THE MEALS I remember most vividly from my family’s annual trips to Scotland were the cooked breakfasts. Everything, even the toast, was fried, and the pièce de résistance was a thick slice of black pudding, made from pork blood and fat, with a few oats thrown in for good measure. For supper, we had my grandmother’s minced beef to look forward to, unadulterated by vegetables apart from the stiff mashed potato that accompanied it. It’s fair to say that food was not the highlight of those 1980s vacations. Still, my brother and I appreciated the sugar. To lure us up Highland peaks known as Munros, our parents bribed us with tablet—Scottish fudge—and cans of bright orange Irn-Bru soda. Our first appointment back home in London was always the dentist.
But it wasn’t all fat, meat and sugar. There were also jewel-like raspberries, grown by my grandparents, that tasted sharp and sweet; and the fingernail-size shrimp we fished from a loch near their seaside croft, then boiled until they turned pink and ate whole. Scotland might not have the best culinary reputation—this is the country that invented the deep-fried Mars Bar—but its fresh produce has always been hard to beat.
Chef Jonny Wright (standing, in white apron) at the Spence at Gleneagles Townhouse. The Edinburgh outpost of the Perthshire country estate opened in June inside a 19th-century building on St Andrew’s Square that used to be the headquarters of the Bank of Scotland.
I’d heard that Edinburgh, center of finance and home to several summer festivals, was now giving produce the attention it deserved. The city’s restaurants had, with a few exceptions, gone a bit stale by the time the pandemic hit. They’d relied on tourists who liked their maitre d’s tartan-kilted and haggis on the menu. Covid cleared Edinburgh of those tourists and prompted an enterprising band of young chefs, many of them ex-Londoners, to take risks, to whip away the white tablecloths and replace the traditional dishes—the lemon sole and the beef Wellington, the six-course tasting menus—with simple, seasonal food. Food that catered to locals, as well as visitors. In June, I went to have a look.