High tea. For most Americans it used to be the only tolerable meal in the U.K. But the farm-to-table movement that swept the globe has changed all that and it’s not surprising Scotland continues to lead a charge in Britain: Its traditional ways of ranching and farming were always about local goods, sustainably and deliciously raised. Today’s Scottish chefs mature in a culture of nurturing the land. Just outside each city, green fields of short grass and gentle hills unfold as far as the eye can see. Lakes and streams run clean and the tap water tastes pure. In such an environment, cattle, sheep, fish, dairy and fresh produce abound.
So, fine dining establishments easily put on tasting menus of seven courses or more with seasonal ingredients. It’s all with a Scots’ eye toward good value. Sometimes “a la carte” offerings are actually reasonably priced three-course prix fixe menus. But don’t get the idea that the top dining rooms are inexpensive. Miss your reservation at The Gleneagles Hotel and it will still cost more than 100 pounds per person.
Worth it? Yes. Even steakhouses such as the Butcher Shop in Glasgow serve superb aged angus beef and soulful fresh pea soup with ham hock. The National Museum’s café in Edinburgh dishes up smoky Cullen Skink, a traditional chowder, along with stellar salads, sandwiches, wines and cocktails that locals say draw bigger crowds than the exhibits on many weekends.
So it’s worth reserving in finer restaurants and taking the time to explore quick service offerings, from pub fare to fish and chips. The national dish, haggis, turns up everywhere served on nachos, in burritos, as a chip flavoring and with the usual neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes).
We did finally try a bite as an appetizer in a Glasgow airport bar, rolled in panko crumbs and fried like hush puppies, it reminded us of arancini, albeit with a gently liver-like flavor and steel-cut oats providing texture.
While haggis and single malt scotch remain sturdy mainstays, those weren’t the flavors we most remember of…