I was delighted to accept an invite to the tour at The Real Mary Kings Close and have lunch in their cafe, The Royal Exchange Coffee House.
I’ve always thought of The Real Mary Kings Close as a visitor attraction with the emphasis on visitor – I’m a local – why would I go; and the only reason I would probably go is if visiting family members and friends from abroad wanted a very ‘Scottish’ experience. After my visit, I’ve changed my mind and here’s why.
Situated just off the Royal Mile, this hidden gem has a brilliant story to tell. It’s easy enough to find, you walk down the close (lane/alleyway) only to find a lovely outdoor seating area and two buildings – one that hosts the ticket office/entrance to the tour and one for the cafe and gift shop.
Don’t get me wrong this place is the perfect visitor attraction and when you join the tour most of the people will be foreigners, but I do encourage locals to go to.
The tour starts. 20 or so of us are ushered into a wee room, where we are introduced to Agnes Chambers, a Maid in the Alexander Cant Household. Agnes sets the scene, opens a door and leads us downstairs to the streets of old Edinburgh. It’s the year 1535!
You are truly swept back in time to the 16th/17th century. It’s so difficult to imagine that these now underground streets and spaces where once closes or wynds with blue skies above. The streets are narrow and they would have been covered in contents from the nightly ‘gardyloo’ activity, have loads of street traders with stalls, cattle and people. It would have been chaotic living with extreme distinction between the classes. The Real Mary Kings Close is fascinating and you come away thankful that we no longer live in the 16th/17th century. The tour lasts 1 hour and is a great experience filled with interesting and fun facts about the people, the murders, the mysteries, the plagues and the living conditions.
At the end of the tour the exit leads you straight into the gift shop and cafe, like so many visitor attractions. As it was lunch time, I was treated to lunch too at their new cafe, The Royal Exchange Coffee Shop.
It’s a delightful spot. Beautiful ornate high ceilings, lots of light which is very bright after you emerge from the dark streets below. The original Royal Exchange Coffee House operated in the 18th/19th centuries and was where the Scottish Enlightenment use to gather to debate the issues of the day. It would also have been accessed through what is now the quadrangle at the City Chambers.
The menu offers authentic Scottish fare using Scottish produce and suppliers. You’ll find dishes such as Highland Cullen Skink Soup, delicious sandwiches such as the Lockerbie Cheddar and a Tomato Salad as well as a good selection of cakes and teas/coffees.
I opted for the pie.
A steak and haggis pie supplied by McGhee’s Bakery (Scottish Baker of the Year 2015/2016) . The pie was served with side salad and a basket of hand-cut chips. To drink I ordered a Latte coffee.
The pie, salad and chips and my Latte arrived. The presentation is lovely. The pie is delicious and what I would call a true scots pie. Super crunchy crust and filled to the brim with steak and haggis. The salad was freshly made. The only slight downside was the chips – they were a little soft and soggy with no crispiness to them at all but then again the only person that can make proper chips is my mum!
I also treated myself to a wee slice of cake (it really wasn’t that wee at all). This was a Caramel Shortbread cake. Really good, super sweet – it would have been better to share this with someone.
The staff are super friendly and this wee cafe is an oasis of calm from the hustle and bustle of the Royal Mile for locals and tourists alike. I really enjoyed my visit to The Real Mary Kings Close and will definitely be back – especially for their pies but their afternoon teas do look very tempting too.
My Spoon Award : Silver