I woke-up at Jo and Josh’s flat in Edinburgh. I blinked my dry eyes and swallowed down a dry throat, I’m never drinking again, I said to myself. It wasn’t the first time I’d uttered these clichéd words of remorse and self-pity, but this time I meant it.
The day before (see Edinburgh Rocks Part I) had been indulgent, there had been excess and there had been debauchery and I was now paying the price with a pounding headache.
I rose to unsteady feet, I was glad that I didn’t have to go to work, Jo and Josh must have been up and out the door hours ago. They’d be at the restaurant doing prep for lunch and, while I didn’t envy them, I did have a renewed appreciation for their being bloody legends.
An amber light pushed through the blinds, it lit the mess from the night before, there were empty wine bottles and dirty plates and a rugby ball. I reveled in the quiet of an empty house as I slowly tidied the plates and glasses into the kitchen and took out the rubbish. I washed the dishes with a smile that even the most heinous hangover couldn’t spoil, it was mid-morning and the only thing I had to do today was get myself to Timberyard for a lunch booking. Fine food, the best of friends and fruit juice would be the perfect cure to this malaise.
The sun was shining but the wind was cold as I walked through the grey streets to the restaurant. I wore my big wool coat but I was raising a sweat so I took it off. The sting of the wind on my skin was a welcome rush that helped to clear my head.
Timberyard was warm and buzzing with activity. Jo was busy behind the bar and his broad smile was the most welcoming of all. After a hug, and some banter, and a latte, all the worries of the world drifted away.
Our table would be ready at midday, Niall and Phoebe were customarily late but when they arrived there were more smiles and hugs and laughs and rapid-fire exclamations about the night before. It was a flurry of easy words and genuine smiles and so much laughing; it lifted us all off our feet and we floated to our table. Jo made us a round of Bloody Mary’s. But of course!! It’s the only way to start such a day…and thus it began, again.
The menu was simple; there was a set lunch menu that gave a good overview of the kitchens flavours. Or there was the a-la-carte menu, which was broken down into four courses that grew from bites to entrees to mains and deserts. The menu is simple and refined at Timberyard, each course has only four choices and there’s always a vegetarian option. The menu may be simple but the dishes are not, each crafted with a unique flair that emphasizes quality and distinctiveness above all else.
We were finishing our second round of bloody-maries when the first course arrived. Niall had raw beef and egg yolk, Phoebe had an oyster and I had ham hock jelly and a smoked quails egg. The dishes were small but the flavours were rich, it was all fresh ingredients and hand-made sauces and it was the perfect way to get our battered and bruised palates ready for the rest of the meal.
Our waiter arrived with a French Viognier that would match our Entrees. It was impossibly light in both colour and flavor. Niall and I had crab with pear and fennel while Phoebe had a fried egg in a cider vinegar. The crab was subtle, almost too subtle and the wine was so light that it seemed to disappear; I feared I had dulled my taste buds the night before.
Red wine followed white wine and the mains of slow-cooked lamb gigot followed our entrees. The meat was impossibly tender and the Australian Cab Sav was big and ballsy but not too big and ballsy.
By now our smiles were growing broader and our banter louder. We traded stories about the night before and argued about the extent of the debauchery. I caught glimpses of Josh in the kitchen and I hoped he wasn’t catching glimpses of our laughter and our incessantly full glasses that were being regularly clinked together in cheers. I had a moment of pause, as I felt guilty at so much indulgence while he and Jo and Christo worked. I proposed a toast!! To the lads and lasses in the kitchen, we all agreed we would drag every ounce of enjoyment out of our meal to ensure their hard work wasn’t in vain.
Plus, awkward family photos…
Dessert arrived and so did the cocktail menu. Niall pointed out The Lochead which was his namesake. I went for The Woods and Phoebe the spicy and exotic Sea C&C. Desert was sweet and not at all heavy. It cleansed the palate in preparation for our next round of drinks.
I don’t want to gloat, but this was a really special meal with good friends in an amazing restaurant and I thought I should share it with y’all. So far the food and wine had been great but when those three cocktails came out it all seemed too good to be true. They were three different flavours that formed a neat triangle. They were strong and they were well balanced and I was feeling good.
Nadia arrived, hi Nadia! She had a bit of catching up to do but she also had her own stories to tell from the night before and she was able to fill in some gaps. She showed-off an unfortunate bruise on the side of her head. It seemed she had been as unprepared as I when I was lifted into the air in the nightclub, she had taken my size-12 boot to the head, I felt pretty bad about that, even though it had been far from intentional – I made haste in ordering her a cocktail.
We’d been at our table for some hours so we made a move to the courtyard. It was the first day of sunshine that I’d seen in Edinburgh and it turned out it was the first of the summer. It had been a long, cold winter by all accounts and it was sweet to see how excited a Scotsman can get when he sits with a drink and his face turned to the early afternoon sun.
Then Niall took a photo of a wood-pile. Nice one Niall.
Christo brought our next round of drinks; Niall took another cocktail, Phoebe and Nadia started on a bottle of white wine and I had asked that Jo choose a single-malt whisky for me. He did well, he chose the Bw1 by Elements of Islay, it was the best whisky I drank in my short time in Scotland – Jo is an excellent bar tender.
Everyone has a different indulgence. Some people like fast cars and others spend money on clothes or jewelry or big ugly houses.
But for me, a day like this is pure indulgence, fine food that is made with love and care, booze chosen carefully and friends gathered around a table each offering smiles and laughter and not holding anything back. With just the sun on our shoulders and laughter floating light into the air, laughter lifting us all into the air, without a worry. The only question was… what shall we drink next?
