As befits the capital city of Scotland, Edinburgh has no shortage of top-tier, innovative restaurants. August is the obvious time to visit, when the Edinburgh International Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe (the world’s biggest arts festival, no less) run from 3-27 August. But the combination of medieval Old Town and Georgian New Town is a joy to explore at any time of year. SquareMeal is determined to keep you properly fed and fuelled, so read on for our list of Edinburgh’s 10 best places to eat and drink.
Why: Though set in a lushly refurbished Victorian townhouse, 21212 is the setting for Michelin-starred chef Paul Kitching’s forays into gastronomic performance art and left-field experimentation. The ‘21212’ moniker should really be ‘31313’ as there are three starter choices, then soup, three mains, then cheese and finally three desserts. The menu changes weekly, so expect something new and exciting each time.
Where: 3 Royal Terrace, EH7 5AB
Why: The Balmoral’s new restaurant comes from The Waterside Inn’s Alain Roux, who supervises a French bistro menu based on Scottish ingredients. The food is done well (French onion soup, steak tartare, rum baba), there’s a terrific bar serving knockout Espresso Martinis, but what really marks the place out is that Edinburgh’s most famous hotel has opened a restaurant that doesn’t feel remotely like a hotel dining room.
Where: 1 Princes Street, EH2 2EQ
Why: There’s something rather special about Dominic Jack’s contemporary dining room in a Georgian townhouse beneath Edinburgh Castle Mound. Like its elder sibling The Kitchin, Castle Terrace is the real deal: the food is out of the top drawer, service seldom misses a beat, and there are treasures galore on the high-value wine list. Roasted and braised Inverurie lamb with aubergine and apricot is typical.
Where: 33-35 Castle Terrace, EH1 2EL
The Gardener’s Cottage
Why: Once the resident gardener’s cottage attached to Edinburgh’s Royal Terrace Gardens, this listed building is now home to a rustic eatery dedicated to seasonal food. The dinner menu comes in the form of a no-choice menu of five or seven courses and features dishes such as Gigha halibut with wild garlic purée, Newhaven lobster and toasted seeds, all pointed up with Scottish ingredients.
Where: 1 Royal Terrace Gardens, London Road, EH7 5DX
Why: Tom Kitchin’s highly regarded Michelin-starred restaurant on Leith’s reenergised waterfront comes complete with a whisky snug and a temperature-controlled wine cellar – not to mention views of the kitchen from a specially designed window. Kitchin’s highly distinctive cooking is still founded on seasonal produce from regional growers, producers and fishermen: roasted rump ‘cap’ of Highland Wagyu beef with heritage carrots, celeriac and red wine sauce, say.
Where: 78 Commercial Quay, Leith, EH6 6LX
Why: Occupying a first-floor space above Victoria Street with wraparound views of Edinburgh's landmarks, Ondine is a sleek but unpretentious space with a crustacean bar holding centre stage, plus a jazzy helping of baroque fabrics and jaunty art. Chef/proprietor Roy Brett learned his trade with fish guru Rick Stein, and is renowned for his use of sustainably sourced produce in the likes of oyster ceviche or Shetland mussels with soy, black beans and ginger.
Where: 2 George IV Bridge, EH1 1AD
Restaurant Mark Greenaway
Why: With spectacular modern cooking featuring bold and unusual overtones and superbly presented dishes, Mark Greenaway continues to tick all the boxes at his gorgeously refashioned Georgian building in Edinburgh’s Old Town. A monthly changing four-course menu might bring hake fillet served with orzo, peas and fermented seaweed butter, or a hearty plate of aged Aberdeen Angus beef.
Where: 69 North Castle Street, EH2 3LJ
Restaurant Martin Wishart
Why: Chef and well-respected restaurateur Martin Wishart has held a Michelin star here since 2001, and standards remain sky-high at his flagship restaurant on Leith waterfront. Wishart’s cooking showcases Scottish produce across a prix-fixe three-course lunch menu, a three-course à la carte option, and six or eight-course dinner menus. Start your meal by ordering ceviche of Gigha halibut before tackling Orkney lobster ravioli and an Emmental soufflé.
Where: 54 The Shore, Leith, EH6 6RA
The Scran and Scallie
Why: From the team behind Michelin-starred The Kitchin and the award-winning Castle Terrace, this family-friendly gastropub in genteel Stockbridge is rustic and charming, with exposed original brickwork sitting alongside tartans, tweeds and tactile Scandinavian detailing. A seasonal menu showcases traditional dishes and forgotten classics (fish pie, Barnsley chop) alongside bar ‘scran’, weekend breakfasts and Sunday roasts.
Where: 1 Comely Bank Road, EH4 1DT
The Witchery by the Castle
Why: Located deep in Edinburgh’s tourist territory at the top of the Royal Mile, this gothic 16th-century building is renowned for its olde worlde and extravagantly baronial decor, and its innovative kitchen that covers all bases. Not afraid of bullish Franco/Scottish flavours, menu options include lamb Wellington stuffed with wild mushroom and chicken mousse, roast North Atlantic monkfish and a fruits de mer royale dish which includes half a Scottish lobster, 12 oysters, clams and other marine treats.
Where: 352 Castlehill, EH1 2NF
To discover more of Edinburgh’s food scene, read our full list of Edinburgh’s best restaurants here.