Edinburgh Festival Guide: Where to eat, New Town & Stockbridge
Authentic Mexican street food, kilos of Shetland mussels and steaks matured for 35 days
George Street rent prices mean this New Town strip is dominated by the Starbucks and Hard Rock Cafes of the city, but venture just a lane or street away and there's top notch Thai and authentic Mexican street food. Stockbridge, which prides itself on its village feel, is a haven of independent cafes and bistros.
Café Portrait (ARTS VENUE)
Scottish National Portrait Gallery, 1 Queen Street, 0131 624 6421, £7.25 (lunch)
Even among the great and good looking down from the surrounding walls, the food takes centre stage. Enjoy a hearty sweet potato and chilli soup, or a healthy summer salad of courgette, feta, pea and mint with rocket-lemon dressing. The daily selection of soups, salads, sandwiches and mains (made in-house) are wholesome and imaginative, while afternoon tea involves indulging in the likes of well-balanced spiced berry scones, passion fruit éclairs and bold salted caramel brownies.
More info on Café Portrait
Café Renroc (CAFE)
91 Montgomery Street, 0131 629 3727, £8.50 (lunch) / £9.95 (set dinner)
Café Renroc is all about the welcome. This quirky little neighbourhood café attracts locals and tourists with simple, delicious food served up in a relaxed atmosphere. The kitchen deals out generous lunchtime portions of soup, sandwiches, salads and deli boards. Breakfast ranges from porridge and fruit muesli to a full fry-up. An ever-changing Friday night bistro menu tempts with choices such as pumpkin and sage ravioli or devilled whitebait.
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Contini Ristorante (ITALIAN)
103 George Street, 0131 225 1550, rapido lunch £10 – pasta dish and glass of wine; £12.50 (set lunch) / £19 (dinner)
Tables are neatly filed among the vast corinthian columns of the former banking hall and, while there's not a lot of elbow room, the atmosphere is so relaxing, the staff so positive, the food so promptly and perfectly presented, that no-one worries. The menu changes monthly to reflect ingredients sourced from artisan producers in Scotland and Italy. Contini is also big at breakfast time, offering everything from traditional full Scottish to organic porridge with spinach and hazelnuts, not to mention killer scrambled eggs and faultless coffee.
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Café St Honoré (SCOTTISH)
34 North West Thistle Street Lane, 0131 226 2211, £14.50 (set lunch) / £27 (dinner)
Other than the Beaujolais pretty much everything you'll consume is actually Scottish. Cafe St Honoré is aiming for 97% sustainability – you won't even find imported olive oil here. A subtly seasoned Perthshire Sika deer is melt in your mouth tender, accompanied by creamy fondant potato and offset with a rich Stornoway black pudding. Retro desserts with a modern twist include a fantastic vanilla rice pudding with almonds, raisins and home preserved rhubarb.
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Earthy Canonmills (BISTRO)
1–6 Canonmills Bridge, 0131 556 9696, £10 (lunch) / £18 (dinner)
Earthy by name and earthy by nature, this thriving rustic-style café bistro is a little bit Marmite, but if you like it, you'll be back for more faster than you can say 'seasonal, local and organic'. A shop that's like a who's who of worldwide Fairtrade and artisan produce (with a busy trade in takeaway sandwiches and salads) underpins a sit-in menu to take you from breakfast and brunch through to bistro supper. Fresh soups, salads and dips come with a selection of excellent artisan breads.
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El Cartel Casera Mexicana (MEXICAN)
64 Thistle Street, 0131 226 7171, £13.50 (lunch) / £13.50 (dinner)
El Cartel is spearheading a fresh approach to Mexican in the city, moving away from tired Tex-Mex to offer a more authentic street food-style menu of soft hand-pressed tacos and antojitos (snacks). All dishes on the concise menu can be shared, including the likes of baja cod tacos with chipotle crema and pomegranate salad, and quesadillas filled with chorizo, sweet potato and cow's milk soft cheese. Hip hop beats and an extensive selection of tequilas, mezcals and frozen cocktails guarantee a party vibe.
