‘We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisation’, claimed Voltaire, boldly.
If you say so, Francois-Marie. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen, heard and, sometimes, eaten things on the streets of Edinburgh that would have had Voltaire penning an emphatic retraction in less time than it takes to say Deep-fried Teacake.
I’ll freely admit that’s my fault, and not Edinburgh’s. Let’s blame it on my visits always having been at times when you see the city at its most debauched – as a student, or during the Fringe Festival, or at Hogmanay. But despite knowing there’s more to Edinburgh than the general dissolution I’ve witnessed and-or been complicit in on previous visits, it’s hard to picture the exact mechanics of a romantic weekend break in Auld Reekie.
It’s the Scottish Year of Food and Drink, though. My handsome sidekick and I have arrived determined that 1) we will do our level best to pack a Year’s worth of Scottish Food and Drink into a long weekend, and 2) no teacakes nor any other Tunnock’s product will be deep-fried. Not on our watch.
These are serious, adult resolutions to be arriving with, and then the No. 15 Rutland Street apartments – newest and shiniest string to the Rutland Hotel’s bow – have a way of making you feel grown-up as well. Maybe it’s the enormity of them. Three rooms of lofty ceilings and high windows for just the two of us seems like the height of luxury, when my stays in Edinburgh before this have usually been to more of a ratio of eight friends to one room, two beds and a sofa.
This place, though. It has floor-to-ceiling curtains in dark reds and greys; it has chandeliers and writing desks, and a complement of coffee table art tomes in Sixties flavours. There’s a full kitchen, better-equipped in most regards than my kitchen in London. There are huge flatscreen televisions in both the bedroom and living room, in case you’re the kind of couple that likes to do their quality time at a distance of twenty metres. There’s a four-poster bed and large, freestanding bathtub, in case you’re the kind of couple that likes to get a little closer.
In fact, the apartment’s fitted out with everything you might want as a courting duo. Or a single business traveller. Or a semi-professional chef. Or a very professional sybarite. Whichever you might be, the Rutland Hotel has a world for you within its walls, or at least within a few short steps of them. There’s Kyloe for all your Scottish steak and castle-view needs, a first floor restaurant with windows overlooking Princes Street. On the hotel’s ground floor The Huxley bar and restaurant is open from breakfast to nightcap. And underneath Rutland Street, in one of those catacomb cellars Edinburgh’s laced with, is secretive gin joint Head and Tales.
So staying at the Rutland Hotel – and especially in these every-want-catered-for apartments – there’s a risk you’d never leave the premises. But the weather is promising, the coast is alluring, and Waverley Station is just the length of Princes Street away.
And then St Andrews is just the length of a strong coffee away from there. We spend the day wandering around the ruins of St Andrew Cathedral and down to the sea, and working up enough appetite to justify frequent stops on a Year of Food and Drink theme – for fish and chips, for beer flights at St Andrews Brewing Company and to make a small Caol Ila and Octomore 06.1 shaped-dent in the huge single malt array at the Keys Bar. The last train back from Leuchars brings us into Edinburgh with just time to hit narrow, Diagon Alley-ish Rose Street for last orders at The Black Cat and late-night Turkish sharing plates, before winding our way back to the flat.
Civilised though this weekend is, and grown-up though we feel in our slick, semi-Sixties crashpad, it’s not actually turning out to involve much less drinking than those chaotic student visits or intensive Fringe ones. More, if anything, thanks to my love of a whisky bar and thanks to Ric’s ability to intuit the presence of craft beer from a thousand paces.
And thanks, too, to Edinburgh Gin. Head and Tales bar, hidden underneath the Rutland Hotel, now doubles by day as the Distillery’s HQ and feels pleasingly steampunk for the presence of their massive copper stills. We visit for a distillery tour, in the hopes that a brief history of gin and a heart-to-heart with the Head Distiller will somehow be educational enough to legitimise all this drinking.
Our talk with David Wilkinson’s as educational as hoped, but he’s so excited about their range and liberal with samples that it’s not clear how much legitimising this is doing for us. We’re led through the Cannonball, distilled with Szechuan pepper – a gin for whisky-drinkers, best alone or in a Martini, according to Wilkinson, who then presses proofs of both on us – and their staple Edinburgh Gin, more floral and best sluiced with tonic. Wilkinson hints intriguingly at plans for the coming months: small-batch gins made with foraged botanicals; collaborations with Herriot-Watt University scientists, and limited editions to match up with the Year of Food and Drink’s monthly themes. After which he releases us, blinking, into the daylight, at a slightly higher ABV than we entered.
Voltaire might have been on to something. As we’re packing up and checking out, we assess things and feel pretty smug. Smug and adult. Resolutions kept. The best foods of Edinburgh and St Andrews, thoroughly mined. Drinking conducted in places and ways that fall on the reputable side of louche. We would high-five each other, but that wouldn’t be as extremely grown-up as we clearly are these days. Alright, maybe there’s just one, small and private high-five as we leave No. 15 Rutland Street.
And then find time before heading back to London for haggis spring rolls at Jeremiah’s Taproom.
Just because. Something has to be deep-fried.
Edinburgh Gin Distillery is at 1a Rutland Place, EH1 2AD. Visit www.edinburghgindistillery.co.uk for more information, including tours, events and details of their Gin Club.
The Rutland Hotel’s luxury apartments start at £540 for a 2 night weekend stay. For more information about No. 15 Rutland Street, visit www.therutlandhotel.com/no15.
To find out more about Scotland’s Year of Food and Drink go to www.scotlandfoodanddrink.org.