Edinburgh must be the most Christmas-y city in the UK. The cold air and vaguely alpine profile of the castle assist Edinburgh Council’s efforts to market the city as a Caledonian Bavaria. It works – the ‘European Market’ and fairground in Princes Street Gardens were absolutely hoaching, which was great if you like German sausage and gluwein, tartan scarves made in China and fifteen pound tree ornaments. The ‘Scottish’ Market on George street was a less frantic experience, perhaps because there were only ten stalls (one of which was hosted by that famous Scottish delicatessen, Lidl ). The ‘Street Of Light’ show (also in George street) was pretty, but over-hyped (more like the ‘Neighbour’s Driveway of Light’). I tolerated the students taking selfies, the terrible music, and the ankle contusions caused by prams, but the numerous homeless people sitting outside the expensive boutiques made it difficult to feel truly festive. Commercialism dressed up as a homespun craft fair is still comercialism (and charging four pounds for what turned out to be instant hot chcolate is outright profiteering).
To escape the crowds the Teacher and I nipped down to Leith and into the first homely looking place we saw, The Ship on the Shore. In daylight it looks like the sort of place you’d sit outside with a beer but, on a cold December night, it is altogether more Christmas-y. This part of town looks much as it would have done when Stevenson was knocking out Treasure Island and it is easy to imagine fishermen and strumpets stopping in at ‘The Ship’ for a quick half of porter before heading home to beat the children. But times have changed and The Ship is now a seafood restaurant. The low ceilings are still there but instead of mead-sticky floorboards and pipe tobacco clouds, the place shines like a German sausage – subdued lighting bounces off mirror-topped tables and the door is framed by gold ship’s figureheads. What would have been the snug is now the Oyster Bar where the walls are papered in nautical charts and you can drink champagne and scoff shelfish in belle epoque glamour. The old lounge bar is now a discretely classy restaurant with a view of the boats on the water outside. The staff are young, friendly, knowledgeable and equiped with sexy French accents.
The Teacher ordered chicken liver pate. I don’t like pate (I’d rather macerate my own meat thanks) but even I could tell this was good: buttery but not bland. My Munro of fat Shetland mussels was magnificent, with a slight smoky flavour. Investigation revealed that the chef uses apple cider to open them rather than the standard white wine. This was followed with a perfectly cooked halibut steak, in a lobster sauce with sweet potato rosti and buttered spinach. It could never be as good as the mussels but it was tasty and filling and the tempura oyster on top was a surprising touch. The Teacher had lemon sole with capers, French beans and ‘heritage’ potatoes. It must have been good because she is bloody fussy, and I didn’t get a look in.
It was neither cheap nor outrageous: four generously sized dishes and two large glasses of wine for £70 (you could easily spend that in a Frankie & Bennys) but the quality was superb, and the surroundings more magical than standing in the cold with a plastic cup of hot German wine.
For more on the The Ship On The Shore based in Leith click here.