Who better to recommend Edinburgh’s top lunch spots than some of the city’s most in-the-know locals? From ladies who lunch to thirtysomethings whooping it up during sparkling-wine-fuelled feasts, not to mention a clutch of the city’s most celebrated restaurateurs, here are their recommendations.
Edinburgh’s dining scene is among the most vibrant in Scotland, so choosing a perfect lunch venue can be a challenge. However, Culture Trip has picked the brains of some of Edinburgh’s most clued-up residents to give us the low-down on their favourite places and persuaded some top chefs to share their secret lunch spots, when they’re not in the kitchen themselves.
A firm favourite of restaurateur Jérôme Henry, chef-proprietor of Le Roi Fou, The Little Chartroom has been garnering rave reviews since opening in 2018. The navy-and-cream colour scheme creates a cool, calm ambience, with the maritime feel further enhanced by nautical maps hung on the walls. The highly seasonal French-British lunch menu takes simple dishes and throws in the occasional Scottish twist – think sausage rolls with haggis and mustard dip, or smoked fish pearl barley risotto and poached egg.
The lunch menu at Bell’s Diner has barely changed in 40 years, but why change a winning formula? This cute little diner on the corner of St Stephen Street has been serving up gourmet burgers long before the likes of Byron got in on the act. Its steaks are also excellent and come with a choice of five sauces (go for the garlic butter), while the large hot fudge sundae pancakes are legendary in these parts. It’s unassuming and a little rough around the edges, but that’s all part of Bell’s enduring charm.
Pillars, porticoes and Corinthian columns abound at this former bank head office, and that’s before you even step inside. The vast dome soars overhead like a latter-day cathedral, though the only altar being worshipped at here is one of conspicuous consumption. An extensive lunch menu serves up favourites including Scottish entrecôte steaks, burgers and fillet of venison – best enjoyed on a summer’s day on its outdoor terrace. Come here at Christmas amid the scrum of shopping-laden ladies, when this Victorian confection is transformed into a magical winter palace with wreaths, twinkling fairy lights and a ceiling-scraping tree.
As the only Japanese-owned and managed restaurant in Edinburgh, award-winning Harajuku Kitchen has proved reassuringly popular with Japanese visitors, the Scottish Consulate General of Japan – and the Scotland rugby team. Situated just off The Meadows and handily close to both the King’s and Lyceum theatres, the menu doesn’t initially inspire, but there’s clearly a pro in the kitchen. Go for the great value lunch menu, where for £12.95 a head you can dine like an emperor, feasting on genmai green tea, miso soup, steamed rice and two dishes, which include tempura, tonkatsu or kara-age.
With Michelin-star chef Tom Kitchin at the helm of this rustic-style gastropub, you can guarantee the scran (that’s Scottish slang for food) will be top-notch. Whitewashed stone walls, stag heads, battered wooden tables and chairs, a wood-burning stove and tartan cushions create a cosy croft vibe, though the food is a whole lot more exciting than that of your average crofter. Think chicken roulade cock-a-leekie, crab caught a mile down the road at Newhaven and a Highland wagyu beef burger.
This welcoming neighbourhood wine bar and restaurant, where the focus is firmly on affordable quality food, makes a perfect venue for a relaxed lunch with family and friends (dogs are also welcome). The Little White Pig is like walking into an eclectic townhouse, with sheepskins draped over mismatched chairs and an antique grandfather clock ticking in the corner. Choose from crowd-pleasing lunch dishes such as a caesar salad and beer-battered hake and triple-cooked chips.
No, the name is not a typo; it’s a pun on this brasserie’s panoramic views of the Firth of Forth from the fourth floor of upmarket department store Harvey Nichols. Come for the absolutely fabulous cocktails, such as the Garden Rose (an effervescent offering made from Edinburgh gin, rose liqueur and a generous slosh of prosecco). Choose from the fixed-lunch menu – a favourite of local restaurateur Paul Kitching (of Michelin-star 21212) – offering venison tartare, pan-fried red mullet or seared Orkney scallops. When the weather allows, you can sit outside and have lunch on the terrace. Patsy and Edina would surely approve.
