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Eating out in Edinburgh

The Scottish culinary scene has undergone a renaissance in recent years, and nowhere has that transformation been more evident than in Edinburgh. Gone are the days of only being able to find bland, stodgy, over-priced fare on the streets of Scotland’s capital (although you’ll find plenty of places that serve up fantastic versions of traditional Scottish dishes, such as haggis, stovies and Cullen skink).

Michelin-starred dining

Instead, the cuisine now reflects the city’s increasingly cosmopolitan nature, drawing on influences, ingredients and techniques from all four corners of the globe, and has firmly established it in Scotland’s gastronomic vanguard. With a number of Michelin-starred restaurants to its name, the city has earned a reputation for playing host to some of the best eateries in Britain. One of Scotland’s most acclaimed chefs, Martin Wishart, could be considered one of the chief proponents of Leith’s emergence as a food-lover’s paradise, and a contributing factor to the neighbourhood’s continued regeneration.

The area is now home to many great bistros, bars and restaurants, including two Michelin-starred eating places located within two minutes stroll of each other, with Martin Wishart Edinburgh sitting slap-bang in the middle of it all. The restaurant earned Edinburgh its first Michelin star back in 2001, and hasn’t looked back since, picking up virtually every other award going, too. Modern and refined, the food is out of this world, and a must for any gastronome.

Many of the city's restaurants source their own produce

Many of the city’s restaurants source their own produce

‘From nature to plate’ boasts the menu, and seasonality is the driving force at Kitchin, Leith’s other starred restaurant. Tom Kitchin and his team aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty – from butchering their own meat in-house to foraging for berries and mushrooms by hand; everything is carefully-crafted and considered before it makes it to the table and a recent upgrade, which saw the venue almost double in size, only adds to the ambience.

Under the guidance of executive chef Jeff Bland, Number One at the iconic Balmoral Hotel is known for its quality and service and has held it’s Michelin star for more than a decade. The dining room, finished with red lacquered walls imported from Hong Kong, is comfortable and elegant, and the team has proved more than adept at combining Scottish and French know-how to create something truly memorable.

With a number of Michelin-starred restaurants to its name, the city has earned a reputation for playing host to some of the best eateries in Britain

Fresh produce

The most recent recipient of a Michelin star is one that’s very low-key. Condita, a tiny, six-table venue hidden away on a Southside side-street, opened with little fanfare or fuss, but has quickly established a fantastic reputation. Restaurateur Mark Slaney has teamed up with head chef Conor Toomey to showcase the very best in seasonal British produce, much of which comes from a walled garden in the Scottish Borders. Like the food, the interior also changes with the seasons, designed and curated by Slaney’s partner Rachel, who also sketches the daily ‘bookmark’ – a visual indication that provides clues as to the contents of each evening’s surprise tasting menu.

After making his name with Juniper in Greater Manchester, chef Paul Kitching decided to relocate and establish 21212; a £4.5 million ‘restaurant with rooms’ in a magnificent Georgian townhouse on Royal Terrace. The restaurant originally earned a Michelin star just eight months after opening its doors, a decade ago in 2009, and retained it until 2019. They’ve claimed a clutch of other prestigious titles along the way, too, including Best New Restaurant in the UK at the National Restaurant Awards.

Combining modern British cuisine with traditional French techniques, Castle Terrace makes the most of Scotland’s freshest, choicest produce. After initially being awarded a ‘Rising Star’ recommendation by Michelin in 2011, this sister restaurant to The Kitchin soon joined the ranks of the big boys thanks to the hard work of chef patron Dominic Jack and his team. Although they subsequently lost their star in 2016, it still remains one of Edinburgh’s top dining destinations.

Two of those feted chefs have also branched out, adding more relaxed, but no less good, venues to their stables. Martin Wishart’s second city eatery, The Honours, is a more informal affair than his fine-dining establishment, but the more affordably-priced New Town brasserie still maintains the same high standard of dishes served by its compatriot down in Leith.

Likewise, Tom Kitchin’s top-notch gastropub, the Scran and Scallie has proved to be a popular addition to the Stockbridge food scene, and his new venture – Southside Scran – will no doubt enjoy similar success in Bruntsfield. Elsewhere, there’s plenty more in the fine dining vein worth investigating, including The Wee Restaurant, The Printing Press and The Pompadour.

