I started writing this blog post as a general “weekend trip” guide to Edinburgh, one of my favorite places in the world. When I finally arrived to my favorite part of the post—the food and drink part—I quickly realized that that I have enough to fill pages and pages with just my suggestions for my favorite eateries and drink-eries. So, I’m dispensing with the rest of the post for now in favor of doing justice to all the great culinary endeavors that have popped up in Auld Reekie, Edinburgh’s least appetizing nickname. I think people arrive in Edinburgh a little afraid that all they’ll find to eat and drink there is Scotch and haggis—I don’t really see what the problem is there, but if a sheep’s heart, liver, and lungs cooked and served up in its stomach isn’t your cup of tea, don’t worry! There is plenty of other great food to be had in Edinburgh.
I labored over the decision of where to eat breakfast in Edinburgh because there are so many bakeries and cafes whose windows are just begging you to come inside and warm up. My solution on my last visit was to enjoy multiple breakfasts in a day, because I take this kind of research very seriously. The Elephant House is maybe the most famous café in Edinburgh; JK Rowling spent countless hours here, drawing inspiration from her surroundings in Edinburgh and in Porto, where she lived previously (read more about Potter-in-Porto here). I wasn’t really impressed with the food, but I would eat a mud brick to be in the same café where Harry Potter was written, so I ate my lukewarm baked potato with a smile. The café overlooks Greyfriar’s Kirkyard, a graveyard where JK Rowling may have subconsciously derived inspiration from the grave of Thomas Riddell… yeah, Voldemort is definitely buried there, and people leave notes for his ghost, because even the evil people in Harry Potter are still exciting to Potterheads.
Not too far from The Elephant House you’ll find La Barantine Victoria, an adorable, tiny French café in the Grassmarket area, perfect for travelers who love a flaky, buttery croissant and a tiny coffee to get them going in the morning. You’ll truly feel like you’ve hopped over to Paris for breakfast—even the staff seemed to be mostly French. I picked up an assorted box of uniquely-flavored and perfectly delicate macarons as a gift for my friend and his girlfriend for showing me around their city, which they later reported was just as delicious as the treats that I’d enjoyed there. The café is small, so you should either arrive early in the day or be prepared to wait a bit for a table.
People looking for more coffee-centric options will love Wellington Coffee, an insider suggestion from my friend-turned-personal-tour-guide; he swears by the flat whites and I loved my creamy latte. The place is tiny, but I think that adds to its charm and coziness—just know that you may have to wait for a table. Another great coffee spot is Cairngorm Coffee Co., which is just hipster enough for the coffee to be really good, but not so hipster that it’s intimidating. The real star of the show here, though, are the grilled cheeses cheese toasties—the one with chili jam was so good, I ordered a second one just to make sure the first one wasn’t a fluke. It wasn’t, but I’m willing to continue doing this important research for the good of the public. I will let you all know how my third cheese toasty from Cairngorm Coffee Co. is when I receive my university funding.
Another good midday snack stop is Mary’s Milk Bar, not far from La Barantine Victoria in the Grassmarket neighborhood. The retro vibe and amazing hot chocolate floats should be enough to draw you inside, but there are also tons of cute souvenirs to keep you browsing for a while. Some of the flavors here are even better without the hot chocolate, like caramelized figs and honey– in order to judge the ice cream vs. the hot chocolate floats in an unbiased manner, I tried both, and was unable to reach a final decision. You should probably just make two stops here before leaving Edinburgh to be safe.
Speaking of leaving Edinburgh, if you feel comfortable driving on the left side of the road and are up for half-day excursion, go to the area around the Pentland hills in search of the mysterious “Secret” Herb Garden, which is probably not very secret anymore because I’ve told anyone who will listen about this fascinating bit of land we stumbled upon after a hike through the Pentlands. There are rows upon rows of herbs, an apiary, and a small café and gift shop with yummy fresh food—because I knew I couldn’t take any herbs back to the US with me, I invested in a dainty bee mug to help me remember my time there, and it still makes me smile every time I use it.
For dinner, my friend and I hopped over to The Mosque Kitchen, my absolute favorite eatery in Edinburgh. Part of my sheer happiness was probably due to spending time with an old friend who I don’t see often while eating my favorite kind of food (curry), but there was something so warm and welcoming about the restaurant itself that I remember every moment of my meal there perfectly. The curry house serves everything cafeteria style, the budget is catered to students (less than £5 for a filling meal), and there’s plenty for vegetarians. The thing I love even more than the price and the warm, comforting curry at Mosque Kitchen is its story. The kitchen used to serve just members of the congregation at the mosque, but after 9/11, they decided to open up to the public to assuage fears and help people of other faiths learn more about Islam. I’ve always felt very strongly that food is one of the best ways to unify and connect people to each other, and that if everyone could spend just one meal with a person from a different background that they don’t understand, the world would be a much better place. The Mosque Kitchen reaffirmed that belief, as it is now one of the most popular restaurants in Edinburgh, curry or otherwise. I can’t wait to return for more the next time I’m in Edinburgh.
After dinner, my friend suggested we stop by his favorite pub to hear some music and try some whisky; I’m not known for turning down invitations like this, so we traipsed on to Sandy Bell’s, a pub that seemed to house as many locals as visitors. The music was in full swing, patrons were chatty and friendly, and the Glenkinchie whisky that we tried was amazing… after a little bit of water was added in. I’m currently training to be able to drink a glass without any water. It felt like the perfect spot to end my time in Edinburgh, drinking the nectar of the Scots and enjoying the company of their friendly locals.
Hopefully this post has not only educated you about the vast amount of food I can put away in a day, but has also encouraged you to pack up and head to Edinburgh for more than haggis! Do you think I missed anything? Any suggestions for the next time I find myself in Edinburgh? Let me know in the comments!
The Elephant House, 21 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 1EN, +188.8.131.5255, http://www.elephanthouse.biz/
La Barantine Victoria, 89 W Bow, Edinburgh EH1 2JP, +184.108.40.20627, http://www.labarantine.com
Wellington Coffee, 33A George Street, Edinburgh EH2 2HN, +220.127.116.1154
Cairngorm Coffee Co., 41A Frederick Street, Edinburgh EH2 1EP, +44.131.629.1420, http://www.cairngormcoffee.com
Mary’s Milk Bar, 19 Grassmarket, Edinburgh EH1 2HS, http://www.marysmilkbar.com
Secret Herb Garden, 32A Old Pentland Road, Lothianburn, Edinburgh EH10 7EA, +44.131.445.5888, http://secretherbgarden.co.uk
The Mosque Kitchen, 31-33 Nicolson Square, Edinburgh EH8 9BX, +44.131.667.4035, http://www.mosquekitchen.com
Sandy Bell’s, 25 Forrest Road, Edinburgh EH1 2QH, +18.104.22.16851, http://sandybellsedinburgh.co.uk