Until relatively recently, Leith remained captive in its own reputational shackles. Considered locally as the “dock” area of Edinburgh, home to vagabonds and society’s other undesirables, the success of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting globally epitomised the area as an axis of poverty, substance abuse, crime and neglect.
It certainly wasn’t somewhere the genteel residents of wider Edinburgh would have considered for date night.
The past few years have seen Leith undergoing substantial local “rebranding”. While it retains much of its original loyal residency, the area’s traditional grittiness continues to endear itself to independent business owners. Bars and restaurants in particular have descended on the area in their masses, and we’ve seen door after stylish door of new local eateries opening from Elm Row right the way down to the shore.
As a local gal and all round general food fan, I’ve taken one for the team (no worries, y’all) and sampled some of the fab new restaurants on my Leith doorstep. Read on to see which venues made my top 5 for eating out in Edinburgh’s new no.1 postcode.
Specialising in Lebanese, Iranian and Moroccan dishes (to name but a few) this treasure trove at the top of Leith Walk is perfect for those of you partial to a taste of the Middle-East.
Atmospherically, Pomegranate has a strong sense of authenticity. Shisha pipes, colourful Moroccan glass lamps, cushions and throws make up its contemporary middle eastern decor. Downstairs also has a gorgeous outdoor space with little white stone booths you can tuck yourself away in and enjoy an outdoor drink or shisha session.
The menu includes traditional hot and cold mezze dishes, and main courses of kebab, shawarma and rice dishes.
What I ate… We went down the mezze route, and shared dishes including naan bread, hummous, falafel, dolma (vine leaves stuffed with aromatic rice), baba ghanoush, deep fried halloumi and Moroccan lamb meatballs.
Desert was the most amazing traditional baklawa (sweet pastries) and lokum (basically cubes of Turkish delight) with rose ice cream.
Don’t go if… You’re not hungry. You eat a lot of food.
Also it’s BYOB so don’t forget to bring a bottle. (Corkage = £3 per bottle of wine, £1 per person for beer drinkers.)
Obviously not one for your standard weekend meal out (unless you’re significantly better off than me, in which case fire away), Tom Kitchin’s place on the quay is a strictly Special Occasions zone.
An interior haven of slate, fur throws, fire places and tartan, the Kitchin’s luxury atmosphere is well suited to its menu. Specialising in fresh Scottish foods from the length and breadth of the country (I’m talking Roe Deer from the borders to Orkney Islands’ scallops), every mouthful is a harmony of taste and texture
What I ate… A starter of cannelloni of West Coast shellfish with summer vegetables and wild garlic, followed by seared fillet of North Sea hake served with garlic confit, fondant potatoes, mussels and a thyme jus. Apple crumble soufflé with vanilla ice cream was dessert.
If you’re looking for a luxury lunch or dinner in Edinburgh, the Kitchin is not to be missed.
Don’t go if… You’re on a budget/you don’t like Scottish sourced food/you don’t have anything vaguely nice to wear (people dress up for this place and you will feel like a slob – trust me on this.)
Blink and you’ll miss it, this tiny little venue at the top of Leith Walk is worth keeping your eyes peeled for.
The cosy Mexican tapas restaurant is the perfect setting for an intimate meal with besties or your other half. With candle-lit wooden tables, cushions and walls adorned with vintage Mexican newspapers and colourful artwork, Bodega’s aesthetic beauty lies in its simplicity – a concept that extends to its menu.
What I ate…. We went down the adventurous route and trusted restaurant manager Chris to bring us a selection of different things. And I gotta say, the guy did good.
We started with guacamole and tortilla chips before starting on our tapas of Korean fried chicken wings with Kimchi, Carne Asada steak with chipotle mayo, tempura tiger prawns with sesame and chilli dressing, golden beetroot with wild garlic pesto, goat’s milk ricotta and toasted hazelnuts.
We finished that deliciousness off with avocado panna cotta with smoked honeycomb and THEE most delicious chocolate and ginger ice cream, and the best churros and chocolate I’ve had outside of Madrid.
If you love quality food and tapas, you have to check this place out. It’s by far the best Mexican restaurant I’ve sampled in Scotland.
Don’t go if… you’re not a taco fan. There are many tacos. Also due to its small size, it’s best to book in advance.
BYOB, so bring wine! (Corkage = £2.50 per person)
Leith Chop House
OK so although this place has pretty much become a Leith institution since it opened almost two years ago, it’s famous for a reason!
Its aesthetically pleasing blend of geometric copper designs, beautiful marble-topped bar and excess of wood and leather proves the Chop House knows where it’s at when it comes to form. But let’s talk about function.
What I ate… A starter of roast scallops with white port and garlic butter, a main of “off the coals” rib-eye with peppercorn sauce, and a gooey chocolate brownie for dessert. All courses were, as always, on point.
Make sure to sample something from their impressive cocktail list as well. If you’re a member of their newsletter you can get access to cool stuff like monthly complimentary tastings of cocktails or wine, with bites from the kitchen with each drink. I recommend the gin-based ‘Betty do wop’.
Don’t go if – Although they have pretty good veggie options, for me the clue’s in the name. If you’re not a big meat eater you’re not gonna get the most out of this place!
Located just past the shore, Roseleaf is one of my favourite Leith “all-rounders”. Yes, it might be an obvious choice for us locals – and it’s now been open for about a decade – but there was no leaving this bad boy off the list.
The atmosphere fits most occasions – whether it’s Saturday night drinks (imbibed from their famous cocktail teapots), Sunday brunch or an evening meal out with your Mr or Mrs, there’s always a great buzz at Roseleaf. It’s become a tradition of sorts for my friends and I to frequent this little place on Sundays (or any other occasion we can think of to be honest) to wolf down their gorgeous roast dinners.
Roseleaf’s selection of dinner stuff includes burgers, steak, kofta, salads and their famous Mac and cheese which is always a delight.
What I ate… roast dinner (duh). Beautifully cooked beef brisket was served with the best fluffy-yet-crispy roast tatties, parsnips, caremalised beetroot, carrots, a giant Yorkshire pud and beautifully rich gravy. The star of the show rotates on a weekly basis. It can be pork, gammon, lamb, chicken or (my fave) beef brisket. You can also call up in advance to find out what roast is on that day.
Don’t go if… You’re in a rush. Because it’s so popular, Roseleaf is often really busy and service can be slow (though always worth the wait!)