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352 Castlehill, The Royal Mile
Occupying a prime site deep in Edinburgh’s “touristville”, this gloriously gothic 16th-century building is renowned for its genuinely archaic and extravagantly baronial decor – a riot of elaborate tapestries, luxurious drapes, statues and cherubs, plus an enchanting Secret Garden reached via stone staircase. It’s a shoo-in for romance with a big dollop of heritage thrown in for good measure. The kitchen covers all bases, and it isn’t afraid of bullish Franco/Scottish flavours: dressed crab, haggis, steak tartare or Oban oysters on ice could precede roast turbot with parsley sauce, grilled fillet of Scotch beef or roast loin of Cairngorm venison with black quinoa, pumpkin, pickled pear and bitter chocolate oil. For afters, indulge in frozen berries with Amaretto sabayon or a deconstructed marjolaine. Prices are “steep”, although you can also soak up the Witchery experience by ordering from the two-course lunch and theatre menu. Sadly, the regime sometimes creaks under pressure, but all is forgiven once you start perusing the extraordinary wine list – a huge all-embracing tome stuffed with treasures from around the globe.
Squaremeal’s Best Restaurants in the UK 2016 is compiled using votes from our annual survey, last conducted in spring 2016. Thousands of readers and bloggers took part and the results were moderated by the Squaremeal editor and his nationwide team of professional reviewers. The survey does not ask for or include any restaurants in London. Click here for a full list of Squaremeal’s Best Restaurants in the UK.
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Best restaurants in Edinburgh
From: 18 July 2018
To: 30 June 2019
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352 Castlehill, The Royal Mile
0131 225 5613
Edinburgh Station 312m
Haymarket Station 1km
St. Giles High Kirk, Edinburgh 243m
Edinburgh Castle 310m
Mon-Sun 12N-4pm 5.30-11.30pm
Food & Drink:
Rate & Review
Food + drink: 3
Four of us ate here for dinner on the weekend. The restaurant is located on the Royal Mile and is part of a hotel, so I suspect that it is always pretty booked up, because it is in the middle of tourist-ville. The room is stunning and full of history. The prices for main courses were pretty steep, some coming in at £40+ but we opted for the £36 for 3 course menu (I really wanted the 3 courses for £20 menu but that apparently is only served between 6.30 and 7.30 and 10.30 and 11.30pm, which I find quite strange. My choice of menu had nothing to do with cost, I just liked the sound of the courses on the cheaper one better, but when I asked the waiter he said that the chef wouldn’t do this outside of the stated hours. That was about as good as the service got really. One person had the artichoke soup (very tasty), one had the duck confit and pistachio terrine (needed more seasoning and maybe something to accompany it other than 2 tiny pieces of blood orange), then three of us had the flat iron steak and chips for main (all were supposed to be cooked medium, as per the waiters “instruction” and they all came out different, one was well-done, one was medium and one was rare!), we asked for English mustard which never came, in fact the waiters answer was “in a minute” and then he wandered off to serve someone else. Desserts, two had the chocolate pithivier (burnt pastry) but apparently good chocolate centre and two of us had the cheese plate – mine came with the rind off of a piece of cheddar, when I showed the waiter he came back with two pieces (all fridge cold, which is not the way to serve any cheese) by way of apology from the kitchen. All in all, it was a distinctly average meal with less than average service, as the title suggests I think this restaurant doesn’t have to work too hard to attract repeat custom as it has hundreds of visitors to the city walking past its doors on a daily basis Our companions have dined here on many previous occasions and have said that they won’t return any more based on this experience. Meal was £240 for four. We were lucky enough to have dinner at their sister hotel/restaurant Rhubarb at Prestonfield the next day, The Witchery could learn a lot from these guys!
