Consider yourself extremely lucky if you happen to live in Scotland right now because you’re probably eating some of the best food you’ve ever eaten in the last ten years. There’s more choice, more availability, more investment – 2015 is officially the ‘Year of Food and Drink’ – and above all there is more passion from the producers, the suppliers, and the chefs. Not to mention us….you – the eaters!
Rewind to 2005. If you can. Do you remember Morgan Spurlock’s ‘Super Size Me’, Starbucks quest for world domination (which continues…), the South Beach Diet, Jamie Oliver’s ‘School Dinners’ which led him to be voted by the people as the Most Inspiring Political Figure of 2005? Yes, that’s what we were all talking about with the occasional mention of the word ‘organic’ thrown in to conversations even though we weren’t quite sure what it meant. We probably didn’t own a coffee machine, if we did it certainly wouldn’t have used ‘pods’. We loved watching New Yorkers eat cupcakes in ‘Sex and the City’ but there wasn’t an equivalent Magnolia Bakery in Edinburgh, Glasgow or anywhere else in Scotland for that matter. Most of us had the entire collection of the Naked Chef on our bookshelves and sometimes dipped into them when cooking for friends.
Ten years ago would you have gone out of your way to find the best artisan bread in town? Probably not, but you do now. Were we even using the word ‘artisan’ in the same sentence as food? Would you have asked for a flat white at a local coffee shop? Probably not. The flat white was only introduced to the UK in 2005, and the independent coffee scene in Scotland was far from thriving. Ten years ago the big guns were the places to hang out. We loved the ‘coffee nation’ movement and we couldn’t get enough of their skinny lattes, bucket sized Americanos, cardboard Panini’s and free wifi.
In 2005 had you heard the phrase ‘Scotland Food and Drink‘? Where did you shop? The local farmers market? Urm, sometimes? It was highly likely you did your ‘big shop’ at one of the larger supermarkets. Had you heard of craft beer? Did you have a veg box delivery? Did you know anything about charcuterie? Fish boxes? Posh doughnuts? Cold brew coffee? Sustainability? The new wave of Mexican food? Cocktails with crafted syrups? Small bites? Sodas? Refreshers? Did you get excited about spending the weekend meandering around a food festival?
Fast forward to 2015.
In Scotland we are lucky enough to have some of the finest produce in the UK readily available within spitting distance (mostly) of our own front doors. Hand dived scallops, small batch beer, more than enough gin to keep you and your granny quiet, top quality beef, cheese, amazing fish, the tastiest strawberries and raspberries, not to mention the whisky. And what’s even more exciting is the fact that your food, our food, is no longer being produced exclusively by the big boys. We are fortunate enough to have small scale creators – the makers – who are doing something a little bit different and who want to share it with us. Visit your local farmers market, your independent traders, farm shops, a street food event or a food festival and you’ll find them all there – we raise a glass to them.
The Edinburgh Farmers Market has recently celebrated its 15 year anniversary and is thriving to say the least. A few years ago The Telegraph named it as one of the world’s best farmers markets. Not many cities can claim that. Their 15 year celebrations, which included a pop up in St Andrew’s Square, drew in huge crowds despite it being held during the week.
Scotland’s first restaurant festival and pop up market takes place in Glasgow early September and has been created by ‘Real Food Real Folk’ who promise to serve up the cream of food and drink producers from across the West of Scotland. With names such as Ox & Finch, Ubiquitous Chip and Crabshakk lined up they’re going to live up to that promise. Championing some of the unsung heroes of the Glasgow restaurant scene they are ready to serve up to 5000 people over the course of the weekend plus they’ve got a very cool venue in the form of an old tobacco warehouse near the Clyde Waterfront.
Scotland is enjoying the hip·ster* coffee scene as much as anywhere else in the UK and most of us are pretty happy about that. Walk past Brew Lab on South College Street, Edinburgh on any day of the week and you’ll be lucky to see an empty seat. They’re doing something right and we part with our hard earned cash on single origin filters, espresso and cold brew coffee quite happily.
And, it’s more than fair to say that the dining scene in Scotland is on a serious ‘up’.
It’s been a hard slog though.