The restaurant originally earned a Michelin star just eight months after opening its doors, a decade ago in 2009, and retained it until 2019

Nordic cuisine

Alongside the Michelin stars and attendant aspirants, Edinburgh has also seen a boom in fabulous, chic and affordable restaurants influenced in part by the philosophies of new nordic cuisine and focused on ultra-local, ultra seasonal eating. Two excellent proponents of this are the Timberyard and Gardener’s Cottage, both of which, alongside the superb food and drink, lay considerable claim to the title of ‘coolest space in Edinburgh’. As well as fantastic interiors, the Gardener’s Cottage team can also lay claim to incredible exteriors too, with arguably best views in town at sister venture The Lookout, their new collaboration with art-scene upstarts Collective. Situated in a purpose-built, semi-cantilevered building on top of Calton Hill, it boasts stunning vistas across the city and far beyond.

Those two are just some of the new breed of exciting, informal but high-quality restaurants, alongside other standouts such as Fhior, Field, Dine and the superb Aizle. Should you find yourself in Stockbridge, Taisteal and Purslane are every bit their equal, while city newcomers Borough and Sonder ensure their more established counterparts can’t rest on their laurels. Le Roi Fou delivers delicious and delicately-cooked treats at a fraction of the cost of many of its London counterparts, while Forage & Chatter and Ostara are also certainly worth a visit.

Edinburgh has seen a boom in fabulous, chic and affordable restaurants

Edinburgh has seen a boom in fabulous, chic and affordable restaurants

The impressive Edinburgh Food Studio manages to be a restaurant, quirky pop-up and experimental cookery lab and research facility all at the same time. Cafe St Honore makes excellent use of local, seasonal ingredients, celebrated chef Mark Greenaway’s food is full of fun, foams and fancy flourishes, while Rhubarb at Prestonfield is worth a visit, particularly for Sunday lunch. For a bit of celebrity-spotting, especially during the Festival, The Witchery is the place to go, if you can get a table. Jack Nicholson and Michael Douglas are just a couple of the many stars that have dined out in its opulent and imposing surroundings immediately beneath the Castle, which is often described as Scotland’s answer to The Ivy. That claim might be harder to justify now, however, given that the famous London Theatreland venue has recently opened a sister establishment, The Ivy on the Square, in Edinburgh.

For more relaxed dining, the Shore in Leith is home to some excellent foodie haunts, including the acclaimed King’s Wark and the excellent Toast. In the centre of town, Urban Angel is to be admired for its long-running eco-conscious attitude and commitment to sourcing ingredients locally, without recourse to skimping on originality or taste. For great value, and a tiny corner of Americana, the New York Steam Packet on Rose Street North Lane offers a mixture of set menu options that’s sure to sate your appetite, and then some.

Situated in a purpose-built, semi-cantilevered building on top of Calton Hill, this restaurant boasts stunning vistas across the city and far beyond

Coffee shops galore

One of the biggest changes to the city’s dining scene in the past few years is the huge growth in top-notch coffee shops. One of the pioneers of this was perennial favourite Wellington Coffee who, despite opening 10 years ago, continue to maintain their high standards; they do a mean cheese and bacon scone, too. Over the past decade, they’ve also seen their share of worthy competitors spring up. In fact, there are so many it almost feels unfair to name check some and not others, but a few of the best proponents include Cairngorm Coffee, Lowdown, Artisan Roast, Castello Coffee, Machina Espresso, Williams & Johnson, Brew Lab, Cult, Fortitude and The Milkman, all of which ensure that wherever you are in the city, you’re never far away from a quality caffeine hit. If tea is more your thing, then seek out Eteaket’s cafe on Frederick Street or their concept store on Rose Street where you can try all manner of tastings and test brews throughout the day.

While most of these establishments offer above-decent snacks to accompany their hot drinks, if you’re after something a bit more substantial or adventurous, there’s no shortage of great little cafes too, most of whom do decent coffee to boot. Both The Pastry Section and Lovecrumbs will tempt you with some of the most incredible cakes in town, Milk serves some of the most interesting, fresh and healthy sandwiches (and hot options) in town, while if it’s a nourishing dose of soup you’re after, then Union of Genius almost certainly has the answer.

