Flavour Profile Q&A: Mary Hillard, owner of Mary's Milk Bar Edinburgh

The gelato maker and gelateria owner tells us about her edible loves and hates.

Published 19th Apr 2021
Updated 8 th Aug 2023

What’s your favourite ingredient?

It’s so difficult to choose. For inspiration, I had a quick look in my fridge at home and discovered three different types of cabbage and a good ten different jars of pickled things.

I couldn't live without cheese and eggs though. During lockdown, my little treat once a month was to buy a beautiful Rollright cheese and a loaf of Company Bakery bread from IJ Mellis and eat that with sauerkraut and boiled eggs.

Vinegar would have to be my ingredient of choice - add it to a strawberry sorbet or I do like pickling cherries and rippling them through a mascarpone gelato.

Do you have a guilty food pleasure?

There's no such thing as a guilty food pleasure. Everything has its time and place - from a Feast ice-cream lolly out of an iced-up freezer in the corner shop to a cup of hot peas and vinegar eaten with a wooden spoon.

I love a pickled egg too.

Tell us about your first food memory?

This is a tricky question. It's probably one of those frozen coconut shells filled with ice cream you get at Indian restaurants. Always the height of sophistication.

What’s your favourite Scottish restaurant, deli or cafe?

I love places like Corvi's Fish and Chip shop in Bo'ness.

A beautiful shop with its original fryer and a proper sit down supper with a cup of tea and buttered bread.

I also covet a fudge doughnut from Fisher & Donaldson in Dundee.

What would be your last supper?

I would love a banquet of oysters. One of my favourite meals of all time was a cheap little meal on an island in Japan.

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It was oysters cooked in lots of different ways - barbecued, deep fried and confited in spiced oil, all washed down with a sweet lemon beer. Delicious!

Starter or pudding?

Both please.

Do you have any food hates?

I'll pretty much try anything once. I won't eat octopus though, as they're probably more intelligent than I am.

What starters, main and dessert would be served at your dream dinner party and who would you invite?

We’d have pear poached in Marsala wine with Gorgonzola and a drizzle of honey.

For the main course, mapo tofu or murgh hyderabadi and chapati, then a pudding of milk gelato with olive oil and salt or a warm zabaglione.

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I'd invite close friends and family and, of course, Jean-Luc Picard.

What's your favourite geographical foodie destination?

I feel that anywhere has something to offer if you look hard enough.

Japan is one of my favourites though - they are so meticulous in everything they do - from the prepackaged cheap lunches to the beautifully presented tiny dishes and pots of pickles and fish.

They also celebrate regionality - each place has its own speciality which is lauded in the fancy food shops but also in the convenience stores on every corner.

Mary’s Milk Bar is at 19 Grassmarket, Edinburgh

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Gaby Soutar is a lifestyle editor at The Scotsman. She has been reviewing restaurants for The Scotsman Magazine since 2007 and edits the weekly food pages.
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