Once upon a time, it was enough for a restaurant to just churn out good food. But then the foodie culture invaded, everyone became a critic on their blogs, and the ante was upped. To be considered a really good restaurant, it wasn’t enough to simply get your duck breast perfectly medium rare or your braises fork-tender. Now, your plates needed to look like they belonged on the wall of a museum. And a little whimsy in the dishes doesn’t hurt either, as long as it doesn’t go too far (caramel with scallops? I don’t think so…)
Angels With Bagpipes on the Royal Mile is a restaurant that understands the world it’s operating in. Not too formal (it does draw in a lot of tourists schlepping about in jeans and comfortable shoes, after all), but nice enough for a special evening out, and each plate that appears is an absolute delight to see and taste. Whimsy? You’ve got it (with a name like that, how could this place not be a bit playful?), enough to please adventurous eaters like myself, my husband, and my parents, but the menu’s not so out there my rather traditional meat-and-potatoes-loving grandmother couldn’t find plenty of dishes that whetted her appetite.
We were in just before Christmas, a busy time for everyone, not least the restaurants of Edinburgh, and yet there was no sense of rush or anxiety in the atmosphere or in the cheerful, laid back, but highly efficient waitstaff. We settled in with some cocktails while we perused the menu–and if you can, seriously check out the cocktail menu, it’s fantastic.
As is the food. On our first pass at the restaurant, for my birthday in November, my husband ordered the smoked trout pate while I pounced on the scallops and black pudding. The pate was lovely, not too overwhelmingly smoky, just a bit fishy, a tough balance to strike. Our only complaint was that there was a lot of it, and not quite enough toasts served alongside. My scallop dish was almost too pretty to eat, the succulent, perfectly seared mollusks scattered amidst a tangle of tart, julienne apples and tiny cubes of fried black pudding. The tart apples and the dabs of sauce helped cut the richness of both the scallops and the pudding. Every bite was pure joy; I couldn’t recommend it highly enough to the family. This time around, I opted for the butternut squash soup, which was charmingly poured at the table from the teeniest glass teapot I’ve ever seen. The velvety soup was paired with a rich duck-filled tortellini and a soya jelly that was pleasantly surprising. Other winners at the table were the beef tartare (served traditionally, with a quail’s egg, because why mess with a classic?) and the goat’s cheese with beetroot, walnuts, and mustard.
Main courses, like the rest of the menu, draw on what’s seasonal and locally available. In November I opted for the lamb, cooked beautifully and served with pearl barley and sweetbreads. This time I was in a venison mood. Once again, it was cooked perfectly and was marvellously comforting on a chilly winter’s night. They serve part of the neck with the dish, which is brave, because neck can be a tough piece of meat if not treated well. They treat it very well here, slow cooking it for more than a day so it’s fall-apart tender and succulent. The fish dishes–bream and trout–were beautiful and delicious as well, but I feel the meats were the real standouts.
Puddings are usually where restaurants like this really let their hair down and have some fun experimenting, and AwB doesn’t let you down. I’d strongly recommend the Cranachan. Their playful take on the classic Scottish sweet is served with a Glenmorangie parfait, freeze-dried raspberries that pack a serious flavour punch, and the most amazing, dissolve-on-your-tongue marshmallow you’ve ever had in your entire life. The panna cotta with raspberry and rosewater sorbet and a Victoria sponge was flavourful but a little stiffer than it should have been. I longed to see what their idea of the Christmas pudding was like, but alas, I was just recovering from a terrible stomach bug and thought it best not to risk it. Next year!
AwB isn’t cheap, but it’s definitely worth it. The food’s amazing, the atmosphere soothing, and the wine and whisky lists impressive. For anyone looking to treat themselves at the end of a day spent sightseeing or have a lovely date night with a loved one, this is an excellent spot to consider.
Angels with Bagpipes
343 High St
Royal Mile, Edinburgh