If you’re on a day trip to Edinburgh, forget culture and instead indulge yourself. Go shopping, sample whisky and don't forget the Champagne
My ideal day in Edinburgh contains a mix of drinking and shopping. You need some serious money, but it’s a fun way to live like the other half.
The day starts on the train, First Class of course, alighting at Waverley station. I would usually have Champagne on the train. However, if I were you, I would take my own (I don’t know what train companies do to fizz, but it’s never very nice). The East Coast mainline operator offers ‘first class advance’ tickets at very reasonable prices (http://www.eastcoast.co.uk/).
Arriving at Waverly, take the route to Princes Street, turn left and head on down to Leith Walk for breakfast. Located on Elm Row, near the top of Leith Walk, is Valvona & Crolla (http://www.valvonacrolla.co.uk/), an Italian delicatessen and café. Valvona & Crolla’s fabulous selection of all things Italian consists of cheese, bread, pasta, wine and lots more. At the rear of the shop is the Caffè Bar, where handed down family recipes are served: zuppa di broccoli con formaggi (broccoli and stilton soup), crespelle alla Fiorentina (baked spinach and ricotta savoury pancakes), fegato alla Veneziana (pan-fried calf’s liver with red onions, chilli and balsamic vinegar), as well as a host of other Italian and Italianesque dishes. I defy you to go and not buy something from the delicatessen, whether you eat in the café or not.
Having made your way through the shop to the back, past the wine section, the café is in the long room. The attractive menu of antipasti, primi piatti, piatti principalli, pizze and contorni is complemented by a fairly short wine list. However, you can choose a bottle from the wine section and it can be served for you in the café, though there is a corkage fee of £6 per bottle.
Valvona & Crolla do have another branch, at 11 Multrees Walk, Old Town; however, I prefer the other location. You might prefer it though, if you don’t want to walk too far.
Leaving Valvona & Crolla one usually needs a bit of a walk to settle breakfast down, even if it was spaghetti carbonara, so a stroll up Carlton Hill is a grand way to stretch the joints; plus, you get a fantastic view of the city from Nelson’s Monument at the top. Fed and exercised, it's time to start on the hard work – shopping, eating and drinking.
Walking back to Princes Street, turn right into St Andrews Square and spend an hour, or so, browsing/buying in Harvey Nichols (http://www.harveynichols.com/). Fabulous store, and in true Ab Fab style they sell Bolly in the restaurant. However, we are not stopping for lunch just yet.
When you’re finished looking at all of the stuff ordinary folk can’t afford, a short walk back up on to Princes Street will lead you to Jenners; an excellent all round Scottish store – with prices somewhat closer to reality. (http://www.houseoffraser.co.uk/edinburgh-jenners-department-store/store_page_0450,default,pg.html).
Well, all that walking and shopping is tiring, and what better to soothe all of that away than with some aromatherapy. Jo Malone is my favourite perfumier and only a short walk away, on George Street. The place smells gorgeous and the staff are helpful and knowledgeable – without being condescending. Unfortunately all of this comes with a stiff price-tag. Jo Malone fragrances are subtle, alluring and expensive…
Wow, the credit card is starting to get a bit hot! Let’s stop for a drink. A little further back up George Street is the George Hotel, home of EH2 Tempus Bar (http://www.principal-hayley.com/venues-and-hotels/the-george-hotel/food-and-drink). This elegant and lively bar is open daily between 11am and 1am (midnight on Sundays) and offers a range of drinks, from refreshing beers to great value champagnes. However, the reason I go is for a Bloody Mary. Without a doubt they make the best one I have ever tasted, bar none. Cocktails are also an evening speciality here, drawing in the party people.
Getting hungry yet? Me too. In which case we have two choices: the Scotch Malt Whisky Society Dining Room, on Queen Street; or the Witchery restaurant, by the Castle.
