Back in the early 90's, on holidays with university mates in the Lake District, we visited what used to be the poet Wordsworth's house. My friend Pernell went into the gift shop before we actually went into the house, meanwhile back in the car (we were waiting for a parking lot) my two other friends sniggered at her seemingly uncultured ways. God bless them all, but I think P was on to something. On this holiday, we found the shopping at museum shops utterly delightful. There was something for everyone: books, clothes, mugs, whisky shot glasses, fruit cakes, Royal Family-themed chinaware, plushies and tartans of course. My favourite find was a woolly cushion with Union Jack pattern, something I had wanted for a long time; it is meant for dogs but Mimi and Rufus don't have to know that.
The eating possibilities were none too shabby either. Out of curiousity, well, actually, the endless rain was a major push factor, we looked in on the Café at the Palace, of the Palace of Holyroodhouse. After a grey morning of exploring the ruins of its abbey, and breathing in the intrigue surrounding this former residence of Queen Mary of Scots, we were more than ready for a warm pot of tea and some cakes. The Cafe operates like a canteen, customers line up and load their trays, pay at the counter, collect cutleries and serviettes and sit down to eat in the glass-enclosed atrium or, in good weather, the al-fresco area overlooking the Salisbury Crags.
The home-made cakes looked so tempting, I forced myself to choose only three types. After all, this was lunchtime, so we started with soups and sandwiches, all very fresh and tasty, much better than what I had expected for a museum cafe. Raisin scone was lovely and very correct, cakey and crumbly without any metallic aftertaste, served with proper clotted cream and good fruity jam (plastic tubs bring the tone down though). Lemon drizzle cake was uplifting, it had lemon sponge, lemon curd, lemon cream and lemon glaze, sweetness and tartness in equal measures. The Victorian sponge cake sat proudly at the cashier's corner, but it was the weakest of the trio, let down by a somewhat dry sponge and indifferent fillings.
The day before setting off for Inverness, husband collected his rental car. We drove a few kilometres to Southside. While the laundry went through its cycles in the laundromat, we snacked on Polish sausages (Edinburgh is home to a big immigrant Polish population), stocked up on crisps, Marmite,Tabasco sauce and gossip magazines, and explored the many charity shops in the area. After that, a vegetarian buffet lunch at Kalpna, followed by a need for dessert, so off we went to the affluent neighbourhood of Morningside for ice cream and cakes. S.Luca is a local institution. Upstairs it was hot and stuffy, and crowded with white, anglo-saxon teenagers, stroller mums and their offsprings. Teenage servers run the place in an unhurried, indeterminate manner,quite unaware of their waiting customers
Strawberries and ice cream for V, and toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream for us. It was sensational, the pudding: velvety and oozing lava-like craters of molten dark toffee, sweet but never too sweet, the cold cold creamy ice-cream in contrast, oolala what a delicious treat.
We left Edinburgh on a Saturday, but not before stopping by at its weekly market on the Edinburgh Castle terraces. A small collection of stalls selling premium meats, handmade oatcakes, unpasteurised cheeses, cold-pressed soaps, artisanal jams and the like. Keywords: rare, unusual, natural, preservative/hormone-free, organic, biodynamic, local, seasonal, fancy. One stall featured a whole roasted pig.
I bought a sandwich complete with stuffing, crackling and added apple sauce and bbq sauce. Yummy. Equally good was a bison burger in the background. I stocked up a half-dozen bottles of blaeberry juice for our road-trip.
The Crisp Hut serves freshly made potato crisps. Doesn't get better than this.
Salt and vinegar flavour. We sprinkled our own vinegar, and was cautioned that the vinegar would dampen the crisps slightly over time. No danger of that actually because we gobbled it all up within a few minutes.
Café at the Palace Palace of Holyroodhouse, Old Town T: 0131 652 3685
S. Luca 16 Morningside Road, Southside. T: 0131 446 0233