Food + drink: 2
According to the mini guide ‘Edinburghs best restaurants’ the Witchery has a “world-wide reputation for sensational food in the most indulgent setting”. The guide introduces Scotland’s best-known restaurateur, James Thomson, who according to Scotland on Sunday (in 2003) has. . . “a reputation others would die for”. The rest of the ‘guide’ is simply self aggrandising promotional brochure for Thomsons other two lesser known restaurants and rooms clearly designed to fool tourists. Unfortunately however, the Witchery does not live up to it's glowing reviews of itself. The dining room is dramatic and the location ideal for hungry visitors to the Castle but the food is just about passable and completely overpriced. My suggestion is to ignore the hype, consultant the Red book and eat at 21212 instead. The Witchery is a tourist trap!
Food + drink: 1
Well, we were looking for a memorable experience during the Edinburgh Festival and boy did we get one, starting with the surly welcome (how inappropriate the word sounds) from a smile-free waiter who showed us to our table with all the warmth and grace of a lion inviting two gazelles to join him for a meal.
Our first request for a kir and a Martini Bianco were received as if we had ordered an arsenic with a side order of belladonna (needless to say, the Martini that was brought turned out to be Extra Dry, but let that pass).
We were next told that three items were off the menu “because it is the weekend you see” – excuse me? One of the items was the only fish dish available, so hey ho.
After we had ordered three haggis starters, we were told there would be a wait of 12-15 minutes. No problem, we agreed, although I myself have often stuck a haggis in a microwave for 30 seconds with remarkable results.
75 minutes later, we had received nothing but some bread. And what bread! The sundried tomato bread had obviously had perhaps the vapour of said 80s comestible sprayed on it from a distance of two kilometres. The white and brown varieties offered would have disgraced Greggs.
When finally the haggis arrived (“sorry, there was a problem in the kitchen but I wasn’t supposed to tell you”) it was adequate, but you’ll find better at the Café Royal. And so to the mains, and the lowlight of the evening. A dish of scallops contained four shellfish so minute that any one of them would have lost in a contest with a Silk Cut filter tip. Two of us shared the beef Wellington at £78 (yes, that is not a misprint), and I swear that foie gras had never seen the inside of that pastry. But the French beans! That is another story. They were approximately 20 seconds shy of being raw, and had been flashed in a pint of clarified butter. When I told the maitre d’ that they were inedible, he aggressively demanded why I did not like vegetables al dente… clearly at the Witchery, it is not the customer who is always right. A replacement dish of beans was brought within a nanosecond, and these almost ripped my teeth out. A second complaint almost drove him into a fury, and we were ignored for the rest of the evening. Incidentally, we had also ordered a dish of peas (origin Bird’s Eye?) which arrived floating in a sea of some milky substance – more of these later.
A tasting dish of desserts is so unmemorable as to have faded into a dark hole, but I have yet to describe the fiasco of the wine… As hoteliers from Montpellier, we began by consulting the wine list – in itself a few pages longer than the King James Bible. Therein, Languedoc-Roussillon was there none. Therefore Simon-Peter, for it was he, looked in wonder at the French Regional page, but knowledge came there none. At this point, we called over a waiter, who was mystified by our requests, but promised to send over someone more informed. A second waiter appeared and suggested what we might be looking for was “something dry”. By now, I was beginning to wonder how this establishment had retained – nay even gained – any reputation whatsoever. Finally a “sommelier” was called from the depths, who bore a very close resemblance to an Australian gap-year backpacker, who decided what we needed was a Shiraz. “But I haven’t tasted much of the stuff on this list” were his final uninformed words on the matter. The tasting glass was duly poured … straight into the used kir glass! When a second bottle was ordered, we were not offered (but demanded) that the glasses be changed.
When the bill was presented, the maitre d’ very generously told me he had knocked off the price of the peas because of the beans saga. In other words, he now presented me with a bill for £291, excluding service. What can I say – as cabarets at the Festival go, this one was the most expensive ticket in town, but if it was meant to be comedy, I only laughed bitter tears.
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