THERE is no doubt that at Christmas the supermarkets step up a gear in their quest to make sure you spend all your hard-earned, hard-saved festive cash at their tills – as well as cashing in all those loyalty card points you’ve been hoarding all year.
And yet there are just some things which, despite the varied luxury ranges on offer in the supermarket aisles, always taste a little more of Christmas when bought from independent foodie stores.
If you have the time to actually get to shop in Edinburgh’s many and varied small expert food and drink shops – when you’re not wrapping mounds of presents, attending nativities and carol concerts and remembering the last second class post day for that mountainous pile of cards – you could find the best mince pies you’ve ever bitten into, the finest drop of bramble-flavoured whisky to accompany a fabulous slice of aged Stilton or a handmade melt-in-the-mouth spiced bar of chocolate.
Edinburgh is well known as a foodies’ paradise, and Christmas is no different. But just where do the makers of this produce and the owners of these boutique stores buy their own festive goodies?
Here, some of them reveal their top tips for making your Christmas larder bulge with the best the city has to offer.
ANGUS FERGUSON, Demijohn, Victoria Street
It’s Edinburgh’s liquid deli, but even Demijohn owner Angus knows you need some food with which to wash down your wine and whisky.
“For mince pies and delicious cakes for having with either a liqueur or a cup of tea after Christmas dinner then I would suggest getting them from Love Crumbs, the bakers at West Port, which is actually run by an ex-Demijohnnie, Hollie Reid. I would recommend everyone tries the Lemon and Courgette Sponge Cake if it is not sold out,” he says. “It’s incredible!
“For cheese, it still has to be Iain Mellis, there’s nowhere better and as it’s next door to us in Victoria Street it’s pretty damned convenient.
“Also people love getting handmade chocolates, so I would go to The Chocolate Tree in Bruntsfield Place, which also sells wonderful chocolate for hot chocolates. In fact anything where chocolate is important, this is the place to go. We’ve recently even decided to stock them.
“And if you’re out Christmas shopping and fancy a sneaky lunch – vital I find – then eat the plat du jour at Petit Paris in the Grassmarket, superb!
“As for alcohol and any oils and vinegars for cooking with and of course as presents, well we are slightly sorted at Demijohn.”
JONATHAN CROMBIE, Crombies of Edinburgh, Broughton Street
Unsurprisingly Crombies has been working flat out in the run-up to Christmas with its trademark speciality bird roasts selling like, well, hot cakes.
“Sales are good,” says owner Jonathan. “They’re up on last year, it feels a little bit more buoyant.”
But while his family is more than organised on the big bird front come Christmas Day he always makes sure he has some goodies from other independent shops on the table.
“You just can’t beat a nice bit of cheese from Mellis for after dinner of the next day. I always have a bit of Old Cheddar and a bit of Stilton and I love a cheese and turkey sandwich with some Branston pickle on Boxing Day.
“I also like to buy good smoked salmon from Something Fishy which is a great fish shop at the top of Broughton Street. I’m sure they smoke it themselves and it has a fabulous taste and I always have it in the larder. It’s especially good as a starter for Christmas dinner.”
VIDYA SARJOO, Cuckoo’s Bakery, Dundas Street
The city centre bakery run by Vidya and Graham Savage is well known for using the finest ingredients in its cakes – but the same goes for their own home kitchens too.
“We’re committed to using Scottish suppliers both in our business and in our home as it ensures a high quality and we like to be a firm supporter of other independent businesses,” says Vidya.
“Obviously we don’t have to look too far for cake – and our hand-designed festive cupcake range is proving so popular we’re producing between 300 and 600 per day to meet demand.
“But of course we have to shop elsewhere for other lovely Christmas foods. For anything chocolate then I would always recommend The Chocolate Tree, especially for its wonderful luxury hot chocolate.
“And for cheese after dinner then we always stock up on a selection from Clark’s Speciality Foods in Midlothian – and their charcuterie is also wonderful for entertaining guests over the holiday season.”
PHIL COOK, Iain Mellis Cheesemongers, Victoria Street, Stockbridge, Morningside
Assistant manager at the renowned cheesemongers is Phil Cook, who is also a trained chef and about to embark on a masters in gastronomy, “so to say I’m passionate about food is putting it mildly,” he laughs.
“But I’m lucky at Christmas as I go home to my mum’s in Kirkcaldy and she’s bought a lovely goose from her local butchers. Here in Edinburgh though there are a few great places I always go to for some great food and drink.
“I live in Meadowbank so for booze I always go to Cornelius Beers and Wine on Easter Road. It has a good range of beers and does some lovely wines and prices are not that much more than a supermarket. But we’ve got Demijohn next door to the shop so I’ll nip in there quite a lot for something special too.”
He adds: “Crombies is the place for me for my meat, especially pork belly and pig cheeks as well as its amazing sausages. And up the road from them is Something Fishy which does the best razor clams and salmon.
“Of course for cheese I’m surrounded by the best – at this time of year it gets very hectic and people are looking for good cheddars or a classic Stilton.”
ALI GOWER, The Chocolate Tree, Bruntsfield Place
Craft chocolate makers specialising in “bean to bar” luxury chocolate, the shop has become a Mecca for chocaholics since it opened four years ago.
But no man or woman can live on artisan chocolate alone, so where do Ali and his wife Friedericke shop for some of the finer foods of life?
“We do try and support other independent shops, but with two kids we do sometimes end up with the convenience of the supermarket. However we’re at Edinburgh’s Farmers’ Market and the Stockbridge Market regularly so we tend to buy as much as we can when we’re there. They’re great for finding food of a type and quality that’s just not available in supermarkets.
“But for things like booze – at Christmas or any time – I go to Great Grog at Dalkeith Road. I just bought a £10 bottle of beer from there which was just great. Like good chocolate, with good beer less is more. And the guy there really knows his stuff. I also like Vino Wines.
“For veg we buy from both Phantassie Food and East Coast organics, you can’t beat hot smoked salmon from Creelers and for bread I’d always choose Bakery Andante, though Falko is also great.”
He adds: “We’re mostly vegetarian but once in a blue moon we’ll do a roast chicken and get one from Grierson Organic.
“And as for cheese, Edinburgh is pretty spoiled for choice, but we go to Cheesy Peasy, the cheese van in Marchmont. You can’t beat a big chunk of smelly French cheese at Christmas.”