Our kind host, John, offered to drive back into the city and pick up our camera gear so we didn’t have to lug it around town with us. It was a typical act of Scottish hospitality that we would find repeated several times during our journey. He recommended a rendezvous at the Jolly Judge Pub, just a stone’s throw from the Scotch Whisky Experience on the Royal Mile. It was an excellent suggestion: a short trip off the main street down an alley into a courtyard down a short flight of stairs brings you into the basement level pub. It was a small, warm, cozy space, complete with crackling fire and colorful local characters clustered around the small bar. In essence, a perfect old pub. The space was crammed with small tables, all of which were occupied. Though it was busy, the friendly bartenders spotted us quickly and recommended some good local bitter ale. We opted for the Tempest Brewing Long White Cloud Pale Ale, an IPA-ish non-filtered style with a nice bitterness and lovely balance. It was poured on a nitro tap which added to the rich, creamy texture of the beer, and it was refreshingly cold (as an Americans we’re still somewhat enamored with cold beer, as improper as that may be to some). Since there was no place to sit inside, we took our beers outside and sat in the cool night of the courtyard, where we were overwhelmed by a long white cloud of cigarette smoke emanating from a raucous group of twenty-somethings sitting nearby. But it was an authentic experience at a very old Scottish pub, and the beer cloud was excellent. We chatted with one of the bartenders who had stepped outside for a fag (a smoke), and we joked about the various types of tourists that came through this increasingly busy city.
We sidled up to an empty spot next to the bar, next to a rather rough-looking fellow who seemed like he could have been a character out of a Guy Ritchie film. Of course he ended up being extremely polite and friendly – like almost all the Scots we met – and we had a good chat about Scotch and beer and places to go see in the countryside. After a couple pints and a dram of Glenkinchie we got hungry and were told that excellent traditional comfort food could be found directly across the street at Mum’s Great Comfort Food. So we popped over just before closing and had one of the best meals of the trip.
I ordered the mixed game meat pie that came loaded up with pheasant, venison, and a few other types of beasties topped up with a big, fat, fluffy puff pastry. Meat pies are a staple of Scotland, as they are in England and Australia. They are more diverse in presentation than I would have thought, and the “crust” can be a classic pie crust, a puff pastry, a piece of toasted bread, or sometimes a pile of broiled mashed potatoes. The puff pastry crust on my pie was delicious, and added a fluffy lightness to the rich, savory filling. We also ordered a sausage casserole that came with a tomato-based gravy and butter beans. It was good, but the pie was the star. Even though they were about to close, the staff was exceedingly friendly and welcoming and we had a great meal.