Sightseeing in Edinburgh‘s Old Town is easy – dominated by a striking hill-top castle and royal palace, historic cathedrals and beautiful medieval architecture, every winding street is a reflection of the city’s eerie and fascinating past.
Dining in Old Town, however, can be a bit of a challenge. For those looking to avoid the inundation of chain restaurants and over-priced pub grub, a little prior research can go a long way. This list of covers most bases, from budget-friendly restaurants to renowned fine-dining establishments, and a few cafes and bakeries thrown in for good measure.
1) Ting Thai Caravan
Ting Thai Caravan started as a small pop-up restaurant during the 2012 Fringe Festival – now, it’s a permanent and popular fixture in the student-dominated area near Bristo Square. With communal seating and queues sometimes stretching down the street, it’s always bustling and often crowded, but the food is consistently delicious and extremely affordable. The menu is chock-full of Thai favourites along with coconut beer batter prawns, dried Thai beef jerky, and other inventive offerings.
Nestled amongst the tourist-laden eateries near the Royal Mile is Civerinos: a casual restaurant serving traditional Italian street food with a modern twist. Classic family recipes and simple, fresh ingredients set Civerinos food apart, and nothing showcases this more than their pizza. A made-to-order sourdough base with quality toppings, like buffalo mozzarella, sliced Italian spicy sausage, and their signature slow-cooked tomato sauce – it’s easily some of the best pizza in Edinburgh.
3) Devil’s Advocate
Devil’s Advocate has one of the best locales in Edinburgh, hidden along Advocate’s Close just off the Royal Mile. Formerly a Victorian pump house, it’s now a contemporary restaurant & bar with a seasonal Scottish influenced menu and an extensive whisky, wine and cocktail selection. Remnants of the past are visible in its exposed stone and brick walls, and the industrial-style lighting and large backlit whisky shelf add a modern flair to the bar area.
Hanam’s menu boasts a range of Middle Eastern flavours and specialties such as lamb tashreeb (a casserole of lamb and fresh naan soaked in a sauce of onions, peppers and tomato), a smorgasbord of hot and cold meze dishes, and incredibly flavourful charcoal barbeque kebabs. The desserts are equally as tempting as the main dishes: rosewater sorbet, Turkish delight and ice cream spiced with cardamom and Persian saffron, to name a few. Their outdoor shisha terrace is one of my favourite spots in the city, overlooking Victoria Street and the Grassmarket.
5) Mother India
Often touted as one of Edinburgh’s best Indian restaurants, Mother India serves classic Indian dishes tapas-style. Portion sizes allow for 3 to 4 dishes per person, which is ideal for sharing and sampling an array of flavours from their varied and lengthy menu.
6) Peter’s Yard
Located in Edinburgh’s modernized Quarter Mile, Peter’s Yard is an artisanal Swedish bakery serving up freshly baked bread, light breakfast and lunch fare, delectable pastries and made-to-order sourdough pizzas. Their cardamom buns alone are reason enough to visit – try one and thank me later.
7) The Witchery
The Witchery is a subtle reminder of Edinburgh’s gruesome history – its name comes from the nearby site on which hundreds of women were burned at the stake, accused of practising witchcraft. Macabre history aside, the 16th-century building boasts an opulent, gothic-style dining room, with jewel-toned tapestries and walls adorned with intricately carved oak panels. The menu is rife with Scottish delicacies: Oban oysters, locally raised beef, and smoked salmon from the cold waters of Loch Duart.
8) Mary’s Milk Bar
You might already be familiar with Mary’s Milk Bar; it’s been featured in Buzzfeed a few times, and it’s not uncommon to see queues snaking out the door and down the street on a sunny day. The Buzzfeed hype is well deserved though – the gelato is exceptionally rich, and handmade every morning with fresh and ever-changing ingredients. The traditional flavours are just as tasty as some of the more unique and outlandish flavour combinations, like dill, soda bread & whisky, or spicy Sriracha almond. They also offer hot cross bun gelato sandwiches, doughnut ice cream sandwiches, and (their now infamous) hot chocolate gelato floats.
The concept behind Aizle is unique: there’s no set menu – instead, you’re presented with a list of twenty-or-so locally sourced, seasonal ingredients which serve as a base for the 5-course dinner to follow. You simply pay a fixed price and enjoy an unexpected and immaculately presented combination of the quality, farm-to-table ingredients.
This quirky ‘cake-only’ cafe near the Grassmarket is a great spot for a sweet treat and a cup of tea or artisan roast coffee. An antique piano, vintage furniture and mismatched crockery accentuate its eccentric decor, and a large wooden wardrobe displays the daily offering of cakes. Innovative ingredients and complex flavour combinations characterize their baked goods; lavender & black pepper cake and chocolate, orange & pistachio tart are only a few of the enticing flavours you’re likely to find on any given day.
What are your favourite places to eat in Edinburgh?