The last time I went to Edinburgh I was doing a gap year half way through my law degree, backpacking around Europe and living off the meagre savings I’d made working in a department store in Melbourne on weekends and after class.
My memories of Edinburgh were of a breathtakingly beautiful city. And while that has not changed – Edinburgh still dazzles with its severe and dramatic beauty – what I didn’t remember about Edinburgh was the finer things. This time however, I have come away with memories of a vibrant and dynamic food scene, quirky underground cocktail clubs and a sense of the pride and innovation that lives in the locals of this unique city.
Here’s a little diary of our visit, including all the places that I highly recommend for your next trip up north.
The centre of Edinburgh is spectacular to be sure, but we stayed in the hip and slightly edgy suburb of Leith, about 12 to 15 minutes drive into the centre of town. We stayed at the luxe hotel, Fingal, which is a re-developed ship that is now permanently located in the port of Leith. You can read my review of it here.
Leith is Edinburgh’s up and coming, hipster neighbourhood, where a lot is going on in terms of artisanal food and drinks. It is home to at least a couple of Michelin star restaurants, as well as several other lower-key option which give them all a run for their money. We dined at The Kitchin, the award-winning, Michy-starred home of chef Tom Kitchin. The interior has a low-key modern vibe that is welcoming and cosy at the same time. Dark charcoal greys, exposed wood and stone and understated, subtle touches of sheepskin and tartan.
The food justified the Michelin star – all local and fresh ingredients, delicately presented and delightful to dine on.
The Kitchin is found in the old dock area of Leith. Not far from it lies a stretch of river, which is lined with an eclectic group of restaurants, bars and pubs. We stopped in for an aperitif at The Ship on the Shore, a lavishly decorated pub with a spectacular looking seafood menu. While we didn’t have time to dine here, we eyed off the seafood platters being delivered to the table beside us to an extent that probably made them feel rather uncomfortable. We subsequently heard on good authority that it is indeed a local gem when it comes to dining out.
A little further afield in Leith, we wandered over to The Nauticus, a relatively new pub whose hook is all local produce. This means there’s a lot of local whiskies and beers, but the menu extends to wines which have a link to the local area. The interior is a modern take on the old-school pub. The bar stools are upholstered in Harris Tweed and the fixtures are all ornate wood panelling and brass. But the staff are young and passionate about what they do. My tip is to have the “Porridge Colada” cocktail. Its base is home-made oat milk, whisky and pineapple. Sounds hideous. Tastes like tropical-Scottish heaven (trust me).
In the centre of town there is no shortage of options for eating and drinking and being merry. The Timber Yard is set in an old warehouse. It’s kind of minimal, kind of rustic, but overall chic. The menu is based on local produce, which is lovingly transformed into delicate, light but satisfying dishes.
Our other favourite was Fhior. It’s modern Scottish dining at its best. We had the surprise tasting menu, which is always risky when you don’t know what’s coming, but we had the opportunity too tell them upfront what we don’t like (e.g. internal organs) and they work with you. Needless to say, we savoured every course.
Edinburgh’s drinking scene has gone all sophisticated with the addition of a few speakeasy’s and cocktail bars. And while they are sophisticated, there’s still that fun Scottish spirit pervading the atmosphere. My favourite was Panda & Sons. At street level it is disguised as a barber shop, but the giveaway is the low sound of the music rising up from the basement. Go down the stairs, and open up the bookcase – behind it is Panda & Sons. A very cool, low-ceilinged bar with an eclectic cocktail list. My tip: order the Tiki Takeaway. A cocktail in a Chinese takeaway box, which includes soy sauce. Delicious.
For late night looseness, we headed to Bramble. Low key, late night cocktails, with great tunes.
It wasn’t all eating and drinking though. We also visited the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. The Andy Warhol exhibition was in full force during our visit, but there is always something interesting being exhibited. On Sundays a visit to the Stockbridge market is a good idea. It is quite small, but there’s great street food in the market, and interesting little shops on the streets surrounding it.
We were also very pleasantly surprised by how fascinating our visit to the Royal Yacht Britannica was. Get a sneak peak into how the royal family spent their holidays on the high seas.