While Australia obviously has one of the oldest surviving indigenous civilisations in the world with a millenia of oral history, the sad thing is that modern-day Australian culture generally suppresses this history through the celebration of the arrival of Captain Cook and the early colonial settlers, as though Australia was only ‘discovered’ in 1788 and did not exist before then. That’s white privilege for you.
Europe on the other hand, has more than oral history on its side. Almost all streets you walk down in town centres have buildings that date back hundreds of years, or boast of luminaries from their past, or talk proudly of how the town was founded by Romans in the early years of A.D. European history isn’t any more superior to Australian indigenous history, but by virtue of its tangibility, is more widely celebrated and acknowledged by historians.
I will have to admit, I’m susceptible to this historical bias. Walking around in Europe, I got particularly excited over the written and documented histories that we were exposed to – more excited, than when I stand on sacred indigenous sites in Australia. That’s a fault of mine, and one of which I’m trying to be conscious.
Still, it’s hard for me not to get excited over eating at places like the White Hart Inn, reputedly the oldest pub in Edinburgh, celebrating its 500 years of operation in 2016. Combined with its link to royal history (the white hart was a mythical creature that could only be captured by those of royal blood), it had enough appeal to draw me in for lunch one day while we were in Edinburgh.
The pub is surprisingly small inside, seating only about thirty for a meal at various tables and booths, plus a few more at the bar. It’s quiet during the daytime, catering mainly to tourists and local workers looking for a bite to eat, but gets busier at night with people looking to have a drink during whatever sports game is playing on the TV.
Table service was prompt and friendly – the waiter came around from the bar to serve us drinks and take our orders, and walked by throughout our meal to check on us. He recommended their White Hart ale for K and served it in the smaller half-pint after K shied away from the full pint. It was a particularly malty and full-bodied ale, with quite a beery aftertaste. I was happy to stick to my usual Diet Coke!
K was keen to try a bit of haggis for tradition’s sake, as we hadn’t yet tried this stereotypical Scottish dish in our time in Edinburgh. Haggis is traditionally served as it is here – with mashed potatoes, mashed neeps (turnips, or rutabagas) and a healthy drizzle of gravy.
One of our tour guides had claimed that haggis was no longer the random mixture of offal that people expect – these days they are apparently made up more of different bits of ground meat, oats and spices – livers, kidneys and hearts are used only rarely.
Despite this claim though, I still found this particular haggis mix particularly liver-y with too much of an offal flavour to entice me to try any more than a mouthful! K ended up eating most of this dish.
He went on to have Grilled Scottish Salmon Hollandaise for his main course, served of course with mashed potatoes and peas – the two side dish mainstays in a British pub. The salmon was a bit over-dry, even when coated with the hollandaise sauce – but the mashed potato was quite buttery soft.
My Steak and Ale Pie was absolutely delicious, far superior to K’s salmon. Again served with mashed potato and peas, the sides came with a jug of ale gravy which was quite thin, but surprisingly full of flavour. The highlight was the pie itself though, with its super crispy tower of puff pastry (buttery and delicious) and its large chunks of tender beef cooked in a thick savoury sauce. This is what a pie is supposed to taste like!
I have a feeling that the White Hart Inn occasionally takes advantage of its position as (one of) the oldest pubs in Edinburgh, perhaps letting some standards drop as in the case of the dry salmon. In other ways though, they are an excellent local establishment – service is fast and friendly, and they serve up a mean pub classic like the steak and ale pie. Go for the history and the pie, and stay to watch a sports game with a drink.
The White Hart Inn is located at 34 Grassmarket in Edinburgh, Scotland.