In December 2015 Edinburgh was named as the UK’s most vegan-friendly city. Despite being born and raised there – and still visiting regularly from my new home of London – this surprised me. I always saw previous titleholder Glasgow – another former home of mine – as the jewel in the vegan crown. I’d normally rank places like Brighton and Bristol (with all their leftie, hippie ways) higher than Edinburgh for vegan scran, but it seems that in the years since I’ve left there’s been a bit of a V-revolution in my hometown.
Edinburgh lacks dedicated vegan places with Hendersons on Thistle Street recently becoming the first of its locations to become fully vegan. But vegetarian and omni-eateries (places that serve food for omnivores too – and not to be confused with Edinburgh’s shopping and leisure complex, OMNI Centre!) are quickly picking up the pace and offering great vegan options.
Southside pub The Auld Hoose has long been a favourite for veggies and vegans, with bountiful options for both diets, including truly epic nachos (these only come in two generous portion sizes, including the aptly named ‘gigantic’, allegedly the largest nachos in Edinburgh and definitely not for the faint-hearted!), burgers with all the toppings you can imagine, hot dogs, chilli, stacks of onion rings and mammoth breakfasts. Basically, don’t go there if you’re all about clean eating!
Severely tempted by the nachos, but currently working through a burger obsession, there was only ever really going to be one option for me. I also decided that if I was going to do this, I would do it properly. This meant ordering the falafel burger with veg chilli, onion rings, vegan cheese and guacamole. It didn’t tower as high as I expected, but it was still interesting to try and maneuver the whole lot into my mouth – no photos of that gladly! The burger was super-tasty and the bun was soft and delicious – I despise a bad bun! The only slight let-down was the guacamole, which didn’t taste homemade and was rather creamy. I wish I’d opted for jalapeños instead. Next time!
A favourite of veggies and vegans across the city – and indeed the country – is Scotland’s first vegetarian restaurant, the New Town’s David Bann, which serves up high-end contemporary dishes, many of which combine flavours and ingredients creatively, such as the chilli pancake with chocolate sauce (this works really well!). Disappointingly, there are only two vegan desserts on the menu, one of which is sorbet (not a very inventive option), but as someone with more of a savoury tooth, I prefer to indulge in starters instead; the Thai fritter of broccoli and tofu is absolutely dreamy, and the chunky chips are a simple but oh-so-worth-it side.
Volunteer-run, community-led cafe The Forest, in the heart of Tollcross, is pretty much the complete opposite of Bann’s high-end ethos. Both are usually full of chatty, intellectual-types, but The Forest crowd is more likely to be made up of students or activists, who want a laid-back venue to meet in. It’s the ideal place to put the world to rights over a £6 falafel meal, piled with pitta, tabbouleh, hummus and salad, and washed down the vegan beer on sale – or you can bring your own for a small corkage charge. Other menu highlights include the burrito, nachos, salads and wraps – all at ridiculously cheap prices.
Another of my all-time favourites (which I also highlighted in my post about some of the top top veggie and vegan places across the UK) is The Baked Potato Shop. This local institution offers the most humungous tatties you’ll ever come across, with an abundance of hot and cold fillings to choose from – you certainly won’t leave Edinburgh hungry if you try out this tiny little place in the Old Town. They also do amazing vegan cakes, as well as their famous vegan haggis samosas and sausage rolls. Oh, and don’t get carried away with the sizing. A ‘large’ is ridiculous (read as nigh-on-impossible-to-finish) and a ‘medium’ is huge (i.e. two potatoes). Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
One of the newer kids on the veggie vegan block is Moon & Hare, which is fast becoming popular amongst the student and young professional populations of Brunstfield, Morningside and Marchmont. With a really simple menu of soup, salads, wraps and vegan waffles (plus smoothies, juices and hot drinks – oh, and plenty of CAKE!), they’ve managed to fill a gap for gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian diets in south Edinburgh.
Torn between the wraps and waffles, I opted for waffles, given it was only 11am. Soft, fluffy and moreish with a perfect topping of coconut, banana and syrup, it was the perfect brunch. I also bought some chocolate and pistachio cake to take away, which was a welcome treat on our delayed journey back to London. The pricing is a bit steep – £4.50 for half a waffle (£7 for a full one, and the half isn’t that big a portion) or a wrap (plus an additional £2.50 for a side salad with the wrap), but in that part of town, maybe that’s the norm. The setting is hip but unpretentious, with plenty of seating and lots of yummy-looking (but still overpriced) deli produce for sale. Pricing aside, I’ll definitely revisit Moon & Hare on future Edinburgh jaunts, as the menu is great and and it’s important to support this burgeoning scene.
