A February 2007 trip
to Edinburgh by Red Mezz
Quote: After being in the capitol of Scotland for 4 years, it seemed a good idea to give an independent restaurant review. Enjoy!
If you've never been to the British Isles, then I'm sure you've heard the horror stories. The tasteless array of strangely named foods that apparently make up what is traditional British cuisine can indeed be very off putting. From the idea of mountains of chip shop fried foods to spotted dick (yes, it is really a thing) and the infamous Scottish Haggis could certainly put you off the idea of eating out while visiting.
And I'm not going to lie, the food that is generally consumed here by the locals is more often than not, lacking. The transition from Texas sized portions and Cajun and Mexican flavourings on everything took some distinct getting used to when moving here to a country who's main dish seems to be beans on toast. And they love to frown on the use of salt, or anything else that involves flavour.
But... having said that, that shouldn't put you off British or Scottish restaurants entirely, because there are some wonderful examples of food and some really excellent restaurants here. There may not be quite as much spice as you are accustomed to, but there are some wonderful Scottish meals that deserve their due. In this review I will go over all kinds of restaurant options in Edinburgh for all types of visitors. In my time here I've had quite a bit of time to sample what the locals have to offer, and have found some absolute gems as well as a few restaurants to avoid like the plague. Hopefully this review will be of use to those wanting to visit Scotland's capitol, whether you want to splash out on something really amazing by top chef's and Michelin Star grade restaurants, or if you just want to know where is some good, wholesome food to get at a good value to keep your energy up while you're walking up and down the hills of Edinburgh. I intend to review at least one of each type of restaurant from Bistro/Cafe, Fine Dining, Local Cuisine, Budget, Vegetarian, Take Away, as well as a few secret finds that may not be on the normal tourist trail. I will also include a few places I've gone that are best left alone. Hopefully this will make your time in Edinburgh, and your eating experience in Scotland, a whole lot nicer.
Before I give any other tips or suggestions regarding restaurants in Scotland, I will first address the issue of service, which many Americans and non-Europeans will find quite an issue. Do expect a different level of service when you come to Europe, because things are simply done different here, and if you come in expecting the same kind of service you get back home you are simply going to be disappointed. (Particularly if you are here in the summer during festival times when things are more than a little hectic and most restaurants are staffed with people from out of town.)
I have tried to rate the level of service in restaurants here with a healthy level of balance between what I know to be the norm here, and what I still expect as good service. You won't get the kind of attention that you get, even at say an O'Charleys in the states, but you do get some very competent waitresses, and not all of the service is actively bad, just not always quite as comprehensive as you may find in other places. As for tipping, it is certainly not the thing that it is in the states or other places where waitresses get paid less with the understanding they will receive tips. As someone who's worked in the service industry here I can tell you that - as always - tips are very welcome, but not expected in the same way as they are in the US. If your service has been good, leave a bit of a tip; they will be pleased. If you are American (particularly during festival time) they will be expecting something, but my simple advice is to just tip exactly what you feel the service was worth, there is no absolute standard here for that. I have been to places (like Estonia) where the waiting staff actively try to swindle customers on change because of the strange new currency - and I've never found that to be the case here. Although it is worth mentioning that if you are here (again, particularly as festival time) and are obviously from out of town, it is worth double checking your check and change. My friends visiting from the states last year who at a restaurant on Rose Street where charged the equivalent of for a lunch. It may have been an honest mistake at a busy time, but it's worth checking.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on February 3, 2007
Conan Doyle Pub
71-73 York Place
+44 0131-524 0031
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on February 3, 2007
53-55 Broughton Street
Edinburgh, Scotland EH1 3RJ
+44 131 556 6032
Restaurant | "The Olive Branch"
Member Rating 1 out of 5 on February 3, 2007
91 Broughton Street
+44 0131 557 8589
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on February 6, 2007
The Witchery by the Castle
Castlehill The Royal Mile
Edinburgh, Scotland EH1 2NF
+44 (131) 225 5613
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on February 6, 2007
1 Raeburn Place
Edinburgh, Scotland EH4 1HU
+44 (131) 332 3864
I have mentioned The Olive Branch under the Edinburgh cafe/bistro category, but unfortunately, despite its good looks it falls down in many areas. So on the upside of the same scale I want to mention what is quite possibly my favorite little local cafe in the city. It is true, that there are no shortages of great little places in Edinburgh to sit and have a coffee, or a bit of lunch; and Cafe Latte isn't the most central that you will find. But it is one of the nicest, non-chain coffee places you will find. Just on the corner of Broughton and Logie Green Road on the other side of Tesco in new town it sits on a pleasant little corner. It's a small place, with only enough indoor seating for about 7-10 people, all in bar style, looking out the window where you can leisurely watch passers by.
But on the sunny days that do appear in Edinburgh (and they are happening more and more) the outdoor seating is a very pleasant place to spend the morning enjoying what is easily the best value, and arguably the best tasting coffee in the city. Cafe Latte is a little family own cafe which focuses mainly on it's Costa Coffee and small sandwich bar which has wonderfully fresh Italian rolls and sandwiches, and well as some amazing little pastas and soups, all at a very reasonable price. But the reason (aside from the fact that this is one of my favorite cafe's to spend my money on in the city) I mention it for this review is one little secret about it that I think any visitor to the city should know. Every time someone visits us for the weekend we spend our Sunday mornings there, and with out fail our company has been incredibly pleased with the quality and value. It may be a bit of an Italian place, but this particular cafe does what I am certain is the best Scottish breakfast in the city. If you are visiting, (particularly from America as breakfast is a very different thing back in the states) you should sample a good Scottish breakfast. At Cafe Latte for about £4 you get a fried egg, toasted roll, two kinds of sausage, black pudding (which must be tried) tomato, and a very healthy sized cup of their fantastic coffee. I am someone who enjoys a healthy sized breakfast and never leave there wishing I had any more. It is a good size and very well made. Extremely tasty for the value.
