Edinburgh's dining scene is growing. A new generation of chefs has joined established stars like Tom Kitchin and Martin Wishart in turning Edinburgh into one of Britain's best foodie cities. Fine dining is adventurous, colorful, and imaginative. But don't worry if fine dining doesn't suit your taste, your budget, or your family. Edinburgh also has some great family-friendly places, casual cafes, and more-ish fast food as well. These 15 are among the best.
Within six months of Tom Kitchin opening The Kitchin, in 2006, he became the youngest chef in history to have a restaurant awarded a Michelin star. The restaurant, on the waterfront in Edinburgh's dockland suburb Leith, still holds the star and a passel of other awards, including Best UK Restaurant in the Observer Food Monthly awards. The style is French though the food is solidly based on seasonal Scottish ingredients and Kitchin's "nature to table" ethos. Inside it's a contemporary mix of teal, French blue, and granite. The menu changes with available seasonal ingredients and, sometimes, the daily catch of the local fleet. In 2019, expect to pay 80 pounds for the three-course a la carte menu or a range of set menus from 90 to 140 pounds without wine. A three-course lunch set menu at 36 pounds is an outstanding value. Vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options are also available.
Scran & Scallie is in the cool Edinburgh New Town district of Stockbridge. Stop here for a classic pub meal after you've browsed the quirky shops of St Stephens Street. You may have some trouble deciphering the "Rabbie Burns" dialect section titles of this child and dog-friendly gastropub menu. But once you're past that, the food descriptions are straightforward—fish and chips, sausage and mash, steak pie. Of course, since this pub, under head chef Jamie Knox, is part of the Kitchin Group, with menus devised by Tom Kitchin and Dominic Jack, these classics are raised to their highest level. Scran, by the way, means food in Scottish and Northeastern slang and Scallies are scallywags. Scran can also mean scraps of food, and, at the bar, the "Scran" menu is made up of snacks and nibbles. The Scallies menu, on the other hand, is the children's menu—all child-pleasing classics. And more adventurous children can have smaller portions of dishes on the main menu.
Chef Patron Dominic Jack dishes up modern British food with seasonal Scottish ingredients and French techniques in this townhouse restaurant under Edinburgh Castle. The restaurant was refurbished in 2019, and the decor is relaxed and chic. Polished wood floors, Georgian blue walls, unfussy table settings. Any menu samples we might suggest will probably have changed by the time you visit but expect a selection of seafood, beef, game, and vegetarian dishes with distinctive flavors and precise visual presentation. There's a Surprise Tasting Menu where you leave your fate in the chef's hands. Or you can sample the a la carte dinner menu at 75 pounds for three courses. The best value is the lunch set menu or the pre-theatre set menu (served mid-week between 5 and 6 p.m.) at 36 pounds for three courses.
When Chef Martin Wishart opened this restaurant in 1999, he was a pioneer. He pioneered this style of haute cuisine in Scotland, and he pioneered the Leith location. This mostly industrial district of Edinburgh, beside The Waters of Leith, is now also an Edinburgh dining hotspot. Wishart's achievements were recognized in 2012 with an honorary doctorate from Edinburgh University for his "contribution to the raising standards of Scottish cuisine, specifically in Edinburgh, to the international regard it currently holds." His eponymous restaurant received a Michelin star in 2001 and has held it ever since. Six and eight-course menus are offered in omnivorous and vegetarian versions and there is an a la carte menu with four courses for 90 pounds. The three-course lunch menu at 35 pounds is good value and usually features less challenging dishes.
The Honours bills itself as a brasserie and is Martin's Wishart's take on more casual dining and drinking. The menu is extensive and includes fish, shellfish and caviar, fowl, game, and steaks cooked on a Josper grill as well as vegetarian selections and side dishes. An affordable "Express Menu," served for lunch and early dinner Tuesday through Saturday, is 22.50 pounds for two courses, 25 pounds for three, while the children's menu at 12.50 pounds per child is a lovely way to introduce wee'uns to fine dining. It slips a few child-challenging flavors, like smoked salmon and Morteaux sausage, alongside more conventional children's favorites like fish fingers and tomato pasta. The brasserie is named, by the way, after the Scottish crown jewels, kept in Edinburgh Castle, which are known as The Honours of Scotland.