Social media has played a huge part in our increased awareness of food and drink. Tablets, smartphones, online ordering, twitter chats, forums, Facebook pages, the rise and rise of Instagram, the list goes on. And TV. Who would have thought that our small screens would have been as saturated with food programmes as they are now? Paul and Mary are laughing all the way to the bank. Saturday Kitchen, GBBO, What to Eat Now, Hairy Bikers, I Can Cook (or perhaps can’t), River Cottage, the lovely Nigella, Rick Stein, Tom Kerridge, Michel Roux, not to mention Masterchef whose reincarnations go on, and on. The list is endless. And then, to top it off, we all trot along to see them live thanks to the BBC Good Food Shows. We just can’t get enough. We are involved, we have been sucked in and we love it.
So where are we eating? We’re eating out. A lot. Yes, some things haven’t changed that much in ten years but the variety has. Michelin star dining, street food vans, supper clubs, pop-up dining, Nordic inspired tasting menus, farm to fork, nose to tail, communal tables, small plates, sharing, foraged food, raw, smoked, if you want it then finally Scotland pretty much has it.
Edinburgh has got Michelin stars well and truly covered but so much more too. Success stories such as Timberyard have set the bar high but the city goes from strength to strength with choices galore. Head to Glasgow and you will enjoy a more urban dining scene akin to East London, perhaps New York too, with unsung heroes such as The Gannet based in Finnieston. It is in fact this area of the city that currently has it all going on and more places open up as the weeks go by.
Further afield, on the Isle of Skye to be precise, The Three Chimneys is a must visit location for any foodie. It has won numerous accolades and deservedly so. Hot off the press, a very new addition to the banks of Loch Fyne is Inver, recently gaining a 9/10 from The Guardian. Chef Pam Brunton is delivering food (according to the review) in the ‘new-Nordic’ style that we’re all getting excited about. Dishes include Pigs’ blood bun and crab, Bute lamb with toasted caraway seed and fennel puree, and panna cotta scented with gorse. Fans of Magnus Nilsson’s Fäviken should be very very excited. It’s perhaps not quite as difficult to get to but apparently it helps if you’ve got a boat…
Scotland has also got some of the finest street food vans in the UK with Crema Caravan earning a well-deserved fifth place in the Scottish and the North of England heats of the British Street Food Awards 2015.
And we’ve also got everything in between. Tacos, sushi, sourdough pizzas, artisan cheese toasties, limited edition haggis, edible flowers, charcuterie boards. Food to go, restaurant food delivered to your door, neighbourhood bistros as good and sometimes better than anywhere in town centres. Great wine merchants, specialist beer shops, amazing cocktail bars, inspiring people developing their own syrups, tonics and sodas. The list goes on, and on.
The trends we read about from London and beyond continue to venture north. Three or four years ago would you have expected to sit at communal tables when you went out for dinner? These days it’s pretty normal. Given, it’s not for everyone but that’s OK too, you can dip in and out of these trends when you want to.
And we’re eating at home. We’re influenced by the availability of produce on our doorstep, we watch our favourite chefs on TV, we read about food online, we follow numerous foodie Instagram feeds and we want to create the finest food we can in our own kitchens using the best ingredients we can. We’re shopping ‘local’ and are thinking about sustainability and food miles more than ever.
So much has changed in the last ten years it’s hard to know what will happen next but it’s going to be good if the last decade is anything to go by.
And as final food for thought – in 2005 a skinny cappuccino in a cardboard cup ‘to go’ was just sooo cool. But in 2015 you’re very excited at the prospect of popping along to your local coffee roaster, purchasing a blend of your choice and brewing up with the Aeropress when you get home. You’ll probably pick up a few items from a local deli while you’re out and about too, because you can. Happy days.
2015 is a very good year to be enjoying very good food, and drink. Scotland food and drink that is.
*hip·ster – noun informal
noun: hipster; plural noun: hipsters
a person who follows the latest trends and fashions, especially those regarded as being outside the cultural mainstream.
YOU HAVE JUST READ THE UNEDITED VERSION OF AN ARTICLE WRITTEN FOR THE 10TH BIRTHDAY EDITION OF ION MAGAZINE. Published September 2015.