The Tastiest of Thistles

For most people a visit to Edinburgh is likely to stir up thoughts of The Royal Mile, Arthur’s Seat, Princes Street, castles, museums and palaces. Steep hills, stone steps and cobbled streets ooze history. Then there is the incessant din of those bag pipes as you stroll from one quintessential Scottish souvenir shop to the next (all selling the same range of stuff). But, enough of these time fillers, when it comes to the serious business how does Edinburgh stand up to satisfying your appetites? Savouring Auld Reekie comes with impressive surprises.

‘How do you like your eggs?’ is a very pertinent question of any culinary adventure, whatever time of the day it happens to be. But, what about your bee pollen, goji berries, pak choi and whisky sauce (but not all in the same meal)? Traditional Scottish fayre has certainly taken on an altogether more exotic flavour.

Starting the day needn’t be a boring tradition! At the Urban Angel in New Town, just around the corner from Thistle Street, the eggs might come baked with a tomato sauce accompanied by chorizo and black pudding. Just add an Acai Bowl of goji berries, bee pollen and coconut flakes, alongside your avocado on sourdough, with a freshly baked almond croissant. Just make sure you book a morning seat, because this place is deservedly popular.

So, you’ve loaded up on history and culture, or good old shopping. But, what you’re really focused on is the potential provenance of that next meal. What is it currently doing… quacking, mooing, baaing, or maybe gently gliding some slinky watery moves.

Cafe Marlayne on Thistle Street doesn’t go in for the over elaborate menu choices, but what it offers comes with a side of style. Swoon over a crispy fried egg and asparagus starter, complete with a grainy Freekah (whatever Freekah is).

Then, it’s time to offend Daffy’s sensibilities, with neatly presented duck breast, carrot and ginger puree, pak choi in sesame oil, spring onions and a hoisin glaze.

Fishers in the City, on Thistle Street (yes, there again) offers good old fashioned Scottish tradition with a modern twist. Scallops, salsify puree, and Stornoway black pudding was just begging to be eaten long before the ubiquitous photograph could be taken.

Then there was the national treasure… Loch Duart Salmon simply presented but delicately flavoured, served with new potatoes, green beans and a sauce vierge. It just called for a side of perfect chips, and Fishers duely obliged. This was my kind of Fish & Chips!

Before you start thinking Edinburgh only does British dishes, albeit in quite some style, Cafe Andaluz on George Street in New Town (parallel to Thistle Street) sets up a fine range of tapas. OK, so you need longer to read the menu than to eat the food, but each dish was presented in a way that says ‘we want you to plan your return… very soon!’. You’ll have to guess the range of dishes here, but somewhere in there lies a black pudding dish that deserves its own Michelin star.

So, what about traditional Scottish Haggis? Well, the Haggis & Whisky House on Cockburn Street in the Old Town (what, not Thistle Street in the New Town?) shows that even tradition can be tinkered with to great effect… Haggis, tatties and neeps in a whisky sauce showcases the dish in all its finery. OK, so chips aren’t the natural accompaniment, but when they’re this good, tradition can be left outside the door.

Until we speak again, all of the above delights, except the Haggis & Whisky House, were found within a 200metre walk within New Town. Why expend unnecessary energy searching for fabulous food. There is even a most fabulous coffee place on Thistle Street where the beans are often roasted while you wait, and believe me, the wait is worth it.

Haggis hunting

My ‘deluded gastronome‘ has an occasional penchant for testing the powers of curiosity bestowed on my species. Just the other day I was issued with a food-related challenge, and being perpetually tired of a bland rocks & water diet I thoughtlessly accepted the challenge. “It’s haggis shooting season at the start of each new year” I was dubiously informed, and ““they taste at their best when cooked freshly caught.” Anything to get away from the vet’s Science Plan products, so off I went on a clueless trail in search of the mythical haggi.

Cardiff doesn’t seem to be over-supplied with haggis emporia, and after a brief sniff around the market and Wally’s Delicatessen Airport signin the Royal Arcade I realised this was going to require a serious adventure. Stowing away in the baggage compartment of what I can only describe as a flying shed (that’s the plane, not Cardiff Airport, or is it both?) the next stop was…

At least I understood that these creatures were quintessentially Scottish, so let’s go search the capital… but were in Edinburgh do you start, the World Heritage architecture is everywhere:

Princes Street [1]City centre view & gardens


Jenners department store and the Old Waverley Hotel provide an imposing backdrop to the Scott Memorial on Princes Street.



Historic buildings line the hillside from the castle at Arthur’s Seat and Holyrood Park all the way up to Edinburgh Castle.



If the castle is where the haggis hang out they seem to be well protected by gun emplacements. But all of these tourists ambling around would surely be aware if a gastronomic delicacy was hiding out in such a popular venue.

Writers Museum [3]


Then there are the myriads of old courtyards and alleyways to scurry about and hide away in:

Advocates Alley



To make things more difficult I spy one of those ubiquitous tourist buses on the Royal Mile… hopefully they are not all searching in packs for the same quarry as me?

Royal Mile [1]





One thing I am learning quick is that the haggis is difficult to catch; they are full of heart and lungs, and once sighted they are offal! I have to admit to being temporarily fooled by the sight of what I thought were haggis’s left out to dry, before sale along the Royal Mile:


But I quickly realised there is a plethora of bald Scotsmen graciously giving up their Bagpiperpelts for the benefit of the older American tourist trade. In fact this one had donated so much of himself to tourism that he now needed an external stomach complete with a feeding tube… serious sacrifice man!

I certainly hope these haggis characters haven’t chosen the underneath of the kilt and sporran combination for warmth and a secure hiding place… I for one happen to be too much of a Camera Obscura [2]lady to check!

