Edinburgh and I have a strange relationship. I was an undergraduate at the University of Edinburgh for four years, so the city should be full of fond student memories. And in some ways it is. But it was also the period of my life during which I felt the least secure, the least confident, and the most depressed. Unlike many of my classmates, I learnt a lot academically: I threw myself into my courses on postmodernism and phonetics and other useless but lingua-geek topics that I can now barely remember with a gusto that most students reserve for downing a yard of ale. I made friends: friends whose popularity left me agonising about when they were going to see though me; friends who I’ve now mostly lost touch with due to moving overseas. I was cold: cold enough that I could see my breath in the mornings; cold enough that even with three pairs of pyjamas and two duvets I couldn’t keep warm. I was invisible: the girl who no one remembered at parties and who never had a boyfriend. But it was during my time at Edinburgh that I got a chance to study abroad – and that’s how I first came to Amsterdam.
Fast forward 20 years, and one of my closest Amsterdam friends has moved to Edinburgh for her job. She lives in Morningside, a neighbourhood I almost never frequented as a student, and has a gorgeous apartment with a guest room with my name on it. Surely in July, with the weather (somewhat) sunny, an Edinburgh local to show me what I’d been missing all those years ago and an adult salary to throw at the situation, things should be different? Fortunately for me, they were.
New Scottish cuisine in Edinburgh
The Scran & Scallie
Scottish celebrity chef Tom Kitchin was a wee babe when I was at university (and, like I said, I never had any money anyway) so I’d not had the pleasure of trying out his eponymous restaurant: The Kitchin. This time around, I may have been richer but I certainly wasn’t flush, so we headed instead to his more affordable and accessible gastropub: The Scran & Scallie. I’d been craving fish pie for days, so I was thrilled to be presented with a steaming mound of creamy mash, insulating layer upon layer of fish and prawns in a pillowy white sauce. Comfort food incarnate.
Think Scotland and you can’t help thinking of haggis: essentially a giant sausage made from offal, spices, onion and oats. Halfway down Cockburn Street, just off the Royal Mile, is a haggis and whisky pub called Arcade. Needless to say, I ordered the full haggis, neeps and tatties experience, which came in a swanky stack formation. I’m not sure that’s quite what Robert Burns had in mind, but it didn’t impair the peppery flavour of the haggis, nor the sweet starchiness of the vegetables. If you’re a little squeamish about the thought of haggis, this is a very accessible way to try it.
On the advice of another local friend of mine, we took things up a notch and dined at New Chapter on our last night in Edinburgh. The restaurant describes itself as offering a “modern menu which mixes European influences with Scottish produce” – and that’s exactly what it did. We were still a bit stuffed after an already-gourmet day, so we took it easy and only ordered main courses. My squid-ink pasta with roasted cod, confit tomatoes and saffron sauce was as dreamy as it sounds. The lamb was sumptuous too, and its accompaniments cemented my new-found addiction to cooked lettuce and peas (I ordered a similar side at the Scran & Scallie too – it’s a fresh yet comforting mouthful of greenery).
International food in Edinburgh
No trip to the UK would be complete without a proper curry, and restaurant Solti came highly recommended for its Nepali and Indian dishes. To start, we tried the momo: steamed vegan dumplings that came with a spicy, fragrant sauce. Next, we ordered a classic saag panner that was ever-so-slightly sweet, plus the “solti ko salmon” that featured a spicy, tomato-based sauce laden with chunks of fish. Both were delicious, especially when mopped up with the thin-yet-fluffy garlic naan.
Dumplings of China
Continuing the dumpling theme, I was also thrilled to discover the dumpling capital of Edinburgh: Dumplings of China in Tollcross. It’s a cheap and cheerful BYOB kinda place, but they serve half a dozen steamed “rainbow dumplings” (stuffed with shrimps, pork, beef, veggies, etc, depending on the colour) plus a wide range of main dishes, from umami-rich aubergine to soy-braised pork belly. I only wish we’d had room to taste more!
The Cheese Lounge @ I.J. Mellis Cheesemonger’s
What’s better than a cheese shop? A cheese lounge inside a cheese shop! If you visit I.J. Mellis in Morningside, keep walking past the cheese counter until you reach the back of the premises and you’ll find what looks like a Parisian café. There, you can order a whole range of cheese-based dishes as well as a selection of (predominantly French) wines by the glass or bottle. We tried the platter of four cheeses plus charcuterie and the warm raclette with potatoes and finocchiona, washed down with an unfiltered Loire Valley red blend. The service was extremely friendly and the prices very reasonable. In short: I.J. Mellis is every cheese lover’s dream, whether you stay for dinner or just pick up some fromage to take home.
Brunch in Edinburgh
By sheer coincidence, the favourite brunch restaurant of the friend I was staying with happened to be the same brunch restaurant my niece works at. So I had double the reason to check it out! After a homemade sour-cherry lemonade, my order of Scottish smoked salmon on brioche toast with celeriac remoulade, boiled egg and beetroot hummus arrived. It was every bit as delicious as it sounds. Loudons has two locations: one in Fountainbridge and another at New Waverley (and you’d be advised to book ahead at both).
Meanwhile in Stockbridge, Hamilton’s is a lounge-style brunch spot serving up a lovely line in steak-and-egg breakfast burritos – as we discovered after a morning’s walk along the Water of Leith from Dean Village. We only tried their brunch fare, but Hamilton’s is an all-day concept that’s open for dinner and drinks in the evening as well.
Bars in Edinburgh
For tasty local beer, don’t miss Innis & Gunn. In fact, you can’t miss it – their beers seem to be served all over the city! But they also have their own taprooms: one in the city centre and another in Leith. Not far from Innis & Gunn’s Lothian Road location, you’ll also find the BrewDog beer bar, featuring dozens of craft beers on tap and a large terrace for people watching.
If you prefer cocktails, be sure to make a reservation at Panda & Sons: an underground speakeasy in New Town serving some lethally strong (and often smoky) concoctions. Alternatively, head to The Wildcat in Tollcross for £5 Negronis and a range of creative cocktails – I loved the spicy, fruity Pesca Piccante.
And finally, Scotland is the home of Scotch whisky so if you fancy a tipple or two, duck into The Canny Man in Morningside. Whisky shots aside, you’ll get lost in amongst all the nooks and crannies…
Travel to, from and around Edinburgh, Scotland
From Amsterdam, both KLM and easyJet offer direct flights to Edinburgh airport, which is a 25-minute bus ride from the centre of town. You can compare times and prices among all airlines on sites like Skyscanner, Expedia and GoEuro. Edinburgh has a well-connected bus network run mostly by Lothian Buses, but it’s also worth renting a bike and peddling through Edinburgh’s many green spaces. Having never stayed in a hotel in Edinburgh, I can’t offer you much guidance there – but Booking.com has a wide range of stays at different price points.