A visit to Martins restaurant became one of the highlights of our festival visits. It was situated in an unprepossessing street off Rose Lane (Rose Lane North) that you were only likely to find by accident if you did not know that it was there. I am not aware that it was widely advertised, relying mainly on recommendations by word of mouth. The Good Food Guide, as guides are prone to do I am afraid, provided a somewhat dry description of the place which in no way did it justice.
It attracted more than its fair share of celebrities; I read that Kofi Annan, replete with bodyguards, dropped in during the G8 summit. It was a relatively small and intimate place which was owned and run by Martin and Gay Irons, an extremely pleasant and unassuming couple. The emphasis was on the use of high quality ingredients; a scallop dish that we had there was among the top two or three scallop dishes that we have had anywhere. Overall, the food was of a high standard and the wine list perfectly satisfactory. Service was excellent, being attentive without being intrusive, as it is in too many restaurants today where the emphasis seems to be on getting you in and out of the door as quickly as possible.
The pièce de résistance was what we fondly remember as “Martin’s Cheese Show” – they specialised in unpasteurized Scottish and Irish cheeses. On earlier visits we had always been limited for time, rushing between shows, and consequently we never had time for a dessert. However, we eventually managed to organise ourselves so that we could spend a more leisurely couple of hours over the meal. The restaurant was fairly full on the evening in question, but we were first to get to the dessert stage having been the earliest couple to arrive. Being a cheese lover my choice was a foregone conclusion. Martin carefully threaded his way between the tables with the cheese trolley and the show, for that is what it was, commenced.
It took over 10 minutes, as he put on a captivating and frequently amusing performance on a subject that was very obviously a passion. He started with the Irish cheeses, introducing us to the likes of: Cooleeneye – made by Breda Maher in County Tipperary – he even produced a picture of Bridget the cow, one of the Kerry herd (although we did notice that Bridget seemed to change over the years!); and Ardrachan – made by Mary Burns in County Cork. Moving to Scotland, he introduced Lanark Blue, regaling us with the story of how the maker, Humphrey Errington, was unsuccessfully pursued by the “cheese police” – a tale of failed attempts to outlaw so called dangerous, i.e. unpasteurized, cheeses. Errington’s Revenge, Martin’s name for an evil-looking, life-threatening cheese, eventually brought the show to a conclusion.
I had noticed that, as the performance proceeded, other diners gradually started to listen in, until by the end the whole room seemed to be in rapt attention, all equally enthralled by the performance, so much so that every table appeared to have at least one person that plumped for the cheese, and of course they were each treated to a performance of Martin’s show. We sampled the show on subsequent visits and never tired of it. And yes – the cheeses were excellent. If you are a cheese lover then a visit to one of Mellis’s excellent cheese emporia is essential, as some of the above-mentioned cheeses can be found there.
I originally penned this piece around 2005. Unfortunately, the restaurant no longer exists. A great loss. I have resurrected this content, along with other items that come under the title of Edinburgh Memories.