There’s always a lot of unnecessary hype and pressure around Valentine’s Day, especially for the lads. When it came round this year and James admitted he’d left it too late to book a table at a posh restaurant in Manchester, I wasn’t bothered at all as we’re always doing stuff, from dancing around at a gig or going on long walks around Manchester, to cooking good food or playing drinking drafts in the flat; it’s not just a one-day thing. However, I was massively excited when he surprised me with the announcement that he’d booked us a weekend away to Edinburgh – somewhere I’d only been to once when I was nine, a city neither of us knew much about but seemed to have a lot going on.
The 15th-16th March came around quickly and at 8am on Saturday, we were on the train heading ‘North of the Wall’ across the borders to bonny wee Scotland. James had booked us a great hotel, conveniently (coincidentally?) named The King James, which was literally opposite Waverley Station and central to everything going on. After a quick freshen up after the 3 hour train journey, off we went to explore the historic city with places we already had in mind we wanted to conquer, so to speak.
I’m not going to document everything we did in a diary form, but mention some of the bars, pubs and restaurants we discovered, plus the places we explored and enjoyed being a tourist. In the time we were there (11am until 8pm the following night), we crammed everything in, the ideal mix of doing the cultural things while also indulging in good food, drinking far too much, partying with the locals and having a good laugh.
Places worth visiting around the city
Edinburgh Castle: It had be done, the beautiful historic fortress dominating the skyline from Castle Rock, standing proud, overlooking the city. It was a bloody steep trek up from the centre, made harder by the ridiculously strong winds, but once up at the top, the views were breathtaking. It’s worth spending a bit of time up there, exploring the walls and ruins, plus the museums and the little shop, where we treated ourselves to a small bottle of local Bruadar malt whiskey with honey and sloes for James (a seriously amazing combination) and for me, Columba malt scotch whiskey & honey cream liqueur, made from fresh cream rather than condensed milk – just delicious.
On the way to up to the castle, it’s hard to miss the dressed-up Scottish swordsman, who was always in full role (we saw him a few times) and invited passers-by to have a photo whilst raising money for charity. As you can see, these ain’t no toy swords or weapons!
Edinburgh Farmer’s Market: On the Saturday afternoon, Castle Terrace was home to the local food market, which we had a nosey around. Offering a fabulous selection of local produce, from fresh meat, fish and cheese to homemade cakes and sweet treats, the Summer Harvest cold-pressed rapeseed oil stall in particular caught our eyes. Being huge fans of anything with spice to it, we tried the Chilli & Red Pepper variety and were immediately sold; a bottle was bought and wrapped to take home!
Grassmarket area: We came here a few times, a square with a host of places to eat plus both traditional and cool bars. We enjoyed a civilised drink in the sun on Saturday afternoon at The Last Drop Tavern, which at that point was swarming with stag and hen do’s, but nevertheless good fun. In the evening, after a delicious meal in the area, The Fiddler’s Arms was our main staying point where we drank a hell of a lot of alcohol with the locals – a great laugh and a chance to enjoy a taste of Scottish nightlife.
Scottish National Portrait Gallery: Hosted in the stunning Mapplethorpe Gallery on Queen Street, this particular exhibition was based around the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2013, featuring the inspiring work of some of the most talented new and established photographers. A very interesting and insightful exploration across time, history and culture, I’m glad we squeezed this into our visit.
Field of Light, St Andrew’s Square: Opening on 3rd February 2014, the Field of Light exhibition sees 9,500 lighted glass spheres with stems covering St Andrew’s Square in what is both an intriguing but beautiful sight. Unfortunately we didn’t get to witness this at night time all lit up, but even during the day as the sun was setting, this artistic expression by Bruce Munro is certainly worth seeing if you get chance.
Top food and great atmosphere: Places we were watered and fed
This was an important part of our trip, as we wanted to try out local places which weren’t too pretentious, expensive or extravagant, while being part of the experience and somewhere we could either feel relaxed and casual or dress up a bit in the evening. We were lucky and found some spot-on places – here are they are:
The Huxley: ‘The home of simple pleasures’ sums this bar and eatery up in one go. We got a sense of the friendly, homely feel as soon as we walked into the cool space, which wouldn’t look out of place in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. All the little touches, from the amusing choice of retro decor adorning the walls, to the wooden block boards clipping the menu and a venue newsletter, were all noted and appreciated!
The cocktail menu itself was highly appealing, although we settled for a bottle of wine to go with our lunch (don’t judge!). From the food listed, you could tell it was bursting with local and seasonal produce, with a funky twist on some traditional cuisine. I settled with a fabulous and filling Chicken, Avocado and Bacon Salad, while James was in his element with a Chilli Cheese Hot Dog and fries – simple but perfect. The breakfast menu looked equally appealing, although we didn’t get chance to sample it, we’d come here again another time and certainly recommend it, whatever time of day you go!
We must mention our delightful waitress too, who we sadly didn’t get to know her name but she spent a while filling us in with local knowledge, which certainly helped us for the rest of the weekend – we have her to thank for our fun!
Made In Italy: James and I spotted this cute little Italian restaurant earlier in the day when exploring the Grassmarkets area, which looked authentic and like a great choice for a nice dinner date, especially since they did gluten-free pasta and pizza! We arrived Saturday night in an admittedly tipsy state, thanks to drinking more wine in the hotel, dressed up and hungry.
After a short wait, we were seated and greeted by our Italian waiter, who brought us a fantastic Pinot. With cosy surroundings, a young crowd and amazing smells filling the room, Made In Italy is a fabulous restaurant with a friendly buzz and authenticity about it. While James went for the wheat-free Penne Bolognaise, I opted for a wheat-free Four Cheese pizza which, let me tell you, for someone who had not eaten one for about 10 years, was heavenly. Filling ourselves up with more wine, we didn’t have dessert despite the menu looking appetising; perhaps another time!
Arriving at the classy but relaxed bar/cafe, The Red Squirrel was another example of a place we could imagine in the Northern Quarter area. The whole menu looked divine – we could have eaten any and all of it – and in the end, James went for The Red Squirrel Breakfast, while I ordered a Spinach & Goat’s Cheese Omelette with a fresh berry smoothie. After quite a delay, the food finally arrived and was worth the wait – fresh, perfectly cooked, a decent portion and bloody tasty. Somewhere you could come with friends, your other half or family at any time of the day, we’d come back here to simply try more from the substantial menu.
Ryan’s Bar: A friendly, spacious pub, where we were happily sat right by one of the TV screens for the football with our drinks and decided to order a snack to keep us going until later on. Opting for a bowl of nachos to share, complete with fresh salsa, guacamole and sour cream, we can both honestly say that this bowl was the best we’d ever had – maybe this judgement was biased towards our hungover state but nevertheless, bloody tasty and filling!
The Newsroom: As the day came to an end, we had a couple of hours to kill before our train at 8pm so decided to head back to the hotel and went across the road to The Newsroom, a cool looking bar we had initially spotted when we arrived the previous day. With interesting, creative decor and very attentive service, this was the ideal spot to have decent food in a relaxed and friendly environment.
While I ordered a Chicken, Chilli and Peanut Salad with avocado and lime, James went for the Fish & Chips – both meals, again, were delicious, fresh, home-cooked and a decent sized portion, no messing about. It really was a great place which had we been staying in Edinburgh longer, would probably come for lunch or in the evening to enjoy some alcoholic beverages. It made for the perfect end to what was a fantastic weekend of amazing food and drink, interesting and cultural experiences and a lot of fun.