With the demanding semester loaded with projects and coursework assignments, Easter in Edinburgh was a well-deserved break. It was my first time in Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland. Since the 15th century, it has been the seat of the Scottish Government, the Scottish Parliament and the supreme courts of Scotland and right now, it’s the seventh most populous city in the United Kingdom.
Speaking of populous, Old Town was teeming with tourists from all over the world, (with over 3.85 million visitors a year) and the reason is obvious. It’s like walking around in a storybook or the set of Mary Queen of Scots. From the cobblestones clicking underfoot to the beautiful skyline, Edinburgh is breath-taking once you get past the feeling that it’s so medieval it must hold a lot of ghosts. With the unique gothic architecture and the magnificent castle on a hill just looming over the town, everywhere I looked there was a view and just about everything was picture-worthy. Just see for yourself!
For some reason, I’ve always had this idea that up north of England was inhospitably cold and so I was pleasantly surprised to find that this isn’t always the case. It was warm and quite sunny it was almost too much. Sightseeing in Edinburgh involved a lot of walking and sweating under the sun. Consequently, despite my diet restrictions and weight-loss aspirations, ice-cream was ideal after all the trekking up and downhill.
Mary’s Milk Bar
For such a small cafe, Mary’s Milk bar is unbelievably popular. As you probably already guessed, this café is the brainchild of Mary Hillard. With over five years of experience as a chocolatier and a graduate of the highly regarded Carpigiani Gelato University in Italy. Believe me when I say you can taste the education and certification in the ice-cream. It’s that good.
What I liked
The ice-cream is fresh and made with natural ingredients. It is so soft, flavourful and creamy. You won’t find those hard little icicles that are common in the thin, water-based air-filled variety. It’s truly delicious and this explains why people love it so much. It is ice-cream that schooled abroad guys, it is Italian gelato. They’ve even got vegan sorbet if you are vegetarian.
Since all products are fresh with no preservatives, Mary’s Milk Bar opens at about 11am. She uses readily available natural products making new flavours every day, depending on the season. Salted Caramel is a regular but other flavours like hazelnut, blackberries, pistachio, strawberries appear to be seasonal and surprisingly delicious was the hot cross bun spice ice cream.
I feel like the price is fair given the quality of the product. Speaking as someone who still converts every purchase to naira, it’s a comparatively decent amount to spend on ice-cream.
What Could be Better
I don’t know if it has got something to do with the theme of the cafe but I really did not appreciate the Gelato spatula serving style. Personally, it just looked a mess and demanded that I lick it immediately before some bit fell off. I prefer the rounded scoop that creates balls of ice-cream that can be stacked neatly in each other and are so much easier to carry around and photograph. How food looks is almost as important as how it tastes. Again, this is just my personal preference and has no bearing on the taste of the actual product.
Additionally, the scoop sizing with the spatula is inconsistent. I bought a two-scoop cone and a three-scoop cone for comparison and the quantity was almost the same.
This is a good thing most of the time, but if I came in summer looking forward to a flavour I really enjoyed in spring, I’ll probably not get it. Even though the novelty of new flavours is exciting and commendable, the uncertainty bugs me a little.
This has got to be my biggest turn-off. Mary’s Milk Bar is perfectly located in Grassmarket, a high foot traffic area with a lot of tourists due to its proximity to the Edinburgh Castle. The gelato is delicious, and the cafe has been popularised by Buzzfeed and so the queue was an absolute nightmare. I walked up to the crowd in front of the cafe only to be told that there was a queue that went past the two stores on the right and up the stairs, around the corner! Personally, ice-cream is a spontaneous decision and not something I’d spend 30-45mins on a queue for. Frankly, the only time I have suffered a queue that long was Heathrow Airport Immigration checks. Certainly not for ice-cream. I left and got some ice-cream at a store down the road. It wasn’t as good, but it took less than 5mins for me to get the satisfaction I was craving.
My Airbnb was a few blocks down from the milk bar and so I decided to walk in early on Easter Sunday before the frenzy started. I strongly believe that Mary’s next business goal should be to reduce customer waiting time to 10 mins maximum. Most of her customers want to get their ice-cream and go sit in the sunny Grassmarket area, the park across the street or go sightseeing. Very few sit in the small packed cafe to enjoy the treat. It would be smart to reduce the sitting area and increase service points, at least during the busy months, especially since there is competition around the corner.
Summarily, if you are in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket area in the spring or summer, ice-cream at Mary’s Milk Bar is certainly a good idea. It’s delicious, affordable and certainly complements the Edinburgh experience. Kids will absolutely love this place but I don’t think they will do well on that queue. I recommend two scoops early in the day, perhaps between 11am and 1pm. Any later and you will be standing in line for longer than it is worth in my opinion.
Have you been to Mary’s Milk Bar? Did you enjoy the gelato? Let me know what you think in the comments!
As always, thank you for reading!
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