Many of the shops on Edinburgh’s historic Royal Mile sell what might be described as tartan tat.
However, this historic Old Town thoroughfare is also a destination for something much more tempting than a hairy haggis or ‘see you Jimmy’ hat.
That’s thanks to long term resident The Fudge House, who have been at the same spot - 197 Canongate, in a 17th-century reconstructed tenement otherwise known as Shoemakers Land - for 73 years.
Since Dominic and Armando Margiotta opened the shop in 1949, back when there was still post war rationing, this business has passed down the family. It’s currently being run by the third generation of fudge makers – Giancarlo, 43, and Paolo Di Sotto, 40.
These brothers recently decided it was time for a whole new look, so they’re currently closed for a major makeover, with plans to reopen later this month.
They’ve employed the Edinburgh-based commercial design company who is also responsible for the look of IJ Mellis, Ting Thai Caravan, Aesop at the St James Quarter, restaurant Eleanore and other hip businesses in the capital.
“Our last major refurbishment was about 15 years ago, just before we switched from being a cafe and fudge shop to just making and selling our fudge. We feel that it’s the right time to shake things up a bit, as we’re working on some exciting new developments in terms of fudge-related products,” says Giancarlo. “We brought in the excellent creative team at Splintr to design and complete the refurbishment and a big part of this is innovative ways to showcase these new products. This also comes alongside an exciting re-brand, which our graphic designer brother, Ottavio, is leading. His experience, alongside his integral knowledge of the family business, means he was well placed to create our new visual identity. He and Splintr have been working together closely to ensure that everything will work in harmony. We’re not giving too much away at the moment, but let’s just say it’s contemporary yet timeless, and we hope it will bring a real boost to the Royal Mile”.
They’re also keeping schtum about most of the goodies that will be on offer, though there will be some new fudge-covered nuts, which are candied in sugar, then fudge, and have a crunchy texture, as well as branded gift boxes and a bigger selection of seasonal offerings.
Despite this, those who’ve been visiting for years, or even decades, needn’t worry about not being able to pick up their usual. They still remain true to the original secret formula, which was based on Dominic Margiotta’s wife Beatrice’s family recipe.
“Our dad passed it on to us when we started working in the shop and hopefully we can pass it on to our kids one day,” says Giancarlo. “It’s unique both because of the quality of our ingredients, and our method. A lot of people tend to associate fudge with an American-style of making it, where it’s often cooled on a marble slab. However, we draw inspiration from traditional Scottish tablet recipes, and cool our fudge through a slow process of beating it and then casting it into trays. It takes longer to get the end product, but we believe it gives a better consistency and taste, and that this sets us apart”.
Their unique product is firmer than the squishier and crumblier US fudge. It’s also a bit more grown-up and visually appealing, with neat blocks that are marbled by Italian-influenced ingredients like nougat, Amaretto biscuit or pistachio. It’s more than chance that the flavours are reminiscent of gelato varieties. Back in the Seventies, Dominic Margiotta’s daughter, Erena, married Raymond Di Sotto - an ice-cream maker from London - and he joined the family business.
Although the owners are always experimenting, they will always have a market for the staples from back in the day.
“The flavours we’ve been making the longest tend to be the classics, such as Vanilla and Rum and Raisin. They remain firm favourites with lots of customers, along with our signature fudge, Highland Cream”, says Giancarlo. “Some of our latest additions, such as Chocolate Coconut and Caramel Biscoff, are dairy-free. It’s taken a long time to get these recipes right as our other fudges contain butter, milk and cream, and we wanted to keep the taste as authentic as possible, but we’ve cracked it.”
They’ve also always offered their own Butter Tablet, which is made to Erena’s original recipe. “It’s just like your grandma – and ours – used to make,” says Giancarlo.
The brothers recently demonstrated how they make this sugary treat on an episode of Gregg Wallace’s Fun Weekends for Channel 5, though they didn’t share their top secret fudge recipe with him.
Although they’re in a tourist hotspot, the tablet and their other sugary products have always sold well to locals, and they’ve been more reliant on them during lockdown.
“They were definitely strange and tough times. It’s the first time our shop has been closed for such a prolonged time in its history”, says Giancarlo. “Initially, both our premises and online store were closed, but due to repeated requests from our customers, we actually re-opened our online store during the lockdown. It felt like such an affirmation that people wanted our fudge so much and we feel so fortunate to have come out the other side due to the loyalty of our customers. It’s not something we ever want to re-live, but it did also give us a chance to take a step back, to think about our plans for the future and, ultimately, decide to go ahead with this rebranding and refurbishment”.