SCOTLAND – I love oysters. I love dairy products. I love whisky. And now I love Scotland. No one ever told me that this great country produced the holy trinity of foodstuffs. Considering there are 790 Scottish islands mingling in the Atlantic Ocean/North Sea, and a history of royal affairs with the French, it makes sense that the Scots know a thing or two about shellfish and good butter. You can get a taste of it in just a few short days.
Getting Around: Can you drive stick? Can you drive on the other side of the road without smashing the side-view mirror? Do you know how to read an atlas? These are questions you should answer in the affirmative if you want to get around by car. Note: There’s also a terrific rail system.
Day 1: Glasgow
Breakfast: Arrive in Glasgow in the morning so that you can have coffee and breakfast at Kember & Jones, a modern delicatessen and cookbook shop. Little cafe tables will barely hold the generous plates of cheese, tarts, pancakes, and salads. Coffee, fresh scones, marmalade, and meringues can be packed up as afternoon snacks.
Whisky: You’re near Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, but, to be honest, it’s a wee bit of a snooze. Instead, meander through the Botanic Gardens, where glass houses host orchids and tropical flowers. Just across the way, you can have a dram at Oran Mor, an old church-turned-whisky bar (how convenient).
Lunch: Has it been a few hours? You’re ready for Cafe Gandolfi, the perfect place to familiarize yourself with cullen skink, black pudding, haddock, haggis, neeps, and tatties (it’s more fun to eat when you’re not sure what it is). The servers are lovely, the ingredients are top-notch, the settng is laid-back.
Whisky: There are a few Two Fat Ladies outposts (the name is Bingo slang for the number 88), but the Buttery location has all the ambiance you’re looking for — fine china, red roses, sharply dressed waitstaff. I’d go here for a pre-dinner whisky in the tartan bar; see if you can get your hands on a bread basket. The kitchen uses local and seasonal ingredients (it’s more than a trend in these parts), so it’s a lovely place to dine. Just pace yourself.
Dinner: The 40-year old Ubiquitous Chip did the Chez Panisse thing for Glasgow — it was a pioneer in plating fresh, local ingredients and listing their provenance on the menu. Entrees read like an excerpt from a scouting manual: roe deer, guinea fowl, wood pigeon, Gressingham duck.
Whisky: If you are in a food coma, find somewhere to lay down. If the haggis made you stronger, head to Sub Club, a gritty underground bar and dance floor with international acclaim for its excellent music programming. (Keep your eyes open for the sporadic parties thrown by Optimo and Numbers). Drinks are nice and cheap.
Day 2: Trossachs
Breakfast: Wake up. Do some stretching. Consider keeping it light with a honey smoothie or oatmeal porridge at sister gastropubs Left Bank or Two Figs (whichever’s closer). Okay, maybe share one order of eggs mornay (poached on English muffins with a creamy cheese sauce). If you are ready to plough through a full Scottish breakfast, Stravigin will serve you right.
Tea: Tick off a Mackintosh sighting with a quick stop at the wildly popular Willow Tea Rooms, designed by the Glaswegian architect in 1903. ("Glaswegian" is a very satisfying word. You'll want to say it as often as possible.) The contents of The Hunterian Museum (built on the collections of a 17th century physician, anatomist, and oddities collector) will not make you lose your appetite.
Lunch: You may have noticed an Indian influence on many menus around town (chaat, naan, daal, masala). Scotland has a South Indian culinary influx. A hole-in-the-wall called Banana Leaf is a local favorite. Enjoy a dosa and lassi in the tiny dining room next door to the take-away counter.
Dinner: Hop in the car and head north. It’ll take you 90 minutes to get to The Trossachs National Park, or, more specifically, Monachyle Mhor, a family-owned, bubble-gum pink, 14-bedroom hotel and superb restaurant on the banks of Lochs Voil and Doyne. It’s pricey but worth it to spend the night. After the tasting menu (fingers crossed for the haddock tempura amuse), you can enjoy a wee dram by the fire.
Day 3: Speyside
Breakfast: Wake up early to the smell of fresh countryside. Take a thermos of coffee and Black Betty, the inn's trusty black lab, for a brisk morning walk through the rocky, sheep-dotted glen. Back at the inn, load up on fresh breads, jams, granola, eggs, and delicate ribbons of smoked salmon. Because you can.
Lunch: Mhor’s fish-and-chippie and retail fisherie is located in the nearby village of Callander. The Scotch Oven (now Mhor Bread) is the local bakery and tearoom responsible for the excellent carbs served in the area for the last hundred years. Curious about buttered bannocks? You can order them here.
Whisky: This is where things get dangerous. An hour or two in any direction will invariably lead to a distillery. As a Speyside fan, I suggest driving north towards the birthplaces of Balvenie, Dalwhinnie, and Macallan. You can arrange a tour or just settle into a pub-hotel and ask for a pour.
Day 4: Edinburgh
Breakfast: Get an early start driving to Edinburgh (from Speyside, a three-hour straight-shot south). In homage to everyone's favorite breakfast pastry, pit-stop in the medieval village of Scone. Join the peacocks for a stroll on the grounds of Scone Palace, where you can reflect on Stone of Scone, coronation site for Scottish (and, later, British) monarchs.
Lunch: In Edinburgh’s old town, just off the Royal Mile, the very lively (sustainable, locavore) Ondine makes an impressive show of oysters, mussels, jumbo shrimp, langoustines, and lobsters. Kick back with a crisp white and admit you can die happy right now.
Cheese: You’ve been saying “yes” to cheese plates, right? If you’ve somehow evaded crunchy oat cakes and Isle of Mull cheddar until now, go right down the block to I.J. Mellis, a tiny cheesemonger with the best selection in town.
Whisky: Whet your whistle at Half Way House (quaintness factor), Bow Bar (brass founts for beers), and The Malt Whisky Society (tell them you’re considering a membership).
Dinner: Feeling fancy? Michelin stars abound at The Kitchin (hand-dived Orkney scallop, lamb roasted on a bed of hay). Brother restaurant Castle Terrace (oyster consommé soup, ling fish with basil gnocchi, game pâté with pear chutney) is pretty swank, too. Mums, Oink, The Dogs serve top nosh in casual settings. But Hanedan is a funky little Turkish delight.
Bed: Set your alarm early, so that you can have a last bite at Urban Angel before your morning flight. It will be heavenly.