The Auld Alliance forged between Scotland and France back in the 13th century is thriving at this welcoming little French brasserie, tucked away in a cobbled alleyway behind Thistle Street. This long-established Edinburgh favourite serves up all the French classics along with lashings of Gallic style in the candlelit dining room, where tables are decked out with snowy white linen, polished silverware and sparkling crystal. Kick off lunch with a kir royale, and start with home-cured Belhaven smoked organic salmon. Follow with Borders roe deer and Stornoway black pudding.
Run by Scottish-Italian culinary heavyweights, the Contini family, their flagship restaurant on George Street is housed in a grand, former banking hall. The restaurant prides itself on simple, delicious Italian cooking, with home-made pasta a house speciality. If you’re paralysed with indecision, hedge your bets and plump for the four-course Best of Contini menu. Start lunch with a Negroni mixed with Edinburgh gin, and follow with Milanese chicken with Amalfi lemons. End the meal with the Valrhona chocolate torte.
This intimate family-run restaurant is an ideal place to settle in for a long romantic lunch. Its basement setting in fashionable St Stephen Street comes with subdued lighting, inky walls and a fireplace brimming with candles. Kick start lunch proceedings with a crisp glass of sparkling wine and mull over the tempting menu. There’s no wizardry or molecular gastronomy in sight – just freshly sourced, seasonal ingredients cooked to perfection. Try the seared scallops with pea puree, fried quail egg and black pudding, followed by the pork fillet wrapped in pancetta, pork belly, pork cheeks, crispy ear and apple and black pudding.
Fhior serves dishes made with locally sourced, in-season ingredients | Courtesy of Fhior
This aesthetically pleasing restaurant is all whitewashed walls and stripped wooden tables and serves deceptively pared-back dishes that burst with flavour. Much of the food is sourced locally, such as the asparagus, which is grown in Angus just over an hour away, while the beremeal and malted barley bread is baked on-site daily and served warm from the oven with Fhior’s house-made butter.
Ham-fisted British interpretations of South American food are far from inspiring. Ditch your preconceptions at this innovative restaurant offering Chilean sharing plates, using the finest Scottish produce. The lunch menu features owner Juan’s adaptations of some of the country’s traditional dishes, such as sopaipillas with pebre (traditional Chilean pumpkin bread with tomato salad) or ceviche of stone bass, while for dessert, there are the decadent tres leches doughnuts. Order a selection of plates to share with a round of cocktails, and you could almost be in the Andes.
Not many restaurants have a research lab, but Mono isn’t your standard restaurant. This venue serves up what it describes as “progressive” Italian food, headed up by chef Maciek Zielinski (who’s had experience in Michelin-star restaurants) and Italian-Scottish foodie Joseph Crolla. Mono’s take on lasagne with veal ragout, parmesan and sage is a sensation, while the duck liver mousse with blueberries, onions and cocoa is surprisingly but beautifully put together. The wine list is equally adventurous, offering a largely all-Italian line-up from artisanal producers and lesser-known varietals.
The menu at The Gardener’s Cottage reflects what’s in season | Courtesy of The Gardener’s Cottage
Once the home of the gardener of the Royal Terrace Gardens, this sweet little restaurant continues the tradition by growing much of its own fruit, vegetables and herbs that are used to great effect in the kitchen. Situated on one of the main arterial routes into Edinburgh, The Gardener’s Cottage offers seasonal dining with seating at two communal tables, so this is no place for the misanthropic. A daily changing à la carte menu reflects the best of Scotland’s natural larder, with typical dishes including hare pie or partridge, turnip and leek gratin, followed by sea buckthorn sorbet with crowdie and gingerbread meringue.
This tiny family-run Italian bistro halfway up Cockburn Street is something of an open secret among Edinburgh’s lunch set. It offers modern classic Italian cuisine, lavished with love and attention to detail. Choose the home-made ravioli stuffed with ricotta and spinach, and finish off with the lemon polenta cake. Be sure to make a booking; with only a dozen or so tables, La Laconda fills up very fast!