As you’d expect from a port, seafood plays a large part in Edinburgh’s culinary life. Catches are landed at the village of Newhaven on the northern edge of the town and the fishmarket there is a hive of activity, with buyers from all over the region vying for the choicest picks. You’ll find freshly-caught fish on the menu in many establishments in Edinburgh, but there are some excellent places which specialise in seafood which are well worth seeking out.

With premises in both Leith and the city centre, Fishers is a popular haunt for seafood fans, having previously held the award for ‘Best Seafood in Scotland’. Menus change daily depending on what the boats have just brought back from the North Sea, and to capitalise on the pick of seasonal ingredients to complement the fresh catch. Cadiz combines the best in Scottish seafood with Spanish and Mediterranean influences, served up in an elegant first-floor dining room on George Street. The White Horse is a terrific – and reasonably priced – take on the traditional oyster bar, sleek, effortlessly cool and a menu pack full of flavour.

One of the biggest changes to the city’s dining scene in the past few years is the huge growth in top-notch coffee shops

Fruits of the sea

If you’re looking for something extra special, a trip to Ondine is highly recommended. Having worked with the likes of Rick Stein and Mark Hix, multi-award-winning executive chef Roy Brett returned to his native Edinburgh in 2009 to tackle this personal project and indulge his passion for seafood, and it’s been a roaring success ever since. You can choose to sit in the restaurant, but the best seat in the house is at the horseshoe-shaped crustacean bar, where you can watch the chefs prepare the piscine treats right in front of you.

But if it’s simply some traditional fish ‘n’ chips you’re yearning for then you’re in luck, as Edinburgh is stuffed full of superior outlets. One notable example is Auld Reekie institution L’Alba D’oro, which became the first ever takeaway in the world to achieve a four-star rating from a national tourism body, and continues to delight to this day.

Tasty fish dish at Dine Edinburgh

Tasty fish dish at Dine Edinburgh

Wherever you decide to head for, you simply must try a ‘delicacy’ unique to the fish bars of Edinburgh; namely chippy sauce. A mixture of vinegar and brown sauce, it’s a staple throughout the city. So much so, in fact, that your server will ask if you would like “salt and sauce” with your takeaway rather than the usual question “salt and vinegar?”.

As well as its seafood, Scotland is also world-renowned for the quality of its beef, and accordingly Edinburgh is home to some fantastic steakhouses. Kyloe pays due homage to the art of the steak, while the sleek and sexy Chop House group – with sites in Leith, Bruntsfield and the Old Town – serves up cuts of meat that will linger long in the memory.

As well as its seafood, Scotland is also world-renowned for the quality of its beef, and accordingly Edinburgh is home to some fantastic steakhouse

Something for everyone

It’s not just carnivores that can eat well in Edinburgh, though; vegetarians are well catered for too. While most of the city’s restaurants offer some mouth-watering meat-free choices on their menus, in David Bann and Henderson’s (which has been championing vegetarian and vegan alternatives for half a century), they have two of Edinburgh’s best restaurants dedicated solely to their needs.

For something on the go, Holy Cow’s vegan burgers are worth checking out, while Harmonium, Grams, Seeds For The Soul and Thrive are among the standouts in the city’s trendy, resurgent vegan and vegetarian scene. Almost half of Edinburgh’s residents weren’t actually born here, and there are people from every corner of the globe who now call the city home. This is particularly relevant to food lovers, because it’s a fact that is reflected in the diversity of cuisine on offer.

In fact, you could make a very agreeable attempt at eating your way round the entire world without ever having to leave Edinburgh. There’s everything from Venezuelan to Nepalese, Brazilian to Sudanese – you name it, you’ll probably be able to find it. Whether it’s takeaway Tex-Mex-style burritos or more authentic regional cuisine, Mexican food is a firm favourite in Edinburgh. Both Bodega and El Cartel Casera Mexicana serve up amazing street-food style dishes, including a range of delicious soft tacos, while Miros Cantina on Rose Street is a real treat for those seeking some hearty, feel-good flavours.

For Middle Eastern mezze with a difference, then BABA is a surefire hit. Influenced by the taste of the Levant, their dips and dishes – intended for sharing – will have you fighting each other for every last morsel.

