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Heeley’s “Hot” Plates at the Edinburgh Festival

Which is Europe’s premier city? Where would you like to enjoy a street corner cappuccino? A pre-prandial aperitif with views of historic rooftops and rolling hills beyond? Take in a live performance? Visit a gallery? Or mooch and mingle with the great and the good?

Rome, certainly, Paris indubitably, Barcelona quite probably.  But were it not for the vagaries of its climate, my number one choice would be Scotland’s capital city Edinburgh.

Every year the festival hoves into view in August and is now so all encompassing that everything from the Fringe, the Book Festival and a myriad of art inspired exhibitions all come into town, riding on its back.

For those who are yet to enjoy the unique excitement that this city has to offer every summer then you don’t know what they’re missing – and that’s just the culture.

As with those other great European capitals, Edinburgh now boasts more quality eating and drinking establishments than anywhere outside London and for atmosphere, friendliness, service – not to mention price – knocks England’s capital into a cocked hat.

I’ve just returned from my annual sojourn and in anticipation of the perennial mitherings of you, my dear followers, asking your usual litany of “Where should we go?” “What should we do?” “What should we eat?” I’ve prepared this little pamphlet of my most recent perambulations, as a fragment nosegay of what Old Reekie has to offer.

The Foodies Festival at Holyrood Park that I was invited to, was a bit of a damp squib but at least enabled us to reacquaint ourselves with Catalan architect Enric Miralles’ wonder that is the Scottish Parliament.  A journey up the Royal Mile from here towards the castle is really the public face of the festival and is probably one of its least attractive.  Yes, there’s more street theatre than you could shake a stick at and herds of multinational visitors being corralled hither and thither in your path but aside from the tourist tat and the horrors of Cafe Rouge there are still interesting eating opportunities to be had.

Visit the subterranean grotto that is Monteiths (sister restaurant of Sygn) and enjoy some of the cities more authentic cuisine or trundle along a little further to the recently opened Missoni Hotel on George IV Bridge.  This somewhat incongruous architectural statement at least introduces something contemporary into the historic heart of the city, as to whether it enhances the area I’ll leave for you to decide.  Ignore its in-house Italian eatery Cucina – as overpriced and underwhelming – and journey instead to its other onsite eatery (also accessed from a separate entry on the street) the splendid Ondine.  Now, far be it from me to take issue with the great AA – Aidy to me, Mr Gill to you – but I think chef Roy Brett hits just the right note with this contemporary fish restaurant.  The marine life and crustacea that great you on arrival look freshly inviting, the service is crisp and the fishy fare fabulously flavoursome.

If marine life don’t float your boat and you like the more dark, moody and gothic, the world famous Witchery – a little further up towards the castle – may be more to your liking.

As for me, I’m happy to see the Royal mile and escape in search of more esoteric pastures.

One of my favourites is down on the quay in Leith where, the incomparable Fishers is an all time favourite.

In its small, cramped and somewhat chaotic two rooms this characterful emporium serves some of the greatest seafood this very well served fishy city has to offer.  I enjoyed six stunningly fresh Scottish Loch Crianan oysters so much that we ordered another six, so creamy and delightful were they followed by Arbroath Smokies with white pudding flamed in whisky that was as good a meal as I’ve had in years.  It’s on the same row as Michelin starred Martin Wishart as well as the Plumed Horse a little bit further on, not to mention the excellent Scotch Malt Whisky Society – of which more later.  What’s more the latest of Tom Kitchin’s Kitchin is just round the corner.

As foodie enclaves go, not too bad then.

If your tastes lie in slightly more refined environments, trundle up to Stockbridge – Edinburgh’s Chelsea – just south of the city centre.  The stylish Cafe Fish is worth a nibble or for a quick bite try Henry’s for fine food and wine.  There’s a plethora of places that you can dip in and out of, or trundle back up towards the New Town and try the marvellous La P’tite Folie 2.  Set in a stunning building that used to be a Polish church, the downstairs boasts and authentic zinc bar and is a splendid venue to enjoy a libation before journeying upstairs to the first floor restaurant.

For those looking for slightly more prim and proper in both preparation and presentation try Honours, where Michelin starred Martin Wishart, this time with chef Paul Tamburrini, arerightly receiving some rave reviews.

Just up from here and in the heart of the New Town, Queen Street gives a range of options.  There’s the more than adequate Centotre – a contemporary Italian located in an old bank – the now increasingly famous Tiger Lily, maybe a little corporate and popular with various Royals and rugby players, but for views – if not food – I’d recommend Oloroso.

Its open rooftop bar is a must for views of the whole city from the castle, the New Town right over to the Forth and the Highlands beyond.  Were it not for its rather self-satisfied service, not to mention its somewhat po-faced pretention you might choose to enjoy Tony Singh’s eclectic cuisine.  Equally you might tell them to stuff it and just have a drink.

From this eerie you can just espy the maroon marvel that is the Forth railway bridge and, if I were you, I’d find time to visit its southern shore and the charming town of South Queensferry.  Here, in a picture book setting, you can enjoy small town Scotland, with big town cuisine.  Pick of the bunch would probably be the Boat House or the slightly more informal Orocco Pier which both enjoy amazingly panoramic views of the estuary from which they draw much of their fare.

My final tip for festival goers is to find your way back to Queen Street and the city centre venue of the aforementioned Scotch Malt Whisky Society at number 28 Queen Street.  A members only establishment, unless you’re dining, this building offers its patrons the chance to enjoy rare, unique, unblended whiskies in a fine Georgian Town House, that has been marvellously refitted in a comfortably, contemporary way.  Try its restaurant for wonderful local foods or beg, borrow and bribe your way into the upstairs bar.  Thankfully, with none of the pretentions of your Soho or Shoreditch Houses, this is what a modern day club should be.  Not pompous, self-regarding or self-satisfied – just relaxed, fun, beautiful and surprising.  A bit like the city itself, really.

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