Edinburgh is home to some of Scotland's best restaurants | Courtesy of Aizle
Edinburgh’s restaurants are a feast for the eyes and tastebuds. Whether you’re tucked down an alleyway in medieval Old Town or looking out at the water at the port of Leith, some of the best food in the country is found right here in the bonny capital.
Edinburgh’s restaurateurs are accustomed to feeding demanding diners from all over the globe. Even when the Fringe festival isn’t on, you can sample many types of cuisine here, with long-established Italian and Indian communities adding their flavours to the mix. The city has a strong relationship with the sea, producing first-rate fish and seafood, while the close proximity of farmland ensures excellent fresh produce. The emphasis on the local and seasonal might tempt you to try some unique Scottish dishes, including the meat and oatmeal tang of a good haggis, to warming cullen skink (smoked haddock and potato soup). Tuck in.
Try seasonal produce at The Gardener's Cottage
Restaurant, European, British, $$$
The menu at The Gardener’s Cottage reflects what’s in season | Courtesy of The Gardener’s Cottage
As the name suggests, this beautiful little 1836 building was once a gardener’s cottage, enjoying an enchanting leafy location under Calton Hill in the heart of the city. Diners sit at long wooden communal tables to tuck into such delights as smoked pigeon breast, brown shrimps or truffle and Old Winchester tagliatelle. In the colder months, summer produce gets a look-in in the form of their preserves. There’s no printed menu, but rather an agreement that whatever is served will be the best that the season has to offer. Set lunch costs £18, dinner from £45.
Located between The Meadows and the high crags of Arthur’s Seat, the warm-hearted Kalpna is a great Edinburgh standby – converting residents to veggie Indian cuisine for the last 40 years. The signature dishes are the wonderful thalis (from £14), with dhal, okra, veg curries, breads and even a little dessert served in antique silver dishes on individual platters. The mosaicked mirrored walls turn an ordinary little space into an eccentric corner of India.
David Bann is one of the best restaurants in Scotland | Courtesy of David Bann
David Bann has been flying the flag for meat-free cuisine in Edinburgh since 2002, but his elegant minimalist restaurant is a world away from the hippyish decor often associated with vegetarianism. Despite the location near the Royal Mile, there’s not a scrap of tartan in sight. The atmosphere is high-end, but the prices are reasonable, with Bann’s menu combining Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Asian twists with fine Scottish ingredients. Try the goat’s cheese strudel with Ayrshire heather ale, or a quinoa wrap with Kintyre smoked cheese rice arancino.
Occupying twin stone villas across the road from Edinburgh Zoo, Cool Jade dishes up modern Cantonese food including the crowd-pleasing aromatic crispy duck and chilli squid. Their sea bass with spring onion and ginger is also a winner. The super-generous banquet meal costs £30 per person and includes a fruit fritter and tea or coffee.
Established way back in 1962, this affordable veggie restaurant sits pretty on a sloping New Town terrace, a stroll away from Princes Street. Diners queue to have their plates piled high with salads, quiche, vegetarian haggis, crepes and more, followed by surprisingly indulgent puddings. Hendersons runs a deli upstairs from the basement restaurant, as well as a couple of vegan offshoots elsewhere in town, but – especially when there’s live jazz on a Friday night – the homey cosy vibe makes the Salad Table in particular an Edinburgh stand-out.
Leith is perhaps most famous for dodgy Trainspotting connections, but the revitalised district is also known as Edinburgh’s Little Italy, with some delis and trattorias dating way back to the 1930s. Origano is one of the newer businesses in the area, specialising in wood-fired pizzas made with locally sourced ingredients and authentic meats and cheeses imported from Italy. Pizzas are served on rustic wooden boards, but otherwise the atmosphere is smartened-up industrial, paying homage to the dramatic setting – the Victorian building once housed an India rubber mill.
The village-like district of Stockbridge plays host to this welcoming seafood restaurant. The dish for which the place is named sees lobster served half/whole (£26/50) alongside crayfish butter, green beans and sweet potato. Mussels, shrimps, sea bream and calamari are all on offer, too, served on gorgeous charcoal-grey and indigo plates. This warm-hearted business closes to the public every Tuesday to offer free meals to local families facing economic hardship. They also deliver cooking classes to would-be healthy eaters.
And now for something completely different. The Table in Edinburgh’s New Town styles itself as an interactive restaurant, where up to ten diners – and there’s only one sitting per night – can look onto the open kitchen and chat to the chefs as they whisk up European dishes with a Scottish twist. It’s not cheap (£80–90 per person) and there’s no choice, but you will find puns a-plenty: their venison dish is called Oh Deer, for example. If all this sounds a bit whimsical, it’s worth noting that guests rave about the food, the banter and the whole experience.
Nok's Kitchen specialises in Thai cuisine | Courtesy of Nok's Kitchen/Toby Williams
Finding Nok’s Kitchen is part of the experience, as it’s located in a 1603 townhouse on a cobbled street in the Stockbridge area of the city. The food is Thai, and it’s fresh, tasty and affordable. Their romantically named Bird in the Garden dish is a highlight, combining steamed dumplings with prawns, chicken, turnip, peanuts and crisped shallots, best eaten with one of their many wok-fired noodle dishes. Finish up with black rice pudding and not one but ten unusual ice cream flavours, including peanut and deep-fried coconut.
