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January 6, 2010

Oat Cuisine

Look out London: Edinburgh is on the charge with its own locavore revolution.

In Edinburgh, passionate Michelin-crowned chefs and their undiscovered brothers are doing something rather revolutionary for Scotland: They’re serving a wealth of local seasonal produce that’s always been exported elsewhere. That means you can check your haggis and cock-a-leekie jokes at the door. What you’re more likely to find on your plate at The Kitchin — a Michelin-starred eatery in trendy Leith — is octopus carpaccio, braised ox cheek and, if you play your seasons right, woodcock cooked whole (insert original joke here).

“There’s so much local produce, but no one’s ever done anything with it of consequence,” owner and chef Tom Kitchin told globorati. “Nothing annoys me more than seeing asparagus on a menu in December.”

In a converted dockside warehouse, The Kitchin has achieved a rare balance of precision without pretense. At lunchtime you’ll dine at bare wooden tables while a team of French waiters circulates with anticipatory intuition. If they’re serving the ethereal pistachio soufflé, order it.

The “best dessert in Edinburgh” however, according to our enthusiastic concierge at Channings, is the molten chocolate cake with chocolate-cookie base at the Grain Store. (If we smuggled some back, he said he’d be our best friend forever.)

Tucked below a church near Edinburgh Castle, on a curving uphill street in Old Town (pictured), the Grain Store is a romantic restaurant with stone walls, arched ceilings and green-shuttered windows. Fiercely loyal to local produce, they also bake their own bread daily and make their own pasta — even their own piccalilli, a popular British relish that’s rarely homemade.

Unfortunately there was not a crumb to bring back to our hotel concierge. Just a 15-minute walk from the west end, Channings still feels worlds away from the hoopla of the city center, where you’ll find the recently reopened Princes Street (Edinburgh’s seething shopping thoroughfare) and breathlessly hip digs like the new Hotel Missoni. Channings is a more intimate affair: a townhouse hotel with 41 rooms and a top floor dedicated to legendary Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton —who lived at the property and whose South Pole expedition is being honored with a 100th anniversary exhibit at the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

One of Channings’ best guestrooms is decorated with black-and-white photographs of Shackleton’s crew amid the snow drifts, while a picture of his wooden ship covers an entire wall of the oversized bathroom (pictured). Which makes lying in the free-standing tub like floating on an iceberg in the middle of the Antarctic seas — without the subzero temperatures, of course.

From the suite’s dormer windows you can spot the Baronial peaks of Fettes College, the posh private school that educated Tony Blair. But for serious views of Edinburgh’s stunning architecture, head to Harvey Nichols at St. Andrew Square, where a wall of windows in the fourth-floor restaurant (pictured) offers views stretching from the castle to the Firth of Forth. (The latter lends the twist to the restaurant’s name, Forth Floor.) In the evenings you’ll find high-heeled beauties sipping drinks beneath its pinkish lights and foodies tucking into wild bass by Stuart Muir, who earned a Michelin star at the tender age of 22.

While gastro-revolutions can bring glamour to a city, they can also revive tired tradition. Iglu is your neighborhood pub with a conscience. Their monthly menus offer ethically-sourced local fare like a dense and juicy wild boar burger with thick hand-cut chips. And, yes, there’s haggis, too. Only forget the whole offal part and think vegetarian: spring rolls stuffed with oats and spices reminiscent of only the most palatable flavors of what’s usually stuffed in the sheep’s stomach.

read more: 02. Sleep | boutique | 05. Eat


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