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It's Edinburgh Festival time again – meaning the Scottish capital is bracing itself for the descending hordes. Here, Square Meal recommends the best lunchtime bites, set-menu deals, posh dinners and post-gig pints to be had in the city – and more besides. Beat the crowds by planning your foodie pit-stops in advance and booking them through SquareMeal.co.uk.
This friendly bistro is running a special menu during the Edinburgh Festival, featuring its usual combination of classic techniques and international flavours – think gazpacho with warm cheese croûtons, and roast chicken breast with haggis cromesquis, turnip purée and Drambuie sauce.
This award-winning French restaurant near the Royal Mile has a dedicated local following due to its rustic interiors, just-so service and excellent-value set lunches (£12.50/15.50 for two/three courses).
This light, airy, first-floor café has quirky, drawing-room interiors, a relaxed atmosphere, and a menu covering everything from breakfast through to dinner – from mochas and muffins to Mediterranean salads and organic sausages with homemade baked beans.
Bia Bistrot’s food shows an eye for value as well as detail: the stunning-value lunch/pre-theatre menus might bring soused mackerel and pickled vegetables, followed by confit duck with white beans and tomatoes, with rhubarb and custard for dessert.
An easy-going, unassuming modern pub with an equally modest upstairs restaurant, Iglu is committed to local, organic and seasonal produce. Dishes such as the wild-boar burger are always popular, and set menus are a real draw; a good bar menu is also available.
Boasting a prime location by Edinburgh Castle, it’s no wonder The Witchery is a favourite haunt of visiting celebrities and destination diners. Scottish produce cooked in the French style takes centre stage – take advantage of the two- and three-course set menus to save the pennies.
Rise above the crowds and take in Edinburgh from a different perspective at this snazzy glass-walled restaurant – part of a chain that has earned a reputation for classy Thai staples as well as regional specialities and street food brimming with authentic flavours. Further plus points are attentive service and plentiful vegetarian options.
If you need time out from the festival, Harvey Nichols offers not just a spot of retail therapy, but also a formal restaurant and adjoining informal brasserie, both with excellent views of the city that stretch to the Firth of Forth. There’s a splendid wine list, too.
One of the pioneers of Edinburgh’s burgeoning steakhouse scene, Kyloe is situated on the first floor of the Rutland Hotel and gives fantastic views of the Castle (pictured, below left). Prime Aberdeen Angus beef is sourced from Hardiesmill Farm in the Borders; the result is beautifully marbled meat that doesn’t cost the earth.
Set in a lushly refurbished Victorian townhouse, this Michelin-starred venture serves dishes bordering on performance art. Chef Paul Kitching conjures up playful dishes such as ‘all things white’, which involves a plethora of top-notch ingredients brought together with spectacle and entertainment in mind. You have to see it to believe it.
This cool, contemporary dining room also boasts a Michelin star. The ethos of ‘from nature to plate’ rules the roost here (as it does at its sibling, The Kitchin) with fine-tuned seasonal cooking from chef Dominic Jack.
Tom Kitchin's converted warehouse in Leith has become one of the UK's top gastronomic destinations – an achievement that saw it crowned BMW Square Meal Best UK Restaurant in 2011. Book well in advance if you want to sample Kitchin's intensely seasonal, highly acclaimed cooking, all served in a refreshingly informal setting.
Hidden away on a steep cobbled street between the Royal Mile and Grassmarket, this newcomer offers an ambitious menu that uses seasonal, native and wild ingredients to create dishes such as meltingly tender Perthshire roe deer dressed with rosemary and Auchentoshan whisky sauce. Polished service and a separate whisky bar seal the deal.
This recently relocated Edinburgh favourite serves finely crafted dishes founded on seasonal Scottish ingredients – think Loch Fyne crab cannelloni with smoked cauliflower custard, lemon pearls, baby coriander and beetroot mayo. The sommelier’s excellent knowledge should see some gems emerge from the wine cellar.
The Edinburgh branch of this contemporary brasserie has a distinctly French flavour, serving classics such as soupe au pistou, moules-frites, and petit pot au chocolat in comfortable surroundings, all backed up by an admirable wine list.
This long-running seafood restaurant is compact and full of chatter, with innovative cooking inspired by the adjacent seafood market – expect anything from steamed mussels with Black Forest ham, shallots, garlic and fino sherry to roast monkfish with gnocchi, chorizo and tomatoes. Also look out for BYO Tuesdays (£3 corkage).
This family affair offers a seasonal menu that uses on-trend flavours and locally sourced ingredients – some butchered, smoked or cured on-site. Stand-out dishes include crab with pear, fennel fronds, horseradish and crème-fraîche sorbet, or cured pork belly with roast loin, chard, wild garlic, parsnip, peas and oyster mushrooms. If the weather is fine, eat alfresco in the south-facing yard.
Bang in middle of the Royal Mile, Angels with Bagpipes sounds like an expensive tourist trap, but is anything but. Sensibly priced contemporary Scottish dishes could include Orkney scallops with lentils, spiced aubergine ras-el-hanout, apple and caramel, or the signature dessert of Tunnocks cake with bubble-gum ice cream.
This tasteful space in the basement of the National Gallery complex overlooks Princes Street Gardens East and serves a menu with a decidedly Scottish slant. A three-course lunch might involve cream of potato and smoked fish soup, then venison stew with root vegetables and rosemary dumplings, plus banana split for dessert. Decent Scottish bottled ales pepper the drinks list.
This Scottish-themed boozer-cum-dining room (also owned by Tom Kitchin and Dominic Jack) blazes with traditional tartans and tweeds, while the menu plunders the nation’s archives for Braveheart-style dishes such as sheep’s ‘heid’ Scotch broth, and a seasonal crumble of the day. Classic Scottish tipples aren’t neglected either.
One of the leading purveyors of Scottish produce in Edinburgh, Stac Polly takes a larder full of sound native ingredients – smoked salmon, Arbroath smokies, Aberdeen Angus steaks and wild berries – and poshes them up to give la cuisine française a run for its euro.
Although the decor brings to mind a gentlemanly drinking den, Bon Vivant is clubby and young-at-heart, with plenty of good wines and Champagnes, and DJs spinning the decks every weekend. The kitchen caters for all appetites, serving snacks such as whitebait tempura, and more filling dishes such as beef and Guinness pie.
Edinburgh’s best whisky destination showcases more than 200 examples of the spirit, offering an ever-changing malt of the moment. The beer is good, too, with eight real ales on tap from mainly Scottish breweries.
Bramble may not be the most obvious cocktail bar in the city but it is arguably the best. With its low ceiling, cosy alcoves and louche sofas, the atmosphere exudes lo-fi decadence, and when the DJs come out to play, it feels very much like a pre-club bar.
If all you want is a civilised, old-fashioned boozer, look no further. Decked out in traditional pub style with a distinctly masculine feel, this pub offers choice real ales, around 50 single-malt whiskies, crisps and basic bar food, plus sport on the telly during important tournaments.
An Italian wine bar hidden in Edinburgh’s Old Town, Divino Enoteca has a clubbish, subterranean look and an impressive choice of wines, many available by the glass from Enomatic dispensers. Look out, too, for the short but engaging menu of Italian snacks.