Eat Here Now: Wildest Drams

by Keith Savage · 2 comments

Wildest Drams on the Royal Mile, Edinburgh, Scotland

Update 4/12/16: I’ve heard rumors this restaurant is no longer open. Be forewarned!

Serendipity never tasted so good.

While chatting with random people is the name of the game for traveling extroverts, it usually takes a beer or two for introverts like me to get anywhere near that mental space. It can be uncomfortable, but travel has a way of greasing the social gears, and so this story begins in my favorite Edinburgh haunt: The Bow Bar.

As is typical for me, I like to break up my explorations with a pint here and there in local institutions of fine drinking pedigree. It gives me a chance to decompress and process everything the day has thrown at me. Fine cask ales and impeccable drams of single malt are only a side benefit. The late April day was cool when I struck up a conversation with Sarah and one of the Bow’s bartenders who were discussing whisky pairings after I’d picked said bartender’s brain about wine cask-aged single malts. The bar was largely deserted at the time, which tends to cultivate ad hoc chats.

Sarah worked for a new restaurant on the Royal Mile, Wildest Drams, which was establishing itself as a place for good beer and modern Scottish cuisine. Seeing the obvious opportunity to work together and sate my hunger, we exchanged contact information and set up a time for me to stop by and sample the fare at Wildest Drams.

You can’t miss Wildest Drams’s woodsy doorway just before Cockburn Street on the Royal Mile. After a long flight of stairs down into Edinburgh’s undercity, I found a gorgeously modern restaurant far from the ramshackle detritus of the South Bridge Vaults. I arrive on the early side of lunch, and I meet Sarah and Neil, one of the co-owners. They sit me down near the bar and hand me a creative lunch menu on a wooden clipboard. One of the things I’m most excited about is their expertise in pairing beers with dishes, and I give Neil free rein to find the right beer to accompany the dishes I order.

The menu impressed with dishes solidly based in Scottish produce given inventive culinary twists that served to ramp up my anticipation. I started with the whisky-cured salmon with sour cream butter and brown bread. It’s hard to go wrong with salmon in Scotland, and you could put just about anything in whisky and I’d eat it. Neil suggested the Nils Oscar God Lager as an appropriate accompaniment to the dish and I happily acquiesced.

The salmon was a delicious starter. The fish was silky and fresh with the essence of a briny whisky coming through on each inhalation. A small salad provided a crunchy textural counterpoint, and the dense bread with bright butter disappeared excessively fast. The lager was a good choice. Its inherent astringency cut through the fats in my starter and provided a welcome splash of bitterness that kicked up the flavors of the food.

For my main course, I chose the venison sandwich with a celeriac remoulade. I’m always meaning to order venison when I’m over to Scotland, but I see it less often than I would expect. When I do see it on a menu, it’s typically outside my budget. Here I found a more rustic approach to venison and it sounded delicious. Neil suggested the Loch Lomond Kessog dark ale pairing, and that made sense to me.

First of all, the Kessog was a rich dark ale that was delicious in its own right and one I would definitely quaff again. It stood up to the hearty venison with ease. The venison had a morish, pleasantly gamey flavor, though it was somewhat difficult to eat in the sandwich. The meat needed to be a bit more tender for that vessel to function at its best.

A multi-course lunch is not typical for me, so I was absolutely and happily stuffed when Sarah handed me the dessert menu. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a dessert guy. Then I saw the stout-y toffee pudding with wheat beer ice cream. As it turns out, if you booze up desserts I become a dessert guy. Fascinating.

Of course I ordered it, and it was the best decision of the day. The pudding arrived bathed in a whisky butterscotch sauce that set off the ever-so-slightly bitter cake (from the stout no doubt). This was a flavor profile that sent a cascade of endorphins through my brain along with the remnants of the Kessog ale. Easily one of the best desserts I’ve ever eaten.

Wildest Drams was a pleasant surprise. I know beer and I like it, but having someone like a beer sommelier pair them with your dishes is a service that helps Wildest Drams stand out from the competition. The food was uniformly delicious and clearly the product of a very talented chef who, a year later, has surely refined the menu even more.

Next time you’re in Edinburgh, do yourself a favor and strike up a conversation with that stranger at the bar. It might take you somewhere delicious.

Disclosure: Wildest Drams provided me with a complimentary lunch. All thoughts and opinions expressed here, as always, are my own. 

WillNo Gravatar August 24, 2015 at 1:06 AM

The prices of the main courses is very reasonable for the quality of the food in this place … will have to try it when I get to Edinburgh!

Keith SavageNo Gravatar August 24, 2015 at 8:35 AM

I agree. Very good value.

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