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society rooms has a restaurant open to the public - the Dining Room. The Dining Room offers personable and unfussy service; as you might expect from the Society. On offer are the likes of tomato soup with pesto, or balsamic and crispy mozzarella, at £4.30; Whisky cured salmon with gazpacho salsa and bloody Mary vinaigrette, or Marinated lamb kebab with Greek salad, at £6.00. (sample menu - http://www.toptable.com/en-gb/venue/menus/?id=2450)
The Witchery By the Castle, at the top of Castlehill, is chef James Thompson's crowning glory (http://thewitchery.com/home.html). The Witchery’s website says it all – "the restaurant provides superlative food, wine and service in a unique setting, creating an unmissable dining experience". Big talk, but it’s not far from the truth. You may think that all of this is academic, that it is so expensive you can’t afford it. Not so; the Witchery has special offers available most of the time.
If you decide on the Witchery, try taking the route through Princes Street Gardens and past the National Gallery. This small park is well worth the time taken to walk through and contrasts vividly against the bustle of the city of Edinburgh.
Lunch over, it's time to warm the credit card again. A little way down the Royal Mile from the Witchery, is Royal Mile Whiskies (http://www.royalmilewhiskies.com/). This really consists of two shops, the whisky shop and the nearby cigar emporium. Don’t be misled by the window dressing, both of these stores offer very good value for your money; a good collectable whisky can be bought for under £30 and a many good drinking spirits for under £20, similarly a range of very good smokes can be had for only a few pounds. I would buy my champagne for the return train here!
Now, what else goes with whisky and smokes? For me it would be cheese and crackers, and one of the best cheese shops I know is nearby. Crossing on to George IV Bridge and taking the turnoff down Victoria Terrace, heading towards the Grassmarket is Ian J. Mellis (http://www.ijmellischeesemonger.com/), in my view Scotland's best cheese shop. The staff are incredibly knowledgeable about the produce on sale; encompassing most of the cheeses I have ever heard of and some I haven’t. Customers are allowed to taste before they buy, and the shop even has a mail order/web service.
As you are only here for a day, time will be getting on by now. Let's indulge a little before going for the train. The Balmoral Hotel, is part of the Rocco Forte Collection, striving to be a luxury hotel in the true sense of the word. It’s very nice!
However, the Bollinger Bar is our destination; lauded as the ultimate Champagne Bar it’s a hot-spot for guests and locals alike. The bar offers an extensive range of single malt whiskies, vintage Champagne and innovative cocktails, including some non-alcoholic ones.
After watching Edinburgh’s hoi-polloi, how about something simpler for late tea to see you on your way. The Café Royal Oyster Bar (http://www.caferoyal.org.uk/) is decadent enough to impress, with some good sounding things on the menu too (oysters, moules, sausage and arran mustard sandwiches, beer and ale pie, and bean cassoulet). It has a large selection of wines; however, a smaller selection of beers. It is relatively inexpensive though – for Edinburgh.
It all passes so quickly, time to go for the train. Hope you enjoyed the day. Until next time…
Please see a map of this day out here.
Where to stay
What happens if you miss the train, or if you've had such a good time you don't want it to end - until tomorrow anyway. Well, here are two places where I have stayed - one when I missed the train.
If you've got money to burn, The Balmoral Hotel is very plush and rich (double room £395); however, a little further on The Glasshouse Edinburgh (double room from £195) is a better deal. The hype about it is all true; floor-to-ceiling windows, enormous beds, baths built to soak in, a lavender-scented roof garden (probably – it was raining when I stayed), and a fine selection of whiskies at the honesty bar. Voted by Conde Nast Traveller as one of the top 50 hottest hotels in the world. Need I say more…?
If you discover a little less in your pocket, or the credit card is too hot after a day of excesses, what about the Royal Mile Residence (apartments from £95). Don't be put off when you go to pick up the key; that's not the residence, it's round the corner. Right on the Royal Mile, these luxury serviced apartments have good views and are close to everything. They are a home-from-home with space to relax and offer free access to the Escape Health Club and Spa, at the Scotsman Hotel, about five minutes away. The only problem is that the apartments are not really wheelchair accessible.