Where Stars are Born

Best Michelin Star Restaurants in Scotland
When considering what makes a restaurant great, it comes down to more than quality food. But at the best restaurants, there is often a narrative threaded through the courses, and certain intangibilities that stay with a person even after the meal is done. Two of the best Michelin star restaurants in Scotland, in a country that has only thirteen establishments with this distinction, have that story and stay power. And while the chefs are culinary raconteurs, that latent magic is produced by having these dining rooms housed in five-star boutique hotels.


The Best Michelin Star Restaurants in Scotland


In Kitching’s 21212


The four-room inn at 21212, housed in an old Edinburgh building, has all of the modern comforts. The rooms offer garden or city vistas and decanters of sloe gin sit nearby. But 21212’s exclusive offering is Paul Kitching, the perfectly named co-owner and chef.


Kitching has possessed a Michelin star for more than two decades, first at his restaurant in England, and again at 21212.


21212 Edinburgh


“The intention was not bedrooms,” said Kitching, who had moved to Edinburgh with his partner in business, and in life, to open this restaurant. “But the building just chose us… As sure as a carrot’s a carrot.”


The building, a gray, columnated one on a regal block in the peaceful Carlton Hill district of the city, gave Kitching an idea. He recognized that the four rooms on the upper floors allowed him to do something unique with his meals. The hotel was a way to extend the pleasure of a good dinner.


“There’s something fantastic to checking into a place like this,” he said. “Stretch the Michelin stardomness into a bed, a bath, a breakfast the next morning. You could extend the magical escapism.”


Best Michelin Star Restaurants in Scotland 21212


Uniquely, it’s the only Michelin star restaurant in Edinburgh to also offer rooms. Unexpectedly, the rooms provided a second way for Kitching to stretch his star. By renting the four rooms, it allowed him to cut back on covers in the restaurant, giving him the freedom to devote his attentions to what he does best.


And it’s Kitching’s attention to detail that makes him a genius in the kitchen. When he and I sat down before lunch, he confessed that “[skinning] the pears made my morning. If I had a diary, I’d put [the pears] in it.”


21212 Paul Kitching


While the mundane matters of the kitchen appeal to the chef, there is nothing ordinary about 21212’s dining room or the creations Kitching envisions.


The restaurant was a cross between a fine dining establishment and a boat long at sea. While everything was immaculate, from the open kitchen to the chandelier, the room possessed waves. The bowls on the table had rims that undulated, as if still being worked on by the glassmaker, and the backboard running behind the booths looked like a line of swell encircling the place. Even the random statuettes sitting on each table, from miniature Buddhas to enlarged apples, seemed as if the interior design had been coordinated with a ship’s captain, who decorated the space with purchases made at various ports.


But had 21212 been designed to look like a cardboard box, guests would still find the food tantalizing. Kitching made dishes nearly too beautiful to eat and food so bizarrely paired that I was inspired to return home to reexamine how I used the contents of my refrigerator.


“[Kitching] throws the kitchen sink at you,” his partner explained. “We want people to say, ‘Wow, I didn’t know food could be like this.'”


The appetizer, for example, (not counting the crisp fish skin) combined three different fish, each prepared in a starkly different way and accompanied by confusing textures and tastes, like mustard and beet parchment. As a segue to the soup, which had more character than any soup I had ever tasted, I received a ramekin filled with grapes and beets and shrimp and foam. Everything was a strange and wonderful surprise.


Best Michelin Star Restaurants in Scotland


But all of this is apropos of a chef whose out-of-the-kitchen obsessions shows that he sees the world differently. He is completely intrigued by the American Civil War and calls Gettysburg his “Graceland.” And should a guest in the upstairs breakfast room happen to open the closet, she would find Kitching’s vast DVD collection, which includes two copies of everything: one for viewing, and a second identical copy wrapped in original packaging, never to be viewed, as if the made-in-China cases held miniature Renoirs.


Paul Kitching's DVD collection


Kitching came over to my table as the waiter presented my entree: a dish with about two dozen ingredients–not counting sauces or spices–though, unlike his DVD collection, not one ingredient appeared on the plate in duplicates: one french fry, one pastry puff, one slice of this fish, etc.


Best Michelin Star Restaurants in Scotland 21212


“You want the customer, through the meal, to maintain excitement.”


Excitement, wonder, confusion. These were the things the mad genius from the kitchen seemed to strive for at 21212. In fact, Kitching had told me earlier that he was confident that he could choreograph a dining experience that walked his guests through culinary mazes. He added, “As sure as eggs are eggs,” pulling more idioms from the pantry of his mind.


The Boath House


Boath the Gardens and the Kitchen


When Wendy Matheson and her husband purchased the Boath House a quarter of a century ago, they spent six years renovating the seven rooms, little cabin, and common areas, as well as beautifying twenty-two acres of land. When they opened for business, Matheson found herself in the kitchen, preparing all the meals. But her expertise was being wasted.


Best Michelin Star Restaurants in Scotland The Boath House


After some restructuring, the Boath House has become one of the premier small properties in Scotland, partly because Wendy was able to get out of the kitchen and go into the garden, where her talents were better used.


Wendy Matheson at the Boath House


Today, the few acres on the property dedicated to herbs and flowers, prairie grass and tranquility have been praised as one of the best small hotel gardens.


The Boath House Garden


Matheson, a certified landscape architect, has made a place for her guests to sit and stroll, though she wants them to do more with the space. At present, she’s designing an outdoor pizza oven to make the garden a venue rather than a place of respite.


Moving Matheson out of the kitchen and into the garden had other unintended results. The hotel recruited a second expert to the property, Charlie Lockley, a local chef who, for the past five years, has earned the Boath House a Michelin star.


While the recipes and ingredients are ultimately Lockley’s decision, it’s often Matheson’s garden and green house that pushes his hand. (The prolificness of the bee hive and the chicken coop on the other side of the stone walls also do much to sway the menu.) What they can’t get from their garden, they often obtain from nearby. “We really like to support local suppliers and keep the local foodstuffs going,” Matheson explained.


Best Michelin Star Restaurants in Scotland The Boath House


Just a walk through the parlor rooms echoes that testament: the paintings and sculptures on sale were done by artists no more than an hour’s drive from the rural Boath House. And much of the six-course dinner was purchased from local butchers, dairies, and fishermen, or traveled about one minute from the property’s garden.


Best Michelin Star Restaurants in Scotland The Boath House


When I took my seat, I got the sense that the garden must have been abundant with celeriac that day, for pieces of the root were salt-baked and pureed into a cream soup, which was then dolloped with celeriac foam. Mixed in was a burnt celeriac oil.


Best Michelin Star Restaurants in Scotland The Boath House


And later, the ingredients that made the sous vide salmon with the pickled quail’s egg sing were all the oddities growing on the other side of the wall: a solitary sea-flavored oyster leaf, a single orange tagete flower delivering a citrus pop, a scrape of fennel, a nugget of beetroot.


Best Michelin Star Restaurants in Scotland The Boath House


Lockley’s kitchen deserved its Michelin star, to be sure, but it was certainly nudged into the limelight by the proximity and freshness of Matheson’s garden. And the lovely nearness of my bed at the Boath House.


Best Michelin Star Restaurants in Scotland The Boath House

Posted on by Noah Lederman in I Ate What?

2 Responses to Where Stars are Born

  1. ken Miller

    Oh wow, that’s some epic comfort food right there! Looks totally delicious

  2. ken Miller

    I was there during the Fringe festival, it was a wonderful experience.

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