Scotland: Edinburgh and Martin Wishart

I hadn’t been to Edinburgh for over 25 years and what a change!  The European Union now exists so the city is populated by not only Scots, but Italians, Bulgarians, Czechs, Belgian, and all other European nationalities. It has truly become an international city with all the good and not so wonderful aspects of a major international hub. The city is teeming with visitors – or “tourons” as we call them sometimes in D.C. (a combination of tourists and morons). The visitors are Yanks like ourselves as well as Japanese, Chinese, German, Scots from other locations, and some who spoke languages that were unrecognizable. We stayed on George Street in The George Hotel. The hotel is in a great location although the rooms are a bit small and there is no dining room except for breakfast which is a buffet – passable but not a proper Scottish freshly made breakfast.  The best part of The George other than its central location is the staff.

Without fail, the desk and the Concierge staff are terrific. They truly aim to please. And if one is staying there, hope Giuseppe is at the concierge desk. An Italian who loves his job, he greets you in full kilt regalia with a pure Italian accent. Ever ready to help, he marshalls luggage, golf clubs (we were there during The British Open and high golf season), and arranges dinner reservations all with a laugh.

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Next door to The George is a great bar, The All Bar One. Special nights have special items – martinis, fizzes, margaritas, etc. The food is very good and is tapas style so one can nibble on different items. It is open from 8 a.m. til at least midnight so even if The George doesn’t have food or a nice bar (it has a minuscule one on the fifth floor) there is one readily available. On the corner is a local coffee shop and opposite is the ever-present Starbucks.

Within a ten minute walk, one can reach the Royal Mile and see at one end the Palace and at the other the famous Castle. In the middle is St. Giles Cathedral which is worth the visit just to see the magnificent stained glass windows.

Amongst other reasons, we were there to go to St. Andrews and watch the best of the best golfers during the final weekend of The British Open. Of course, our first day the golf was cancelled not due to rain but to high winds, so we wondered the beautiful town. A pilgrimage was made to the St. Andrews Cathedral to visit the graves of Tom Morris and his son, Tommy Morris. Tom Morris is considered the father of golf and his son, young Tom or Tommy, still holds the record for winning four consecutive Open titles by the time he was 21. His death was due to a broken heart brought on by the death of his wife and child during a very difficult childbirth. He couldn’t get back in time from a golf tournament to see them before their death. He died four months later on Christmas Day 1875.

Although I am not a golfer, it was a wonderful excursion to mingle with the fans – and the second day to watch some of the very best players up close and personal. I would recommend the trip to St. Andrews to anyone.

The best part of Scotland now to me is twofold – the Scots who are friendly and helpful and the food. Yes, I said food. Even in a bar on the main drag in St. Andrews, the smoked salmon and fish and chips were divine. And in Edinburgh, we went to one of the best restaurants ever, Martin Wishart’s Restaurant on Shore Street.

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The dinner was sheer magic from start to finish. One has a choice of several menus – A La Carte, Mixed Tasting (includes meat as well as fish), Seafood Tasting, and Vegetarian Tasting. We had the Seafood Tasting and A La Carte since fresh lobster was on that menu. It is nigh on impossible to describe each dish but suffice it to say they were all magnificent although the lobster was the best I’ve ever had.  The tasting menu included squid, mussels, oysters, scallops, mackerel, and monkfish plus two amuse bouches to start and a delicious dessert. From the A la Carte menu, the foie gras was absolutely scrumptious and enough to feed two. The lobster was prepared on one plate in two ways – a simple tail served in the shell and then poured at the table beside the tail were the claws in a cheese hollandaise sauce. Beautifully plated with the lobster were asparagus with a pesto sauce that was truly superb. Clearly the staff had been trained to perfection as well as the chefs in the kitchen. The evening ranked with Per Se and Del Posto in New York and Tour d’Argent in Paris for a perfectly superb meal.

We decided to try his newer, less formal (only meaning more modern and no white table cloths, but no different in clientele or attire for the clientele) restaurant within walking distance of The George, The Honours. That was disappointing after his first restaurant.  The staff was not nearly as attentive or efficient and the food was only “good.”  In addition to long waits between courses and visits from our waiter/bartender, we asked for the large amount of leftover Chateaubriand (which was delicious) for our lunch the next day only to be told ten minutes later that there had been a “miscommunication” and our steak had been thrown away. (I translated that into someone in the kitchen wanted his or her own breakfast steak.)  There was no offer to cook more or replace with another smaller cut. It tarnished the evening. My advice is to stick to the Restaurant on Shore and be thrilled with all aspects of the experience!

Next stop….Oban!

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