Great Places to Eat in Scotland
- Scotch Malt Whisky Society, Queen Street, Edinburgh
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society began over 20 years ago when a group of whisky-loving friends clubbed together to buy a cask of fine malt whisky. Today the international society has three UK venues ( two in Edinburgh and one in London) with over 20,000 members worldwide. The Society's first members' Club opened in a former 18th century warehouse, The Vaults, in the shipping port of Leith on the outskirts of Edinburgh. So popular is this private Whisky bar and restaurant that in 2005 a second Members' Club opened in Edinburgh city centre within a three storey townhouse on Queen Street. The London Club is located in Hatton Garden in the heart of The City. There are reciprocal SMWS members clubs in Florida, USA, Australia, Benelux/Germany, Austria, France, Sweden, Italy and Switzerland, which really does prove that good old Scotch whisky is enjoyed all over the world. Good Scottish food is as much a part of a night out at these Clubs as nosing whisky with fine dining restaurants at The Vaults and Queen Street.
To introduce non-members to the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, the Queen Street venue has a new "open door" venture on Thursday nights to give people an opportunity to see inside. It's an architectural treasure, beautifully preserved and restored. In 1789 New Town architect James Nisbet developed 28 and 29 Queen Street, featuring corniced ceilings, curved walls and doors and a grand winding staircase, inspired by the geometric plans of Robert Adam. Booking a table for dinner entitles you to a day pass, to visit the members' bar, sit and chat while experiencing a couple of rare malt whiskies in the bar.
The magnificent Georgian dining room on the ground floor, with views over to Queen Street Garden, is a small, intimate and rather romantic place for dinner. To complement the classic design, a fabulous collection of contemporary Scottish art adorns the walls throughout the Club. This is a smart place. Red chairs stand around a small cluster of tables set with linen cloths, candles and sparkling crystal. Head Chef James Freeman is dedicated to the ethos of the SMWS, having worked for four years at the restaurant at the Vaults, moving up to Queen Street when it first opened. James is passionate about gastronomy, developing an international culinary flair when he spent time travelling and working across Europe to learn about classic French, Spanish and Greek cuisine. He believes in the Slow Food movement using fresh, seasonal local produce. The Dining Room menu (which changes monthly) is based on best quality Scottish fish, meat, free range eggs and vegetables - everything is home made.
Before dinner, most diners will start the evening in the Bar. The extremely knowledgeable whisky sommelier will advise on a suitable aperitif. On the shelves are dozens of speciality Society bottles of malt whiskies selected from casks - not familiar branded bottles. We were offered a dram from cask no. 77.12, an eighteen year-old malt from a distillery on the Muir of Ord. The tasting notes describe it as having a gentle nose of "honey, vanilla, stewed fruit and fudge" and if you add a dash of water, a softer flavour of "white grapes and lychees". Although unused to having a whisky before dinner, it was extremely warming and delicious to sip. You may of course have a glass of wine or G&T and leave the whisky till nightcap time.
The dinner menu offers a choice of five starters, mains and desserts, simply described yet definitely gourmet class. What could be more rich and regal than Avocado mousse, lobster and tomato vinaigrette? Such a gorgeous combination of flavour/texture/colour. Starters are like mini main courses, such as Terrine of Red Mullet and saffron potatoes, or a tasty slither of Venison Carpaccio with plum compote and bitter chocolate oil. Then for the star turn, perhaps Roast Sea Bass, with smoked aubergine ravioli and red pepper and tomato butter sauce. Again, unfamiliar accompaniments but oh so more exciting than the usual mustard or chive mash served with everything. Alternatively, Loin of Tamworth Pork with creamed haricot blanc, crispy pancetta and Madeira jus. Vegetarians are well catered for with such dishes as Leek and Parmesan soufflé or Truffled White Asparagus Risotto with poached parmesan coated duck egg. Service and presentation throughout is first class.
Take your time, as desserts are too inviting to pass over. Unusual is the name of the game here. End the meal with the fresh tangy taste of Mulled port and mascarpone parfait with marmalade ice-cream. Perfect. Tried and tested, Amaretto and vanilla rice pudding with roast figs and chocolate ravioli, or perhaps sample a classic Apple tart tatin with whisky and honey ice-cream. Tiny portions of 'naughty but nice' gastronomic puddings. A platter of artisan cheese with oatcakes is also on offer. Then wander upstairs again to the bar for a coffee and a malt whisky from the 400 or so available.
Private Dining Events
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society venue at 28 Queen Street has several small dining and function rooms for private dinner parties, whisky tastings, business meeting or reception. Throughout the year there are special members' events, tutored whisky tastings and seasonal celebrations such as Burns' Night Suppers. All the more reason for becoming a member.
Contact Scotch Malt Whisky Society, Queen Street for current menu and prices.
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society in central Edinburgh is at 28 Queen Street. For reservations, telephone 0131 220 2044. There is also a Scotch Malt Whisky Society Web site for further information.
The Dining Room at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society is a real treat and as it is a members' club, you have a real sense of entering a private house where a few dozen friends have gathered for a sophisticated, elegant party. On a Thursday night, the place was packed with after work business colleagues, individual couples and small groups gathering for a chat over dinner or a dram or two. James Freeman is an outstanding and specialist chef, whose foodie passion is apparent with every mouthful. I was extremely impressed with the menu featuring inspiring dishes concocted with colourful imagination. If you like the friendly, warm ambience, the service, food and drink, then you may well be tempted to join the Society! Individual membership fees start at £70 or, inclusive of a bottle of single cask, cask strength whisky, selected by the Society’s Tasting Panel, at £95.
British Guild of Travel Writers
Return to the Index of Great Places to Eat in Scotland>.
Where else would you like to go in Scotland?
News & Views>
All Features Index>
Search This Site>
Scottish Pictorial Calendar>
Places to Visit>