Edinburgh has a strong lineage of vegetarian and vegan dining with the very first vegetarian restaurant of its kind, Henderson’s still trading after over fifty years. The meat-free scene in the capital has only diversified over the years and with that impetus, we profile the absolute best vegetarian and vegan dining spots in the city.
Homemade cheese coated with crushed sesame, garlic, chillies | missy/Flickr
One of Edinburgh’s most established vegetarian restaurants, the family-run Kalpna has been plating up robustly-spiced meat-free food in the capital for over twenty five years. Part of that success is down to Kalpna’s chefs moving in step with modern developments in contemporary Indian cuisine, whilst simultaneously incorporating traditional Punjabi, Gujarati and South Indian cooking styles and techniques. Kalpna’s big draw is its great-value all-you-can-eat lunchtime buffet and concessions to vegan eaters, such as the vegan thali. Before any meat-eaters turn their noses up, they should try Kalpna’s signature dish, Dam Aloo Kashmeri – potato barrels filled with vegetables, paneer and nuts with a tomato, honey and ginger sauce overlaid with a creamy almond and saffron sauce.
Edinburgh’s first and oldest vegetarian restaurant, Henderson’s is still held in the highest regard by many of the capital’s meat-free eaters and has now expanded throughout the city to a bakery and deli above the restaurant and a gallery at St John’s. What has ensured Hendersons’ continued popularity is its unchanging set-up; a self-service bar doling out flavoursome and inventive vegetarian dishes in the den-like restaurant. On rotation are ten salads, baked goods, and eight hot dishes, including veggie haggis, bean burgers, and curries. One particular highlight is the vegan-suitable cauliflower and chickpea curry with coconut, chili and coriander. In the evenings, the restaurant transitions to table-service by candlelight with occasional live music and entertainment. Even after fifty years, Henderson’s is still a fresh and unique vegetarian hotspot.
A distinctly more refined and upmarket option, David Bann gives Edinburgh’s vegetarians a solid venue for date night. The decor is minimalist and chic yet the menu is anything but understated, taking in influences from around the world. Try to resist the stir-fried vegetables with udon noodles, the red pepper risotto, Thai fritters and to close the evening, the sinful whisky panna cotta. Often listed as one of Scotland’s best restaurants, even in the company of meat-serving restaurants, David Bann is a romantic, centrally located dining establishment that will prove delicious fare to vegetarian and carnivorous diners across the board.
This Tollcross cafe defies any single label; Forest Cafe is variously a volunteer-run, collectively-owned, free art and event project, community hub and vegetarian cafe. Amidst the mosaic-style murals, the multi-use space plays host to a daily-changing roster of installations, musical performances, gallery showings and other assorted highlights from Edinburgh’s alternative and underground art scene. Don’t be surprised to find the next great generation of British artists quietly sketching away in the corner. As for the community-owned vegetarian cafe, expect vegan-suitable cakes alongside budget-friendly nachos, burritos and the popular falafel meal.
Beyond the luxury and contemporary hotel facade, Bread Street Brasserie is a stealth vegan haven. On the first Monday of each month, the restaurant menu transforms into a three-course Vegan Menu for a feast evening. The emphasis is squarely on showcasing the finest larder produce from around the country and taking extra precaution with individual dietary requirements. Rather than a mere token concession to its meat-free diners, the brasserie actually strives to accommodate vegan diners throughout the month by including plant-based options on the regular a la carte menu.
Up front, the Himalaya Shop specializes in selling window display-friendly arts, crafts, jewelry and clothing amidst decorations of elephant tapestries and brightly-coloured cushions. But hidden at the back of the shop is the Himalaya Cafe and the wafting aromas of delicious curries. The thali plate comes highly recommended by locals, a generously-portioned combination of all three daily curries and loaded with vegetables. Sweet treats come in the form of Tibetan cakes, which can be washed down with the house chai tea. Inspiringly, the entire enterprise is run by volunteers and raises funds for the Free Tibet movement; additionally, the shop sports a relaxation room, back garden and even yoga classes. Less a niche vegetarian cafe, more an inclusive community hub that plates up delicious tasting food.