Crouch. Touch. Pause. Engage! BOOF! Hundreds of kilos of Scottish and French boeuf slam. It’s an international rugby weekend in Edinburgh, and France are in town. Bags dropped off at our handsome five-roomed restored Victorian terrace house for the weekend, and without tickets for Murrayfield, we’ve wedged ourselves into the pub nearest Pilrig Park for alternate roars of approval or disgust, pretending we understand the rules. Mrs Smith particularly enjoys hearing the ref’s shouted instructions to the players before they come together at each scrum.
Crouch. Touch. Pause. Engage! We chant it in unison, indiscriminately and inappropriately, throughout the duration of our whirlwind break from Glasgow – on the street, in restaurants, in galleries, from the bathroom, in the bedroom, in the castle and even in the Scottish parliament. We don’t know rugby, we don’t know much about politics and we don’t really know Edinburgh. But here we are, on a budget boutique break enjoying a bit of European buzz, caught up in the latest fevered but good-natured sporting and cultural exchange between the Auld Alliance, in this, the official, capital city of Scotland. Crouch. Touch. Pause. Engage!
After the match, Scotland’s glorious defeat irks us not one bit, for we have an early dinner reservation at Ondine at Hotel Missoni and then a cheery bed and breakfast to roll home to. Edinburgh-born head chef Roy Brett has worked with Rick Stein and Mark Hix, and his restaurant comes highly recommended. Down at Leith Docks, Tom Kitchin’s and Martin Wishart’s Michelin stars are apparently well-deserved but, pound-for-pound, we’re told that the food at Ondine is unbeatable. Ondine translates as ‘water sprite’. We take the hint, starting with salt and pepper squid with a sleek and punchy Vietnamese dipping sauce. Lady Smith follows up with a half lobster Thermidor, while I groan my way through butter-soft Cornish sea-bass with microherbs. What are these microherbs? They’re small herbs.
It’s worth noting that Edinburgh sprawls – especially if you include Leith on the water, and at Ardmor House you’re almost exactly between the two – so think carefully about your footwear. After about a litre of PX sherry and homemade rum and raisin ice-cream at Ondine, we quick-march past Missoni's nu-kilted doormen, across the tourist throngs on the Royal Mile and over Princes Street, to gatecrash a party at the Voodoo Rooms. Palms, velveteen booths, opulent chandeliers and dim lighting provide ideal cover from which to launch an assault on the most cut-throat cocktail list this side of the Atlantic. Japanese malt whisky, Mezcal, green tea and chocolate liqueur make repeated visitations to our table.
Back at Ardmor House, a blur of a 10-minute cab ride later, and we flop onto the huge bed and drift into the best night’s sleep we’ve ever known. The radios at Ardmor all seem to be tuned to Radio 3 and we wake gently to something soothing by Mahler, brushing Tunnock's Caramel Wafer crumbs off our chests, basking in the cool, and the crisp, crisp white sheets. We’ve heard great things about our host Robin’s poached eggs, but both opt for a triumphant full Scottish breakfast, with Crombie’s sausages, soft scrambled haggis and gentle, smoky filter coffee. Robin and his partner Barry are two of the friendliest hosts you’ll meet in this hemisphere.
Robin and Barry have been running Ardmor House for over 11 years and have mastered the B&B art of being interested and informative without overbearing. The dining room, hallway and bedrooms are decorated with a light, airy touch, but there’s attention to detail here too – in the carefully selected pieces of vintage furniture, the reassuringly weighty cutlery (why is that so reassuring?), the homemade tablet and, again, the wonderful bed and linens. As a base for exploring Edinburgh and nearby Leith, it’s a supremely comfortable and comforting HQ. Ultimately it’s an extremely high-quality B&B in a quiet part of town – understand that from the outset, and you will not be disappointed.
‘We [heart] Leith' banners line the streets as you make your way down to the waterfront; enthusiastic former residents, including the Proclaimers and Irvine Welsh grin down at us, encouraging. A quick walk around the docks reveals a clutch of top-notch restaurants and some of the most obese, intimidating ducks we’ve ever seen. Unnerved by these fat fowl, we decide to escape, setting off on a trek to Holyrood and the seat of Scottish government.
It was delivered one thousand years late and a gazillion pounds over budget. And it’s brilliant. Catalan architect Enric Miralles’ frankly bonkers design is the perfect setting for our nation’s unstylish cast of pasty-grey, chubby politicians. How long before Alex Salmond appoints Tom Kitchin to his cabinet to brighten things up? Or even one of those well-fed Leith harbour mallards? Such serious political reflection leaves us peckish, so we hike over to Bruntsfield in search of Falko: Konditormeister. Falko is apparently the greatest baker of bread and cakes that Germany has ever produced. (No, no, it was Falco who rapped Rock Me Amadeus.) Unfortunately the selfish bastard takes two days off every week, and today is one of those. Scheisse. One to revisit, definitely.
Not to worry – our next foodstop is the famous Witchery. An enchanting place where the wine list is as fat as a leg. The food is rich and assured. It’s delicious, but we’re knackered. We’ve walked ourselves out. But, you see, it really is the best way to take in Edinburgh – and the best way to offset your gastric footprint. We waddle out of the Witchery and into a cab for the first time that weekend. Wheezing, we slump, one-eyed, transported back to the cool comfort of Ardmor House. And that bed. Crouch. Pause. Pause. Zzzzzzz.