Scottish cuisine hasn’t had the best reputation. The country’s national dish of haggis, sheep offal cooked with spices in a sheep’s stomach, is described in the authoritative Larousse Gastronomique as “not immediately appealing.” While its whisky may be revered, Scotland’s cooking has historically been overlooked. Edinburgh is solid proof that this opinion is passé. It’s not hard to eat well in the nation’s capital, whether you’re looking for Michelin-starred dining or a cheap bite on the go. The city is a dynamic melting pot of local influences and global flavors, an edible treasure trove for diners of every background, budget, and inclination.
"Edinburgh is what Paris ought to be,” author Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote. It’s true that sometimes the most storied culinary capitals can be the most difficult to navigate as a tourist. Edinburgh can match the tastes of a city like Paris, without the pretension. These five bites are a small sampling of what Edinburgh has to offer. Experience a cutting-edge restaurant, sample the region’s local seafood and produce, or cozy up to the bar and pair your bite with one of the country’s finest malts. You may have come here expecting something else, but it won’t take long for the Scots to prove you wrong.
The space that houses Timberyard has undergone many transformations, from a former timber warehouse to today’s stunning, high-ceilinged dining room. This newbie to Edinburgh’s restaurant scene is a family affair: eldest son Ben runs the kitchen, brother Jo manages the bar, and sister Amy does the marketing. The menu is divided into four sections – bite, small, large, sweet – and reads like a grocery list of the finest local ingredients (“mackerel, parsley, celery, buttermilk, apple;” “british cheese, biscuits, plum”). The result is an artful interpretation of seasonal Scottish cuisine, sophisticated yet simple. Don’t overlook the drink menu, where the same careful attention is given to craft cocktails and house-made sodas.
Flickr: STV Photos
No inch of Mimi’s Picnic Parlour is left untouched by cuteness, from the hand-drawn cupcake wallpaper in the entryway to the pink chandeliers hanging over the café tables. Sip tea and sample the bakery’s famous scones while watching passersby stroll down Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, or fill a purse-shaped to-go box with treats like coconut snowball cupcakes or Oreo crumb bars. Even the gluten-free items are stellar, like a fudgey raspberry brownie that could fool the most diehard wheat eater.
The local food movement in Scotland is nothing new, and Edinburgh Larder specializes in serving city dwellers with delicious, seasonal fare from local suppliers. A hand-drawn chalkboard map on the wall reinforces this point, but this is more than name dropping. Edinburgh Larder is thriving proof that you can support your local farmer without paying a pretty penny. Drop in for a weekday breakfast of porridge or scrambled eggs with salmon, choose from their selection of sandwiches, salads, and soups for a hearty lunch, or take an artisan roll or scone to go.
Many urban chefs have gone directly to their local farmer to source the best ingredients, but at Oink, the farmers have come to the city. Started by two farmers, Oink does one thing and it does it well: Scottish hog roasts. The shop sells pulled pork rolls in three different sizes: the Piglet, the Oink, or the Grunter. Choose your bread (white or brown), and your sauce (sage and onion, apple, chili relish or haggis). The shop stays open until the hog runs out. Sometimes simpler is better.
The Devil's Advocate
Take a wrong turn and you might miss The Devil’s Advocate, tucked away on a steep and narrow alleyway in Edinburgh’s Old Town. It’s a solid spot for lunch or dinner, with hearty plates that are modern, yet nod to tradition. Try entrees like the beef and pork belly burger with black pudding, blue cheese, beets, and quince aïoli, or the fish of the day served with watercress and pea purée, brown shrimp tartare, and hand cut chips. Or pick a spot at the bar and let the bartender guide you through their long list of Scottish whiskies, paired perfectly with a bite of hand-carved serrano ham or haggis bonbons.