I realised that I had been a haggis virgin. Not through the adherence to a great moral conviction on my part, more from a lack of opportunity. Haggis and I had simply not crossed paths: our orbits had never brought us into intimate contact.
A recent trip to Edinburgh seemed like a good opportunity to rectify this omission.
Deacon Brodie’s is a well-known tavern on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. The downstairs room is a traditional pub; the upstairs room a pleasant dining area, with views––if you are lucky enough to get a window seat like I did––onto the throngs of tourist below, who are either heading up to the Castle or down to Holyrood Palace.
The Real Deacon Brodie
The tavern is named after a notorious character from Scottish history. William Brodie was ostensibly a well-respected figure in 18th Century Edinburgh society. He held a responsible position in the city as leader of a trade guild. He was wealthy, he was a talented cabinetmaker and he was also a recognised locksmith. What was not so widely known about him, though, was that he was abusing his position of power in order to rob the homes of some of his more illustrious clients.
William Brodie led a classic double life. Respectable businessman by day; inveterate gambler and professional criminal by night.
Brodie was eventually arrested and brought to trial in 1788. He was hanged in front of a crowd of over 40,000 people.
Jekyll and Hyde
Robert Louis Stevenson is supposed to have based the protagonist of his novella The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde on Deacon Brodie.
Around the walls of Deacon Brodie’s tavern many pictures reference both the fictional story and the real-life existence of one of Edinburgh’s most disreputable sons.
While I sit waiting to order, I watch a Chinese couple ask the waitress in slightly faltering English, “What is Cullen Skink?”. They do not look any more enlightened even after they have received their answer.
At a neighbouring table, a family of Americans––mum, dad and two teenage children––rather unadventurously order club sandwiches.
When it is my time to order, I skip a first course––simply because I think it will be too much to eat––and order haggis, potatoes, neeps and gravy as my main. For dessert, I plump for cranachan. To drink, I have a small bottle of a local craft beer, called First World Problems.
The meal is delicious. My main meal is like nursery food––and I say this as a positive––requiring the minimum of cutting and only marginally more chewing. The potatoes are mashed; the neeps are mashed; and the gravy is thick and tasty. The long-awaited haggis is not in the least bit scary. Admittedly, I suspect that it is a slightly touristified version that might not meet the approval of a dyed-in-the-wool Braveheart but, for me, it is perfect. Tasty and spicy and just the right quantity.
The cranachan is a gooey combination of raspberries, oats and cream: very indulgent.
Haggis: I don’t know why we didn’t get acquainted earlier.
© E. C. Glendenny
Travel writer, E. C. “Easy” Glendenny is pleased to break her haggis duck.