Scotland conjures up many images, both mystical and magical. It is a country of stunning beauty, a tragic but storied history (think Mary Queen of Scots) and of course, the setting of everyone’s favorite time travel romance series, Outlander!
But one thought that did not cross my mind was the adventuresome and palette-pleasing culinary scene I would encounter.
On my recent trip to Scotland, I was surprised to find far more than the haggis, scones and black pudding that initially come to mind. As it turns out, Scotland is home to 12 Michelin Star restaurants, five in Edinburgh alone. Plus, as any visitor to this captivating country knows, Scotch whiskey is the national drink. The distilleries are worthy of their own story, and we’ll get to that. But first, a few of my favorite restaurants:
The Witchery at the base of Edinburgh Castle Hill offered a unique and magical dining experience that complemented its Michelin Star rating. Located in a 16th-century merchant’s house, The Witcher creates a sense of time travel, transporting diners to a bygone era. The 600-bin wine cellar receives the AA Wine Award, while the menu offers an array of mouthwatering delights from Aged Scotch Beef Tartare and Beef Wellington to Lobster Thermidor.
If you like it enough to stay awhile, no worries! The Witchery offers nine themed rooms for lodging. It’s a true romantic getaway in the heart of the wonderfully intriguing Edinburgh.
A more adventurous culinary experience awaits in a visit to one of Scotland’s ubiquitous pubs or taverns. One of my favorites was Edinburgh’s Old Tollbooth Tavern. Part of the original Canongate Tollbooth built in 1591, it once collected tolls from travelers entering the burgh. Today, it offers live music and a delightful, Scottish tasting platter overflowing with fish and chips, wild mushrooms, smoked salmon and haggis croquettes with whisky cream sauce.
Another favorite, Balmoral Arms, offers a cozy respite in the village of Ballater. The location is just seven miles from Balmoral Castle, the Highlands home of the British Royal Family.
Farther north into the Highlands is the oldest golf course in the world, St. Andrews, and more fine dining. The Seafood Ristorante overlooks the Old Course and the North Atlantic Sea simultaneously. It is quite the experience: enjoying a glass of wine and a plate of Shetland Cod or Orkney Scallops while watching the waves crash against the historic course through floor-to-ceiling windows. The historic Jigger Inn overlooks the famous green, too, if you’re in for a rowdier time.
I was surprised again at the Bunchrew House in Inverness. Built in the 1600s, this manor promises to be a favorite of Outlander fans. With ties to the Frase-Mackenzie clans, the beautiful dwelling maintains an old-world charm and, if you believe everything you hear, a few friendly ghosts as well. It’s notorious as one of the most haunted hotels in Scotland.
But I was there for the 2 AA Rosette restaurant and its mesmerizing views overlooking the Beauty Firth. I enjoyed a lamb dinner with mushroom, truffle, parmesan and lemon risotto. I also had to partake in the impressive wine list!
Speaking of drinks, what would a visit to Scotland be without a sip of Scotch whisky? Well, not a trip worth taking!
The distilleries of Scotland are too numerous to list, but a few have the distinction of offering both the native spirit and a wonderful dining experience. Macallan’s restaurant is inspired by the three-star Michelin-rated El Celler de Can Roca in Spain. Glenturret, Scotland’s oldest working distillery, boasts the first Michelin-Starred restaurant attached to a distillery, Lalique.
The Glenmorangie House, attached to its namesake distillery, offers whisky tastings, delightful cuisine and lodging. The House holds the prestigious Michelin Hotel Guide’s single “Red House” symbol, one of only nine in Scotland, and two Red Rosettes for its food.
On the more fun side, some distilleries, such as the Isle of Raasay, pair their Scotch tasting with chocolate.
And finally, a visit to any part of the UK requires a cup of tea! I discovered the perfect spot at Clarinda’s Tea Room in Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. Quaint and snug, it provides the perfect ending to an afternoon of sightseeing in one of Europe’s most exciting and stunning cities.
If you’re considering a culinary tour, it’s time to give Scotland a second thought. The cuisine is as magical as the land itself!