A contemporary Burns’ Night supper at The Black Grape with Old Pulteney Cocktails and tasty Canapés

Stuart Hunter, Cameron Taylor and Murray Ainslie – Hospitality entrepreneurs

One of the newest places to drink and dine in Edinburgh is The Black Grape, which opened on 19 December 2022.   A timely idea then to spread the word and promote the new Restaurant & Wine Bar by hosting a small, intimate, contemporary Burns Night party – no ‘Address to the Haggis’ or ceilidh dancing, but a stylish, sociable event for about 25 guests. 

The Black Grape Restaurant and Wine Bar is located at 240 Canongate in the former premises of the Pancho Villas Mexican diner. This is the first restaurant venture for Murray Ainslie (previously operations manager for The Compass Group) working with business partners Stuart Hunter and Cameron Taylor.  

We’ve created an experience inspired by some of our favourite restaurants across the world. Whether you’re joining us for a glass of wine and a small plate, or feasting with a group of friends, we want you to feel at home.. our great food, polished service and stylish interior will ensure we really stand out from the crowd.” Murray Ainslie

Exterior of The Black Grape, Canongate

The smart logo with an optical illusion of two glasses or a bottle, illustrated on signage, menu and crockery illustrates the ethos of ‘small plates, wine & good times’.   The name may perhaps be inspired – not just by the essential ingredient of wine –  but Black Grape, an English rock band with a musical style fusing funk and electronic rock. 

It was 21 July 1801, five years after Rabbie Burns’ death aged just 37, that nine of his friends got together in Alloway in tribute to his life and work. They ate and drank, recited the ‘Address to a Haggis’ and sang a few of his songs. Little did they know that this launched the tradition of the Burns Supper on 25th January each year around the world, piping in the haggis, poetry, music and dancing with a toast to his Immortal Memory.

Celebrating Rabbie Burns with whisky and haggis, poetry and songs

Step inside The Black Grape to find the spacious, modern Bar leading through to the dining room.  The food menu is designed for sharing as well as fine wines, spirits and inventive house cocktails.

This Burns Night party was the perfect time to promote the Old Pulteney single malt whisky located near Wick on the rugged North East corner of the Highlands. The distillery was founded in 1826 by James Henderson, named after the Pulteney district of Wick.  As a remote location with few roads at the time, raw barley was brought in by boat and the whisky shipped out by distillery workers who also worked as herring fishermen.

The Old Pulteney distillery workers and fishermen, 19th century

Silver and Gold: the story of silver darlings, vast shoals of herring, together with Old Pulteney whisky, the golden nectar of Caithness brought great prosperity here in the mid to late 19th century. This was a boom time with more than 1,000 fishing vessels based at Wick for the summer season. 

The flourishing fishing industry, Pulteney Harbour, Wick, mid 19th century

The writer, Neil Gunn (1891-1973) was born near the distillery and his father was a fisherman. Immersed and inspired by the spirit of Caithness cultural heritage, The Silver Darlings (1941), is his famous novel about the fishing community and the men who went out to sea to harvest the precious herring.

“The money will be flowing like the river. As one man said in Wick:

the creels of silver herring will turn into creels of silver crowns.” 

Neil Gunn

The wild coastal location of the Old Pulteney distillery is buffeted by a brisk breeze blowing in off the North Sea and this is said to add a tangy salt sea aroma to the spirit as it matures in American and Spanish oak casks.  

Today, matured in air-dried, hand-selected ex-bourbon casks, the Old Pulteney 12-year-old is the definitive expression of a Maritime single malt whisky. The distillery describes this as ‘a sparkling gold whisky, smooth and firm bodied, with a subtle wisp of sea spray, sweet honey and warm salted caramel, a burst of soft citrus followed by a faintly salty, long lasting finish.’ 

Tasting notes: 

Colour – Deep amber with a slight pink hue.

Nose – Medium to high intensity, dry with a briny hint of sea air

Palate – Sweet, floral, citrus: lemon and lime plus dry banana skin.

