My only complaint about Clarinda’s Tea Room is that I never noticed it during any of my previous trips to Edinburgh. This stellar little restaurant is on the quieter and less commercial end of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, the “bottom end” near the Scottish Parliament and almost unnoticeable in an unremarkable stucco and cement building.
We had been joined by friends for the Inverness and Edinburgh legs of our 4-city anniversary trip earlier this month, and the four of us were weary and hungry travelers after a morning of intensive touristing in Edinburgh. Clarinda’s is where we landed, mostly because it was one of the only restaurants on that part of the Royal Mile that was serving lunch on a weekday. Clarinda’s modest but pleasant exterior doesn’t begin to convey the pleasures that await inside.
A Place You Might Have Gone with Your Grandmother
Clarinda’s Tea Room feels like a place you would have gone with your grandmother as a child. And somewhere your grandmother might have gone herself as a child, with her own grandmama. It wouldn’t have changed much over the decades. A reviewer on TripAdvisor named Louise said of Clarinda’s: “It’s wee, it’s twee, it’s perfect for tea”, and she was right. The decor of the tea room’s feels like a smashup between Victorian and 1940s styles, all gussied up with crocheted lace curtains, doilies and tablecloths, floral wallpaper and antique portraits. Kitschy but wonderful knickknacks, teacups and teapots, and books are crammed into and on top of fussy but absolutely spot-on antique furniture.
The Desserts – Oh My!
The lunch menu was nice, with sandwiches, soups and salads, and we all enjoyed our meals. Clarinda’s makes a wonderful fruity lemonade, a fine cup of tea and the espresso is good, too. We were ravenous and tucked into our food as soon as it was served.
But what really stands out are the desserts. Oh my friends, they captivate you as soon as you walk in, winking at you seductively, showing off their individual little calligraphy name tags and their absolutely perfect construction.
The lemon bar looks exactly as a lemon bar should. The Victoria sponge would have gotten a nod of approval from Queen V. herself. The custard creams have that perfect ooze of creaminess between the sugared biscuits. I’m not even a sweets lover, but I couldn’t resist dessert. I mean, look at them! How much self control would YOU have?
So Who Was Clarinda? She was Famous for Her Association with Robert Burns
According to the sign outside, the tearoom is named after Clarinda, a friend of Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns, who lived from 1759 to 1796. You know Robert Burns, don’t you? They celebrate his birthday all over Scotland every January 25, dubbed “Robbie Burns Day” or “Burns Night”, and serve a “Burns Supper” that includes haggis and scotch whiskey. A lyricist as well as a poet, Burns was a bit of a celebrity in the last years of his short 37-year life, and his fame grew exponentially after his death because of his political commentary that highlighted his liberal and socialist views. Perhaps most well-recognized now are the lyrics Burns wrote to accompany an old folk song, which he called “Auld Lang Syne”. This tune is still sung be merrymakers on New Year’s Eve more than 200 years after his death.
But back to our Clarinda, namesake for the tea room. Clarinda was a nickname Burns used for an unhappily married woman with whom he had an emotional affair in the secret love letters they exchanged over a period of several years. Her real name was Agnes Maclehose. Clarinda makes a better name for a tea room than her given name of Agnes, don’t you think? With apologies to Agneses everywhere, Agnes’ Team Room just doesn’t have the same catchy feel to it.
The Love that Wasn’t to Be
In collecting my thoughts and photos for this post, I became curious about the connection between “Rabbie Burns”, as he’s affectionately known in Scotland, and Clarinda, who was also a poet. The story of the love they could not act upon is a sad one, but it inspired poetry and songs that are still with us today, along with their letters. You can read about Clarinda here in Wikipedia, or check out the famous poem and song Burns wrote about Clarinda, “Ae Fond Kiss”, here in the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum’s blog.
Burns had the artwork of Agnes/Clarinda below created in 1788 (just before he married another woman), and now the countenance of the lover he could not have is hanging in the Scottish National Gallery.
Through my research, I learned that Agnes / Clarinda is buried in Canongate Kirkyard, which is not far from the tea room. Before our lunch, we had just spent a happy hour wandering the grounds of this ancient and historic church, but I didn’t know to look for Clarinda. Next time…
I’ll Be Back
Learning historic backstories are a wonderful outcome of traveling, and now I want to go to the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway on my next trip to Scotland, where the Clarinda and Rabbie Burns letters are archived. Perched on the southwest coast, it’s only a couple of hours from Edinburgh. I could go there in the morning and come back to Clarinda’s for high tea!
It’s a plan. I need to try the scones!
© 2023, Glover Gardens