The Caffeine Drip in the New Town is a popular South African café and bakery caters for everyone but is notable in clearly labeling all vegan options – of which there are plenty. The create your own vegan breakfast gives you a choice of tofu or chickpea scramble and gremagrain or gluten free bread and then various additional ingredients including vegan haggis, spinach, avocado, tomatoes, mushrooms and fried banana. Vegan French toast is another breakfast option, and on the lunch menu there’s several suitable dishes including salads, sandwiches, wraps, soup and cake.
Even newer on the scene, opening in June 2016 is 100% dairy-free Pumpkin Brown café. Minimalist décor and a limited, but strong, menu shows that you don’t need to be flashy to be delicious and nutritious. The daily menu consists of four to five salad pots plus drinks, snacks, cakes and smoothies. The salad pots include Mexican (quinoa, beans, avocado, salad, veggies), curried cauliflower with brown rice and a sweet sauce, and a courgetti pasta and pesto pot. All priced between £4.50-5 they are really reasonable for the quantity provided and the area the café is in. There’s also a hot dish of the day which was butternut squash curry when I was in. Some top vegan snack ranges are also stocked including chickpea, quinoa and lentil crisps. For breakfast you can also feast on bircher or chia pots plus some pretty interesting drinks including turmeric latte. And if you’re not hungry just pop in to see what their quirky blackboards are saying that day and to get an uplifting hello from the uber-friendly life-loving staff.
One place I really want to try but haven’t had enough time on my last two trips is recently opened NovaPizza Vegetarian Kitchen in the New Town. Vegan cheese and vegan ham are some of the toppings on their two-page vegan menu, opening up many more pizza possibilities for the vegans of Edinburgh which previously on had La Favorita (or UK-wide chain Zizzi) to get their vegan cheese fix at. La Favorita part of the city’s Vittoria group of Italian restaurants and includes several delivery outlets that also stock the vegan cheese. Pizzas are thin and crispy and packed with toppings. If there’s more than one regular cheese on the pizza you order you can substitute each cheese for additional ingredients which means you’re not missing out or spending more. The vegan cheese was decent – not too strong but equally not runny or tasteless like a well-known pizza chain out there… My only bugbear is that the pizza was barely lukewarm by the time it got to us but given it was a busy Friday night that can be forgiven.
One thing that Glasgow has over Edinburgh is definitely vegan pubs. Whilst the capital still has a lot to live up recently refurbished Daylight Robbery in the New Town is fast becoming known for having fantastic vegan options which include courgette fries with basil aioli, vegan burger flatbread, faux Indian fish and chips made from aubergine stuffed with chana masala and vegan pancakes. The faux fish and chips was utterly incredible – really unique filling and spot on flavouring. Perfect amount of crisp batter which wasn’t greasy. All accompanied by expertly cooked potato wedges and salad with a zingy dressing. Non-vegans were also suitably impressed with their meals – empty plates despite very generous portions all round!
Omni restaurants and cafes are also helping to develop the city’s reputation for great vegan munch. Some venues, such as The Fruitmarket Gallery, very helpfully label all their dishes as vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free or with other dietary requirements. I highly recommend the falafel sandwich or avocado on toast, and the soup is almost always vegan, too – and always, always delicious! Good labelling, however, is still not commonplace, and a lot of venues still have a lot to learn here. Given the increase of veganism in recent years, this should be changing, especially considering that so many dishes are already vegan (or easily can be with a few changes) – but just need labelled as vegan, instead of forcing people to read through everything on the entire menu and then checking with staff anyway, just to make sure. Gluten-free dishes are often highlighted on menus, which wasn’t the case a few years ago, so hopefully vegan dishes will be next.
The chef at French bistro Cafe Cassis, where we had lunch one day, came to our table to talk through what could and couldn’t be made vegan, as all the veggie dishes clearly had cheese in them. However, he explained that he kept parmesan separately, meaning that the breadcrumb topping on a super-delicious vegetable crumble, with salad, was 100% cheese-free. An unexpected vegan bonus! I completely appreciated his efforts but a well labelled menu would have made things more simple.