Not to mention that the staff are very good, the owner himself is very often working and is always welcoming and friendly. A Costa Coffee has recently moved into the Tesco next door, and though I am not harshly against chains that do what they do well, it would be a shame for this great little cafe to suffer. Try it if you are in the area.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on February 20, 2007
34 Broughton road
Though I'm sure that Indian food is a common staple in some parts of the US, where I am from, and most of the places I had lived before coming over to the UK, it was a rather rare thing to see an Indian restaurant and the names of these exotic spices they flavour their dishes were somewhat of a mystery to me. So the introduction to the wonder of Indian food was something that, as a food tourist, I was hugely looking forward to enjoying when I moved to the UK.
And to my delight I was not disappointed. So if there is the chance that you haven't previously tried Indian food, I would highly recommend that you give it a go while in Britain; in the same way I would recommend Mexican to those visiting Texas, as it is a different food than you get in its home country. (Tex-Mex, to those who have visited Mexico know, is a very different food to traditional Mexican, though no less wonderful.) The same can be said of Indian; and British-Indian food is a wonderful concoction. And the best place I have had the pleasure of enjoying this food in Edinburgh is the Prince Balti House.
Though a little bit out the way on the outskirts of town just past The Shore on Seafield Road, it's easy to get to by bus or with a car and is worth the little bit of extra effort. The food is fantastic, and though this is not a fine dining experience, it is incredibly flavourful and an altogether great place to eat. I took the last visitors I had from the US there for a night out before they left, and we spent the evening, just a short walk from some great pubs and the seashore, enjoying the delicious and varied menu, and sampling each other’s dishes to see who had the best. Possibly my favourite thing about this particular restaurant is the staff. I don't know if I've come across staff in Europe so pleased and delighted to be of service, so happy to get your business and just so generally pleasant. The service was good, but mostly it was the genuine pleasure they got in serving us that made it so nice. And I can't complain about the food either, in price, flavour, or quantity. Four of us each got one of their special dishes from Madras to Rogan Josh, as well as some poppadoms for around £6 each (about $12) gleefully sampling each other's different meals and went home stuffed. This is such a nice place to eat that I can't recommend it enough. They have a Huge menu and often offer specials at a very good rate. They do take out as well with free delivery over £12 if you just feel like chilling out in your hotel. They accept all major credit cards and are open 7 days a week. A Great place to sample British-Indian food.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on February 23, 2007
Prince Balti House
11-12 Seafield Road East
+44 0131 200 2310
54 The Shore
+44 (131) 553 3557
Restaurant | "The Outsider Restaurant"
The Outsider was one of those special find restaurants that you stumble onto when you live in a city for a while. One night when out with some friends who live on the other side of town from me, we went into one of their favourite bars, Bar Kohl on George IV Street Bridge (reviewed in the Edinburgh Pub Crawl Review) and after a few hours of cocktails we decided we needed some food and wandered across the street to a restaurant I had never heard of at the time, The Outsider. The friends I was out with were somewhat bigger spenders that I am, and I was cringing when I took up the menu given how nice the place looked and what we had been spending on cocktails already all night. Not to mention that one of the friends who came with us was a chef from London and only really takes us to nice places. But to my very pleasant surprise the menu was very reasonable and also very impressive. The restaurant itself is also a pleasant surprise. It doesn't exactly jump out at you - I'm sure I've passed it hundreds of times and never even seen it before. And apparently it's quite hard for out of towners to find, though it's easy enough if you just look for Bar Kohl and then go directly across the street.
The interior is very nice, and very classy (again suggesting a more pricey menu) with dark walls and low lit rooms. Our upstairs table over looked the restaurant below in a darkish little alcove lit mostly by candles. But it also has a bit of a hip vibe, and I've heard it can also be quite lively from time to time. The waiting staff were very good... always ready when we needed something but not at all intrusive. But most importantly, the food was absolutely amazing. I will try to temper my enthusiasm given that I was very hungry and a little bit tipsy on my last visit, but I must say that everything I tasted there that night was amazingly well cooked.
It's not at all pretentious, and the portions aren't tiny or overly artfully presented. But the presentation was very nice and classy and the food was cooked To Perfection. The friend on my left ordered the steak (at £13, a very good price for a steak in Edinburgh at night) and it was miraculous. Beaten only in Edinburgh by The Witchery whose steak is around £22. Absolutely perfectly cooked, a good sized portion and excellently seasoned.
I had Scottish venison with red cabbage and potatoes which was easily the best venison I've ever tasted, and coming from middle Tennessee with the luxury of very fresh venison, I can be a bit of a snob about it. But it was astounding, and absolutely melted when it hit my tongue. We tried an array of things from scallops to a pear desert, all of which were very very nice indeed.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on March 20, 2007
15 George IV Bridge
+44 0131 226 3131
Inverness, United Kingdom