When thinking of Scottish food, you think haggis. Everyone does. It’s famous; it prompts you to Google what exactly haggis is; it might make you a little squeamish when you find out.
Don’t get me wrong—I think haggis is great. Haggis, neeps (turnips), and tatties (potatoes) are even better.
The discovery that I actually really like haggis was the first food surprise of my Edinburgh trip. The second discovery—the more important one—is what I want to share. What I want to shout from the rooftops, really. It’s a dinner that left us feeling, in the words of my dining partner and friend, like happy potato dumplings. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it or singing its praises since.
I’m talking about Aizle.
Aizle means ‘a burning coal; a glowing hot ember; a spark’ in Scots.
How to pronounce it? Look no further than the hashtag #AizleRhymeswithHazel. The restaurant doesn’t have a set menu; instead, the menu changes constantly based on seasonal ingredients and local availability (sometimes these are grown at the restaurant itself). Aizle is open four days a week, for dinner only. Reservations can be hard to come by, so plan ahead.
To start, we received a taste of their house-made kombucha. I’m not normally a huge fan of kombucha, but this was good—subtle, clean, and refreshing. A great start to the meal.
The first bite of crab & caviar was crunchy, fresh, delicious, a perfect start to the meal. A bite that we turned into three or four bites just to make it last.
The beetroot was yummy and pleasantly (for my palate) not too beetrooty. I have never enjoyed beets as much as I enjoyed this dish. It sat in a thin, crispy shell of a pastry, and the wispy wafers on top overflowed like a piece of abstract art. Just trust me and eat it in one bite. Don’t try to cut or bite this into smaller pieces.
The sweet potato was my favorite of the three. Crisp on the outside, soft (and piping hot!) on the inside. Warm, doughy sweet potato topped with crispy, airy puffs. If I ever knew what ‘umami’ meant, I think I caught a glimpse of it in this dish. To be honest, I still want a second go at this snack because I was too distracted by the burnt tongue I incurred from being too impatient.
The second course and fourth serving was our favorite of the night: handmade ricotta tortellini with mushroom, finished with a heavy dose of shaved Italian black truffle. Bites that made us stop talking and literally make ‘mmmm’ noises like novice diners experiencing food for the first time. Creamy and parmesan-y and earthy but not funky. Flavors that made us mop and scrape our plates clean when no one was looking. It was that good.
The third course was perhaps my second love of the night. I still think about this bread, and my mouth waters when I do. (I might even make this photo the wallpaper on my phone; that’s how strongly I feel about it.) Sourdough brioche with caramelized onions and lemon thyme with salted butter (hand-churned in house!). The onion flavor was just right, sweet and savory, detectable but not too strong. The perfect savory bread. I kept tearing piece after piece from the pillowy bun, but as they flaked off like wisps from a cloud, I still could not find any pieces of onion. It was as if the caramelized goodness had been infused throughout, then disappeared. How do they do it?
4. Day Boat Fish
Next up, halibut with Shetland mussels and broccoli. The mussels were my favorite part of this dish, but overall I think this was my least favorite course. Not because it wasn’t good; it was. Simply because everything else was so much better. I do recall a distinct flavor of ‘green’—what the color would taste like if distilled down to its essence. The puree on the side captured the flavor of roasted broccoli but with a silky texture that made me believe in a world where broccoli could be something other than its coarse, grainy self.
For the main: wild partridge and Aizle’s take on haggis, with cabbage, pressed potato, and elderberry. Did you know that when eating game like partridge, you have to look for the shot (aka the bullet) in your food, just in case, because the bullets are so small? I didn’t! Learned something new. Everything in this course was delicious, but I found the haggis especially intriguing. Something about it was different from my expectation of haggis—it seemed lighter, maybe?—but a bite with all of these elements together was better than any of the individual components on the plate. This is how it should be and is always immensely satisfying when it happens.
The beginning of the end of the meal: lime, yogurt, almond, greengage (which is like a plum). One of the best palate cleansers I’ve had. Sometimes, the palate cleanser feels almost like a chore—something you eat because it makes sense, and you want to enjoy your dessert, and it tastes refreshing and zingy but it doesn’t make you want to keep eating it. This one I wanted to keep eating. I’d eat that for breakfast.
Dessert was chocolate, kuromitsu, and an oat brittle. What is kuromitsu, you ask? Good question. I had no idea. I Googled it. It’s the Japanese sugar syrup that gave this dessert a little more depth and nuance than your typical sweet chocolate dessert. At the end of a multi-course meal like this, it’s rare for me to want to eat an entire dessert. I finished this one.
They even gave us a menu to take home as a souvenir! So I can stare at it longingly on my fridge for years to come.
It was a meal deserving of a Michelin star without the Michelin hype. We loved our dinner at Aizle so much that we also made a reservation at their sister restaurant, Noto. At both Aizle and Noto, the food was incredible on its own, but the staff really put the experience over the top for us. Especially after traipsing across Europe in between these two meals, where customer service is adequate but nothing special, it really stood out to us how warm and welcoming the staff were. It left me feeling like it wasn’t the first time I had visited, but that we had been there before, perhaps in a previous life, and it was natural that we were back.
But is it Scottish food? I’d argue yes. It isn’t haggis, neeps, and tatties, but it is truly Scottish. All of Aizle’s ingredients are grown locally. Everything they serve is made in house. Scottish food doesn’t need to be anything in particular—shepherd’s pie or a Sunday roast. Aizle is showing us what Scottish food can be, and what it is when thought and care go into where your food comes from.
Now, I’m not saying that you should say no to haggis when in Scotland, or that haggis is overrated. Haggis is tasty. It is interesting and it will surprise you. You should say yes to haggis. You should also make it a point to say yes to Aizle.
More eating in Edinburgh…
Is it “American” food? New York American, or comfort food American? Is the cuisine Asian, or “Asian-inspired”? And what about that fried chicken?
You can’t beat Buck a Shuck weekday happy hour at The White Horse in Edinburgh, where the oysters are a crowning achievement.