Fhior is the latest venture of Scott Smith and his wife, Laura. It's been open about a year and has earned kudos from almost everyone—though some have chafed at the minimalist decor and experimental cuisine. Part of the adventure of eating here is the surprise of foraged ingredients, often as the main element of the dish. So you might find meaty fungi like "chicken of the woods" or "beefsteak fungus" alongside more familiar flavors. It's all put together with wit and care. And the best part, if you are budget conscious, is that the price for this level of cooking is about half what it is at some of the bigger guns in town; 40 pounds for four courses or 65 pounds for seven courses. It's an easy stroll to Waverley Station if you are staying outside of town. Fhior, by the way, means truth or honest, which is intended to signal the chef's approach to ingredients.
It's a testament to the cooking at The Little Chartroom that diners and critics make the journey to this ramshackle area of Leith about halfway to the docks and the stars of the waterfront. For this neighborhood, "up and coming" is an aspirational description. Yet people do come, and booking is essential because this tiny place seats only 18—four of them at a bar counter that doubles as a food prep area. Husband Shaun McCarron handles the front of the house while his wife, Roberta Hall, is the head chef, and there's a staff of about six.
The menu, in keeping with the kitchen, is small: three starters, three mains, three desserts. Each dish is a little visual and gastronomic work of art. Think heritage tomato salad sweetened with watermelon and white vinegar dressing. Or wild mushroom tagliatelle with pine nuts, wild garlic, and spinach. As of summer 2019, dinner is a la carte with three courses that cost 40 pounds without wine. You can sample their style with a set menu at lunch, which costs 16 pounds for two courses, 19 pounds for three.
Paul Wedgwood, Chef Patron of Wedgwood the Restaurant set out to create a comfortable, unpretentious restaurant based on seasonal Scottish foods and foraged ingredients collected from some of the more bosky corners of Edinburgh itself. The fact that 12 years on, the restaurant continues to successfully attract serious diners despite its location on Canongate, smack in the middle of the touristy Royal Mile, speaks for itself.
The setting is relaxed and informal—bare wooden tables, polished wood floors, with upholstered, high-backed leatherette chairs. It's all in a long narrow room that ends with a picture window looking out on Canongate just downhill from the Scottish Museum of Childhood.
Dishes are beautifully presented in the fine dining tradition yet somehow less intimidating—and a little less pricey—than you might see elsewhere. There's an extensive a la carte menu and a seven-course "Wee Tour of Scotland" menu at 55 pounds or 50 pounds for vegetarians. Unfortunately, if you choose the menu, everyone at your table has to order it. An express menu at lunch is a good deal with two courses for 15.95 pounds or three for 19.95 pounds. And a nice, unusual touch is Deciding Time: an extra tenner buys you a glass of bubbly and a selection of amuse bouche to enjoy while you peruse the lengthy menu.
Angels with Bagpipes is named after the wooden sculpture in St. Giles Cathedral across the street. You cannot find a location more central to the tourist heart of Edinburgh than this. Located on two floors in an original 17th-century Edinburgh tenement, it's near the top of the Royal Mile, about 100 yards from Edinburgh Castle terrace.
Dishes on the various menus appear sophisticated yet accessible and relatively safe—sole with seaweed butter, girolles, caperberries, and wild herbs; mackerel with cauliflower, gooseberries, and buckwheat. And the set menus are, as haute cuisine goes, within an affordable range. The restaurant is owned by a member of the Crolla family, who are also behind Valvona and Crolla, Edinburgh's almost legendary Italian deli, so the signs are good. There are not very many good restaurants in this part of Edinburgh; don't turn your nose up at this place because of the location.
Having a satisfying meal is not always about "Dining" with a capital D. Sometimes, it's just about indulging in a snack or a light lunch in a convenient spot. Luckily, Edinburgh has a lot of these because climbing up and down its hills or non-stop partying during its festivals can take a toll. When that happens, all you want is a quiet place to curl up and collect yourself over a drink and something delicious.
