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The Tolbooth Tavern (Edinburgh)

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Address: 167 Canongate / Edinburgh EH8 8BN / Midlothian

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      07.08.2011 01:15
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      not brilliant

      Finding a place to eat out as a family on the Royal Mile was proving to be a bit of a challenge. It was not the lack of eating establishments which was the problem it was the fact that our group was composed of fussy eaters aged between 13 and 82. While some of us are curry fiends my great aunt still moans about the Indian restaurant we took her to several years ago and my nephew thinks that KFC is gourmet cuisine. We wanted somewhere relaxed and informal where we would not feel out of place dressed casually, the kids were welcome and we would have some privacy to sit back and chat. When we came across the Tolbooth Tavern it seemed to tick all of those boxes, the fact that it was so quiet when every other restaurant and café was mobbed maybe should have set off some alarms but by that point we were just so glad to be able to sit down that we went inside anyway. The Tolbooth Tavern is a beautiful stone built building which dates back to 1591. It was originally used to collect tolls from visitors to the area and was also used as a prison and torture chamber before being turned into a pub in 1820. I love old Edinburgh because of the architecture and rich history, the tavern even has its own resident ghosts who thankfully let us dine in peace. Unfortunately the interior of the pub is stuck in a time warp but think 1970s instead of 1870s with dark beams, a ridiculously busy carpet and velvet covered bar stools. It took our eyes a few minutes to grow accustomed to the gloomy lighting after being out in the sun but after being herded to the upstairs seating area (kids are only allowed inside if they are eating and then only in the back of the pub) we settled onto comfortable wooden chairs. The menus were brought out immediately and were printed on a single sheet of A4 meaning there was not a lot of choice. We decided to skip the starters which ranged in price from £2.90 for soup of the day to £4.95 for smoked salmon with bread and salad and go straight to the main courses. There was not an enormous choice of main course either; there are six main courses with additional options of burgers or a filled baked potato and all cost under £10. Between us we managed to order most of what was on the menu with me opting for fish and chips, my sister went for steak pie, my nephew for macaroni cheese, my daughter chose the chicken burger and great aunt had the baked potato with baked beans and cheese. While we were waiting we sipped on our drinks. My great aunt is fond of different ciders but all were only available in large pint sized bottles and not half pint glasses so we shared a bottle of alcoholic ginger beer. The drinks selection was average which is a pity as I would have liked to have seen a better selection of whiskies given the location but at least the prices are reasonable for the area. The food was brought out after a short wait. My fish and chips looked great with a huge fish fillet. Unfortunately the fish was not cod and was a much blander fish; probably haddock, so was not brilliant and the chips were obviously not homemade. My sister adored her steak pie with huge chunks of beef in rich gravy topped with flaky puff pastry. My niece enjoyed the haggis, neeps and tatties but really you would have to try really hard to foul that dish up and the baked potato was huge and generously filled. The major disappointment of the meal was my nephew's macaroni which came without crispy cheese on top and was simply a collection of overcooked pasta in a pale yellow sauce. I had a taste of the macaroni and it was horrible, tasteless with gritty pieces of cheese floating in an insipid and watery sauce and making a mess of such a simple dish is unforgivable. When it came to ordering desserts there were only two options on the menu and those were sticky toffee pudding and a hot chocolate fudge cake both costing £3.95 and we each ordered one. The portions were enormous and the sticky toffee pudding was declared a hit by those who had it. My chocolate cake was very average, it had obviously been microwaved as there was a skin on the chocolate sauce and the cheap vanilla ice cream accompanying it was not great. The service was the one high point of our meal. There were two waitresses assigned to the upstairs area despite there only being around 10 tables and both were lovely, friendly, chatty and happy to take group photos for us. The Tolbooth tavern would certainly not be my first choice for eating out on the Royal Mile in future and it badly needs to be brought up to date with both the décor and menu needing a drastic overhaul. I would probably go there for a quick drink and to chat with friends in a relaxed atmosphere but would not choose to dine there again.

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