Scotland is not known for its passive people, its mild weather nor its light, easily-digestible cuisine. Eating in Scotland requires a hardy constitution, a refusal to back down and, inevitably, a rise in your cholesterol. The food has nothing to hide, proud in its greasy, rugged state. Sample a taste and you will throw caution to the wind. No processed meat will be left unconquered.
This weekend, Calum and I returned to his native land. That country, and football team, is where his heart lies. Our train chugged its way through the craggy hills in the twilight, closing in on Glasgow, crouched like a watchful beast at the end of the line. We made our way through the darkened streets, passed the pubs, takeaways and shops to our flat for the weekend. Our only plan was to relax, regroup and explore. Food, for once, wasn’t on my agenda. This changed within a matter of hours.
Each morning I would stumble into the kitchen of our Airbnb, heat up the frying pan and set to work frying eggs and smokey bacon which I’d then bundle into two soft Scotch rolls with a squeeze of Ketchup. Due to a lack of cooking oil the eggs were never easy to scrape off the bottom of the pan resulting in saffron orange yolk bursting over the bread and oozing down our fingers as we ate. Yolk to me is the savoury nectar from the gods and I’d mop it all off my plate with the last scraps of roll. Calum, in one of his many enthusiastic appraisals of Scotland, swears the merits of Scotch rolls over any English bread until the day he dies. They were soft as pillows, fluffy and absorbed all that essential bacon grease to make a perfect sandwich.
Our final breakfast was a cause for occasion. We piled out of the flat with five minutes to spare, yet had managed to line our stomachs with a pre-breakfast appetiser of the remaining bacon and eggs. (What can I say, it would only go in the bin otherwise…) Bothy is nestled on a back street behind Byres Road. The hubbub of this busy road lined with second hand shops and pharmacies instantly dies as you turn the corner onto a short gravel track. In the quiet and shadow your breath makes visible gusts in the air and sunshine glints between the tall buildings.
Bothy, a Victorian stone building straight out of The Railway Children, is bedecked for Christmas. Pine cones, holly and berries, reindeer moss and tartan lines the window and door frames, the bar, the fireplace. Our waitress, herself bedecked in more tartan, ushers us to a table by a sparkling Christmas tree, which provides an eye-watering view of this festive explosion. Some may call it too much, I call it a winter wonderland.
At last we were presented with our towering plates of full Scottish breakfast. Although I have holidayed in Scotland before, I rather snobbishly disregarded the Scottish breakfast, perhaps because of my dad’s enjoyment of all the meat puddings and stodgy suety haggis which, as a teenager, I would disdainfully turn my nose up at. Ah, how the young learn the error of their ways.
Finally, this was my time to sample the fruits of Scotland. This came in the form of bacon, sausages, black pudding, haggis, a potato cake, scrambled eggs, baked beans, a large portobello mushroom, grilled tomato, and toast. As we tucked into this inferno of breakfast meat I couldn’t help remembering my friend Sophie telling me years ago what happens to your stomach as you over-eat – it doesn’t expand outwards, it droops downwards. By the end of that plateful, which, honestly I couldn’t finish, my stomach was somewhere around my knees.
Although breakfast is the best meal of the day, the restaurants of Glasgow offer an excellent selection of dinners. Ubiquitous Chip is memorable in more ways than just its peculiar name. Stepping inside you emerge into a mystical, leafy grotto sparkling with tiny lights and baubles hanging from overhanging trees, and muffled amidst the customers’ chatter is the gentle splash of trickling water. You are led through this Eden to your table, sheltered in an glittering alcove.
Bewitched by the scenery I took the food’s accompanying prices with more good cheer than usual. Selecting our favoured wine, naming the bottle instead of simply stating, ‘the cheapest on your wine list please’ we settled back to peruse the menu. Having ordered our courses we were presented with shot glasses full of smooth duck liver parfait scattered with pistachio crumbs and dried cranberries. I scooped out morsels with crostini marvelling at its smooth buttery texture, while, of course, Calum reached for a piece of soft Scottish bread on which to thickly spread the pâté.
The first course arrived: what else, but haggis, neeps and tatties. The creamed potato stood in a neat rocher beside a mound of haggis drenched in swede cream, resembling a miniature Christmas pudding with a neat green garnish on top. The glossy cream added soothing moisture to the rich venison haggis, made in house by the Chip.
When in Scotland don’t forget to indulge yourself and that is exactly what I did by following this rich starter with guinea fowl breast, tender and moist with crispy skin, served with merguez, bulgur wheat and barberry. Meanwhile, Calum barely surfaced from his plate of sirloin steak drowned in peppercorn and whisky sauce, accompanied by dauphinoise potatoes oozing with butter and softly caramelised shallots. Taking pity on our waist lines and credit cards we skipped dessert, choosing to slowly sip our wine, eavesdrop on our German neighbours and admire the view from our cosy corner.
Before our return home we took a detour to Kirkcaldy to visit Calum’s grandparents. His grandma fed us Thai chicken curry and plied us with wine, and before we left, I insisted she take a bottle of homemade Scotch whisky cream. Unctuous with cream yet the heat of booze fires the back of your throat, it is a perfect Christmas present for food – and drink-lovers. It slips down a treat, I can tell ya. We boarded the train back to Manchester and watched the panorama of misty Scottish hills, grey in the dusk, roll by.
Scotch whisky cream
Makes 1 litre
397g tin condensed milk
250ml single cream
350ml Scotch whisky
1 tsp instant coffee granules
4 tsp cocoa powder
2 tsp vanilla extract
- First, sterilise your glass bottles or jars. Wash in hot soapy water, put in a deep pan large enough to fit them and cover with cold water. Put over medium high heat and bring to the boil. Simmer for 10 minutes then remove to steam dry.
- Dissolve the coffee granules in 2 tbsp boiling water. Whisk in the cocoa powder.
- Pour the condensed milk, cream and whisky into a large bowl and whiz with an electric whisk for 30 seconds. Add the chocolate coffee mixture and vanilla, whisk for a few seconds to combine and taste. The cream will be surprisingly boozy at this point – it will amalgamate and sweeten as it sits.
- Pour the whisky cream into the bottles, seal and store in the fridge. It will keep for 2 months. Shake well before serving.