Lindsey and I like our food. Back in Pennsylvania, we had established our handful of frequented favorites that we sadly had to leave behind (we will always miss you Neato Burrito) when we hopped on a plane and moved to Scotland. This left a bit of a culinary void in our lives that desperately needed to be filled. Our first couple weeks in Edinburgh were spent evaluating the various local options and we've managed to once again find a few establishments that are worth a weekly visit. While I have been working on other posts and projects, Lindsey has gone ahead and detailed all of our new favorite restaurants here in Edinburgh for your reading pleasure. Bon appétit!
Serrano and Manchego (http://serranoandmanchego.co.uk)
297 Leith Walk, Edinburgh
Our weekend regular brunch spot. They recognise us and I’m pretty sure they could prep our Sunday order without even asking us what it is now: A Cafe Bombon, Earl Grey Tea, and El Grande platter (Two soft fried eggs over chipped & fried patatas bravas, strips of jamon and a slice of sourdough toast.) Sometimes we go with friends in the evening for tapas and sangria, and it’s always a fun occasion. The restaurant is bright and airy, with an industrial kind of feel and open kitchen layout. Bo’s favourite sight is the jamon hanging in the window by the front door. The wait staff is friendly and the chefs always say hello and goodbye to you.
They have a really cool blog about the different facets of their food and specialities. They often host wine pairing nights with their tapas and offer something for everyone: vegan, vegetarian, GF and meat-lovers can all get together for a really fun meal.
Our favourite brunch costs about £15 and we are very satisfied. Tapas range from £4 to £11 and usually 2-3 per person is a good ratio. One afternoon we went with our Spanish friends, Diego and Carmen, and we got 6 tapa plates and sangria. There was plenty to go around and nothing on the table was anything less than excellent. Splitting the bill each couple paid around £25 so it was a very affordable meal. We cannot recommend this place enough!
Graze on Grassmarket (http://www.grazeongrassmarket.com)
67 Grssmarket, Edinburgh
Down the street from the university is Graze on Grassmarket: one of my favourite lunch spots. Huge salad boxes or stuffed jacket potatoes for £5 or so! The first time we got lunch there I took half of it home and I didn’t even get very many toppings!
Everything is fresh and flavourful. Plus they have gluten free baked goods! (Always a big plus for me.) Graze doesn’t have an awful lot of seating, maybe 8 at the most inside, but on nice days I’ll sit in the square or go back towards the main university. The seating outside Graze has a few friendly “sheep” to grab your attention. The staff are friendly and it’s a pleasant atmosphere inside amidst it being small and often busy!
Definitely a must-try for vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free diets.
Joseph Pearce (aka JPs) (http://www.bodabar.com/joseph-pearces/)
23 Elm Row, EH7 4AA
One of a bunch of Swedish pubs owned by the Boda group. JPs is literally a stone's throw from our flat. It has a nice full bar and some quieter seating up half a level of steps. They run specials and host events like Halloween parties and St. Lucia Day celebrations. It was one of the first places we went as we were settling in and it is always a treat. Bo's go-to meal is the spicy crawfish pasta. It's super spicy but rich in flavor too. I usually get something different every time and I'm always satisfied. Their Swedish meatballs with mash are spot on. A local place with a comfortable vibe, most people meet after work for a pint or two and then head home. It's usually pretty packed on weekends, but weekdays everything is a bit slower. I have yet to try a bit of aquavit (a Scandinavian hard liquor), but I know where I'll go to try it! We can easily spend £30 for dinner here with drinks.
Union of Genius (http://www.unionofgenius.com)
8 Forrest Road or “Dumbo” on George Square, Edinburgh
This cafe stole my heart early on. A farm-fresh soup cafe always full of people. They serve 6-8 homemade soups per day and when they’re gone, they’re gone! Another gluten-free friendly place, they label their soups “GF”, “Dairy Free” or “Veg” and have a plethora of GF baked goods and bread options. The counter is literally a pillar with a Tablet on it and the crocks of soup line the wall wafting a wonderful smell through the hole-in-the-wall seating area. Another tiny place with maybe 10 seats, but a wonderful program for Take-away. Bring your own container or bring your recycle-able take-away containers back you get points towards a free soup!
Their soup truck, Dumbo, parks at the corner of George square and has a few of the soups on hand for hungry, cold students and staff at the uni. A regular size is £4 and a large is just over £5, but I never need anything more than a standard to feel full! You never know what soups are offered until you get there, but honestly any choice is a good choice. They have classics like Mulligatawny and Split pea with ham but also some unusual ones like Coconut, peanut, butternut squash (delicious). There’s always a hearty soup filled with rice or barley too.
One of my favourite things about Union is how involved they are. They donate 150L of soup to Bethany’s Care Van, a charity that feeds the homeless in Edinburgh. You can also pay one forward by “buying” a soup and then when someone who needs it comes in they will give them soup that has been prepaid. There’s a chalkboard at the front of the shop, and it is always marked up with at least 5 “bought soups” for the homeless (also called rough sleepers here).
