Stop The Presses

Before I start on the more recent food events - Sunday's "chicken toast" really deserves a blogpost sooner rather than later - I thought I'd rattle on with another Scotland posting. From Edinburgh.

I'd been invited to stay at The Scotsman Hotel, which is billed as a five star boutique hotel. If you've ever been to Edinburgh, you'll certainly know the building, perched as it is in the middle of the Royal Mile and overlooking Waverley Station and the Scott Memorial.
As the name suggests, it used to be the home of The Scotsman newspaper and you can't help but admire the way they've adapted the interior - a former office and printing press - and come to terms with the Edinburgh landscape: the main entrance may look like it's on the Ground Floor, but it's actually on the fourth, and the swimming pool and gym which appear to be tucked in the basement, are actually on the ground floor. Confused? You will be, but it's all well-mapped out.

The room was spectacular - The Baron Suite, dontchaknow - with several TVs, loads of sofas, a desk overlooking the Scott Memorial (see above), a mini bar, DVD player, a huge power shower... all the trappings you'd expect frankly. Staff were also excellent, some of the friendliest on the tour. And the brasserie - the North Bridge - was a very solid performer indeed. I'd certainly eat there again but stay at The Scotsman? No. Can't see it happening.

It's not a cost thing. Well, maybe a little. But it's more that when you're paying this sort of rate - the Baron Suite should have been around £800 a night - do you really want to be reminded how much every item costs? The mini-bar tariff runs to two A4 sheets on the inside of the wardrobe door and covers everything from over-priced soft drinks and ludicrously expensive snacks to Jesus-how-much? booze and condoms at, er, £7.50 a packet (so it pays to come prepared). You're reminded that the Cowshed soaps and gels etc., are for your use - who else's would it be? - and that if you take them from the room you'll be charged. The water may be complimentary but take the bottle away and you'll be charged an extra £15. Internet access is eight quid an hour. It gets to a stage where you expect to find a price label on every sheet of toilet paper... Compare that to The Torridon, where they leave a little sherry decanter in your room (and top it up each night if you have a snifter), several miniature bottles of single malt, a teddy bear, have free wifi and tell you to take the Molton Brown bathroom goodies away because they can't re-use them. Yes, The Scotsman is more state of the art but which one would you rather stay in?

So, onto the food. Dinner in Edinburgh was a good opportunity to get together with the lovely Martha from Visit Scotland and try and repa
y some of her previous hospitality. So, over a couple of beers - and the inevitable White Lady for Martha - we tucked into some highly competent brasserie fare.

Steak tartare, as you'd imagine in a country filled with so many healthy, happy cows, was very good indeed. A little lacking in the spicy accompaniments, perhaps, but rich and buttery and good enough to stand solo. On the other side of the table, fresh crab was deemed fresh and certainly looked good.

Mains were also very decent and featured something new to me and Martha: stone bass. "It's a cousin of the sea bass," explained our very friendly Canadian waiter. A close cousin, I'd suggest, as I doubt I'd tell 'em apart in a blind tasting. Again though, there was no complaint over the skills of the kitchen or the quality of the sourcing. Sides of cauliflower cheese - a long-standing private joke which I'll explain sometime - and Epoisse gratinee potatoes were chosen out of curiosity rather than necessity but impressed, particularly the latter. Roll that name around your mouth a couple of times and contemplate thin, creamy, melt-in-the-mouth slivers of potato mixed with the pungent depth of Epoisse. Yeah. Exactly.

Puds were good old fashioned stuff. For me, the warm chocolate pudding, with candied peanuts and peanut butter ice cream. For Martha, a Floating Island with pink pralines and custard. Light, sweet, and a good way to finish.

For the time being I shall ignore the breakfast at The Scotsman. I'm in a good mood, I've eaten well and I don't want to think about insipid hollandaise, bitter and badly washed spinach and the head-hurting, over-zealous newspaper themed crockery. Besides, I feel a more detailed rant about hotel breakfasts in general coming on...

Tomorrow then to Glasgow - and a night of serious, delicious WEST beers. Not to mention the best pound I spent on tour on this joyous little, award-winning Scotch Pie...


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