I was beginning to lose heart in my quest… was the haggis really just an illusionary character from fiction established to taunt the unwitting newcomer to these parts? But then I had a significant tip-off as to where I might satisfy my mission, and appetite. The haggis had recently been seen on Cockburn Street:

Cockburn Street

Following the lead I was surely closing in on my prey. The signs were promising indeed:

Arcade [4]






The Arcade on close inspection resembled nothing like an arcade. At least Cardiff had one over on the Scottish capital when it came to real arcades!  But in this context who cares… the sign says ‘Haggis and Whisky House‘; with any luck my prey might even be sozzled enough to make capture simple.

Arcade [3]
Haggis [2]The journey and challenge results in a most worthwhile prize, and the haggis comes with a whisky sauce to compliment the tatties and neeps layered beneath the gallant but vanquished foe.

As I recline, stroking satisfied whiskers after consuming the melt-in-the-mouth feast, I have to admit that the haggis may be claiming a late victory, as I am now what can only be described being close to the Royal Mile as regally stuffed. I have a choice… for some strange reason The Arcade seem to have anticipated the effect of haggis overload on certain customers, so they advertise breakfast on the ceiling for those who find the horizontal to be the most comfortable pose in the hours after the haggis has been consumed:

Arcade [2] If even more eating isn’t the ticket for you, why not try the remedy favoured by the fitter few locals, there are plenty of steps for exercise:

Cockburn Street steps [3]

Personally, I chose to look in on the famous Rose Street in the New Town part of the city… probably one of the most challenging pub crawls any cat could wish to attempt.

The Kenilworth

The Kenilworth offered a couple of Harviestoun Brewery’s finest… a ‘Blond Bombshell’ and the end of the seasonal ‘Sleigh Driver’. All that was left to say was bon voyage haggis, as it was carried away on a sea of fine lotion.

Writers Museum [1]

It was time for me to bid a fond farewell to the never less than dramatic city of Edinburgh and return to my ‘resident scribbler‘ to relate my triumphant response to the challenge… and to suggest a place where the old git could retire to:

Enough of the flying sheds, I think I have found an altogether more space crafty way of returning back to Cardiff. Well if Dr Who can do it!

Scott Memorial

Until we speak again I am Juno wishing you all an ‘och aye the noo’, and good luck in your haggis hunting.

Going nowhere

So there I was gazing out across all I could survey in this idyllic place I call home, when my appointed journey planner suddenly asked if I was going somewhere.  Plotting an escapeWell, I said in contemplative mood, to go somewhere you need to be sure about something and saddle up a means of somehow. Which only served to confuse my poor food fetcher, so I made do with a simple it’s a know-nothing going nowhere kind of day.

Much to my surprise this seemed to produce one of those butterfly-effect moments, and somewhere on the far side of ‘journey planners’ brain a couple of stray cells briefly rubbed together, and out tumbled all sorts of reminiscences about a long-distant past where a nationalised British Rail used to provide entertainment for the masses by organising ‘mystery trips’ by trains out of Cardiff Central station; or ‘Cardiff General’ as it was then, bearing in mind my groomer-in-chief is what I can only refer to as an ‘old git’, who seems to be thriving on my presence and attention.

Cardiff Central stationMystery trips, I thought. Seems to me that with all this privatisation malarkey one constant remains… go to Cardiff Central station these days, and the place is one big mystery trip in its own right!

If you are planning on going ‘somewhere’ just hope that nobody looking for a reason to play a practical joke suggests your train goes from Platform 5. On the other hand, if you are going ‘nowhere’ this is just the right place for you… go straight to Platform 0! Yes, you are right first time, I said zero.

Platform 0 [4]

Research on this computer contraption tells me this rather strange option for non-travel, or possibly even time-travel, is not just the preserve of the good people of Cardiff… the good, and in the interests of equality all other types of people, in Stockport (Cheshire), Preston (Lancashire) and Haymarket (Edinburgh), can all share in the global pursuit of going nowhere.

However, in Cardiff, we are talking about a mystery trip of a journey in the station itself.

Platform 0 [1]You might have been planning on a straight-forward visit to the M&S Food emporium, stocking up for your journey to who-knows-where. But, who can resist the message that blocks your advance… Platform 0 even has a staircase of its own. If this doesn’t convince you of its elevated status (excuse the pun), what will? So, you make the understandable decision… London can wait, Swansea has lost its appeal (if it ever had any), Manchester and the North (wherever that place is) will have to wait. We are off on what might just prove to be the experience that knocks Harry Potter’s Platform 9 and 3/4 at Kings Cross station into a minor footnote in the history of rail travel.

Platform 0 [2]As you overcome your initial trepidation, you climb the stairs. Ever the informative types, the railway company have even expanded your knowledge of Welsh, with what must be one of the most useful signs you are ever likely to come across in the whole Principality. But, at least you know you are on the right track (ok, produce your own puns then!). Then they really excel themselves… remember, you are on a mystery journey going nowhere. For this, the most vital guide should be ‘no information at all’; and wow, do they come through. To top off your mysterious journey they have even provided a customer information kiosk… closed and shuttered!

Platform 0 [3]

Armed with nothing, you are now fully geared up to go nowhere… the train company wish you a relaxing and pleasant journey; if you have any further questions, just don’t ask.

For those readers who use this rail equivalent of a black hole, on your way to all stations to Ebbw Vale, I am Juno you mobile DJ offering you a little bit of Going Nowhere by Oasis, or alternatively for you ‘valleys’ go-getters here is Somewhere by Tom Waits. See you at the end of your journey, where ever that may be.