EDINBURGH IN A WEEKEND
A mini-break in your hometown is weird but wonderful. You’re where you usually go to get a haircut, meet a client, replace the smashed phone screen (again). But you aren’t doing any of those things, you’re seeing it through a visitor’s eyes. Visiting tourist attractions you’ve driven past for years, eating in places you read about, even seeing the streets from the back of a black cab, the decadence!
A couple of friends flew up from London recently and that’s just what we did. “We don’t want you cooking for us and changing the sheets”, they said. “We’ve booked a place in town.” So off I went. We checked into Native, a chain which has central, stylish-without-breaking-the-bank, serviced apartments in various cities. Ours was on Queen Street, a nice neo-classical building, characterful with a cool lobby area.
First stop after dumping the bags was a dash across the meadows for Friday night out at The Rabbit Hole. My new favourite Edinburgh restaurant, it’s a Marchmont brasserie run by a couple, her roots Canadian, his Sicilian. They are about good, simple ingredients, whether it’s moules or Scottish venison and every dish is delicious. It’s all you’d want from a great neighbourhood brasserie, compact, candlelit and charming staff.
The next day was a walk down the length of Leith Walk, the fresh air much needed after last night’s vino. A quick stop for a coffee and doughnutini (I think that was it, divine balls of sugaryness anyway) at the legendary Valvona & Crolla where my London visitors were gobsmacked to find such an awesome Italian deli, laden shelves soaring metres above their heads, wonderful hams suspended from above and the cheese counter of dreams.
Our destination was Royal Yacht Britannia, which I’d never understood the appeal of (just a boat?) despite it being touted ‘Best UK Attraction’. Perhaps because I’ve never watched The Crown? Anyway, it was surprisingly good. There’s something fascinating about a beautifully built ship, where everything is thought out, down to the last beautifully polished cubby-hole, and it’s sailed across stormy seas to the other side of the globe many times over.
By the end we were flagging, so headed down Commercial Street, past another great ship Fingal, now a hotel with fine dining. I love this strip of pubs and restaurants stretching along the water’s edge. Back in the early 90s it felt desolate as you rolled out of Skippers or Fishers at night but now it’s buzzing. So much choice with the excellent high-end Martin Wishart restaurant, then Ship on the Shore, The Shore Bar and Restaurant (always mix these two up until I’m standing outside), Fishers… We settled on The Shore Bar and Restaurant, an old favourite, all dark panelling and cosy seating. It always hits the spot, with wonderful French soups and delicious souffle’s on the lunch menu (and frites, always) Plus great staff, who seamlessly slip in and out of the curtained back area like players on a stage.
A cab hop back up to the New Town dropped us at the door of beautiful Brora for some cashmere love, then a nosey in the beautifully presented Cockburn’s of Leith wine merchant next door, before a quick lie-down back at Native.
Saturday evening’s booking was nearby, at Cafe St Honore, a place I hadn’t been since a friend’s 21st many moons ago. I’d forgotten how good it was (the long-ago night was overshadowed by a glamorous party guest slicing her foot open on a glass after she’d taken to dancing on the tables). Tucked away down a cobbled lane, off a cobbled street, it’s everything you’d want from a chic, hidden away bistro. Lit up in the dark like something out of a French painting, the interior is all black and white checkered floor, bentwood chairs and white tablecloths. The menu is simple, a few options for each course but all perfect. Classic French bistro food.
Finally Sunday rolled in, with coffee and pastry from Fortitude, a café so small I’ve yet to find a free table in there and a loop back to the National Gallery, always good for escaping the Prince’s street throng. Then rounded off by a very fine lunch in good old Wagamama, the ideal end-of-weekend comfort food. And just in time to be spirited back to real life before the week began. What a great city to be a tourist in, maybe it could become an annual fixture