Dining out with the girls in Scotland

Posted Online: May 11, 2013, 8:20 am
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By Susan R. Pollack
I never had tasted haggis before my first visit to Scotland, a girls-only getaway that took us from Edinburgh's colorful capital to the lovely Scottish countryside dotted with lochs and links.

I ordered it as an appetizer in an upscale Edinburgh restaurant, North Bridge Brasserie in The Scotsman Hotel, whose historic marble halls from its days as headquarters of Scotland's national newspaper now contrast with modern guest amenities such as a shimmering stainless steel pool.

My haggis came with its traditional sidekicks, "neeps and tatties" (turnips and potatoes), and was topped with Glenfiddich single malt whisky jelly, a contemporary twist. Still, it's hard to be open-minded about a dish made historically from lamb innards -- liver, kidney and the like -- minced with suet, onions, oats and seasonings.

What's more, as my grinning Scottish companions told me, classic haggis is stuffed and boiled, sausage-style, in a sheep's stomach.

Yep, I gave it the adventurous traveler's try. And, nope, I didn't like it, though others apparently do: the restaurant's chef, Paul Hart, has won kudos for Scotland's "best haggis breakfast."

But I did fall in love with another traditional food in the land of bagpipes, tartans and kilts: Scottish tablet, a super-sweet, fudge-like candy made with sugar, condensed milk and butter, plus a wee bit of vanilla extract.

Tablet tickled my taste buds, sabotaged my diet and made my fillings scream. I chanced upon it, happily, in the expansive food court at Jenners, an Edinburgh department store founded in 1838.

It wasn't all eating in Scotland -- we did our share of sightseeing, spa-hopping and golf. But we savored many Scottish delectables along the way, from glistening, summer-in-a-jar fruit jams at breakfast and high tea to trays of pungent cheeses, namely Strathdon, Inverloch goats and Isle of Mull cheddar.

And, of course, we sampled scotch – plenty of peaty, single-malt scotch.

One of my favorite meals was a simple preparation of fresh North Sea sole with lemon butter at Stobo Castle, the country's only destination spa, in the Scottish Borders outside Edinburgh. It was followed by a cooking demonstration with the chatty chef, Teresa Lynch, later that night.

In addition to Lynch's way with a whisk, Stobo boasts tranquil Japanese gardens, Scotland's only 25-meter ozone-treated swimming pool and perhaps the world's only Cashmere Suite, with claret-colored cashmere walls, hand-painted Italian beds and a one-ton limestone tub.

More taste treats beckoned at our next stop, Cameron House, a baronial manor hotel with whisky-themed suites on the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond. A short drive -- or seaplane flight -- from Glasgow, it offers four restaurants, including the Cameron Grill, where an innovative "Smoked Scottish Salmon Bar" showcases an array of salmon preparations, including oak-smoked, whisky-cured, honey- and beetroot-infused and citrus with black pepper.

It would be a pity to miss lunch at the hotel's Boat House, so we indulged the next day in "rope-grown" mussels, oysters and other Loch Fyne seafood, overlooking the boat-studded marina.

Afterwards, we boarded the white excursion boat, Celtic Warrior, for a bracing tour of legendary Loch Lomond, the country's largest freshwater lake. Crew members delight in sharing its history and lore as well as the words to Scotland's famous song, which, months later, still echo in my head:
"Oh, ye'll tak' the high road, and I'll tak' the low road,
And I'll be in Scotland afore ye;
But me and my true love will never meet again
On the bonnie, bonnie banks o' Loch Lomond."

That night, I sipped my first "kilt-lifter cocktail," a potent mix of whisky, bourbon, ginger beer and lime over crushed ice, in the hotel's Great Scots Bar. Amid photos of Sean Connery, Jackie Stewart, Robert Burns and other famous Scots, it's a veritable treasure trove of malt whisky: 270 selections from all over the world.

Cameron House also offers nature pursuits such as archery, falconry demonstrations and hawk walks on grounds it shares with Trossachs National Park. But I headed straight to my tee-time the next day at the resort's championship golf course, The Carrick, whose 18 challenging holes straddle portions of the scenic Scottish Highlands and rolling Lowlands.

It was my first (and unfortunately only) chance to play golf in Scotland, and it didn't disappoint, with breathtaking views of the moody loch and snow-capped Ben Lomond in the distance.

Thanks to the up-and-down terrain, I experienced four seasons of weather during my mid-April round. Luckily, I had time to thaw out afterward in the award-winning Carrick Spa, where I enjoyed a "thermal experience" with infra-red sauna, steam rooms, aromatherapy and more.

Gazing out at Loch Lomond from the rooftop infinity pool was a real treat.

Next stop: the town of St. Andrews, the official birthplace of golf --- and, as royal-watchers know, where Prince William met his lady love, Kate Middleton. I didn't win the daily lottery for a tee-time on the revered Old Course, but I did score a room overlooking the famous 17th Road Hole at the Old Course Hotel, Golf Resort & Spa.

I watched, transfixed, as golfers from all over the world lived out their dream of playing on the world's most storied links.

Then, as compensation for my lack of lottery luck, I joined my friends for a proper afternoon high tea in the hotel's glass-enclosed conservatory. We savored fancy sandwiches, pastries, scones, clotted cream and fruit jams presented on the requisite tiered silver server.

Our pampering continued later in the hotel's Kohler Waters Spa, the first Kohler Spa experience outside the United States, complete with a cascading waterfall, rooftop hot tub and a full menu of luxurious treatments.

Sadly, the end of our trip loomed. Our last day-and-a-half was a whirlwind dash through Edinburgh with an overnight stay at the newly refurbished Sheraton Grand Hotel and Spa.

We visited the National Museum, the decommissioned royal yacht, Britannia, and Edinburgh Castle. We also raced along the Royal Mile for some quick souvenirs. Think cashmere, scotch and Scottish tablet -- but not a single plate of haggis.

Getting there: American Airlines and other major carriers fly to Edinburgh.

Staying Where: Connoisseurs Scotland, a collection of 30 luxury accommodations, includes The Scotsman Hotel and Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa in Edinburgh; Stobo Castle in Peebleshire; Cameron House on Loch Lomond, and the Old Course Hotel, Golf Resort & Spa in St. Andrews.

Check luxuryscotland.co.uk for special packages. Some multiday packages at the Old Course Hotel (oldcoursehotel.co.uk) include a guaranteed round on the Old Course, plus extras such as meals, spa and additional golf.

Dining: North Bridge Brasserie in The Scotsman Hotel, Edinburgh (thescotsmanhotel.co.uk ), also serves a yummy "hot chocolate" dessert -- chocolate mousse with toasted marshmallow ice cream, melted chocolate and cookie crumbles.
Info: Find details on Cameron House dining at devere-hotels.co.uk/hotel-lodges/locations/cameron-house.html. For Stobo Castle, check stobocastle.co.uk and for Edinburgh's Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa, check sheratonedinburgh.co.uk.
Etc.: Travel in style around Scotland with a car and guide from Little's Chauffeur Drive, littles.co.uk.


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