The bacon roll chronicles: Herbie, 7 William Street, Edinburgh

Picture: raebrune
Picture: raebrune

Every bacon roll has a story to tell. Where was it bought? Why was the purchaser there? Did it taste good, or could it have been better? What sort of premises produced it? What were the serving staff like? Would you go back?

All these questions, and more, are addressed by Stuart Crawford as he follows his tastebuds on a sporadic tour of Scotland’s cured-pigmeat-and-bread outlets. What is out there to be found, what can be recommended – and what should be avoided?

I don’t venture up to Edinburgh from East Lothian as much as I used to, and increasingly find our capital city irritating. It’s so noisy, what with interminable roadworks and building renovations, and of course the execrable standard of bagpipe playing from the buskers on Princes Street. I spent 20 years as an officer in a Scottish regiment, and that teaches you what good bagpipe playing sounds like. You don’t hear it on Princes Street as a rule.

However, occasionally I venture up, and last week was one of those occasions. I had a board meeting to attend in the west end of the city. Like most sane people, I avoid bringing a car to Edinburgh. Not that private cars in the city centre are the problem – it’s actually the buses. There are far too many of them, and a quick scan after 9am shows most are nearly empty as they crawl nose-to-tail along the main thoroughfares. I’m beginning to think the bus companies exist more to provide employment for their staff than to offer a transport service to the public.

So I usually come by train, park and ride from Newcraighall. On this occasion I got off at Haymarket (yes, yes, smirk if you must) and found myself stravaigin’ up William Street on the way to my meeting. It being early in the morning, I had missed breakfast, and on noticing Herbie’s establishment – which boasted of “…a taste of quality in the West End” – I popped in to ask if they could do me a bacon roll.

I got the sort of reception you would expect if you’d arrived at JFK from Mogadishu without a passport. A surly besom, not best pleased that her morning preparations for the day ahead had been interrupted by someone with the temerity to actually want to buy something, treated me with all the charm that a prison camp guard would afford an inmate. My timorous inquiry as to the availability of sustenance was met with a series of orders, barked at me in a manner that would not shame the academy sergeant major at Sandhurst – and I should know, because I’ve done the course there.

“Butter?” “Brown or white?” “Sauce?” “Is that it?” A staccato machine-gun burst of aggressive questions followed, with me desperately trying to defuse the situation by being cloyingly polite. To no avail. Brunhilda was having none of it. My bacon roll was deposited on the counter gracelessly and money taken. I left hurriedly without a backwards glance.

Paradoxically, the food itself was rather good, served in a sort of glazed, white finger roll, with an ample sufficiency of well cooked meat. No complaints there, but the service killed it. Everything that is wrong with Scotland’s service industry in a microcosm.

A charmless experience overall, best avoided unless you’re desperate.

Marks out of ten
Accessibility (parking, shop entrance): 6

Premises (layout, busyness, time to be served, etc): 5

Staff (friendliness, efficiency): 0

The roll (freshness, taste): 7

The all-important bacon: (quantity, taste): 6

Price (£1.50, good value for money): 5

Overall average score: 5

In summary, a nice product spoiled by staff aggression and surliness. Avoid. There are better places nearby.

Scoring guide: 10–8, worth making a detour; 7–5, good enough, but no great shakes; 4–2, only if you’re desperate; 1 phone the doctor.

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