The Old Town is the historic centre of Edinburgh, the foundation of the original city stretching out from the defensive promontory of the Castle. It has a reputation as a tourist trap, due to the number of attractions here. However, away from the main drag, one can still find some of the best dining establishments in the capital. We profile 10 of the finest.
Off the main drag of the Royal Mile and on the trendy cocktail bar-populated George IV Bridge is the luxury seafood restaurant, Ondine. Fine diners can either pull up a stool at the bar for champagne and light bites, or sit down and feast on the legendary shellfish platter, featuring lobster, crab, razor clams, surf clams, mussels, scallops and oysters. Couples in a rush can get the juices flowing with a sampling at the Oyster Bar, or enjoy a drink from the bar’s extensive wine and whisky selection.
The Witchery has an incredible atmosphere | Courtesy of The Witchery/Marc Millar Photography
The Witchery enjoys an almost iconic reputation in the city. It certainly boasts one of the more unique restaurant settings in Edinburgh to distinguish it from its competitors: a plum location adjacent to the Castle at the top of the Royal Mile and a high-gothic, Miss Havisham-like interior that enchants and spooks diners in equal measure. The Witchery has two dining areas, the original and darkly romantic sixteenth-century Witchery restaurant invites you in with its red leather booths, oak panelling and flickering candles; or alternatively, be transported outside to the fantastical Secret Garden, an open courtyard canopied by vines and intricate wooden carvings.
Castle Terrace opened in 2010 as the sister restaurant to one of the capital’s other huge draws, The Kitchin. The restaurant’s Michelin star, awarded merely 15 months after opening, creates dizzyingly high expectations amongst potential diners which it fortunately exceeds. The passionate attention to locally sourced produce is manifest in Castle Terrace’s a la carte menu, which is split into starters and seasonal mains.
Here to soothe the strain on your bank balance from too many luxurious dinners out is newcomer Field. Their three course dinner menu is quite frankly one of the most economical meals in the city. The small scale of the dining room, too, means that Field patrons can enjoy a vibe akin to a home dinner party with your trendy friends. In spite of a certain spendthrift displayed elsewhere, Field’s technique and passion for fresh local ingredients cooked to perfection is priceless.
Timberyardis a thoroughly modern and industrial chic eatery in the heart of the old town. The restaurant is notably housed within a nineteenth-century warehouse and former timber yard and consists of several dining areas: the Warehouse, the Yard and the Shed. If that wasn’t enough, Timberyard have an onsite butchery, vegetable and herb garden and facilities for home-smoking their meat and fish.
Indian cuisine is plated up for all to share in easily-manageable tapas sizes in Mother India Cafe, a perfect hangout for after-work outings and Edinburgh vegetarians alike. The menu incorporates around fifty dishes with the staff recommending four dishes shared between four so that the reduced quantities will still ensure the widest sampling of flavours but crucially helps to avoid any sort of post-feast bloat.
The Tower is, on paper, one of the most stunningly located restaurants in Edinburgh. This rooftop restaurant is undoubtedly a tourist hotspot, thanks to its proximity to the Royal Mile and the Old Town’s historic attractions, but in no way does that detract from the strength of the mouthwatering food. The emphasis is squarely on seasonal ingredients so as to portray the best possible image of the Scottish national cuisine to our foreign guests.
After teasing Edinburghers over the course of several Festival seasons with his temporary pop-up Thai street food stall, chef Ting has permanently opened up shop in Bristo Place with his Ting Thai Caravan. The restaurant has come a long way from the meagre four dishes originally served in that pop-up; it now boasts a gargantuan mixture of thoughtful innovations and taste combinations. Crucially, all of the food is meant for sharing, the food comes in brown cardboard cartons, and the menu itself is separated into rice and noodle boxes, curries, soups and small bowls.
On the upper floor of No. 30 Victoria Street, removed from the tourist bustles on George IV Bridge is Grain Store, tucked beneath the stone vaulting and archways of the original store rooms used by the historical shops below. The chefs here believe emphatically in using all of Scotland’s finest produce and ingredients, whether it be local farm meat and fish, or fresh fruit and vegetables. Even the restaurant’s bread, pasta and bakery items are freshly made on-site everyday.
Aizle uses fresh, homegrown produce | Courtesy of Aizle
Aizle, in Old Scots, means ‘spark’ and it proves a canny marker of the flair and break with convention this restaurant brings to the Edinburgh dining scene. The USP of Aizle is that, rather than a menu, customer are presented with a list of around twenty ingredients ranging from familiar meats and fish to obscure herbs and vegetables. From here, you assemble your meal to your own culinary preferences and the very capable chefs adapt accordingly.