I have spent most of my life in Leith and love to take advantage of what Edinburgh has to offer, particularly food and drink!
Published November 19th 2012
A stunning location and an exclusive selection of whiskies
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society is an independent bottler of whisky and membership organisation that is open to the public to join. Details of membership and the workings of the society are covered in my earlier article here and I reviewed the original Society venue, the Vaults in Leith, here. This article relates to the other Edinburgh venue at 28 Queen Street, which even non-members can enjoy if booking the restaurant.
Number 28 Queen Street is one of the finest Georgian houses of Edinburgh's New Town, thought to have been designed by James Nisbet, an architect who worked with Robert Adam. Nisbet incorporated many curved walls and interesting shapes into the standard three bay plan with, for example, elliptical rooms and a semi-circular central stair rising to an exquisitely decorated circular cupola. Numbers 26, 27, 28 and 29 Queen Street had been used as offices by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland from 1947 until 2001. Number 28 was subsequently acquired by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society and sympathetically restored for use as a Society venue, opening in 2004.
The venue's location in the heart of Edinburgh's New Town makes it ideal for residents, visitors and workers in Edinburgh city centre and the theme is more urban and trendy than that of the Vaults. The venue has several suites ranging over three floors and linked by that sweeping staircase. The main Members' Room actually comprises two linked rooms located on the first floor with white walls, dark stained wooden floorboards and a range of postmodern and retro-styled sofas, chairs, lamps and lightshades. To the front, guests can gaze upon the foliage of Queen Street gardens through the vast astragal-framed sash windows while, to the rear, the windows frame a series of glass shelves containing bottles used in the whisky industry by blenders - I have never asked if the contents are really whisky!
The main feature of the SMWS for most people is the whisky. All SMWS whiskies are single-cask and cask-strength and menus are available at the bar, replete with idiosyncratic tasting notes. There is a helpful video here that explains the information you will find on the society bottles. However if you are feeling a little lost the bar staff is always able to make well-informed recommendations.
Besides the hard stuff, a selection of wines, beers, spirits, teas, coffee and soft drinks is also served.
The Dining Room at 28 Queen Street is located on the ground floor and is available to book for members and non-members alike. Head chef James Freeman has worked for the Society since 2005 and his emphasis is on the quality of ingredients, many of which are sourced locally. A sample menu can be viewed here and I am reliably informed that the fare is excellent - I think a visit would warrant a review in itself! The wine list is also superb and extensive. Private dining is available.
The bar menu is available throughout the day and includes everything from light snacks to hearty meals. I have eaten from this menu myself so can vouch for the quality personally. Each dish is cooked to perfection.
Events and corporate functions
The venue caters for events of all types though there is a focus on corporate customers. A total of four rooms are available for business functions, from training days to corporate hospitality. This includes the Hunter Room on the top floor, which sports a boardroom table and private bar. Of course meeting facilities and technical support are available and a range of catering, including butler service, can be requested.
The Society's first venue, the Vaults in Leith, is perhaps cosier and resonant of the Society's origins as a small syndicate of friendly enthusiasts. However 28 Queen Street is a fantastic and opulent venue with which to establish a presence in the affluent heart of Edinburgh and reflects the success and growth of the Society. It is more conveniently located for many members and a high class restaurant gives it a unique selling point.