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Johnnie Walker 1820 Rooftop Bar Review, Edinburgh - does the food measure up to the whisky?

This visitor attraction recently opened on Princes Street

Published: October 2, 2021
Food: 
8/10
Ambience: 
8/10

I felt like an unearthed mole, walking into this new visitor attraction.

It was already dusky on Princes Street, at only 6.30pm according to the recently fixed clock on the corner of the former House of Fraser building.

Blame old age, a lack of carrots or home-working, but my night vision has gone to pot.

We were blinded by the bright lights, shiny surfaces and Johnnie Walker merch, where the Estee Lauder and Chanel make-up counters used to be.

Thankfully a member of staff took pity on the pair of stunned Mr Magoos and pointed out that we’d gone in the wrong door.

For the 1820 Rooftop Bar or the Explorers’ Bothy Bar, take the side entrance, where you used to go if you wanted to buy a pair of gloves, a handbag or tights.

We were bypassing the whisky tour, though if you want to do that, they start from £25. I would say it’s not my thing, but I thought the same about Cite du Vin in Bordeaux, and loved it. This place is similarly immersive and experiential, they say.

We were straight up to the sixth floor in the lift, with someone to meet us at the top, and point us in the direction of the bar.

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Up here, it’s a bit like an Eighties vision of the future, with neon strip-lights, as well as low slung seating and Deee-Lite’s Groove is in the Heart playing in the background. There are views to the castle and St Cuthbert’s Church, and if you go onto the terrace, where there’s covered seating for vapers and those who want to brave the chill, you can spy into The Caledonian and up Lothian Road. It’s a new perspective of Edinburgh, when I thought I’d seen my city from every possible angle.

As well as their own whisky, the extensive drinks menu features wine, beer, softies, spirits and cocktails.

I went for something called Pineapple and Cardamom (£9.50), which featured Johnnie Walker Black Label and botanical spirit. This highball cocktail was syrupy, fragrant and rather lovely. We also tried the My-Little-Pony-pink and froth-topped Grapefruit and Tamarind (£8.50) with Ketel One Grapefruit and Rose and ginger soda.

The food menu is conceptual, and it took a while for me to get my head round what the heck was going on.

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The eight dishes, all mains, have been designed to reflect the locations of Johnnie Walker’s Four Corners Distilleries - Cardhu, Clynelish, Caol Ila and Glenkinchie - and the flavour profiles of whiskies that are produced there. They’re presented as vegetarian options, or you can add meat.

Under the Clynelish Spice section, we went for the Highland heather honey roasted root vegetables, Brussels sprouts, pickled root vegetables, pickled shallots and peppercorn cream. It was £10 on its own, or £19.50, if you wanted to upgrade with a slow-cooked grass-fed Highland beef cheek, which we did.

This was an assemblage of lovely earthy-tasting things, with a Bovril-y rich piece of sticky, tarry-coloured meat, and piquant bits of veggie. I think they’d swapped the Brussels sprouts out for crispy frills of kale, which suited us, and the shallots provided a feathery pile of texture.

It was a course that matched the haar outside - a hot toddy in food form.

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We’d also gone for something equally good from the Glenkinchie Floral Honey section, which featured baby beet wedges, chunks of Lanark Blue, crumbly candied walnuts, slivers of preserved peach and chard. This would’ve been £14 on its own, but I’d also gone for pink and velvety cushions of jus-sloshed hay-smoked roast deer loin (£27.50).

“Our customers find our main courses very satisfactory”, said our waiter, when we asked if we could order another course as a side dish.

Thank you, that man, for not up-selling, but we tried something from the Caol Ila Coastal list anyway.

The charred hispi cabbage (£12) could also be ordered with Islay wild sea bass for £22.50, but we went fish free. As well as the crinkle-edged brassica, this huge plateful also featured halved gooey-yolked boiled eggs, charred spring onions, cold and waxy potatoes and a garlicky herb oil dressing.

There are just three desserts. It’s been years since I’ve seen a creme caramel (£8.50) on a menu. This was a beauty, with a Johnnie Walker clear whisky syrup on its wobbly top, fat boozy raisins and orange zest. Their tart tatin (£8.50) consisted of a beer-coaster-sized bit of pastry, and a few still crunchy apple chunks on top, and the accompanying apple sorbet was a blood sugar lifting and tart zinger.

We thought the food here might be secondary to the drams, but it’s certainly not.

If you’re as blinded by the bright lights as we were, just remember to go in through the glove and tights entrance.

1820 Rooftop Bar

Johnnie Walker Princes Street

145 Princes Street

Edinburgh

(0131 376 9494, www.johnniewalker.com)

Places to try Nearby

La P’tite Folie, 9 Randolph Place, Edinburgh (0131 225 8678, www.laptitefolie.co.uk)

We love this atmospheric institution, which is owned by Virginie Brouard. Dishes include confit duck leg rolled in prosciutto with celeriac cream.

Umai Sushi & Ramen Kitchen, 8 Queensferry Street, Edinburgh (0131 225 6066, www.umai-restaurant.co.uk)

This restaurant is dotted with characters from Studio Ghibli animations, and serves up a menu of sushi, ramen, katsu, donburi and even Hawaiian poke bowls.

The Palmerston, 1 Palmerston Place (0131 220 1794, www.thepalmerstonedinburgh.co.uk)

Our new favourite restaurant recently opened. Their menu features dishes like braised beef shin, spelt, turnips, radishes and green sauce, and they’ve also got an on-site bakery, which dishes up goodies including Danish pastries and sourdough.

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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