I’d been aware of The Witchery for many years but never had the opportunity to visit. So I was very excited, on that misty Edinburgh eve. The city has some great restaurants and a strong food scene, although it can be top-heavy and formal at times. Traditions are important here (as are the tourists looking for them), but it works because quality comes first especially with all things deemed Scottish. And Scots are just as in to Scottish things and Scottishness as tourists. Provenance is important up the road.
The venue itself is right by the castle, and incredibly atmospheric. All wood panelling, louche, dripping candlesticks and moody blood-red walls, it’s definitely marries up a whore’s boudoir with a medieval banquet, retaining an intimacy. The candelabras and teapots could plausibly jump to life and burst into a reprise of ‘Be Our Guest’.
I think some witches were executed here once, or maybe had their coven here or something. In Edinburgh, every second place has a wee ghostie, an execution or some sort of rebellion so you become blasé about it all, which is shameful. I’m aware it’s a touch of a tourist hotspot – but I wouldn’t say ‘trap’, due to the vindication of quality and also the amount of Scots who eat there too. Perhaps one of those places foreign dignitaries are obsequiously feasted before given some naff traditional token.
Dressed crab (£12.50) from Mull is served with a variety of accompaniments: samphire, lardons, quail egg and so on, but is served with a consistency closer to mashed up baby food than a salad. Tasted spot on though, and on a beautiful plate.
Haggis, neeps and tatties (£9.50) was a strong point. They’d be in trouble if it wasn’t! The haggis was good with a high meat content, moist and not dry or mealy like bigger portions can be. Neeps and especially tatties were in short supply, but I guess they're trying to distinguish it and make it a touch nouveau.
Three Little Pigs (£24.50) comprised bacon chop, pork belly and loin. It’s a carnivores’ feast but each component isn’t huge so it doesn’t look as obscene as it might.
Cider parsnips on the side weren’t really enough, so triple cooked chips (£4) were needed. Crunchy, delicious chips – these tasted like traditional chippy chips, despite being triple cooked. Best of both worlds.
Cairngorm red deer loin with a blue cheese and walnut pithivier (£26.00) was so promising and exciting. It was excellently presented and the bitter chocolate oil was an interesting touch. However the venison was a tiny bit tough, despite being visibly well-cooked, and the pithivier (a little puff pastry thing) was a tad dry. It was still very tasty though.
To finish off, as we could barely move we went for the sample of desserts – great value at £10.50. This included a rich chocolate torte, a passion fruit trifle, sorbet, crème brule, biscotto and a few other bits and bobs. All delicious.
The history in Edinburgh is inescapable. Broody, moody grey turrets, speckled with black, spiky monuments and towering hills, and some perfect Georgian crescents. It feels like a place of consequence and you can credibly believe armies and clans battling it out in a way that even The Tower of London doesn’t quite convey.
It’s a great experience; service is attentive and food is solid. It’s a bit expensive and the wine list ascends into the stratosphere very quickly, but there are plenty of bottles below £40. And it’s the town of Harry Potter’s conception (literary, not parental) – so what better excuse for a witchy time?
Food – 8/10
Drink – 7/10
Service - 8/10
Value – 7/10
Tap water tales – 2/10 (not offered but we fancied sparkling anyway)Staff Hotness – 7/10 (very smart)