The Free Company/Murray Orr
Sabina Culver 11/06/23
The Best Restaurants in Edinburgh | 18 First-Rate Eateries
Look, other than the world’s greatest arts festival, an inconceivably beautiful old town, superb nightlife and an unparalleled walkability factor – a castle, historic monument and/or mountain on every corner, guaranteed – what does Edinburgh have to offer? Great question, glad you asked. The answer? A restaurant for absolutely every occasion.
‘But if only there were some sort of authoritative guide, listing exac-‘ stop right there. Here’s everything you need to know. Other than why the city is nicknamed ‘Auld Reekie’*.
BABA | New Town
For nights that start sensibly but end up getting…a little mezze. BABA is a Levantine charcoal grill and cocktail bar, which wins you over via the cunning trick of ‘Serving exclusively things you’ll definitely want to eat’. The bigger your group the better, as you can order from across the menu (from the venison and urfa pepper carpaccio, to the yoghurt-marinated whole grilled sea bream, and everything in between) and dip, tear and share with impunity.
In short, it’s got everything you could ever Levant.
Details: 130 George St, Edinburgh EH2 4JZ | ££ | Book here
Timberyard | Grassmarket
Michelin-starred cooking you’ll dream about for the rest of your life, served in an achingly beautiful converted 19th century warehouse? Yep, Timberyard’s special. A family-run restaurant on Lady Lawson Street, just a hop skip and a jump from Edinburgh Castle, Timberyard specialises in elegant tasting menus showcasing the kitchen’s modern, grown-up cooking with an emphasis on fresh produce and seafood. Devilled mussels on toast is a standout starter, whilst the turbot, Barra cockles and white asparagus is a mainstay of their lunch menu. It’s got something of the St John about it, which can only ever be a very, very good thing.
Details: 10 Lady Lawson Street, EH3 9DS | ££££ | Book here
Ting Thai Caravan | Old Town & The Castle
Bustling restaurants, mouth-watering, flavourful Thai food, and crisp cold beer – The Ting Thai formula is a winning one, frequently resulting in queues snaking out of the door. But you’d be well-advised to hold fast and nab a seat, because there’s real good stuff on offer. All the classics you’d expect – hot and sour tom yam soup, hearty pad thai, rich massaman curry – are masterfully done, and if you stray from your regular comfort zone you’re sure to be rewarded. The pan fried seabass maeklong is a delight, the nua yam talay (grilled rump steak) is sensational, and the gaeng pha talay (that’s “jungle broth” loaded with seafood) is as restorative a bowl as you could ever hope to slurp.
Details: 55-57 Lothian Road, EH1 2DJ | 8-9 Teviot Place, EH1 2QZ | ££ | No bookings
Forage & Chatter | New Town
Look past the slightly twee mid-noughties ‘X plus Y’ naming convention, and treat yourself to some completely sensational cooking. Forage & Chatter (as the name suggests, much of the menu is locally-sourced) serves beautifully-presented high-end Scottish cuisine, at what are very restrained prices given the quality of the food. The confit duck leg starter is a superb use of £13, and mains range from £22 (the pearl barley risotto with garlic and walnut pesto) through to £29 (the cooked-to-perfection lamb rump with new potatoes and artichoke purée). A fine take on fine dining, that you’ll want to chatter to your friends about after you’ve finished your chocolate mousse with sea buckthorn ice cream (£9).
Details: 1A Alva St, Edinburgh EH2 4PH | £££ | Book here
Cafe Marlayne | New Town
Think Edinburgh, think French cuisine? Non? Think again mon frère, because Café Marlayne is a gorgeous neighbourhood French bistro that also happens to offer some fantastic value on its set menus. The two course lunch comes in at £17.90, and offers starters including moules marinière and duck liver parfait, and crowd-pleasing mains including chicken suprême with mushrooms and Madeira sauce, and good old reliable rump steak. It’s a tiny, intimate space, marked out by relaxed friendly service and a small-but-perfectly-formed wine list. Discovering Café Marlayne makes one of the world’s great cities that little bit better.
Details: 76 Thistle St, EH2 1EN | ££ | Book on 0131 2262230
Heron | Leith
Leith, at one point slightly hack-y stand-up comic shorthand for ‘the bad bit of Edinburgh’, has in truth always been home to an array of wonderful pubs, cafés and restaurants – but Heron is genuinely world-class. Michelin-starred and critically-fêted, the bright and cleanly-designed corner restaurant is home to an obsessively refined and perfected menu, featuring confidently minimalistic dish names (think ‘Octopus | Chilli | Soy’ – or, if you’re tackling the equally superb vegetarian menu, ‘Potato | Isle of Mull Cheddar | Chive’). The short, sharp cocktail list offers two variations on the negroni and two on the martini – an assured sign of quality – and the wine list is a lovingly-curated treat.