Cairngorm Coffee, on Frederick Street, running downhill from Prince Street, is that kind of place. The family who owns the coffee shop also roast the delicious coffee (in the Cairngorms, thus the name). And the site is set up for connected travelers. It was one of the first to put lots of charging points and USB connections around, so it's ideal for a time out to catch up with your email or make a video call home from your laptop while resting from the fray.
So far, so good, we hear you say. Edinburgh has lots of good coffee shops. What makes this place worth seeking out is its amazing grilled cheese sandwiches. Grilled sourdough bread, crisp and buttery, is wrapped around layers of molten vintage cheddar and bacon with a dash of chili for good measure. In a country that rates cheese on toast as one of the basic staples necessary for life on earth, this is cheese on toast nirvana.
Another source of self-indulgent treats that puts on no airs whatsoever is Wings. It's Edinburgh's first and, as far as we can tell, only dedicated chicken wings restaurant. Find it at a brilliant sounding address—Old Fishmarket Close—just off the Royal Mile behind St. Giles Cathedral, it's the place to go to fill up and soak up a lot of alcohol after a night of pub crawling, whisky tasting, or festival going.
Their menu lists 80 different kinds of chicken wings categorized as dry, sizzling, bbq, fresh, sweet, hot, or boozy. They come in bowls of six wings topped with one of the 80 sauces. We don't know anyone who has worked their way down the whole menu, but it would be interesting to try. That and beer is the whole story.
For openers, we should say that you don't go to this eccentric Edinburgh institution for the food. You might have a great meal (stick to the set menus), you might have a mediocre meal, but that's hardly the point. This decadent pair of rooms—the original dining room and a newer secret garden—carved out of a 16th-century merchant's house on Castle Hill is a place for wild seductions or, at the very least, archly romantic trysts.
Tufted red leather seating, carved oak paneling, tapestries, an oak coffered ceiling with Heraldic painting, yard-high candlesticks with flickering candles and, day or night, a darkened dining room as a baroque, gothic fantasy. The Telegraph critic called it bonkers. The Times described it as an "unmitigated pleasure palace." And Andrew Lloyd Webber called it "the prettiest restaurant ever"—probably when he was writing The Phantom of the Opera.
If you're in Edinburgh on a naughty weekend, this is the place. There are even decadent boutique hotel rooms to retire to.
Valvona & Crolla is an Edinburgh institution. An Italian deli, founded with the first wave of Italian immigrants to Edinburgh in 1934, it's crammed with imported Italian goodies, oils, cheeses, pasta, hams, and sausages. Even their veggies are imported daily from Milan. In 1996 they opened a cafe that serves lunches and early dinners on the weekends.
The folks behind the scenes consider themselves cooks, not chefs. What they deliver is hearty but refined home cooking based on the exquisite ingredients for sale in the shop. It's easy to miss, by the way. The narrow, pale blue shop front at 19 Elm Row doesn't hint at the dazzling array of groceries, let alone the plain but airy cafe inside. If you are fond of the old world smells of a real, European-style Italian deli, you need to visit this one. Booking a table is recommended.
If you are traveling with your brood, sometimes you have to cater to their tastes to keep the mealtime peace. Luckily, hardly anyone old enough to have teeth says no to pizza. And Edinburgh's pizza fans of all ages give this place a comedy-sized thumbs up.
They serve a generous selection of pizzas—traditional toppings and some contemporary ones—as well as a big menu of conventional trattoria-type dishes, like soups, pasta, and fish. And, in case pizza isn't family-friendly enough, they also have a children's menu with dishes like macaroni croquettes, chicken fingers, and "twisty" pasta. You can even bring the family pet along.
Hemma is Swedish for "at home," and that is the relaxed atmosphere this Swedish owned cafe-bar tries to establish. By day, it's a place for families to hang out. It's particularly is family and toddler-friendly. The soft furnished "play zone" is a safe environment for small children to play while their grown-ups indulge in colorful, healthy salads, Swedish meatballs, burgers, sandwiches, and Hasselback potatoes. It's adults-only after 8 or 9 p.m. (see their website for the complicated arrangement of opening hours) when there's more of a party atmosphere. They serve brunch, lunch, and dinners, and a great line in cakes. Hemma, on Holyrood Road, near the bottom of the Royal Mile, is handy for family visits to the Scottish Parliament or the family attraction Dynamic Earth.