The All-Budgets Guide to Edinburgh
Cheap days, treat days and days of over indulgence
I’ve always avoided writing “for a certain budget” type recommendations because I try to come at things from a “value of everything, price of nothing” standpoint. The pricetag often doesn’t tell much of the tale.
But I sometimes think about how you would spend a day in Edinburgh when money is tight, money isn’t an issue or money is no object. With what follows I’ve opted for places that are both good and cheap/mid-priced/expensive rather than just cheap etc, and my price ranges are totally arbitrary. I also think that a good number of the high-priced places we’ve included represent excellent value.
I suppose this would just about work for locals, too, but this is mainly aimed at visitors and tourists.
Let’s give this a go.
Start the day with something hearty and you won’t need to be snacking mid-morning. I’d go one of two ways – hearty porridge or a cheap fry-up.
For fry-ups head to Tollcross and sample the delights of Quick & Plenty or Yellow Deli. For porridge, there are cheaper options but Brochan or Hula will delight. Both approaches could conceivably pack-up hunger until the early evening.
For lunch, there are various good lunch deal combos. Lime on Thistle Street does a good one for munching a sandwich and soup on the go. Soup from the excellent Union of Genius is a worthy choice. The salad box from the Edinburgh Larder is a perennial favourite.
For restaurant lunch, the £9.95 lunch deal at Michael Neave is unsurpassed. Various Indian restaurants do excellent deals as people seem fairly resistant to Indian as a lunch option. Kalpna is just one of the places to try.
You can do cheap, filling burritos from Taquito or Los Cardos for dinner, but if you want to sit in a restaurant try Chez Jules. They bring you bread and salad as standard, so you’ll likely just need to order a main course. The whole menu is well priced. We take people here as the ‘welcome to Edinburgh’ place time and again. It just happens to be amazing value, too.
If you’re looking to sample local seafood to good advantage inexpensively, try the excellent Shrimpwreck at Bourbon.
Another way of approaching dinner might be to exercise the BYOB – bring your own bottle – option. The ones that excel for this are typically Indian and Middle Eastern places with Beirut a particular favourite.
The rules for weekends are the same but there’s the added prospect of the various market options that come slightly more into focus on Saturdays and Sundays.
You can head to Castle Terrace – the street not the restaurant – for breakfast at the Farmers’ Market and be well served there for a very reasonable price. It’s a good place to stock up on quality snacks, too.
You could then proceed to lunch at the market in the Grassmarket which has a pretty stable set of options across Japanese, African, Spanish and local cuisine so is worth a look.
You can then head for dinner at The Pitt. These markets and events cycle through the best in Scottish street food traders so can be relied upon to surprise and delight.
At each of these places you can dine handsomely for under a tenner.
The best breakfast rolls in the city are to be accessed at Maialino on William Street. You will struggle not to order their double pancetta. And probably ask if you can takeaway some of their excellent bresaola.
Starting with a breakfast roll will allow you a cake or scone stop at either 11 or 3.30 depending on your preference. This is what elevates this seemingly cost-saving breakfast option into the mid-range selection.
Bon Papillon, Tasty Buns, Casa Angelina and Lovecrumbs are reputed to be home to the best scones. With a quick constitutional in between, you should be ready for your lunch/dinner at whatever time suits.
£32 for lunch at 1 Michelin starred Restaurant Martin Wishart is an absolute steal. Availability is generally OK midweek. If you can resist the supplements and wine list you can have a beautifully crafted meal for an excellent price-for-quality ratio. It’s the best mid-price dollar you can spend in the city.
For a more routinely mid-priced lunch, the Educated Flea, Three Birds or The Apiary are just splendid.
You’ll need a little tour of the city to work up an appetite for dinner. There is a rich seam of places to mine that won’t break the bank but will highly impress for quality. The Dogs is the master of this. Field, Purslane, Forage & Chatter, LeftField and Le Roi Fou are other impressive exponents.
Top-end is by far the hardest to build a coherent day. If money is no object I can’t see a way of doing more than two meals in the day, but I could be underestimating people’s appetites.
If you’re getting ritzy you’ll want a fancy egg breakfast. The best place to go is The Pantry. Patisserie Maxime is another option. But these are both very reasonably priced choices, well suited to a large appetite in the mid-range cost bracket.
You can do full tasting menu selections at lunchtime. One option is Castle Terrace. But you might be better placed going for a more abbreviated selection at Timberyard. Another approach might be to have a really good lunchtime go at our fantastic Scotch beef. The best exponent is Blackwood’s at the Nira Caledonia.
For the evening you can go in lots of different directions. The seafood platter at Ondine might appeal. Classic Michelin a la carte dining at Number One is a strong choice. Seasonal tasting treats from Aizle, Gardener’s Cottage or Seasons will delight. From Thursday to Saturday each week, the Edinburgh Food Studio is your prime choice. If you can get a booking, all roads point to The Table, and the high potential bill of the others is ameliorated by their BYO approach.
A very credible option when staying in our city is to take the night off, nurse your ailing feet bruised from cobblestone assault, and order in some takeout.
Several restaurants offer delivery but services such as Deliveroo are piss poor so just go to the restaurant instead. I’ll focus on places that are seen to good advantage or only accessed via delivery.
Soul Sushi have switched from their previous Piershill location to a shop on Nicolson Street. They remain the city’s premiere sushi delivery service. If you’re in Leith, White Sushi is a solid option.
Mumbai Mansion’s takeout list is extremely good. I’m a great fan of ordering all or most of the starters not least for the range and quality of sauces that come with the dishes. For dedicated curry delivery, Shapla is the best.
For Chinese, it’s much of a muchness across the city. I am lucky in having a pretty good one called Jiuding near me, but I don’t think there is an absolutely defining delivery option in the city.
Pasha Pide House is interesting if you want Turkish classics like proper cheese pide and lahmacun.
And I think that’s all you’ll be needing to order to have an enjoyable night in if you’re taking it easy or conserving the pennies.
It’s hard to give advice on drinking in Edinburgh that will cater for all tastes. I’m going to steer clear – and suggest you do the same – of places that will do low quality and high volume. When you’re coming to a new town, I think the focus should be on low volume of the highest quality drinks on offer.
For a bit of everything with the added bonus of good outdoor seating in the unlikely event of sunshine, Teuchters Landing is really good.
For cocktails, see this previous post. Edinburgh is a belter of a place for strongly mixed drinks.
On that note, if you’re exercising the delivery food option, Cornelius, Drinkmonger or Cork & Cask – plus the bottle shop part of Salt Horse for beer – are the best options for acquiring the goods for home drinking.
I hope this is helpful. It has been difficult to write and I’m not sure it quite hits the mark so constructive suggestions on how to improve it would be warmly welcomed.