Details: 87, 91A Henderson Street, Leith, EH6 6ED | ££££ | Book here
IKIGAI Ramen | Southbridge & Newington
The English translation of ikigai is “reason to live” and, for the team behind this beautiful pair of restaurants, ‘making ludicrously good ramen’ is theirs. The noodles are bouncy, the broth is magnificently rich – and equally delicious whether rendered from pork bone broth or, the vegetarian alternative, from shiitake mushroom. The sides are equally winning, too – think sweet potato croquettes, gyoza dumplings, Takoyaki octopus balls, and crunchy moreish tebasaki chicken wings. Simply put, those in search of the ultimate feel-good meal, to line their stomach or ward of their hangover, might have just found their Ikigai.
Details: 13 W Crosscauseway, Newington, EH8 9JW | 29-30 Southbridge, EH1 1LL | £ | Book here
Aizle | New Town
In the grand environs of the Kimpton Charlotte Square Hotel, Aizle serves up very fancy seasonal tasting menus comprised of the highest-quality locally sourced produce. The team makes everything in-house – from the butter (hand churned, obvs) to the aged kombucha (don’t panic, it goes in cocktails). Whilst dietary restrictions are catered for, you are otherwise encouraged to relinquish your desire to ‘choose’, and just sit back and enjoy the carefully-designed banquet, comprise of eight dishes each bursting with flavour. It’s really the finest food the season has to offer, so once you’ve experienced Aizle you’ll be totally sated. Until next season, obviously.
Details: Kimpton Charlotte Square Hotel, 38 Charlotte Square, Edinburgh EH2 4HQ | ££££ | Book here
The Free Company | Pentland Hills
It’s a farm. It’s a seasonal restaurant. It’s an aspirational lifestyle brand and glossy magazine (fine, it’s not, but it probably could be). The Free Company grows phenomenal organic produce, which it sells in its farm shop and serves in its restaurant. The whole experience is somehow rustic, slick, and obscenely desirable all at once – a beguiling combination that allows The Free Company to confidently offer their dinner service on a fairly unique “pay what you think the meal is worth”(!) basis. You’ll love it. You’ll casually drop it into conversation with everyone you know. You’ll be back.
Details: Balerno, Midlothian, Edinburgh EH14 7HZ | £££ (typical payment of £55pp) | Book here
Fhior | Calton Hill
Firstly, it means ‘true’ in Gaelic. Secondly, Fhior’s raison d’etre is phenomenally-good Scottish cuisine, delivered with a lightness of touch. This is proper cooking, that doesn’t take itself too seriously. That said, Fhior offers both a seven course and a ten course tasting menu, which allows husband-and-wife owners Scott and Laura Smith to flex their culinary might, and it’s truly impressive stuff. Dishes are steeped in Scottish heritage – there’s ‘Veal / Boen Marrow / Wild Garlic’, and ‘Aged Duck / Turnip / Scurvy Grass’ – and the whole thing can (and should) be accompanied by thoughtfully-paired drinks. A casual drop-in experience this is not. A blow-your-socks-off culinary highlight of your year this assuredly is.
Details: 36 Broughton St, Edinburgh EH1 3SB | ££££ | Book here
The Bon Vivant | New Town
It’s a bistro, baby! It’s informal, it’s high-quality, it’s casual, it’s louche, and it’s sort of everything you want. The prix fixe menu offers alarming value for money – for £23 you can acquire three courses, which includes a starter of two ‘bites’ (of particular note are the mushroom and feta roll with truffle mayo, and the ham hough terrine with sauce gribiche on sourdough). Mains include wild mushroom and herb risotto and bavette steak; you know, bistro stuff! It’s an effortlessly joyful European experience, best served up alongside a Campari and soda, some well-proportioned tailoring, and gentle flirting.
Details: 55 Thistle St, Edinburgh EH2 1DY | £££ | Book here
Noto | New Town
‘We make delicious food’. As mission statements go, it’s a pretty solid one – and Noto more than delivers on that front. The menu is packed with dishes designed for sharing, including burrata with chilli and pea pesto, beef tartare with black garlic, and confit halibut loaded with gochujang butter. The drinks list is superb, with bespoke cocktails vying for attention with the small domaine wine list. Also, it’s the sister venue of Aizle, so you know they’re not messing around. If your own personal watchword happens to be ‘I eat delicious food’, then this restaurant is noto to be missed out on.