More info on El Cartel Casera Mexicana
The Gardener's Cottage (SCOTTISH)
1 Royal Terrace Gardens, 0131 558 1221, £22 (lunch) / £40 (set dinner)
The Gardener's Cottage champions seasonal cooking and social dining. At long, candlelit communal tables you are in full view of the open kitchen as it creates imaginative dishes from whatever the foragers or farmers bring in. When booking (as you must, and in advance too) they ask for dietary requirements, because you get what you're given. Be reassured though: the daily-changing seven course dinner, à la carte lunch, and weekend brunch will be at best excellent, at worst interesting, but always fun.
More info on The Gardener's Cottage
Leo's Beanery (CAFE)
23a Howe Street, 0131 556 8403, £9 (lunch)
Leo's is a family affair; a husband-and-wife team churn out Taste of Scotland award-winning cakes and brownies. The breakfast menu features free-range eggs and Bowers meat, as well as comforting specials of peanut butter, banana, and cinnamon on chunky wholemeal toast. Lunch is fresh soups, quiche, salads, and giant doorstop sandwiches filled with delectables like Blue Murder cheese, bacon, and pear chutney.
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Mussel Inn (FISH)
61–65 Rose Street, 0131 225 5979, mussel-inn.com | £7.95 (set lunch) / £23 (dinner)
The menu at this popular Rose Street restaurant features a range of straightforward seafood options, such as scallops, sea bass, oysters, prawns, shellfish pasta and surf and turf, as well as changing daily specials. But the stars of the show here are the eponymous mussels, sourced from Shetland and the west coast. Grab them steamed or grilled by the kilo or half kilo with a variety of sauces, from traditional white wine, shallots and cream, to more exotic Moroccan chilli, garlic, ginger, coriander and cumin.
More info on Mussel Inn
New Chapter (SCOTTISH)
18 Eyre Place, New Town 0131 556 0006, £9.50 (set lunch) / £21 (dinner)
New Chapter has established a loyal following by combining good quality produce, skilful cooking and a chilled ambience. Fish options feature prominently among the mains, while beef cheek and ox tongue is enhanced by a bourguignon sauce. Desserts are a thing of beauty, but for the sweet-toothed diner, mandarin cake with chocolate orange ice cream takes some beating. There are good wines offered by the glass or bottle to suit all budgets.
More info on New Chapter
Passorn Brasserie (THAI)
97 Hanover Street, 0131 225 1430, £13.95 (set lunch) / £27 (dinner)
A menu that trumps expectations. Start with some signature dishes – sam sa bai are seared, hand-dived, Orkney king scallops, blanketed with a creamy sauce of delicate Thai seasonings. Pla chao wang, crisp sea bass salad with coriander, cashews and mango, spills forth sweet and zingy out of its glistening tower. Ped ma kha, generous rounds of duck leg, deep fried and topped with tangy tamarind sauce, is deeply flavoured, fleshy and not fatty.
More info on Passorn Brasserie
2 Deanhaugh Street, 0131 332 1469, £22.50 (set dinner)
Beavering away in the small kitchen is the eponymous chef and owner of Rafael's Bistro, who left his native Spain many years ago to set up shop in Edinburgh. Dishes change daily and are presented on a chalked-up blackboard. Standouts include a small, perfectly seasoned vegetable stew starter, his mother's divine recipe of chicken wrapped in serrano ham with port sauce, or a brie and leek Wellington. Team any of these with a glass of the value-for-money house red and you're on to a winner.
More info on Rafael's
The Roamin' Nose (CAFE)
14 Eyre Place, New Town, theroaminnose.com | £15 (lunch) / £21 (dinner)
Daytimes are busy with a brunch or a lunch menu of pasta, warm salads, burgers and Italian bites including homemade pesto and tapenade, cured meats and cheeses. Come evening, the kitchen steps up a gear to produce a brief but brilliant choice of fish, meat, burger and vegetarian dishes. Add in a smart but affordable list of good Italian wines alongside a wide choice of bottled beers, cocktails and liqueurs and you've got an irresistible neighbourhood eatery.
More info on The Roamin' Nose.
14 Picardy Place, 0131 556 1289, £37 (lunch) / £37 (dinner)
Despite a smart but unassuming exterior, Steak, situated centrally near The Playhouse, has a truly impressive cavernous interior design. Soul music plays softly in the background as a team of friendly staff offer a highly professional service. Where this place really packs a punch is with its glorious steak. Cuts of beef, selected and hand cut by Donald Russell and matured for 21-35 days, are this restaurant's gem with sirloin, fillet and ribeye on offer - juicy and full of flavour.
More info on Steak