Our first trip to Edinburgh certainly proved beyond a doubt that Scottish fine dining is not an oxymoron. There are currently 8 Michelin-starred restaurants in Scotland with half of them residing in the country’s capital. And while not on that list, our visit to The Witchery by the Castle certainly ranks among our all-time memorable dining experiences ever.
Situated off a close along the Royal Mile, the Witchery by the Castle is literally a stone’s throw away from the impressive Edinburgh Castle.
Perched high atop Castle Rock, the imposing fortress watches over Edinburgh and makes for a most impressive skyline as one enters the heart of the city. The restaurant is located at the gates of the castle in a former merchant’s house that dates back to the 16th Century. Similar to the building it is housed in, the restaurant is also standing the test of time, now entering its fifth decade of existence.
The name of the restaurant is derived from the hundreds of women and men that were accused of being witches and burned at the stake on Castle Hill during the 16th and 17th centuries. Thankfully today, the only fire you will be subjected to is the candlelight illuminating from the antique candlesticks at your table. Wood paneling hung from tapestries along the walls include pieces from St. Giles Cathedral as well as from a Chateau from Burgundy. The latter representing the wine trade between Scotland and France that dates back centuries.
Almost 30 years ago, the Witchery opened its second restaurant right next to the original Witchery dining room called the Secret Garden. This is where we dined and from the moment we ventured down the stone staircase, we knew we were in for a treat. A room full of tables that are elegantly set in white cloth accompanied by plush leather seats, surrounded by stone walls that ooze 400 years of history. Don’t forget to look up or you’ll miss the impressive painted ceiling inspired the one in the renown Rossend Castle.
The long history of access to France’s world-class wine is paid tribute with an award-winning wine cellar that rivals any on the planet. Among its accolades, the Witchery has received the Wine Spectator Best Award of Excellence since 2004, and in 2014 was named among the world’s greatest wine lists in the inaugural World of Fine Wine Awards (and has maintained that ranking ever since). When presented, the wine menu reads more like a book than a list, with over 500 wines to choose from, including 17 different wines by the glass. Bordeaux and Burgundy certainly take up their fair share, but the list is as diverse as it is comprehensive. Champagne lovers will be particularly delighted with the extensive choices available. It’s always a good sign when the house Champagne is the Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve!
Along with a bottle of the house Champagne, our starters consisted of seared Isle of Mull scallops, Scottish langoustines, and steak tartare. The main courses shared among our group of 4 included roast breast of duck, roast loin of Cairngorm venison, and more scallops. Our wine selections for the evening were the 1998 Chateau Beausejour from St. Emilion and the 2014 Luis Canas Reserva from Rioja. Every bite and sip were savored to the very end. And, while not something we indulge in, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the equally broad range of Whiskies, Armagnacs and liqueurs also available for spirits connoisseurs.
On the particular night we dined, it so happened that the world renown Fringe Festival was taking place. It is the world’s largest arts festival that among its performances includes a series of military tattoos performed by international military bands at Edinburgh Castle. Our friends who brought us to the Witchery were cautiously optimistic that we might experience what happened to them a year earlier. They purposely booked our dinner reservation at 10pm so that we might be able to take a break between courses around midnight to witness the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo parading down the Royal Mile as they left the stadium. As luck would have it, our server let us know when they were coming, and we stepped out into the cobblestone street to witness as impressive a display of pageantry as we had ever seen. Regardless of our last name being “Wallace”, we challenge anyone to watch them and not get emotional with the sound of the bagpipes and drums in perfect unison. A truly special moment to an already incredible evening.
With our hearts as full as our bellies, we wandered down the Royal Mile to find a taxi home. Home for some patrons after dinner (with fuller wallets than ours) can be one of the 9 suites located above the Witchery. Regularly named by various magazines as one of the world’s most romantic destinations, they feature extravagantly decorated palatial rooms with draped beds and roll top baths big enough for two. We were more than satisfied to return to our amazing hosts’ home, with the comfort of knowing we had experienced something truly special.