Amber, Edinburgh

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Forget cristal champagne. There's only one drink for today's hip-hop stars and Hollywood A-listers, according to a recent report in The Scotsman, and that's whisky. More specifically, Johnnie Walker Blue Label, the world's most expensive blended malt, which sells in the States for up to $500 a bottle. Blue Label was reportedly the drink of choice at this year's post-Oscars parties, and in LA and Miami, Johnnie Walker-themed whisky bars have sprung up, frequented by stars like The Black Eyed Peas.

Forget cristal champagne. There's only one drink for today's hip-hop stars and Hollywood A-listers, according to a recent report in The Scotsman, and that's whisky. More specifically, Johnnie Walker Blue Label, the world's most expensive blended malt, which sells in the States for up to $500 a bottle. Blue Label was reportedly the drink of choice at this year's post-Oscars parties, and in LA and Miami, Johnnie Walker-themed whisky bars have sprung up, frequented by stars like The Black Eyed Peas.

All this marketing excess is a long way from the quiet propriety of Amber, "Scotland's first whisky restaurant", which is about as bling bling as Ian McCaskill. Jointly owned by a group of leading distillers, Amber is designed to showcase whisky's suitability as an accompaniment to fine dining. Not just as a fiery dram to wash down the Burns Night haggis, or a postprandial snifter, but a proper soup-to-mints substitute for wine.

How, you may well be thinking, can a drink which first incinerates, then anaesthetises the mouth possibly enhance the gastronomic experience? Well, that is what I was in Edinburgh to find out. Amber is buried deep in the heart of the Old Town, right next to the Castle, in the cellars of the Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre. Its discreet signage is notably tasteful in an area infested with tartan-decked, shock-Jock gift shops, one of which, I'm sorry to report, is called Thistle Do Nicely.

A member of Amber's staff was waiting for us on the pavement, which didn't augur well for visitor numbers. But she assured us the restaurant was fully booked. Without consultation, we were shown to the whisky bar for a pre-dinner drink, rather than to our table. "It really pisses me off when that happens," growled Harry, who hadn't quite twigged it would mean he'd get to drink even more whisky at my expense.

There is, needless to say, quite an extensive choice. A 16-page whisky menu offers some 270 varieties, each with an evocative description, ranging from the crisply factual - "Peaty, dry and complex" - to the full Mills and Boon - "chocolate, roses, soft fruit, peat smoke and warm honey". None of the descriptions tallied with my own experience of malt drinking - "mouthful of fire with an undertow of hiccups" - but I was there to learn.

The menu is a pronunciation minefield for non-Scots. Bunnahabhain, Knockando, Ardbeg Uigeadail; no wonder Blue Label caught on. Still, with the help of Amber's resident whisky advisor, I picked out a Highland malt, Glenmorangie 18YO, described as having a "sherry influence and a spicy characteristic". It made my throat and chest burn. Meanwhile Harry ("well aged, complex, with a bitter characteristic") embarked on the Scottish version of the Japanese tea ceremony, covering his glass with one hand, then tenderly swirling, inhaling and sipping. "People just don't know how to drink malt properly," he observed. By which he obviously meant English people.

There's a touch of the visitors' centre about the bar, with its maps, casks and displays of humorous themed quotations. But the dining room's massive stone walls and mellow wooden floors give it plenty of Old Town character, even if you can't quite imagine The Black Eyed Peas partying here.

The menu is strong on quality local produce - Buccleuch beef, wild Scottish salmon, Highland lamb - and apart from the inevitable whisky-based sauces, avoids the clichés you'd expect from a tourist-oriented Scottish restaurant. A plate of fine oak-smoked salmon soaked in Highland whisky had an unmistakable peaty sweetness. Breast of wood pigeon, unusually rare and tender, came with smoky bacon and figs in a honeyed sauce sweetened with the fig syrup.

The deeply flavoured treacle and Speyside malt sauce which accompanied my saddle of venison was also well judged, and I was starting to think that Amber's chef was a bit of a master saucier. Then everything went wrong. Harry's main course was described as "wild Scottish salmon cooked with pearl barley, seaweed and Islay malt". Sounds OK, doesn't it? But it wasn't. It was a hideous pile-up of a dish, the kind of aberration that makes you question everything that's gone before. The seaweed - some kind of oriental variety - was infinitely fishier than the fish itself. A greyish razor clam squatted unappetisingly among the barley, which also housed an incongruous whole radish, while a side dish of gratinated vegetables seemed to have strayed in from a different restaurant.

Still, at least we had finally found a use for our whiskies. They were pretty effective at taking away the taste of that seaweed. Otherwise, our continued whisky-drinking throughout the meal was scuppered by the fact that we'd also ordered a bottle of wine (from a list of just 22 bottles), and say what you like, wine just goes better with food than whisky.

My hat trick of whisky-flavoured dishes concluded with an iced whisky yoghurt cake, and, by crikey, I was really starting to enjoy the taste of whisky. So much so that I thought it funny to ask our waiter if they had any Glenn Medeiros. Solids accounted for less than half of our £90 bill. I had learned one important lesson from my visit to the Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre. That old rule about not mixing the grape and the grain is absolutely on the money.

Amber, The Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre, 354 Castle Hill, Edinburgh (0131 477 8477)

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