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A plate of different scottish food
Photograph: Jamie Inglis / Shutterstock

Nose-to-tail haggis? How the UK’s top restaurants fell in love with Scottish food

It was once considered a novelty to be enjoyed once a year on Burns Night. Now Scots-inspired dishes can be found on menus all year round

Chiara Wilkinson
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Chiara Wilkinson
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Deep-fried Mars bars swimming in glugs of grease. Stodgy bowls of lumpy, stumpy oatmeal. Potatoes boiled to within an inch of their lives, dressed up with sides of bloody sheep guts, swede and a swig of Tennent’s lager. Scottish food isn’t exactly easy on the eye – it’s not particularly healthy, light or fancy either. But if anything, Scottish food is humble, and in a world where people are paying up to £700 for a gimmicky gold-foiled steak, unpretentious grub can feel like a breath of fresh air. 

Once considered a novelty to be enjoyed once a year on Burns Night, Scottish cuisine has wriggled its way into dishes and on to menus south of the border, with supper clubs, restaurants and food influencers serving up Scots-inspired scran all year round. This is especially true in London, where Scottish cuisine really seems to be having its moment. Take Bermondsey restaurant 40 Maltby Street’s haggis in lamb gravy or St John’s ‘fish soup’ nod to cullen skink. Take the hearty serving of Scotch broth at Marylebone sandwich shop Paul Rothe and Sons, the famed venison scotch egg at Fulham’s Michelin-starred gastropub The Harwood Arms or the haggis beef burger at Peckham restaurant Slow Richie’s. Scottish food is everywhere right now.

So, how did these staples sneak their way on to menus in the English capital? According to trend forecaster Jennifer Creevy, director of food and drink at WGSN, the rise of Scottish cuisine plays into the drive for more sustainable dining. ‘Chefs are seeking out locally sourced ingredients for their menus, including those that are wild foraged and those that don’t have to travel far to their destinations,’ she says. She points to Kol, a modern Mexican restaurant in Marylebone that sources much of its seafood, sea buckthorn and mushrooms from Scotland, as well as the alcohol-free pine cocktail at Shoreditch bar Christina’s, which is infused with sustainably foraged Scots pine.

Chefs are seeking out locally sourced ingredients for their menus, even more so since Brexit and the pandemic

Meanwhile, food historian Lindsay Middleton says that the Nordic influence on fine-dining, with its emphasis on foraging and its nose-to-tail ethos, has parallels with Scottish cuisine. ‘Scotland’s climate offers the same kinds of foods as the likes of Norway or Iceland,’ says Middleton. ‘Retrospectively, we’ve realised that this kind of produce can be found much closer to home.’ There’s no doubt that the last few years have underlined the importance of sourcing food locally rather than favouring ingredients with a larger carbon footprint (avocados, we’re looking at you). ‘The food supply issues we’ve faced in the last few years with things like Brexit and the pandemic have really heightened the importance of being able to use what’s around us, in the best way possible,’ she says.

Luckily, Scottish ingredients are generally also pretty darn tasty. That’s why Kevin Dalgleish, chef and founder of Amuse restaurant in Aberdeen, follows an ‘ingredients first, menu after’ philosophy. ‘We’ll go to our supplier and see what’s in season and at peak, and keep it local: langoustines from the west coast, beef from Aberdeen, that sort of thing,’ he says. ‘Usually, we focus on getting as close to the source as we can, then the taste can just speak for itself.’ 

Six by Nico, the six-course ‘dining concept’ that launched in Glasgow in 2017, now has around 13 locations in the UK, including Manchester and Canary Wharf, with more set to open later this year. Their tasting menu aims to showcase the best of Scottish produce: monkfish cheek from Scrabster, cod from Peterhead, black pudding from Stornoway. (They even serve up a contemporary take on a deep-fried mars bar, complete with Irn Bru blood orange ice cream.) 

A plate of fish on a news paper
Photograph: Six By Nico

‘Scotland has some of the best langoustines and seafood in the world, and it’s not advocated for enough,’ says Andy Temple, Six by Nico’s executive chef. ‘We have the gulf stream that warms the water, so in the summer months it is absolutely flourishing. Then, we have ice water coming down from the north Atlantic, and it makes an absolutely outstanding shellfish habitat off the west coast. The taste is really clean, and is probably the opposite of what people expect Scottish food to be.’ 

As well as being more sustainable from an air-miles perspective, Scottish cuisine also places an emphasis on resourcefulness and preservation, which means keeping waste to a minimum. Haggis is a prime example. Traditionally served in the lining of a sheep’s stomach and made from the blood and offal of the animal once the rest had been sold to people who could afford larger cuts, haggis was all about bulking up what you could afford with things like oatmeal and spice. These would help with preservation and flavour, and also help to mask the taste of anything that had started to go off. 

‘Haggis is mysterious to a lot of people,’ says Temple. ‘It’s rich, iron-y and intense, with a spice that lifts it right up. It’s one of the most sustainable things ever, because often those byproducts wouldn’t be used otherwise, and [it] really nods to nose-to-tail eating. There are a lot more chefs around the UK who are trying to make traditional foods from scratch now and showcase how brilliant these products can be, so haggis is getting a lot of attention at the moment.’

A haggis toastie
Photograph: Deeney’s

It’s not just higher-end spots stuffing themselves into the haggis bandwagon. Scottish street-food connoisseurs Deeney’s have grown a cult following around their haggis toasties ever since they started selling them at their Leyton café in 2012 (they opened a new branch in Walthamstow just last year). ‘Haggis has got a pretty bad stigma – it grosses people out,’ says co-founder Patrick Dwyer. ‘But the product itself is perfectly seasoned lamb with a great texture and bite. When people actually try it, it’s rare that they’ll dislike it.’ Dwyer says they go through around 50 kilos of haggis a week, as well as heaps of other Scottish staples, like lorne square sausage and tattie (potato) scones. 

When it comes down to it, Scottish food has earned its way as an unlikely player in the culinary game because it ticks all of the boxes we’ve come to associate with trendy, responsible, good-quality eating: it’s often sourced locally, it’s somewhat sustainable and it’s usually seasonal. But on top of that, as this new wave of haggis-peddling menus shows, much of it is also really damn braw (as the Scots would say).

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