Victoria Street, that cobblestoned isthmus between George IV Bridge and the Grassmarket. won‘t be the same again. Ifyou haven't heard already the Laird‘s Larder is closed. the doleful notice on the door- ‘Business ceased due to bereavement‘ — indicating that it‘s not a temporary state of affairs. For the past ten years I've rolled down the hill to lunch there. some days I‘ve called in more than once. hooked on Margaret McDonald's tar-black coffee. dining off lentil soup and cheese rolls. As the street changed the Laird’s stayed as it was. neo-Perthshire. the deerstalkcr painted on the shop-sign cocking a snook at the bijou gift shops as they elbowed nearer and nearer until one. selling technicolour toilet seats. had the audacity to move in next door. It was as ifThe Beastie Boys had become neighbours ofSir Alec Douglas Home.
Margaret and her staff were not fazed; you rarely heard them utter an intemperate word. and then only after a particularly bad day. Those were the days when. with the queue stretched halfway down the stairs. when students in woolly tights and funereal Burberrys. thinking themselves at the Algonquin. demanded in querulous Home Counties‘ accents to see the menu. The only menu was framed on the wall above the buffet table. Regulars knew exactly what was on it for in all
amenting the loss ofhis lunch. Alan Taylor remembers quails‘ eggs and beetburgers. and rails against toilet seats.
the years I went there. there were only two changes. About three years ago baked potatoes surreptitiously appeared then. a year back. beefburgers. A laird wouldn't be seen dead eating beefburgers. I said to Margaret. She smiled a ‘No comment‘ smile.
Most days you would find her sitting in her ‘office'. at one ofthe round tables near a window. a mess of papers and invoices and a copy of Constance Spry's cookbook stcwing in front of her. There she greeted customers and met clients or interviewed aspiring chefs and waiters. all built like the local constabulary. none ofwhom ever seemed to appear on the shop ﬂoor. With so much mysterious coming and going the Laird‘s always struck me as an ideal front for a spy. like Mr Verloc‘s nondescript emporium in
Th e Secret Agent.
Downstairs was the shop selling oatcakes. Twining‘s tea, homemade tablet. honey and quails’ eggs. presided over by Jean warming her hands on a bowl ofsoup at the blackened range. Here you handed over your chit and money. On the next ﬂoor was the restaurant. though that seems too grand a word for it. decorated with spectacular plainness save for one strip ofexotic wallpaper framed in glass. Originally it had covered all the walls but the paint was found to have lead in it. similar to that which — apochryphally — poisoned Napoleon on St Helena. My ancient Chambers says he had cancer of the stomach but I take that with a pinch ofsalt. Upstairs was the toilet with a bath that could accommodate a basketball player, and. I suppose. though I can't
imagine where. the kitchen where the food was prepared.
The Laird's was busiest at lunchtime and gradually you came to recognise the habituees. Hardy students hogged the tables at the draughty windows surrounded by solitary diners wrestling in the confined space with The Guardian or The Scotsman. Elsewhere there was a motley mix of librarians. prim bank clerks. whispering antique dealers. whey-faced researchers. bemused tourists and traffic wardens. The Laird‘s did not discriminate against anyone. It was so popular because it was cheap and the food was filling and unpretentious. Now Margaret is no more and the Laird's has gone with her. The day has lost its middle. I‘m looking around for somewhere new but it's not easy. I went to a place last week above a gallery. The service was slower than a game of American Football and the menu offered ‘Ploughperson's Lunch.‘ I fled, unfed and fed up.
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The List 15 — 28 April 198%