Details: 47a Thistle St, Edinburgh EH2 1DY | £££ | Book here
The Lookout By Gardener’s Cottage | Calton Hill
As well as boasting an embarrassment of superb restaurants (clearly), it’s also worth remembering that Edinburgh is among the most beautiful cities on the planet. You’ll struggle to forget this as you sit down for lunch at The Lookout, which offers views out across Edinburgh’s stunning city skyline, and beyond. If you manage to occasionally look down, you might spot the food on your plate, which is guaranteed to be high quality seasonal fare, and likely to include parsnip velouté with truffle, confit duck leg (flavoured magnificently with pumpkin and plum) and a selection of cheeses liable to make you stand up and applaud. Well done The Lookout. Well done Edinburgh.
Details: 38 Calton Hill, Edinburgh EH7 5AA | ££££ | Book here
Spry Wines | Calton Hill
Is it a wine shop with a kitchen? Is it a restaurant that also sells wine? The answer is, of course: yes. Spry, which seamlessly (spry-ly?) achieves both goals in fine style, sells an array of superb natural wines, which can be enjoyed either at home or when eating in. If you’re treating yourself to the latter, you’ll find yourself tucking into a menu that speaks to life’s pleasures; rolled pork belly with apple and gremolata, rarebit tartlet with St Andrews Cheddar, bread pudding with brown butter ice cream, and the delightfully-pitched ‘very fresh cheese in olive oil’ (who could say no?). A set menu is available, as is matched wine (of course), and it all adds up to one of the most agreeable experiences it’s possible to have.
Details: 1 Haddington Pl, Edinburgh EH7 4AE | £££ | Book here
Earls Burger Co. | Stockbridge
To satiate your darkest, most depraved burger needs, come to Earls. Think towering, quivering monstrosities, double and triple-loaded with every conceivable topping and addition that your most sordid fantasies have ever dared contemplate. The ‘dirty south’ shoves two burger patties in with crispy smoked bacon waffles, fries, Carolina BBQ sauce and Guindilla pepper. The ‘sticky icky’ combines a burger with braised brisket, beer battered onion rings, American cheese [NB. this is of course not cheese in any meaningful sense, but good grief it does the job here] and gorgonzola ranch. Balance it out with a bottle of water and a jog Wash it down with one of their dementedly-thick milkshakes and have done with it. Tomorrow’s a new day – but today, you’re going to Earl’s.
Details: 4 Raeburn Place, Edinburgh EH4 1HJ | ££ | No bookings
The Little Chartroom | Leith
Elegant, tasteful, refined – The Little Chartroom is the ‘us’ that appears on dating apps and CV, only it’s the real deal. To visit there for dinner (Wednesday to Sunday) or lunch (Friday to Sunday) is to step into a world that’s just like ‘reality’, but, somehow, nicer. Throughout the summer, The Little Chartroom is offering a Sunday Night set menu which, like the wine list and the interior, is perfectly-judged – raw scallop, ham hock rarebit, Merguez sausage and toasted hay panna cotta. Eat, drink, enjoy, pretend that you’re eating in your own apartment.
Details: 14 Bonnington Road, Edinburgh EH6 5JD | ££££ | Book here
Wings | Old Town
Does exactly what it says on the sign, and does it really, really well. If you like wings – keep walking. But if you love wings, welcome. Wings Edinburgh boasts more than eighty flavours (yep, you read correctly, eighty) with which you can augment your three full-sized chicken wings. It’s a simple plan, brilliantly-executed. Flavours include, drumroll… Peruvian style salsa verde with fresh coriander, serrano and wasabi sriracha with smoked apple Caesar, and sriracha chipotle. Sides include frickles (you know – frickles! Deep fried pickles that are as good for the soul as they are questionable for the heart) mozzarella sticks and mac and cheese. This idea doesn’t just have legs – it’s got wings.
Details: 5 – 7 Old Fishmarket Close, High St, EH1 1RW | £ | No bookings
The Pantry | Stockbridge
The team at The Pantry say they love ‘food that comes from the heart’ – this doesn’t make them offal specialists, but rather the proprietors of one of the most reliable casual eating joints in Edinburgh. On offer, you’ll find superlative breakfast fry-ups (including veggie options), a full brunch selection, and an array of light and less-light lunch options (prawn rolls, pork belly and rice with noodles, braised lamb with cumin and carrot hummus). From your morning coffee to your afternoon Bloody Mary (or your morning Bloody Mary – look, we’re not here to judge), The Pantry has you covered.
Details: 1 N W Circus Place, Edinburgh EH3 6ST | ££ | No bookings
*OK fine, it’s Scots for ‘Old Smokey’, and refers to the coal and peat fire smog that used to hang over the city in the 1600s.
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