05 September 2018

Edinburgh Eats

Though I wouldn't exactly call myself a "foodie," finding the right places to eat is one of my top priorities when traveling. Whether visiting a foreign country or just an unfamiliar neighborhood, I've always believed that food is an integral part of experiencing a place's unique culture. 

On this side of the pond, the U.K. has a reputation for notoriously bland food, and in the past, my culinary experiences there have been pretty consistent with this unfortunate stereotype. So on our recent trip to Scotland, we were pleasantly surprised to find our expectations totally blown out of the water! Thanks to some thorough research and recommendations from friendly locals, we ended up having some of the most unforgettable meals of all our travels.


Scotland has some requisite cultural dishes to check off your list if you're into that kind of thing- neeps and tatties, a full breakfast, black pudding, porridge, Cullen skink, cranachan, and of course the national dish- haggis. (Promise you won't cancel your trip after learning what haggis is!) For me, the highlights were the outstanding seafood, an emphasis on fresh farm-to-table ingredients, and an impressive variety of vegetarian and vegan options at nearly every restaurant. Something I really loved was that whether you're dining at a centuries-old pub or a trendy new spot, you can really sense a passion for tradition and a strong tie to Scotland's cultural heritage on every menu.

Whether you're currently planning a trip to Scotland or just hoping to make it there one day, hopefully my personal list of recommendations will save you hours of research...

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EAT

Favorites We've Visited:

The Witchery by the Castle- We spent our first evening in Scotland at this famous fine dining restaurant. Make a reservation in advance- you can choose between the oak-paneled dining room located inside a 16th century merchant's house or the Secret Garden, an enclosed courtyard that I would describe as magical. I'm big on ambience, so I would say that the setting alone is worth the trip, but thankfully, our meal was also super memorable. My husband said the Scotch beef fillet was the most tender steak he'd ever had.

The Edinburgh Larder- Hidden on a side street off the busy Royal Mile, this casual cafe focuses on seasonal, locally-sourced ingredients. They even have a cute map on the wall showing all of the small farms they work with. Still craving the salmon eggs benedict I had for breakfast there!

The Scran & Scallie- A gastropub from two popular Michelin star chefs that features modern takes on traditional Scottish dishes in a rustic-chic atmosphere. I'd recommend the Fish & Chips or Steak Pie with a Thistly Cross cider.

Rhubarb- Another great fine dining experience, located at Prestonfield House, the boutique hotel that we stayed at. Dine here and you'll feel transported to a romantic evening at a country estate. (They also offer a wonderful afternoon tea service.)

La Favorita- An authentic Italian pizzeria in Leith. I didn't include many restaurants on this list that feature non-Scottish food, but sometimes sharing some wood-fired pizzas and a bottle of red wine is a welcome break from the local cuisine.

Next On Our List: (Recommendations from Trustworthy Sources)

The Grain Store- A beautiful restaurant in an old store room on Victoria Street (Diagon Alley.) Fine dining with local produce and a romantic atmosphere.

The Sheep Heid Inn- One of Edinburgh's oldest pubs (over 600 years old) that's now been beautifully restored. Classic pub food and ales, plus an old-fashioned skittle alley.

Pickles of Broughton Street- A charming and relaxing retreat where you can enjoy a glass of wine with a Scottish take on charcuterie- Scottish cheese accompanied by meats, chutneys, and pickles.

The Holyrood 9A- A warm and cozy bar specializing in gourmet burgers and craft beers. Also check out their sister restaurant on the other side of Old Town, The Red Squirrel. 

The Devil's Advocate- A modern cocktail bar and restaurant in a historic location- an old Victorian pump house hidden away in Advocates Close.

Wildfire- A small family-run restaurant focused on steak and seafood, especially their carefully-sourced Aberdeen Angus beef. This place kind of gives me French bistro vibes.

The Queens Arms- A cozy, traditional Scottish pub with book-lined walls and from what I've heard, actually really good pub food. 

The Doric Tavern- Another traditional spot (bar downstairs/restaurant upstairs) that's supposed to have great pub fare. In a 17th century building near Waverley Station.

Nobles Cafe, Bar & Restaurant- A Victorian-era neighborhood cafe with stained glass windows, serves brunch and dinner. Reminds me of a place you'd find in New York.

Budget-Friendly/Quick Bites:

Oink- Simple "hog roast rolls" (pulled pork sandwiches) with a variety of sauces, for eat in or take away. Multiple locations.

The Baked Potato Shop- Just what it sounds like, a cozy little shop featuring baked potatoes with a variety of toppings. Lots of vegetarian/vegan options.

The Piemaker- Freshly-baked savory pies, perfect for a quick on-the-go bite!

Union of Genius- A casual "soup cafe" serving a daily soup selection alongside freshly baked bread. Great lunch spot, popular with students. 

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DRINK

Pub culture is a big deal in Scotland, so there's no shortage of places to hang out and have a drink. It's fun to wander around and just pop into any place that has a festive atmosphere and live music. But here are a couple places for those who would like to learn a little bit more about the national drink (whisky) plus a couple of my own personal recommendations...

The Scotch Bar- The Balmoral Hotel's signature whisky bar. Kilt-wearing whisky experts help you choose from over 500 varieties. 

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society- If you're serious about whisky, it could be worth investing in the $99 membership for this experience. You don't have to be a member to dine at the Queen Street restaurant.

The Dome- A stylish spot for drinks (or dinner) in the heart of New Town. Think grand Greco-Roman facade, marble bars, indoor palm trees, and top-notch cocktails.

Guildford Arms and The Cafe Royal- A couple of lively, historic Victorian-era bars right next door to each other in New Town. Lots of locals hang out here after work. We enjoyed some whisky and cider, but didn't try any food. 

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COFFEE & SPECIALTY

Cairngorm Coffee- Coffee, grilled cheese, avocado toast... Two locations in central Edinburgh.

Wellington CoffeeI think this George Street shop is super cute. Have a flat white and a scone for me!

The Milkman- Another cute coffee shop- this one's in Old Town.

Mary's Milk Bar- The cutest ever retro ice cream parlor featuring an inventive assortment of homemade gelato and hot chocolate floats with an epic view of Edinburgh Castle. 

I.J. Mellis- A cheesemonger specializing in Scottish farmhouse cheeses. Great stop for picnic items! Multiple locations.

Cranachan & Crowdie- A gourmet gift shop in case you want to bring some locally-made Scottish snacks back home.