You’ll find this modest but colourful bistro near the expansive Meadows park. They give Spanish food an unlikely twist, serving up tapas with South African and Scottish influences thrown in. Try the biltong (dried meat) with feta and avocado, or the more locally inspired deep-fried battered cod. You can afford to mix and match here (with dishes priced from just £4), and it’s a good option for gluten-free diners. Sip a dry sherry or rosé rioja as you eat.
Aizle uses fresh, homegrown produce | Courtesy of Aizle
Aizle, from the old Scots word for a burning coal, takes seasonality to the limit: herbs and veg are homegrown out back, the butter is hand-churned in-house and they make their own kombucha and grain spirit. The food, colourful and artistically decorated with leaves and edible flowers, doesn’t come cheap: their tasting menu costs £70 per person. Holyrood Park and Arthur’s Seat are only a stroll away.
This hugely popular Mediterranean/Turkish restaurant in the heart of Leith focuses on meze, but also serves up kofte (grilled meatballs), meat and vegetable kebabs and much more. Sweets include sticky honeyed baklava as well as kunefe: shredded pastry with sweet cream cheese and nuts. Prices are moderate and the colourful patterned dining room, lit by hanging lanterns, makes for a charming setting.
With Doulton tile murals, glowing stained glass, ornate plasterwork and a long red marble bar, this glorious 1863 oyster restaurant makes a glamorous (and somewhat pricey) date location. You’d be forgiven for thinking you were in Paris, until you look at the resolutely Scottish menu. As well as the eponymous oysters there’s cullen skink served with Arbroath smokies (traditionally smoked haddock), Stornoway black pudding plus local venison, beef, seafood and shellfish. The street itself is one of the city’s most picturesque, a stone’s throw from Princes Street and Waverley Station.
Newhaven, the suburb adjoining the Port of Leith, is the salty setting for this attractive family restaurant. Their lobster is fished straight out of the Newhaven waters, making this perhaps the freshest seafood joint in town. The food is homey rather than super-sophisticated, but it’s affordable and prettily presented. While not an actual lighthouse, the restaurant has a fine view of the one that guards the entrance to the harbour.
Indulge in Michelin-star dining at Restaurant Martin Wishart
Restaurant, French, British, $$$
Restaurant Martin Wishart, Edinburgh | Courtesy of Restaurant Martin Wishart
Edinburgh local Martin Wishart trained under great French masters such as the Roux brothers in his youth. Returning to his home city from France, he was seen as something of a young Turk when he set up a restaurant in the run-down port of Leith in 1999. Since then, the area has flourished and the restaurant has gained a Michelin star. Wishart, a dedicated surfer, has a passion for the ocean, using North Sea ingredients such as monkfish, salmon and shellfish; there’s also an acclaimed veggie menu. Six-course tasting menus will set you back £90 (£80 for veggies).
Sit down for a meal with the whole family at Ostara
Bistro, Restaurant, Middle Eastern, British, $$$
This beautiful bistro on The Shore at Leith does supremely good brunch and weekend roast lunches, with super-seasonal dishes for around £10 that might include kimchi scramble, grilled kipper or Middle Eastern hash served up with za’atar flatbread. It’s a 10-minute amble from the area’s key site, the Royal Yacht Britannia. Ostara is family-friendly, with a dedicated menu for kids: mini gourmands can sample homemade spiced beans with smoked cheese on sourdough bread.
The name gives you a clue about the view: this chic modern restaurant offers a sweeping panorama across the city rooftops and down to the glinting waters of the Firth of Forth. Having negotiated your way past the store’s fashion offerings, you can sit out on the terrace (if the Scottish weather allows). Local produce such as Orkney scallops are key, with two courses setting you back £28.
This New Town restaurant offers nose-to-tail eating, with everything – pickling, smoking and preserve-making – carried out in-house. It’s very international, with Malaysian, Italian and Japanese influences, and their desserts (try the warm chocolate orange cake) are gluten-free. A large picture window lights up the stylishly plain interior. Despite the ambitious cooking, it’s affordable, with most mains priced under £10.
The Witchery has an incredible atmosphere | Courtesy of The Witchery/Marc Millar Photography
Bizarre and beautiful, the Witchery sits at the gates to Edinburgh’s gorgeous crag-top castle. Located in a 400-year-old merchant’s home decked out with tapestries, a painted ceiling and oak panels, the restaurant resembles a fabulous film set. Their partly foraged Scottish fare is not cheap, with mains around £30, but the two-course lunch is a more affordable £25 and gives you a great taste of the unique candlelit interior. They excel at meat dishes such as beef Wellington. Vegetarians are best advised to eat elsewhere, or opt for the decadent afternoon tea with rosé champagne.
Visit Fishers in the City for incredible seafood options
Bistro, Restaurant, Seafood, $$$
This port city has had a long affair with seafood, and Fishers in the City is one of the best and longest established places to sample it. The bistro is located in a converted warehouse in the New Town, near the gracious Queen Street Gardens. Their menu encompasses moderately expensive dishes such as hand-dived Orkney scallops and coley and king prawn Goan curry, as well as some good veggie options.