Maki & Ramen and Maki Maki (http://www.makimaki-restaurant.co.uk)
West Richmond Street, Edinburgh
A classic Japanese sushi and ramen bar of the main road in Old Town Edinburgh. Bo and I were craving Ramen and stumbled into this place. Another bustling place for lunch, but well worth the wait if you have to. We got put in the basement seating area with walls covered in instant photos and post-it notes filled with drawings and notes about the food and atmosphere. You can tell people have a lot of fun here. We drew our own post-it note messages to add to their collage. The upper level is much prettier with stone and wood and lanterns everywhere.
A good selection of ramen and sushi to choose from, but we only got ramen - next time we’ll get sushi. Chef’s special Shoyu for me and Hell Ramen for Bo. One noodle from the Hell ramen made my eyes water like crazy, but he downed the whole thing and only slightly teared up. Both our ramens were amazing: full flavour, full of goodies like soft boiled egg, char-siu pork, greens, onions, nori, and sweet corn. The unlimited green tea was also a huge plus. £8-9 per huge steaming bowl of ramen.
Bonsai Bar Bistro (http://www.bonsaibarbistro.co.uk/images/bonsaimenu.pdf)
46 West Richmond Street, Edinburgh
Right up the road from Maki & Ramen is another fantastic Japanese restaurant: Bonsai Bar Bistro. It’s easy to walk by it and hardly notice it. I’ve become a bit of a regular here. Since it is up the road from my internship, I stop by on Wednesdays when I can for their lunch special: at £4.90 it’s hard to beat one of their 6 choices. I’ve had the Yakisoba, seaweed salad, miso soup special, the Okonomiyaki (one of my favourites), the Chicken Katsu Curry with rice and miso soup special. A hidden gem is the Gyoza Soup. For about £2.50 you get a small bowl of rich soy and sesame broth with two heartily stuffed pork and cabbage dumplings. It is an amazing side dish to any meal you can get there. I’m excited to try almost everything on the menu. Bo sometimes meets me there for lunch and last time we got an umeboshi to try for dessert. I didn’t remember what they tasted like, but the “sour-ness” is a lot like the flavour of a Warheads candy. Definitely a traditional thing to try with Japanese food.
For a larger meal you can try their bento box: A lacquer box comes filled with your choice of 1 sushi roll, 1 teppanyaki dish, salad, miso soup, rice or noodles.
Saigon Saigon (http://saigonsaigon.co.uk)
14 South St. Andrew Square, Edinburgh
I wonder if you’re seeing a pattern yet with our favourite places to eat…. Saigon Saigon, while not sounding like a Chinese restaurant name, has the best Dim Sum around and it’s right in New Town off St. Andrew’s Square. We found this place on our first day in Edinburgh, and I’m so glad we did. The sign on the street is small and easy to spot, but there is usually a sign on the sidewalk directing tourists’ attention to their £9 lunch buffet of noodles and stir-frys. No matter what time of day you go, the majority of diners in the wide room are Chinese or other Asian ethnicities. More often than not, we’re the only Caucasians. The first few times the waitstaff didn’t quite believe us that we wanted chopsticks and real Chinese tea. They kept asking “Are you sure?”. The menu is in Chinese with simple English descriptions, but we usually know what we want because all the Dim Sum menu options have pictures! The room has tall ceilings and is painted in a bright, bold red with gold and black accents. There’s a large banquet hall in the lower level that is quiet and looks really nice.
Dim Sum is like the Tapas of China: Dim Sum can be literally translated to mean “Small Bite” or “A Little Heart” because each small piece is handmade and the orders are small, 3-4 pieces. Our standard order is fragrant Chinese tea, Char Siu Bao (Steamed Rice BBQ Pork Buns), Har Gow (Shrimp Rice Paper Dumplings), Siu Mai (Crab & Pork Rice Paper Dumplings), Nor Mai Gai (Pork and Mushroom Sticky Rice in Banana or Lotus Leaves), and Jian Dui (Fried Sesame Ball with Red Bean or Lotus Paste). Sometimes we branch out and try something new.
Check out this video from Food Network. The narrator is a bit dry, but she gets essentially everything right and has really good images of the foods we like. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TkeEiiwN5l0)
The Hog Shop
95 Rose Street, Edinburgh
A little slice of southern in Scotland. Wraps, paninis, rolls and toasted buns filled with delicious roast pork shoulder doused in a variety of sauces from spicy chipotle, mustard, sweet apple or tangy cranberry. Topped with cracklin’ and stuffing, £5 can get you a really filling lunch. Lunch meal deals are still quite a bargain and include a side and a drink. Off from the main road, on the pedestrian-only road, Rose street, it’s a quiet place with indoor and outdoor seating. It’s also a super easy takeaway lunch for those who work in New Town.
Spunky Deek, self-proclaimed The Kilted Traveler, runs the shop and does everything he can to get a laugh from his customers, regulars and tourists alike. Deek’s a former Olympic athlete, who snowboarded for the UK at the Vancouver Games in 2010. He is most definitey out of his mind but at the same time extremely intelligent and friendly, if a bit brash.
On top of it all, Bo works there part-time! :)
I hope you enjoyed reading about our food adventures! This is by no means an exhaustive list. Expect more culinary experiences to be shared in the future as we broaden our horizons and explore more of the city this year! Trust me, I promise I will get Bo to try haggis sooner or later! Let us know in the comments which places you would like to visit, then come visit us and give it a try yourself! :)