Glass finds culinary triumph in Edinburgh

The grand Renaissance-style hotel in Edinburgh, The Balmoral, opened in 1902 and, as the only residential building ever erected on the south side of the city’s main thoroughfare, its 1, Princes St address is readily justified.

It explains why the name of the hotel’s restaurant, Number One, was never pretentious – and looking at the menu the name justifies itself again: langoustine from the Isle of Skye, Shetland salmon, honey from its rooftop apiary.

The writing is on the wall – forget the mostly tasteless tourist shops spoiling Edinburgh’s Royal Mile and come here instead for diligently sourced food and memorable restaurants

The Balmoral Number One

A tram from the city centre travels to Leith and here, at The Kitchin, a small rolled-up map is brought to your table to show where its ingredients originate (‘from nature to plate’ is the restaurant’s  motto).

Pride in the use of Scottish fare is matched by a dedication that ensures daily deliveries from offshore islands and inland farms – no giant freezers in this kitchen – and with all preparation, butchering, filleting carried out on the premises.

If you’re lucky, appetizers can be relished at a small seat in the kitchen where a dozen or so chefs are as professional going about their business as the service to be experienced during your meal. 

A Japanese-style presentation at Lyla

The stone-built, low-ceilinged building, once dockside storage for whisky before excise duty was paid, is conducive to the slow enjoyment of food and the switching off of smart phones. The menus, à la carte, tasting or vegetarian, need time to consider and so does the wine list.

Firm favourites have established themselves with diners, like the scallops that arrive each morning straight off a ferry from Orkney for direct delivery to the door of The Kitchin. Here they are baked and their puff pastry-sealed shells opened at your table for a voila moment that reveals them in a creamy, exquisitely delicate sauce.

Eleanore beckons on the road to Leith

The Kitchin’s Michelin star is no flash in the pan but rather due recognition of a restaurant that opened in 2006 and unhurriedly established the reputation it now enjoys. Lyla opened in October 2023 and has made an immediate impact as a foodie’s paradise with a tasting menu which only begins after nibbling three canapes prepared in the upstairs lounge to where you are escorted after ringing the doorbell of a Georgian townhouse on Royal Terrace.

The lounge is a lovely space with ornate cornices to admire and fashionable cocktails like martinis with samphire. Back downstairs, the evening  unfolds in a dining room with neutral colours, quietly radiant wall lighting and a mood of subdued anticipation as the first course arrives.

Chef Stuart Ralston’s reputation precedes him but you will still be surprised at the level of refinement that maintains itself over seafood-centric ten courses (my pescatarian friend substituted the main dish, wagyu beef, with hand-dived scallops).

It is ambitious but never over-reaching and not a place to come on your own; dining at Lyla demands dialogue – you will  want to talk about the spectacular multi-layered  pumpkin and spenwood with truffle grated over the top, the wild halibut with Jerusalem artichoke and a caviar named from its origins in the Yunnan province on  the 25° north latitude.

Chocolate miso dessert by candlelight in Skua

Edinburgh’s blossoming food scene is also superbly well represented at Eleanore, open Fridays to Mondays on the road heading to Leith and easily reached from the city centre.

How its kitchen can deliver so many astonishingly good dishes and pre-drinks for a quirky space accommodating only twenty diners is a marvellous mystery: (optional) oysters come sprinkled with arenkhla and in a hot sauce that would not be out of place in a Mexican cantina; before the main course, four starters arrive in tantalizing pairs; and after a fabulous dessert cheeses are also available.

No outrageous prices for food or drinks and a buzzy scene as the place fills to capacity puts Eleanore top of a list for weekend pleasure in the city. 

The Spence

Candle-lit Skua, below pavement level, only feels like a secret kind of place when finding its location. Once settled in with one of its original cocktails and a menu of small plates to share with a companion, its small space appeals as a place to relax in and not be bothered by the world outside.

The neighbourhood, Stockbridge, with its independent shops and a fashionably bohemian flavour makes an appealing alternative to city-centre consumerism and Skua shares this identity with its jazz nightclub-décor, elegantly crafted food and restorative drinks. 

If Skua is like a late-night joint in New York, The Spence is part of a splendidly stately edifice where your eyes stay wide open to take in its astonishing visual impact. The restaurant is part of Gleneagles Townhouse and the history of the building needs reading about as it adds another dimension to the experience of coming here for a meal.

You find yourself seated under a grand cupola with light flooding in to illuminate the frieze composed of twelve portrait medallions of illustrious figures from the  past. Time has to be found to consider the menu which, like Number One and The Kitchin, rightly celebrates Scotland’s larder: Isle of Mull scallops, Loch Etive seatrout, Tweed Valley sirloin and chateaubriand.

Everything at The Spence is grand – afternoon tea is a gorgeous affair and the brunches need booking months in advance – and, if staying at Gleneagles Townhouse, you have access to the Lamplighters Bar for rooftop views across the Firth of Forth and the back of the figures surmounting the six columns that distinguish the building’s exterior.

Lady Libertine’s ground floor bar

Vegetarian menus are not difficult to find in Edinburgh’s restaurants – vegan ones less so – but they tend not to play to the kitchens’ strengths and if only for this reason Lady Libertine deserves a trumpet call.

The Mediterranean, mezze-style food mixes the likes of chicken kofta and prawn saganaki with baba ganoush and a delectable dish of hispi cabbage with kohlrabi salad, Romesco sauce and a yogurt dressing with sumac.

Vegetarian items are readily converted to vegan by exchanging butter for olive oil. Lady Libertine, an all-day venue for casual dining, loitering at the bar or dinner in the downstairs restaurant, combines versatility with exemplary service – one more ambassador for superb eating out in Scotland’s capital.

by Sean Sheehan

About The Author

Glass Online food writer

Related Posts