The restaurants we review in this book are the cream of the crop in each price category. Today the traditional Scottish restaurant offers more than fish-and-chips, fried sausage, and black pudding; instead you'll find the freshest of scallops, organic salmon, wild duck, and free-range Angus beef as well as locally grown seasonal vegetables and fruits.
Whether you want to try traditional haggis (ground-up sheep's organs) or black pudding (made from congealed blood) is up to you. Just know that there are other, more tempting Scottish dishes for you to choose from, as well as a wide array of international restaurants: Chinese, French, Greek, Indian, Italian, Japanese, Mexican, Mongolian, and Russian (to name but a few) can be truly exceptional. There are a couple of vegetarian options on every menu and most restaurants, particularly pubs that serve food, welcome families with young children.
Places like Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Aberdeen have sophisticated restaurants at various price levels; of these, the more notable tend to open only in the evening. But it's not just the urban areas that will spoil you for choice; fabulous restaurants are popping up in the smaller villages as well. Dining in Scotland can be an experience for all the senses but it is rarely cheap, so don't forget your credit card.
City Scots usually take their midday meals in a pub, wine bar, sandwich bar/shop, bistro, or department-store restaurant (which might not serve alcohol). When traveling, Scots generally eat inexpensively and quickly at a country pub or village tearoom.
Note that most pubs do not have any waitstaff, and you're expected to go to the bar and order a beverage and your meal—this can be particularly disconcerting when you're seated in a "restaurant" upstairs but are still expected to go downstairs and get your own drinks and food. You're not expected to tip the bartender, but you are expected to tip restaurant waitstaff, by leaving 10% to 15% of the tab on the table.
Since 2007, smoking has been banned in pubs, clubs, and restaurants throughout Britain.
Properties are assigned price categories based on dinner prices.
Discounts and Deals
Many city restaurants have very good pre-theater meal deals that last from 5 to 7 pm. Lunch deals can also save you money; some main courses can be nearly half the price of dinner entrées. All supermarkets, sell a large variety of high-quality sandwiches, wraps, and salads at reasonable prices. If the weather's dry, opt for a mid-day picnic.
Meals and Mealtimes
To start the day with a full stomach, try a traditional Scottish breakfast of bacon and fried eggs served with sausage, fried mushrooms, and tomatoes, and usually fried bread or potato scones. Most places also serve kippers (smoked herring). All this is in addition to juice, porridge, cereal, toast, and other bread products.
"All-day" meal places are becoming prevalent. The normal lunch period, however, is 12:30 to 2:30. A few places serve high tea—masses of cakes, bread and butter, and jam, served with tea only, around 2:30 to 4:30. Typical dinner times are fairly early, around 5 to 8.
Familiar fast-food chains are often more expensive than a good home-cooked meal in a local café or pub, where large servings of British comfort food—fish-and-chips, stuffed baked potatoes, and sandwiches—are served. In more upscale restaurants, cutting costs can be as simple as requesting tap water; "water" means a bottle of mineral water that could cost up to £5.
Unless otherwise noted, the restaurants listed in this guide are open daily for lunch and dinner.
Many restaurants exclude service charges from the printed menu (which the law obliges them to display outside), then add 10% to 15% to the check, or else stamp "service not included" along the bottom, in which case you should add the 10% to 15% yourself. Just don't pay twice for service—unscrupulous restaurateurs have been known to add service but leave the total on the credit-card slip blank.
Credit cards are widely accepted at most types of restaurants.
A common misconception among visitors to Scotland is that pubs are cozy bars. But pubs are also gathering places, conversation zones, even restaurants. Pubs are, generally speaking, where people go to have a drink, meet their friends, and catch up on one another's lives. Traditionally pub hours are 11-11, with last orders called about 20 minutes before closing time, but pubs can choose to stay open until midnight or 1 am, or later.
Some pubs are child-friendly, but others have restricted hours for children. If a pub serves food, it will generally allow children in during the day with adults. Some pubs are stricter than others, though, and will not admit anyone younger than 18. Some will allow children in during the day, but only until 6 pm. If you're in doubt, ask the bartender. Family-friendly pubs tend to be packed with kids, parents, and all of their accoutrements, so you can just use your common sense.
Reservations and Dress
It's a good idea to make a reservation if you can. We only mention them specifically when reservations are essential (there's no other way you'll ever get a table) or when they are not accepted. For popular restaurants, book as far ahead as you can (often 30 days), and reconfirm as soon as you arrive. (Large parties should always call ahead to check the reservations policy.) We mention dress only when men are required to wear a jacket or a jacket and tie.
Online-reservation services make it easy to book a table before you even leave home. Toptable has listings in many Scottish cities.
Wines, Beer, and Spirits
Bars and pubs typically sell two kinds of beer: lager is light in color, very carbonated, and served cold, and ale is dark, semicarbonated, and served just below room temperature. You may also come across a pub serving "real ales," which are hand-drawn, very flavorful beers from smaller breweries. These traditionally produced real ales have a fervent following; check out the Campaign for Real Ale's Web site, www.camra.org.uk.
You can order Scotland's most famous beverage—whisky (here, most definitely spelled without an e)—at any local pub. All pubs serve any number of single-malt and blended whiskies. It's also possible to tour numerous distilleries, where you can sample a dram and purchase a bottle for the trip home. Most distilleries are concentrated in Speyside and Islay.
The legal drinking age in Scotland is 18.
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