Not so long ago, fine dining in Edinburgh was an alien concept. Apart from the odd stuffy old-school French bistro or Italian trattoria, there was little to rival the ritzy restaurants of London high society.
But the city’s dining scene has undergone an upscale transformation in the past few years, with new restaurants lavishing guests with a five-star experience. And of course, Scotland is renowned for the superb quality of its local produce, with Edinburgh’s top restaurants plundering the country’s natural larder to maximum effect.
So where to head for the most unparalleled dining experiences in the city? There are a number of luxury restaurants in Edinburgh standing head and shoulders above the rest. Not all of these have Michelin stars, but all offer guests exceptional cooking while putting on the ritz. Here are some of the best.
The name says it all. Number One is among Edinburgh’s top restaurants, and with a Michelin star to its name, this red-lacquered dining room in the basement of the Balmoral serves up world-class cuisine using the very best Scottish produce. Balmoral smoked salmon, North Sea cod and Inverurie hogget feature, while a carefully curated wine selection complements the dishes on the exceptional tasting menu.
Run by Scotland’s youngest Michelin-star chef, Tom Kitchin (a man whose name was made for a career in the hospitality industry), this eponymous restaurant is the place to go to push the boat out. Splash out on the £140 “prestige” tasting menu to fully appreciate Kitchin’s sheer brilliance and culinary philosophy, as espoused in his book From Nature to Plate. This entails sourcing the finest local ingredients and cooking using the classical French technique honed under his mentor Pierre Koffman. A highlight of the menu is the famous Rockpool, consisting of an actual rock pool full of local seafood including tiny crabs and tender scallops.
Edinburgh native Martin Wishart has been cooking up a storm at his eponymous restaurant in Leith for the past 20 years and was awarded a Michelin star in 2001 – retaining it ever since. The classic French cuisine, served in a contemporary dining room, is mouth-watering perfection. Go the whole hog and plump for the eight-course tasting menu, which perfectly showcases Wishart’s skills, including exquisite dishes such as Black Angus beef, sliced pig’s trotter, squab pigeon and Calvados ganache.
One of Edinburgh’s prettiest dining rooms, the Pompadour is decked out in the softest sugar-almond shades of blues and greys, with hand-painted birds and flowers adorning the walls. Tables are set with snowy-white linen, weighty crystal glasses and polished silverware, while the food is more than a match for this lavish room, with every dish a serious contender in the looks department. Veteran restaurateurs the Galvin brothers are the culinary maestros behind this grand hotel restaurant, where French-inspired dishes such as venison tartare, Kombu and confit egg yolk and loin of Ayrshire hogget with wild garlic are executed to perfection. The views of Edinburgh Castle aren’t bad either.
Maverick chef Paul Kitching’s 21212 opened in 2009 and has been winning accolades ever since, including one Michelin star. Situated in an elegant Georgian townhouse in Royal Terrace, the restaurant serves up cooking that’s contemporary French in style, but that description doesn’t begin to do justice to Kitching’s Willy Wonka-style ability to coax the most unlikely flavour combinations. In theory these should create merry mayhem – who would have thought that brandy snaps, black pudding and chicken could be transformed into a sublime dish? But such is Kitching’s culinary genius, it all somehow works.
Situated in a bijou basement in ever-fashionable Stockbridge, Purslane is that apparent oxymoron: a casual fine-dining restaurant. But Purslane, headed up by chef-patron Paul Gunning has successfully pulled it off, serving up ambitious modern cuisine without the stuffy formality often associated with fine dining. The restaurant has no dress code, the staff are super friendly, and the reasonably priced dishes are served up without a white tablecloth in sight. The menu includes stand-out dishes such as potted shrimp with caviar and Melba toast and beetroot-and-fennel-marinated salmon.
This stylish and oh-so-glamorous restaurant is set in a 17th-century manor house in the shadow of Arthur’s Seat. Its name alludes to the fact that Prestonfield was the first estate in Scotland to grow rhubarb. The decadent dining room is styled out in a deep blood red, while glittering chandeliers and flickering candles add to the dramatic, theatrical atmosphere. There’s no mistaking the provenance of the ingredients, with cod from Scrabster, sea trout from Loch Etive and Belhaven lobster on the menu.
Few newcomers to the Edinburgh dining scene have made as much of an impact in a short space of time as Le Roi Fou. Named best new restaurant at the Scottish Food Awards within months of opening, Le Roi Fou stars French-Swiss chef Jérôme Henry, whose deft touch in the kitchen, honed under Anton Mosimann, is firmly rooted in the classics, with not a smear, blob or foam in sight. This self-proclaimed “bijou restaurant for bon vivants” offers a seasonally changing à la carte menu while a largely French wine list contains inspired selections that complement the exquisite dishes perfectly.
The menu at Wedgwood is heavily inspired by chef Paul Wedgwood’s travels, with an Asian influence apparent in many dishes. Wedgwood is also known for using interesting wild herbs and salad ingredients, many of which he forages himself. With such a quirky menu it’s not surprising that many diners find it tough to make a quick decision and prefer to ponder over the menu. As a result Wedgwood has introduced “Deciding Time,” when guests are offered a selection of canapés accompanied by a glass of champagne to mull over their choices.