Sunday 28 March, 2004
It was my birthday on Friday, and my wife treated me to a surprise night away in Edinburgh. We stayed at the fantastic Scotsman Hotel on North Bridge - it is without doubt the best hotel we've ever experienced. Everything was spot on - the staff were genuinely friendly and very efficient, the room a study in comfort and the food exceptional. The hotel was opened 3 years ago, and is located in the beautiful building which previously housed the Scotsman newspaper, and is quintessentially Scottish.
We arrived mid-morning, and set out to wander the Royal Mile and surrounding streets. For lunch we went to the Mussel Inn, which we now heartily recommend to anyone who enjoys seafood. The restaurant is owned by producers of mussels, oysters and scallops, and the menu reflects this. Rosemary's seafood chowder was the highlight. In the afternoon we hit the shops and did our bit to keep John Lewis in business.
We dined in the North Bridge Brasserie, attached to the hotel. While the hotel is 5-star, and has a formal restaurant to match (the Vermilion), the brasserie is for everyone - a very nice menu at reasonable prices, and the food was exceptional. I continued my seafood motif with a crab starter and scallops with Stornoway pudding for main, while Rosemary plumped for a ham shank starter and perfectly cooked liver for main. I took cheese to round off the meal, including some Mull cheddar, Dunsyre Blue. and St. Andrews.
On Saturday after a good breakfast (fish for me again - Finnan Haddock) we went food shopping - bread, salami, olives and other bits and pieces from Valvona and Crolla, then to Ian Mellis, the Cheesemongers, in Victoria Street. If you're a lover of cheese and are anywhere near Edinburgh you owe it to yourself to visit this shop - a huge range of cheeses and helpful staff who can assist you in finding the perfect cheese for your palate. We left with 4 - Dunsyre Blue, Waterloo, Organic Staffordshire and Mrs Kirkham's Lancashire.
Then it was off to the Royal Botanic Gardens and a stroll in the spring sunshine. We had a motive for going beyond the plants - Rosemary's great grandfather worked in the Botanic Gardens, and he and R's great grandmother were married in a house on a street adjacent to the gardens, which we visited while we were there.
To round off a great birthday break we stopped at Falkirk on the way home to see Kevin Costner's new film Open Range. It's a Western in the old tradition - you know who the good guys are, who the bad guys are and who is going to prevail in the end. Costner is great in it, but the real stars are Robert Duvall and Annette Benning, proving that there's no substitute for acting talent.