Eloquent and cheerful, Jeff Bland, executive chef of The Balmoral, a Rocco Forte Hotel in Edinburgh, Scotland, is someone you immediately warm up to.
As the executive chef, he has been the driving force behind the hotel’s growing culinary reputation. There are four restaurants and a bar in the hotel. The crowning glory is Number One, a Michelin-starred restaurant that has guarded its star for 15 years under Bland’s guidance.
As the executive chef of one of Scotland’s most luxurious hotels, he is also discreet. When asked about J.K. Rowling’s stay, he remains mum on the matter.
Harry Potter fans may already know this, but for those who might not be familiar with the woman who wrote the books, The Balmoral was where Rowling retreated to when she was finishing writing Deathly Hallows, the seventh and final book of the Harry Potter series. The room she stayed in for about six months, room 552, has since been renamed the J.K. Rowling suite.
We caught up with Bland to discuss the highlights of Scottish fine dining – including smooth Scotch whisky.
Calling all witches and wizards! To celebrate the 10th anniversary of JK Rowling completing #HarryPotter and the Deathly Hallows in room 552, we've waved our magic wand and created a spell binding competition. Enter via our Facebook page: @BalmoralEdinburgh #competition #edinburgh #suitelife #balmoralmoments
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Discover the 10 best things to do with kids in #Edinburgh this #Summer with @pinkhouseinteriors special feature. Did you know J.K. Rowling completed Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows in room 552? These little VIPs discovered the very room on a recent visit! Photography by @slowe_photo #thebalmoral #thisisedinburgh #igersedinburgh #visitscotland #harrypotter #familiesrforte #families #fivestarkids
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How has diners’ tastes changed over the past years?
Customers are becoming more knowledgeable about the food they eat and they want to know they’re getting the best. Our guests love to hear about the Orkney lamb we serve that has been fed on seaweed, chickens that have been raised in Scotland on nearby Letham farm, and local game – such as grouse, pheasant and partridge. The food served in the hotel never has to travel far and we know exactly what farms, wood or moor they came from. In the summer we have our summer fruits trolley in our brasserie, Hadrian’s, dedicated to the very best berries from Blairgowrie in Perthshire which have a great depth of flavour because of the slow, long sunny days we have that allow the fruit to fully ripen.
What underrated quintessentially Scottish dish would you recommend to people unfamiliar with Scottish cuisine?
Cullen skin, a flavoursome, hearty Scottish soup made from Finnan haddock (haddock smoked in a traditional way), potatoes and chives. It originates from the fishing village of Cullen and is made with local produce – that’s where they smoke the haddock on the bone and there are ample potatoes. I make a stock out of the smoked haddock bones to give it a really good flavour, use Maris Piper potatoes from Perthshire, and keep it classic.
What about haggis, probably the most well-known Scottish dish? What do you think is the reason for its popularity and how should we eat it?
Our guests love to hear the stories of the food that we serve in the hotel and, as a result, dishes like haggis - that are so entwined in the heritage of Scotland – are becoming increasingly popular. Haggis also has a starring role in Robbie Burns’ poem – Ode To A Haggis – so it’s a dish that has particular cultural resonance in Scotland and we love to share it with guests. For me, the best way to eat it is the traditional way – haggis, neeps (mashed turnips) and tatties (mashed potatoes) and served, of course, with a dram of whisky. In Palm Court, we serve Haggis Bon Bons with apricot chutney – a popular modern twist on a much-loved classic.
The Balmoral has been home to more than 50,000 honey bee residents since mid-2016. How have they been doing recently and what is their honey like?
They’re doing well. They’ve been in hibernation, but as we head deeper into spring, they are just waking up and the queen is starting to lay eggs. The resulting honey is light in colour, quite delicate but very floral and sweet. There will be two crops – one at the end of May and the other late summer. Every year we create a new dessert in our Michelin-starred restaurant, Number One, that incorporates the honey. Last year it was a honey and chocolate mousse, and guests can look forward to something equally delicious this year.
Enjoy a delicious sweet treat from our very own #BalmoralBees. #Edinburgh #TasteScotland #InstaEdinburgh #Bees #Honey #Foodie #Scotfood #BalmoralMoments #ThisisEdinburgh #Scotland #ScottishHoney #IgersEdinburgh #MichelinStar #NumberOne
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The Balmoral also has its own whisky bar, named Scotch, stocking more than 500 varieties. What sets the whisky from Scotland apart from other whiskies from around the world?
I think it is because of the quality of water and the barrels used, and because [whisky] is an old industry. It’s very traditional. And also, whiskies have changed a lot over the past 20 years – now they make more single whiskies. Before, they used to blend a lot – Johnny Walker and things like that. But now they tend to take one area and take the characteristics from that one area and keep them so it’s got more of an identity – and that you can tell. I think there’s more demand for premium whisky, like 21-year-old whisky, 25-year-old whisky. But [also] the distilleries in Scotland are quite small. There are a lot of them, but they’re small, so they’re making a very special product. We say we’ve got the best whisky in the world, but who knows?
Take a seat on one of our tweed sofas & let our Whisky Ambassadors help you choose from over 400 varieties, each one accompanied by a specially selected snack; wild boar salami, dark Swiss chocolate & smoked almonds. #Scotch #WhiskyWednesday #ThisisEdinburgh #TasteScotland
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Do you have any tips for people who want to pair whisky with food?
Whisky has a strong flavour. So the things it goes [well] with are things that are smoked, and things that are strong such as wild mushrooms [and also] venison. You need something with plenty of flavour.
Whisky has become a drink where you taste it and you enjoy it and you see the characteristics. Maybe 20 years ago, it was a different drink. I think it has become a lot more sophisticated, a lot more with character. I think with the right food it’s good.
You have a soft spot for Scottish water, which is interesting because people almost take it as a given. What are some of the biggest perks of water in Scotland?
It’s soft, clear, cold water perfect for fish to live in, fantastic for making the grass (that feeds the animals) grow and as it’s so pure, it’s also great to drink. There is also plenty of it which keeps our local wellington boot industry ticking over!
Can you explain a little bit about how you source ingredients for The Balmoral? Has climate change affected the way you source?
I think the main thing in Britain and Europe is conservation. If something is getting a bit scarce, then there’s a ban on fishing for that species. Also the nets now in Scotland have to be quite big so we don’t catch any small fish at all.
The only problem [we face in Scotland] is we don’t have enough sunshine, so you can’t grow any peaches or oranges – all that come from France and Italy. But for things like root vegetables and meat and fish, it’s a great climate. [Scotland] is only a very small country; from one side to the other it’s only about 50 miles [80km], so nothing travels far. For the environment, it’s very good – [food] doesn’t travel hundreds of miles. Scotland has a good reputation for shellfish, salmon and beef. We’re sending our salmon all over the world, even to Hong Kong.