Edinburgh, the Athens of the North is one of the best loved city destinations on these islands, with something for everyone whether that’s the proximity of Highlands and coastline or the world renowned arts festivals in the month of August. But you’re missing a trick if you don’t experience the festive season in ‘Auld Reekie’, where short, cold days provide the perfect setting to the sparkling Christmas market and Ferris wheel on Princes Street. And when the post Christmas slump hits at home, head to the biggest New Year celebrations this side of Times Square-Scots do Hogmanay in style.
While you’re soaking up the festivities and culture, don’t forget to seek out some of these fantastic dining options. Edinburgh has come on leaps and bounds for foodies and can now confidently call itself a great food destination. Chefs proudly showcase the finest of Scottish and seasonal ingredients and the emphasis is always on hospitality and a warm welcome. After all, the cold winds give you the perfect excuse to while away the afternoon savouring some of these Edinburgh delights…
You’ll need a coffee to start off with – Artisan Roast is the stand out for a serious coffee in Edinburgh. Each of their three Edinburgh locations is cosy and low-key, with a few seats to allow you to savour your perfectly crafted flat white, a pastry and a lunch time soup, if that tickles your fancy. One of the original speciality coffee shops in the city, the cafe’s stock beans and ground coffee, as well as premium coffee ‘kit’ to take home to experiment but most importantly, you will always get a quality cuppa ‘jo’ at Artisan Roast.
A stone’s throw from the hustle and bustle of Princes Street and Queen’s Street, Urban Angel is a popular ‘below the stairs’ eatery which curates a well thought out brunch menu (as well as great options right throughout the day). Try their Avocado and Ricotta toast for a fresh start to the day, and don’t forget to finish up with a slightly less virtuous pastry and hot coffee. Worth calling ahead for a table or at least preparing for a short wait, this joint is well loved by those in the know.
Worth a short bus trip to the leafy village-like area of Morningside, Salt Cafe ticks all the boxes for an indulgent yet affordable brunch date. A bustling addition to the eclectic dining scene in this area of the city, Salt’s ever changing menu makes the absolute most of the freshest Scottish ingredients to scintillate your taste buds. Sip on one of their creative brunch cocktails or their daily smoothie while you ponder the menu… will it be Eggs Florentine… or Creamy Coconut Barley?
As you emerge from Edinburgh’s Waverley Station, you might be tempted to seek out a lunch option on the Royal Mile or even stray across into the busy Grassmarket. No need to go any further than the Fruitmarket Gallery, directly adjacent to the station, where Milk Café, tucked behind the gallery shop, will provide you with one of the most enjoyable and reasonably priced lunches in the city. Their Soup & Half a Sambo Deal takes beating – think aubergine harissa soup with a mint pistachio falafel wrap. You can enjoy organic wine by the glass and at all costs take the time to peruse their counter of sweet treats. The vegan chocolate truffle slice has to be tasted to believed.
In a similar vein, the Dovecot Café is a little oasis away from the busy thoroughfare of South Street. Clean, white décor and sleek design reminds you of this cafes place in the Dovecot Gallery (worth having a look around the beautiful tapestry work on display) and their Quiche of the Day followed by a selection from their fresh bakes will put you in good stead to scale the nearby Arthur’s Seat in the afternoon.
Want to taste the genius of Tom Kitchin but not quite ready to dish out for the full Michelin Star experience? His Stockbridge gastro pub, The Scran and Scallie offers a cracking set lunch Monday to Friday for only £15 and an affordable menu through the weekend. You will often find the man himself sitting in to observe his team in action in this beautifully furnished venue, so book ahead, cosy up in front of the fire and enjoy a posh pub lunch!
Looking for a unique and intimate dinner to top off your Edinburgh dining experience? Look no further than the enchanting The Gardener’s Cottage. Housed in a historic building in Royal Terrace Gardens (no, I mean really, IN the gardens… you will wonder if you’ve misunderstood the address) this restaurant is not like any other I’ve visited. So committed are these chefs to seasonal and local produce that their small but perfectly formed menu changes daily and you will enjoy everything from the best of Scottish venison to risottos made with the native pearl barley to real Scottish cranachan in the summer. All enjoyed in a communal dining setting which makes the most of the limited space, a world away from the traffic of nearby Leith Walk.
For a less elaborate dinner option, perhaps between coming off the bus or train and catching a concert, Ecco Vino on Cockburn Street is an unlikely gem in the heart of the tourist chaos. You’ll be able to watch the chef’s as they whip up simple but delicious dishes in the small kitchen in the bar, and enjoy a glass or a bottle from their extensive wine list while you wait. The food is reasonably priced, the quality is good and the service is so prompt-a great spot to know about!
Back in the New Town, Edinburgh favourite, The Dogs, really feels like having dinner in your eccentric, elderly aunt’s townhouse mansion…if your elderly aunt favours British classics served in an unapologetic, homey style. Think flavoursome Scotch Broth, fish and chips and bread and butter pudding with white chocolate custard. This budget friendly joint does not take itself too seriously and is an ideal venue for a relaxed group dinner with friends or family.
Down the steps, and push open the door of this unmarked, speakeasy style cocktail bar, and enter a world where no drop is included without a lot of thought and consideration. The folks at Bramble Bar take their beverages very seriously and will do everything they can to craft you the exact drink you desire… don’t be afraid to go off menu and seek recommendations. Last time I was in, I enjoyed a stunning glass of something involving the house sloe gin. This turns into a busy, trendy, loud night time bar-but I prefer it just before dinner, as a sophisticated launch pad to a great night on the town.
You will not be short of beer options in Edinburgh, with Scottish favourite BrewDog catering for the craft brew crowd in their Cowgate location. For something a little different, try The Holyrood 9A, where an impressive array of Edinburgh, Scottish and international beers can be enjoyed both on tap and from the bottle. This is a busy bar, with decent burger options, so find yourself a table and you might end up staying for the night.
You can’t visit Edinburgh without sampling Scottish whiskey at an old school pub. Take a bus out to Morningside to visit The Canny Man’s. You’ll have a choice of over 240 malts (all served in 35ml measures, Praise Be!) , alongside everything from craft beers to champagne to afternoon tea, all enjoyed in a well-established Edinburgh institution. Mobile phones are frowned upon in on the ‘back bar’ where you’ll be able to enjoy your selection in perfect peace.
Cork native turned Stirling resident Martha has been in Scotland 6 years, following stints in London and Milan. Cooking, scheming and enjoying food is one of her great passions and she particularly loves creative vegetarian cuisine. A brief period living in Glasgow’s West End allowed her to appreciate everything Glasgow has to offer. Maybe it’s the ‘second city’ vibe, or Glasweigians’ fierce pride in their city, but it feels just like her Leeside home…
Follow Martha’s fitness, food and family adventures on www.marthathon.blogspot.ie.