If Italian is your thing, then Nonna’s Kitchen in Morningside serves up exactly what it sounds like it should – hearty Italian food just like mamma used to make, while Contini George Street has an eye for the contemporary. For truly authentic regional dishes, Locanda de Gusti is a winner. Pizza aficionados are looked after too, whether it’s grab-and-go NYC-style slices from the likes of Dough or Civerinos, or sit-down affairs such as Pizzeria 1926.

Whether it’s takeaway Tex-Mex-style burritos or more authentic regional cuisine, Mexican food is a firm favourite in Edinburgh

Local delicacies

If it’s a touch of Gallic flair you’re seeking, then sister restaurants L’Escargot Blanc and L’Escargot Bleu are a safe bet. Owned and operated by Frenchman Fred Berkmiller, he’s made a name for himself by cooking the classics of his homeland, but embracing Scottish produce in order to do so. Also worth a visit is friendly French bistro Petit Paris, with its small rustic dining room and good value pre-theatre menu deals.

One experience not to be missed is a trip to Chop Chop, winner of numerous awards and accolades for its simple, but amazingly tasty, dishes. Rather than serving up anglicised versions of Chinese cuisine, they specialise in traditional dishes like stuffed dumplings – steamed or fried – and a variety of noodle, meat and vegetable dishes, too. It all makes for great sharing food too ideal if you’re catching up with friends.

Friends dining at French bistro Petit Paris

Friends dining at French bistro Petit Paris

Curry plays an important part in the city’s eating habits, too. The first written recipe for curry in the UK was crafted in Edinburgh in the late 1700s, and it’s a tradition that has continued through to the modern day. Some of the finest examples are ones that offer a slightly different take on the typical curry-house encounter, while still providing excellent value for money. Mother India’s tapas-style approach means that it’s a great place to try something new without having to go the whole hog, and the variety ensures it never gets boring. The Original Mosque Kitchen might hardly be the most luxurious setting, sitting outside under a plastic roof cafeteria-style eating off paper plates, but it all adds to the fun, and once you see the size of the portions (and the relative prices) and start tucking into the range of delicious, slow-cooked concoctions, you’ll hardly even notice.

If you still want something more comfortable, then you’re in luck – its founders upped sticks and moved to more amenable premises in the nearby Nicholson Square, setting up a competitor named the Mosque Kitchen. Confusing perhaps, but tasty nonetheless. For more inventive and innovative Indian cuisine, both Dishoom and Navadhanya are great choices, while Ronaq delivers an excellent traditional neighbourhood curry-house experience.

The first written recipe for curry in the UK was crafted in Edinburgh in the late 1700s, and it’s a tradition that has continued through to the modern day

International flavours

Ting Thai Caravan do some of the tastiest Thai street food-style dishes around, bursting with zing. If you’re after similar flavours in more sophisticated surroundings – and with spectacular views of Edinburgh Castle, then try Chaophraya in the New Town.

If it’s sushi that you’re craving, then Hakataya, Harajuku Kitchen and Kanpai are all superb Japanese restaurants, while Maki & Ramen goes the whole hog, offering a sake-paired 12-course omakase testing menu.

It’s been suggested that Edinburgh has more places to eat out per head of population than anywhere else in Europe and, while it may or may not be true, if you take a stroll through the town you’ll be faced with plenty of tough decisions – it seems that round every corner is another great place to grab a bite to eat. Looking slightly further afield however, The Bridge Inn at Ratho is wonderful for a lazy lunch. Set on the banks of the picturesque Union Canal, it’s a glorious spot, particularly on a fine day.

In the charming coastal town of North Berwick, a short train-ride away, Herringbone is a popular spot for cracking pub lunches (so much so it now has a sister venue in suburban Edinburgh), while Osteria is a sensational Italian restaurant serving mouth-watering combinations. With Angelo Coccia at the helm, this little gem lays claim to possessing the most genial host imaginable, and it’s a true family affair with daughter Daniela and her husband Daniele heading up the kitchen.

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Image credits: AboutLife/Minerva Studio/Adobe Stock; Adolfo Felix/Brooke Cagle/Chad Montano/Natasha Kapur/Unsplash; Scott Near/Camerashy Photography/Dine Scotland Ltd; VisitBritain/Simon Winnall

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