I wrote about my experience blending whisky at The Scotch Whisky Experience last year. To kick-start this year, I accepted an invitation to try the Taste of Scotland menu at Amber, the Experience’s restaurant and whisky bar.
Walking up the hill from the Mound gives you an impressive view of Edinburgh before you turn your back on it all and disappear into the Experience’s cellar, where the restaurant is. It’s an open and bright space with stone walls warmed by feature lights made from old whisky barrels. I sat on a tweed-clad settle and enjoyed watching the space fill up. We were one of the first tables in. Our server for the evening, Daniela, made us very welcome.
The Taste of Scotland menu showcases Scottish produce, taking the diner on a journey from beach to forest. It’s a tasting menu, with dishes grouped as starters and mains, offering a lovely variety of foods. The standard menu is for omnivores, but the kitchen provided a vegetarian version for my dining companion, C.
There’s something I really like about tasting menus: I have problems choosing from a well-stocked menu and a set menu removed that issue. They also allow me to taste more dishes than I normally can, which is a great bonus to someone who wants to try everything. I was delighted to see three dishes on my starter platter. There was a fishcake, crisp and golden on the outside, soft and silky on the inside. There was also a slice of dark and sweet soda bread on which sat a generous curl of smoked salmon. The central dish was haggis, served shepherds-pie style with a layer of mash. Each morsel was savoury and delicious, giving me different flavours and textures. C’s starters were a peppered Crowdie on soda bread – creamy and tangy, veggie haggis and tatties, and a rather tasty tomato and basil tart.
Amber has an impressibe whisky menu, as you’d expect, and we could have matched our meal with whisky. But we wanted to focus on the food, and not loose ourselves in whisky talk, chose a bottle of viognier instead. It went nicely with our various dishes and didn’t overshadow them.
Travelling into the hills
My main was a trio that caused the confusion I usually feel when presented with a menu where everything looks good: I didn’t know where to start. After hovering my cutlery over the plate for a little while I decided to start with the fish. A filet of cod in cullen skink. It was perfectly cooked, the fish moist and the soup flavoursome and rich.
After the fish, I moved on to fowl: a guinnea fowl breast stuffed with black pudding was tender and tasty, and perched on sweet roasted root veg.
I finished off with a sirloin steak on mustard mash with a very tasty jus. The steak was full of flavour and I was impressed to find that the quennelle of mash had golden seam of wholegrain mustard running through it.
Christopher had a goats cheese souffle on his root veg, a rather inspired combination. He also had a pot of butternut squash and barley risotto, a mild and delightfully textured dish. Barley had such nice chew. There was also a Dunsyre blue tart with red onion marmalade and rocket, sweet and peppery accompaniments to a powerful cheese.
A sweet farewell
The first time I had cranachan, I wasn’t impressed. There was cream, which is nice enough, slightly burned oatmeal dowsed in whisky, which was less pleasant, and a couple of sour raspberries, which I have to forgive since it wasn’t the season. Layering uncooked porridge with cream seemed like a weird thing to do. That was over 20 years ago. Since then I’ve learned that there are many different ways to make cranachan, even sticking strictly to the original ingredients, and it can be very good indeed. The one at Amber is delicious.
Amber serves their cranachan light on the oats (hurrah!), is generous with the raspberries and serves the whisky on the side. I’ve had Balvennie 12 Doublewood before, but never after a good meal, and never with a fruit-and-cream desert. It is a lovely pairing. The whisky is sweet as honey on the nose, warm with toffee, a faint hint of smoke and high on the burnt sugars of Sherry on the palate. It’s a perfect desert whisky.
We finished with peppermint tea and coffee. By the time we left, the restaurant was quite busy. A couple to our right were enjoying a postprandial whisky, and at the table to our left, four Spanish visitors were sipping – and gently arguing – their way through two four-whisky tasting boards.
The Taste of Scotland menu is a great way to introduce people to what Scotland can product, showing off seafood and sheep, meat and vegetables. Closing the meal with a Balvennie is likely to get the most cantankerous diner in a pleasant mood.
The Royal Mile
Edinburgh EH1 2NE
Telephone: 0131 477 8477