If you’re headed to the biggest arts festival on the planet, Edinburgh native Peter Ranscombe has a list of top tips for finding the best food between shows
Few cities can rival Edinburgh for excitement when the city hosts the Fringe. Over three weeks in August, more than 50,000 performances will be staged by over 3,000 artists as the festival celebrates its 70th anniversary.
The Fringe is only one festival in Edinburgh – there are twelve in all, and they attract an audience of 4.5 million people. It means the streets can become somewhat crowded and finding a bite to eat can be a challenge. But Edinburgh is blessed with a vibrant food scene. You won’t need to resort to chains or fast-food joints between shows.
Deep-fried haggis balls and Scottish lamb tagine
If you’re watching a show on George Street then stroll to the top of Queensferry Street and grab a table at Home, which fuses the flavours of North Africa with Scottish ingredients. Dean Gassabi, (whose Maison Bleue on Victoria Street is also well worth a visit), has teamed up with the homeless charity Social Bite. You can enjoy top-quality grub – like deep-fried haggis balls or Scottish lamb tagine – while supporting training and jobs for the homeless.
Wandering down Rose Street, which runs parallel to Princes and George streets, is a great way to find some hidden gems, including Calistoga, a California-inspired restaurant on Rose Street North Lane that has one of the best American wine lists this side of the Atlantic. Steaks are superb, but make sure you try the ever-changing array of delicious soups too.
Cullen skink and west coast mussels
Back out onto Rose Street itself and Wildfire is where you can revel in the chargrilled Aberdeen Angus beef; fish lovers are spoiled too, with Cullen skink, west coast mussels, king prawns and smoked salmon jostling for attention. If you can’t decide then go for the seafood tapas or the fisherman’s pie.
Hendersons is an Edinburgh institution and has been serving vegetarian food since the 1960s. The Bistro on Thistle Street offers more formal dining, but head around the corner and down the stairs to the Salad Table instead, where the canteen-style service belies the high quality of the food.
Edinburgh’s first curry house
Another stalwart on the restaurant scene is Kushi’s, Edinburgh’s first curry house, whose roots go back to 1947. Nestled on Antigua Street – making it handy for the Playhouse Theatre and Leith Walk – the lamb curry with onion, tomato, ginger and garlic is a highlight, while the butter chicken’s tomato, honey and cream sauce is a milder alternative.
A tour of the New Town wouldn’t be complete with a visit to Howies. While every menu is laced with words like “provenance” and “seasonal” these days, Howies lives up to it promise, with regularly-changing menus and daily choices of casseroles, salads and soups. Venison is always a safe bet, but leave room for pudding, even if it’s just to try the Scottish cheeses or ice creams. As well as its New Town location, Howies also has an outlet on Victoria Street in the Old Town.
300 whiskies and one of the best wine lists in town
On the other side of the Royal Mile, head down Advocate’s Close to the Devil’s Advocate, which is run by the clever people behind The Bon Vivant on Thistle Street. With more than 300 whiskies and one of the best wine lists in town, the restaurant serves meals upstairs, but grab one of the tables downstairs and share dishes tapa-style while you work your way through the whisky menu.
After seeing a show at the Pleasance, go down the hill and turn right onto Holyrood Road to Hemma, part of a family of Swedish restaurants (like Boda Bar and Joseph Pearce’s in Leith). Don’t be fooled by its location at the bottom of a glass-and-concrete office block – Hemma is all about the homely feeling inside. Whatever you order – whether it’s the brunch served till 4pm or one of the amazing burgers – make sure it comes with the excellent hasselback potatoes. There’s also a superb (though pricey) selection of world beers, although they do tend to be a bit pricey.
A dozen kegs of beer at the Hanging Bat
But if it’s beer you’re after then make a beeline for the Hanging Bat on Lothian Road, well positioned if you’re staying out in Morningside or taking in shows along that way. It’s all about the BBQ flavours, with the hot dogs and the mac n’ cheese rising to the top of the list. Beer is the star here, with more than a dozen kegs on the go and a further six cask ales.
Fringe by the Sea and the poshest fish ‘n’ chips you’ll ever eat
Finally, if you’re going to North Berwick for Fringe by the Sea, then make sure you visit the Lobster Shack down at the harbour. Probably the poshest fish ‘n’ chips you’ll ever have (and with half a lobster and double-dipped chips costing £16, the most expensive). Crab, seabass and squid are also on the menu, but it’s the lobster that is truly memorable. Take a stroll further along the quayside to the hatchery to learn more about a conservation project to boost the number of lobsters in the Firth of Forth.
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe runs from 4-28 August 2017 www.edfringe.com