The answer was wine and more whisky from Islay.
Then we went inside and we took some photos of the gang so we could remember the good times.
The light was perfect; it shone at a 45-degrees through the tall windows and was reflected off the floor. The restaurant was quiet and Jo and Josh and the other floor staff could get involved.
Jo and I chatted about Elements of Islay and he explained that the Bw1 was the first release of this blend-master. For this first batch they took a brew from the famous distiller Bowmore and with their own oak and their own blending they produced a very fine drop that I hoped to drink a lot more of.
I hadn’t done many typically touristy things in Edinburgh but I felt I should, at the very least, see the Edinburgh castle. My suggestion was to get a bag of Red-Stripes and head up to the castle to enjoy the remainder of the rare sunshine.
Alas, Jo and Josh had to stay at the restaurant, but Nial and Pheebs and Nads and I had a lot of energy and we wanted to be outside and we were keen for another drink so we headed off up the hill.
You have to pay to get into the castle so we just lurked in the car park. That sounds kinda dodgy but it was actually quite pleasant, there weren’t many cars, just people taking photos and wandering about. It seemed we were the only ones drinking Red Strip.
This is Niall and Phoebe, they’re in love.
This is my excellent duffel coat. You can do anything when you’re wrapped in this much English wool.
Then Niall got behind the lens again. So many laughs, and in Edinburgh your beer never gets warm.
We had been on the one side of the car-park for a while and Niall didn’t like looking at a big ugly set of bleachers so we moved over to the other side. We chose a spot behind a massive, smooth tombstone. We discussed whether or not it was disrespectful to drink and much around on someone’s tombstone, but we came to the conclusion that if it was our tombstone, then we would definitely want people to drink and muck around on it, in fact that is probably the only thing we would want people to do on our tombstone (plus the cemetery scene at the end of Easy Rider).
It was a kind of private little spot, but not really, it did make us feel a little detached. We drank more beers and we ate chips. There were flowers in bloom on the grassy hill on the other side of the fence and we teased Phoebe for her incessant whistling and we took heaps of photos and I can’t remember what we were laughing about but by the looks of it we were having a great time.
It was a very indulgent day, but it was rare and that’s what made it special. Who knows when I’ll get back to Scotland, if at all? Who knows if I’ll get to see these legends again, I wasn’t going to put the brakes on a day like this.
A crowd was starting to grow and when a whole band of bag-pipe players turned up we realized that the bleachers must have been set-up for some sort of tattoo. Niall was stoked, he was bouncing around like a little kid at the prospect of a bag-pipe session going down. I think perhaps he was also excited that we foreigners would get to see something as Scottish as a good-old marching band.
A surly teenage kid was handing out flyers and he explained they wouldn’t start for another hour.
We had run out of beers and Nadia was hungry so we agreed to do a dash into town and then come back for the band.
We found a café that served toasted sandwiches and draught beer. The beer was excellent but we had to wait a surprisingly long time for the sandwiches. When they arrived they were excellent also.
We spent longer than expected on our food and beer mission, but then again there were no expectations by this stage. Niall showed us a few spots and told some tales about the history of Edinburgh. This is a photo of Pheebs and Nads walking through a tunnel, it’s my fav.
We eventually made it back to the castle and we got a solid dose of bag-pipes. It was some sort of youth band and they did well in their formations and they seemed to all be in tune; but with bag-pipes it’s kinda hard to tell.
It was a prefect setting with the sun going down through the trees behind the castle, and a crowd of stoked onlookers, and our little crew warm and smiling.
After the tattoo finished we headed back down the hill passed this church. It’s my favourite church in Edinburgh and coincidentally, just the other night, I was watching the film “Cloud Atlas” in which the church was briefly featured.
Niall took us to the writer’s Museum, well, outside of it anyway. The shot below shows a silhouette of the sign. The ground below the sign is laid with huge stone tiles and some of them have quotes by famous writers of Edinburgh. It’s a shame I didn’t get any shots of the quotes.
It seems this is where the photos stop, but I’ll do my best to tell you about the rest of the evening.
Niall said he knew a low-key pub where the beer was cheap and old fellas played folk music. This sounded perfect but it took a little while to find it. We rolled inside and it was just as he’d described. It was tiny and crowded and perfect. We leaned against the bar and in our bleary eyed state we had a feeling that this was the right place to be. We ordered a couple of traditional ales for ourselves and a couple of pilsners for the girls.
Eventually we scored a prime seat next to the weathered old codgers that were strumming their guitars and singing croaky songs. I couldn’t understand the words but the tunes were solid.
By now we were tired and a little slow and pretty pissed. Pheebs was laughing a whole lot and Niall and I were heckling each other and Nadia was starting to nod off. Niall talked of a little restaurant called Mama’s Kitchen that serves hearty home-style dinners. He talked about shepherds pies and bangers and mash and whole array of Pale Ales but most importantly it was just over the road.
So we headed over and we got a booth and we ordered ale-and-beef-pies and I can’t remember what the girls had. We all ordered a local pale ale and we ate and we drank and by the end of the meal we were all spent. So much beer and good food and indulgence and banter and photo shoots wears you out. It was at this stage that I remembered my vow not to drink again. I was amazed more than anything else, amazed at how… with good friends and lots of booze and with fine, fine food you can beat any pesky hangover, there’s a lesson in that, somewhere.
We rolled out into the damp night air and piled into cabs.