I feel I ought to write something about Edinburgh; after all, with easyJet’s direct flights starting in March I suspect Scotland’s capital may well become a favourite destination for us Gibraltarians.
Today it’s snowing and its rare enough for me to take a photo and send to my brother who responds by sending one of a warm and sunny day in Gib. Strangely I am not jealous. I guess I am used to the weather here because even in winter I rarely wear gloves or a scarf and dress as I would in Gib under my coat.
Edinburgh is said to be one of the best-looking cities anywhere. Its divided into two distinct parts the ‘Old Town’ and the ‘New Town’ either side of Princes Street. Both have their charm. The old town has the High Street, the Castle and Holyrood Palace and of course the buildings there are ancient. This is where most tourists congregate. For me however the New Town is the truly unique part of city. It’s a wonderful collection of Georgian residential houses, restaurants and tiny shops in cobbled streets and charming gardens now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Here we bought our first flat when the New Town was a happy hunting ground for impecunious, first-time buyers. These days are long gone and flats here are expensive and hard to come by.
The best time to see the New Town is at dusk when one can peer into people’s living rooms, through large astragal windows and see paintings and furniture from an era long-gone in most other cities. You can even look into Robert Louis Stevenson’s house – a brass plaque telling the passer by the house is private and not a museum!
The star attraction is a book covered in the human skin of William Burke.
Edinburgh and wine go back a long way. It was the signing of the Auld Alliance back in 1295 which set the Scots and the French against the English. It it gave Scottish Merchants the privilege of selecting the first choice of Bordeaux’s finest wines – a privilege which was eagerly protected for hundreds of years. Wines were landed at Leith and taken to the wine vaults which to this day still overflow with fine wines from France and beyond. In Leith today (a short bus ride from the centre of town down Leith Walk towards the river) you will find excellent fish restaurants, pubs with good food and of course the Royal Yacht Britannia. One can still imagine smugglers pushing barrels of claret up its cobbled, narrow streets which remain virtually untouched to this day.
I can’t remember exactly when I first met Silvio Praino probably ten or fifteen years ago at a now defunct restaurant he managed called Vintners located over the ancient wine vaults in Leith. I still remember their ravioli with veal and sage the restaurant excelled at.
I still meet Silvio now and then. He is an easy-going, affable man who today runs Divino Enoteca in Merchant Street a short walk from the High Street. He is an expert on Italian wines and loves talking wine or arranging small informal tastings, so don’t hesitate to call him or dine at Divinos when you are next here. The restaurant’s ambience is exceptional and has a very good reputation for its Italian cuisine.
Nearby is the famous pub The World’s End. Famous for all the wrong reasons.
It was here on a Saturday night on October 1977, two seventeen-year-old friends Helen Scott and Christine Eadie went for a night out in Edinburgh’s Old Town. They met up with some friends at The World’s End but the two of them separated from the group. They were never seen alive again. Their bodies were discovered miles outside the city having been strangled and raped. Edinburgh went into shock and it sparked one of the largest investigations in British criminal history but to no avail. Forty years later however, cutting edge DNA forensics finally nailed Angus Sinclair painter and decorator. Sinclair died in prison in March 2019.
If a beer at the World’s End has not dampened your enthusiasm for the morbid then head out to the 1505 Café nine minutes’ walk away in Nicolson Street. The Café has wonderful sandwiches, roast peppers in pastry and luscious cakes. It is owned by the Royal College of Surgeons. Behind the café is surely one of the world’s most bizarre museums. It’s a medical museum. Here the visitor can see some of the largest tumours removed, hundreds of body parts preserved in formaldehyde and even penises, some injected with mercury – presumably early and unsuccessful attempts to cure syphilis! The star attraction however is a book covered in the human skin of William Burke of Burke and Hare fame. These two grave robbers, who running out of cadavers to sell to the anatomists, murdered eighteen people. Burke was hanged in 1828. A plaster cast of his face taken after death can be seen next to the book.
I have never tasted anything quite like it.
Recently, we dined at the The Timberyard. As the name suggests, the restaurant is a former warehouse where we used to buy bits of wood, glues and tools when obliged through lack of cash to indulge in DIY. The Timberyard today is a restaurant in the Scandinavian style where, regretfully, one needs to book weeks in advance. The décor reflects its former use and waiting staff are heavily tattooed, so much so I wonder if being tattooed is a pre-condition of employment.
Foraging, Nordic pickling, smoking and the committed use of local Scottish produce is what Timberyard is about. Personally, I have never tasted anything quite like it except perhaps in expensive Reykjavik.
Both Sandra and I started with a small dish of langoustine, celeriac, pepper dulse and tarragon. Utterly delicious. The bread is home-made and totally moreish. A small dish of smoked salt comes with the pure white, homemade butter which is unsalted. Sandra follows the langoustines with another small dish of trout, fennel, sorel and dill. I go for the coley, cockles, wild leek, capers and garlic. Delicate and so, so good! We both then order the vegetarian glazed cauliflower, spiced yoghurt, kale, herbs and caper. This is so far removed from the usual, nondescript, utterly boring, ghastly vegetarian pap it’s difficult to over stress. It’s delicious! For dessert we both go for rhubarb with sheep’s yogurt. For wine we had a bottle of Austrian Grüner Vetliner by Christoph Hoch. Very good.
I have just ordered a case of Viña Ardanza Selección Especial 2010. This is only the fourth time in the bodega’s 80-year-old history they have given their Ardanza the elevated status of ‘Seleción Especial’ after the great vintages of 1964, 1973 and 2001. I am told it’s as good as the bodega’s Gran Reserva 890. In Edinburgh the wine is available at £22.50. In Gibraltar it should be considerably cheaper.