistence I was rewarded with a stella find. It fitted like a glove, it was worn in all the right places and it was heavy, real heavy, you’ll have to wait for Part II to check it out. The gloom had returned but I headed out with a smile on my face. The coat was like wearing a doona, the hood sat snug and now, at last, I felt prepared to take-on Edinburgh. Actually, we needed a drink.
We headed back to Timberyard for a dram and to pick up some fish for dinner. I showed off my coat and we started on another of the Bruchladdich distilleries creations, The Botanist.
This gin is superb; refined and floral. It’s high in alcohol but its perfectly balanced. We also tried the Monkey 47 and it might actually have topped The Botanist. It’s a rare drop, it contains 47 different botanicals, I took it straight and my eyes stretched wide, you inhale it more than drink it, it’s so light. I doubt I’ll be able to find it in Australia. While there is a growing appreciation for Whisky in Australia I fear it will be a long time before we have access to anywhere near the Gin range that I found in Edinburgh.
Jo also pushed a snifter of the Octomore my way. It’s famous for being the most heavily peated whisky in Scotland – it was dense to say the least. It was smoke in liquid form; the essence of a damp Scottish bog filtered through American oak and bottled only for those who understand that pleasure takes sacrifice.
On our way home we dropped into Love Crumbs for cake. This café is so good; it’s like coming home to your grandma’s place. The girls running the show are all smiles and floppy woolen cardigans, they’re warm and inviting and they are dedicated to the art of cakes and tea and coffee. We took a seat by the window and were served peanut butter scones with cream and jam and real good coffee. More on Love Crumbs later, I bloody love that joint.
At home we began to prepare dinner. Josh is an Aussie living in Scotland. He works in the kitchen at Timberyard. He’s a top bloke and a bloody good cook; we were in for a treat tonight, he would be cooking us individual whole bass’ with baked potatoes. It’s on the Spring menu at Timberyard FYI.
Niall and Phoebe turned up with wine and they filled the house with hugs and noise and laughing and good times. This pair met in Oz, Niall’s Scottish and Phoebe’s Aussie. They’re currently living in Edinburgh and they’re in love.
We got started on a few local artisan beers. There’s nothing ‘light’ about anything in Scotland and that goes especially for the beers. It’s all Pale Ale’s and Wit beers, they have so much flavor you often have to stand-up to drink them.
Josh had been getting busy with the fish and doing all sorts of things with the potatoes. He had a certain chaotic flair in the kitchen that always looked in control. We started on chips and dip and talked about Byron Bay and traveling, Phoebe wanted all the goss from Byron and Niall wanted to know nothing about Byron’s effortless surfing as it was just-not-quite-the-same here in Scotland. We discussed indulgence and getting loose in London and how outrageously expensive Norway was.
We discussed going out on the town later, Niall was bouncing around like an 18 year old, keen-as to get on the pish, which was understandable as he’d been behind a desk all day. The rest of us veto’d it. Too tired, too warm inside, nowhere good to go.
Dinner was served with cheers and smiles. Each fish was individually wrapped and when opened, steam and smells poured out. The flesh was tender and fell away from the bone. Josh had baked the potatoes and then he’d fried them in butter with their jackets still on; crispy on the outside and soft on the inside – hearty.
Phoebe had made a salad, it was titled – Duck Salad… quack.
We drank a few reds, which were excellent.
I stood back for a moment to take some photos and a smile crept onto my face. I was shocked at how lucky I was; to share such a table, such a meal and so much warmth with such great friends. I’ll never forget these guys.
It sucked that JoJo was at work at that Jaime P. was so far away in Australia and that Matty A. was missing out on experiencing all the flavours.
Oh, and I made desert. Look mum! (Thanks to Mark Damage for the inspo on that one, was a little experimental.)
As the plates were cleared a bottle of rum appeared. Shots went down and voices got louder and soon enough I’d showered and found a clean shirt and we’d booked a taxi.
The footy came out and Phoebe got onto the coffee table to show us her punting skills. She ‘aint bad, to tell you the truth.
This is where the photos stop. I’ll give you a brief wrap-up of the night but if you’ve ever got on-it with Niall and Phoebe and Christo (yep Christo came out after work) then you’ll know how it went down.
We hit Cabaret Voltaire (Cab-Volt) first-up and started with rounds of tequila shots and rum-and-coke at fifteen minute intervals. The joint was heaving but we were told by some locals that the party was going off in the club downstairs. Some chick put our names on the door and we headed down. It was a savage teenaged mosh-pit-rave down there. Pack tight we tried to dance as we held our Red-Stripes above our heads.
We ditched that and headed to another club, here the crowd was older and no less loose. The décor was tacky-kitsch and the dance floor was like a cave with mirrors on the ceiling. I was a little confused when Phoebe reached across to take my drink out of my hand, but then I felt hands lift me up and I was held aloft staring at my reflection in the mirror.
The lights came on and we scurried into taxis and headed home. It was cold but I was numb. Josh broke up a fight and we smoked some ciggies. We got into cabs and when I got home I vowed I wasn’t drinking again for a week.
Part II coming soon…