To get the lowdown on the foodie scene in Edinburgh, we consult Donald Reid, the eating and drinking editor of The List, the city’s homegrown version of Time Out magazine, over whisky at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Here’s his guide to eating and drinking in Edinburgh.
A Local Guide to Eating and Drinking in Edinburgh
Originally from Glasgow (everybody in Edinburgh we meet seems to be from somewhere else) Donald has lived in Edinburgh for 25 years. He’s passionate about local produce and is working hard to drive an interest in organic, sustainable food.
Q. Does Scotland have its own cuisine or is it all British cuisine the same?
A. Scotland’s heritage cuisine is distinctly different but what we’re eating now is not too different to what the rest of Britain is eating. Heritage cuisine is oat-based, porridge for instance, barley, a lot of sheep, or rather mutton, venison, not much beef, a lot of fish and seafood, herring, mackerel, haddock — oysters were once a staple food of the masses, as they were very cheap — root vegetables, wild foods, mushrooms, berries… Scotland was always good at growing soft fruit. Let’s not forget baking is very traditional — we have drop scones, tarts, oatcakes, etc — and as they didn’t have ovens, it was all done on open fires on griddles.
Q. What should people settling into Edinburgh for a while cook?
A. Well, we cook a lot of soups here, which are amazingly good, like Scotch broth, leak and potato, and Cullen Skink. Cullen is the name of a fishing town and Skink is a local term for soup/sloppy. Some make it with milk or cream, but I think cream is an aberration as it should already have a creamy texture. Make sure you keep it chunky.
Q. What’s Scotland’s quintessential dish?
A. Haggis. Definitely haggis. Essentially, it’s just a form of sausage that’s using stuff that other people are throwing out that is cooked in a sheep’s stomach. You steam it, open the bag, and scoop it out. It doesn’t look very good. It’s cheap, it’s poor man’s food, canteen food, a very humble dish — but it’s nourishing, hearty, and very tasty. If you’re making it at home, buy McSweeney’s. The veggie haggis is good too. You should also try haggis at a baked potato shop.
Q. Edinburgh’s top foodie experiences?
A. Eat seafood down in Leith — for lunch or dinner; there are Michelin starred restaurants down there serving up some of Scotland’s finest seafood: shellfish, smoked fish, mussels, crab, lobster…
Visit Edinburgh Farmer’s Market — it’s the biggest in Scotland and draws producers from a 50-mile radius. There are stalls selling venison, vegetables, cured meats, artisanal bakers, honey… look out for the porridge bar — they’ve turned porridge into a street food! — and try one of the pork rolls.
Shop Edinburgh’s specialty shops — for cheese, shop at Mellis on Victoria Street, where you can get wonderful Scottish farmhouse cheeses. Demi Joan is a liquid deli. He sells liqueurs, vinegars, oils, etc, from all over Scotland and the UK.
Q. What about breakfast? Do Scots eat eggs?
A. Porridge. I eat porridge every day at home. The best porridge is Stoats, which you can try at the Farmer’s Market. On weekend we go out for breakfast. A popular breakfast is a tattie scone (potato scone), bacon, and eggs.
Q. Edinburgh’s must-do restaurants?
A. Ondine for high grade, sustainable, top end seafood; The Kitchin, for the most interesting food in Edinburgh — the chef is engaged with local produce, it’s a younger style of cuisine, and is more accessible than some of the other French-style Michelin-starred restaurants; and Earthy, for lunch; it’s a shop that sells freshly sourced, local, smart, organic produce. Everything is free trade and it has a market feel and a lovely café. The café reflects the food in the shop and shows off what they have.
Q. Edinburgh’s best bars?
A. Oloroso, a rooftop bar and restaurant in the heart of the new town with a fantastic bar menu — interesting small plates — and views of the Castle; Vintners Rooms in Leith, a whisky bar with an endless selection of whiskies; and Bow Bar, a traditional pub on Victoria Street with lots of beers on top.
Q. Edinburgh seems to have a bit of a boutique beer scene. What beers should we try?
UPDATE: A reader has reported that Oloroso has closed unfortunately.