It's bloody early when the driver texts me to say he'll arrive in 15 minutes, and still dark as I leave for the airport a mere hour before take-off. It takes a lot to get me up and about this early, but this trip's a good one – I'm off to Scotland to source ingredients for the new Hawksmoor, opening in Edinburgh this summer. As always there's an ulterior motive: in this case haggis. I adore these odd-looking little Scottish parcels; they have my heart, liver and lungs.
There's no hanging around once we land in Edinburgh; the team and I head to the village of Gordon to meet Robin and Alison Tuke at Hardiesmill Place, where they rear 100% pure Aberdeen Angus cattle.
The Tukes aren't just passionate about their beef – they're seriously geeky and rightly proud. Pure Angus cattle typically mature earlier than other native British breeds and are hardy enough to survive harsh Scottish winters. Aberdeen Angus is a truly famous – if much abused – breed name, since a lot of today's beef contains some Angus genes.
Originally developed from cattle native to the counties of Aberdeenshire and Angus, the breed has been recorded since the 16th century, though it became commonplace throughout the British Isles by the middle of the 20th century. Now their genes are used the world over to grow 'prime' beef.
In Europe meat can be sold as Aberdeen Angus if it is just 50% Angus genes, so almost all meat sold as such is actually a cross. Thanks to commercial factors, such as the slow rate of weight gain, 100% pure Aberdeen Angus beef is rare and rather special.
The Tukes' beef is how I imagine Aberdeen Angus tasted before the law made it possible to call any old animal an Angus just by its sire (the bull). That's a strange notion, because the traits that typically confer the best flavour in beef pass through the maternal not the paternal line, and it's the reason why supermarket '100% Aberdeen Angus' is a misnomer and tastes of so little. Not this stuff, though.
The following day we catch the ferry to Mull to visit Iain Mackay and his Highland cattle. Torloisk Highland 'coos' are tough and hairy, and one of Britain's purest breeds, having been improved by selection rather than cross breeding. These beautiful beasts originated here in the Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland, and have long horns and long wavy double coats that are coloured black, brindle, red, yellow and blonde.
Torloisk Highland 'coos' are one of Britain's purest breeds
Combined with the ability to forage in steep mountain areas and expose plants buried by snow with their horns, those coats make them ideally suited to Highland conditions. Coos don't come any hardier than this, and consequently they taste unlike any other beef.
Their meat is tender and leaner than most beef due to their hairy insulation (as opposed to just fat). Unfortunately, they are slow-growing and animals are few and far between. We try meat from a six-year-old steer, and it's some of the best beef I have ever tasted.
Interspersed with the Highland cattle are several black-faced sheep, a typically Scottish breed whose meat Iain calls 'Hillside Hogget'. It's incredible stuff: intense lamb flavour but without the funky character of mutton.
Our next stop is the pier, where scallop diver Guy is unloading his catch. Saddened to find large sections of the seabed reduced to rubble by dredging, he set up a fishing company with a difference, pledging to support sustainable fishing methods in the hope that he can contribute towards the recovery of our seas. His hand-dived scallops are fished with no damage to the seabed, no waste or bycatch, and small scallops are returned alive to continue to grow and spawn. He dives from a small boat that uses very little fuel and has little impact on the environment. The scallops are superb; we sample them raw with a little lemon juice squeezed over.
It's soon time to journey back to the airport and, of course, I'm picking up some handmade haggis en route. Scotland is famous for its haggis, though its roots lie in England – 15th-century Lancashire, to be precise – where a sheep's pluck (the heart, liver and lungs) was minced, heavily spiced and stuffed into its stomach before boiling. This was 'nose-to-tail' eating long before the term existed.
Much like the XO sauce I wrote about in the last issue, I've developed a bit of a taste for this preparation and hope to use some in a surf and turf recipe I'm planning for a dinner I'm hosting with Nathan Outlaw at The Capital Hotel. If the diners love haggis even half as much as I do, it'll go down a storm.
For more information on Richard and Nathan's surf and turf dinner at Outlaw's at The Capital on 12 October, keep an eye on capitalhotel.co.uk