For this Burns’ supper, the bar tenders had been busy experimenting to create three unique Old Pulteney whisky cocktails, each paired with a special gourmet canapé.

The Forager’s Highball paired with a Herring & Daikon cracker

The Forager’s Highball was a twist on a classic Whisky & Soda but with the addition of a finely crafted, locally foraged Sea buckthorn ‘juice-syrup.’ With a tart citrus taste, the vitamin-rich Sea buckthorn berries are nutritious -15 times more vitamin C than oranges – and often a botanical for Gin.  The garnish on the glass was a green, crunchy sprig of Salty Fingers (like samphire), to enhance the underlying salty flavour. Topped up with tonic and ice, this Highball was very refreshing 

Reflecting the fishing heritage for ‘silver darlings’ at the Old Pulteney distillery, a cracker topped with a Pickled Herring and Daikon salad (Oriental or Japanese radish) was served. Delicate flavours and soft/crunchy textures – a delicious light bite.

The Black Grape cocktail with Beetroot and Bramble Crostini

The second cocktail, served in a lovely small coupe was the The Black Grape: Old Pulteney single malt blended with a splash of oxidised red wine and a dash of a French liqueur – lip smacking good. The silky smooth spirit combined with a fortified wine is reminiscent of a Zaza cocktail (beloved by the late Queen and her mother) – gin and Dubonnet, Martini style instead of Vermouth. 

This was matched with a tasty snack of venison – or for vegetarians a chunky slice of beetroot – with a juicy fat bramble on a crostini toast.  A perfect balance with the bittersweet cocktail.     


The Malt and Salt Old Fashioned, with Haggis, neeps and tattie

Finally, Malt & Salt Old Fashioned. This was a new version of the classic (whisky, angostura bitters, sugar syrup, orange slice), to enhance the sweet nutty flavour of the Old Pulteney Single Malt.

Not surprisingly, this was accompanied by haggis with smoked mashed neeps and cube of roast potato.  So artistically plated this miniature portion tasted like a hearty dish. 

‘Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies:
But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer,
Gie her a Haggis’

Address to the Haggis, Robert Burns

This is the final verse of Burns’ poem to celebrate his appreciation of the Haggis, and therefore forever linked to the poet, presented and sliced with ceremonial flair on Burns Night.

And then we tasted a pure dram of the Old Pulteney to raise a glass to the great Scottish Bard. The perfect warming end to an inspiring evening.

This lively, well curated celebration was a great opportunity to sample a taste of the style, hospitality and ambience of The Black Grape.  The light, healthy but hearty lunch and supper menu is well designed to focus on sharing several dishes for an exciting, gourmet dining experience.

Nibbling a light snack with a glass of wine is rather like the Tapas offered in Spanish bars in the early evening to accompany a few drinks after work or socialising at weekends, and also  Aperitivo time in Italy – Prosecco or a Negroni served with savoury appetisers before dinner.

If Rabbie Burns was around today, he would sure to call into The Black Grape for a snifter or two,  as it’s just a short stroll down from the Lawnmarket where he lived for a while on Baxter’s Close. Burns also visited the Crochallan Fencibles, a gentlemen’s club at the Anchor Inn, Anchor Close, which leads down to Cockburn Street.   

Robert Burns lived in Baxter’s Close, Lawnmarket in 1786

So why not head down to the Canongate soon for a taste of “small plates, wine & good times” +  whisky, cool cocktails and seriously fine food.   

The Black Grape, 240 Canongate, Edinburgh EH8 8AB

Monday to Friday: 3 pm – late

Saturday / Sunday: 12 pm – late

Telephone: 0131 237 7419


Murray Ainslie and his team offer a warm welcome @ The Black Grape


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About vivdevlin

I am an international travel writer, specialising in luxury travel, hotels, restaurants, city guides, cruises, islands, train and literary-inspired journeys. I review dance and theatre, Arts Festivals and love the visual arts. I have just experienced an epic voyage, circumnavigating the globe, following in the wake of Captain Cook, Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson.

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