Tuesday, August 21, 2012
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Edinburgh is a cool place. Despite the rotten weather I really like it a lot. I have a strange affinity for it actually. I find the Scottish people a breath of fresh air. They tell it like it is and don't have many social facades. But up until recently I had never really experienced any of their food. The last time I was in Edinburgh was in 2001 and I was, gastronomically, a far cry from what I am now. Needless to say, I was excited to try some of their restaurants and local cuisine.
Doing a quick online search I found there was a pub that dated back to 1360 and being American and loving old things, I had to go.
The Sheep Heid Inn is not in the center of Edinburgh. Actually, it's quite far out, past Arthur's Seat in Holyrood Park. A £9 taxi ride later, we were dropped off at one of the cutest (yes, I said cutest) areas in Edinburgh, a small village called Duddingston. At first glance you may think you're in the wrong place. The Sheep Heid Inn is totally unassuming. And then you look up. "Established in 14th Century" the sign reads on the outside of the building. And you know you're someplace special.
Within a few minutes I realized that if this pub were closer it would be one of my locals. It has that fantastic balance of old and new. A look that any pub owner who has hired an expert to make their pub gastro understands. You can't have it looking too modern and lose the locals and you can't keep all the old crap around and lose the younger generation that don't appreciate it. The Sheep Heid Inn strikes a perfect balance.
The food isn't bad either. Oh, it's not up there with the top pubs in the nation, but it can definitely hold it's own for what it is. Scottish cuisine, it is not though. I didn't find anything on the menu that said, "local", or looked to be an Edinburgh, or Scottish dish. Having said that, it was lunch time and looking at their menu online, their dinner menu looks much more inviting. My burger was pleasant, although nothing to write home about. For starters, it needed a brioche bun and larger, juicier piece of meat. Our cheese plate starters were very tasty, but lacked presentation. Very edible though. It was the same for the French Onion Soup, Goat's Cheese and Tomatoes and my uncle's Lamb pie. All were very edible, tasty dishes that went well with a nice local ale.
I was happy enough thinking that this was a drinker's pub and they weren't concentrating on the food. That is, until I read the chalkboard sign in the bar it said it was voted into the top 50 gastro-pubs in the UK by some publication or website and was hoping to reach new heights. Why? I'm not really sure. Don't get me wrong, I adored the pub on a whole. And it was made even more pleasurable by the students from all over the world who were having a round table meeting with some professors from Edinburgh University. The topic of conversation is a little hazy, but I do remember they were talking about creating an open source math program online. Or something else way beyond my pay grade.
The Sheep Heid Inn is a lovely little place that I would recommend to anyone looking for a great place to grab a pint. But there are better places to eat in Edinburgh. So if a great meal is what you're after skip The Sheep Heid and look elsewhere. However, if you want to soak up some totally authentic Scottish atmosphere in the oldest pub in Scottland, hitch a £9 taxi and try it.