One of my long-standing top omni-spots is the Filmhouse Café Bar on Lothian Road where my favourite dishes are the vegan chilli jacket potato, the falafel or the nachos sans sour cream or cheese. The café is a lovely location to wile away hours reading or chatting, but the fact that the cinema screens some of the best independent films from across the world is an added treat for a cultured day out.
As a student, I frequented The Piemaker probably more than was healthy. Not because I was skint, but because it was local and their pies are just so good! The Thai mushroom pie and balti curry pie are both vegan, as are all of their sweet pies and turnovers. There are now two Piemaker locations (South Side and Leith|), meaning more pie-munching vegans than ever can enjoy these tasty delights.
Bread Street Brasserie host a monthly vegan night, with a changing menu of three courses (choices available) for a very affordable £17.50, always featuring gluten-free options. In August the menu had starters of vegetable tempura with a roasted pepper sauce, panzanella and parsnip and mint soup, mains of chickpea and mushroom stew, butternut squash and asparagus risotto with crispy tofu, and a Portobello mushroom burger. Desserts were chocolate beetroot cake, banana berry pudding and sorbets. Whilst it wasn’t the most creative of vegan cooking – two mushroom mains was a little disappointing – it’s definitely worth a try. All dishes were well cooked and tasty. The mousse was especially enjoyable – so rich I couldn’t even finish it. Their standard a la carte menu usually offers two clearly marked vegan starters and mains, as well as a vegan dessert option, making this an ideal place for dining out with a mixed group. Plus hopefully having vegan only nights will show other venues that vegans shouldn’t be overlooked.
BBL65 speaks to my heart with its veggie/vegan link or lorne sausage rolls for breakfast, as well as a vegan burger option and baked tatties with veggie/vegan haggis. Café Milk on Morrison Street has several vegan options – all clearly marked on the menu – as does sister-venue The Fruitmarket Gallery. These include black bean and quinoa chilli, falafel sandwich or salad, superfood salad and at least one vegan cake every day. For more sweet treats, your best bet is to get down to the Grassmarket on Saturdays and head over to Missy’s Vegan Cupcakes.
There’s plenty of Indian food on offer in Edinburgh too – a cuisine that is usually suitable for vegans – including fully vegetarian restaurant Kalpna in Newington. With affordable lunch buffets and a vast a la carte menu that includes vegan naan bread and a vegan thali, there’s plenty of choice for vegans. However, in recent years the curries have reportedly been lacking in flavor, and it doesn’t quite live up to some of the other nearby veg-friendly places, like Mother India’s Café (also operating in Glasgow and serving interesting, tapas-style dishes, including delicious okra and potato bhajis and aubergine fritters) or the Mosque Kitchen, where you can get rice piled high with three different veg curries, all for a fiver. It’s basic but delicious! Thouh I won’t completely write-off Kalpna until I try it again, as I want to support Edinburgh’s veggie scene. If you have been, please do comment at the bottom so we can share up-to-date experiences.
Middle Eastern food is another good cuisine for vegans, and Edinburgh is brimming with food from this part of the world. My absolute favourite is Empires on St Mary’s Street – just doors along from David Bann’s – where friendly owner Osman serves up delicious mezze platters which can be made vegan on request, and where you can enjoy BYO booze. Pomegranate and Hanam’s also give Empires a good run for its money.
There are also plenty of stores to stock up on vegan goodies – my favourites being Real Foods and Jordan Valley. At a fraction of the cost of my regular haunts down in London (Planet Organic, Whole Foods and even Holland & Barrett), these are places that I really miss from the ‘Burgh. Although it has been handy getting clean from my addiction of Jordan Valley pates and haggis rolls…
2015 also saw Edinburgh’s first-ever vegan festival, which takes place in August and hosts various stalls from food and lifestyle organisations. Even more recently, the Leith Market introduced a monthly Vegan Quarter, which has been exceptionally popular. I haven’t had the chance to visit yet, but I’ll certainly be looking to structure future trips back to bonnie Scotland around these events, as well as scheduling in a lot more exploring and eating!
These are now just a fraction of the places where vegan food can be enjoyed in Edinburgh. Where else would you recommend? What are your top dishes? Do share your thoughts so that others can have similarly enjoyable foodie experiences!
Why not check out my top vegetarian and vegan places around the UK or eating and drinking in Oxford, Manchester, Brighton, London or Freidrichstain in Berlin? If you’re a Londoner I’ve also covered the top places in South East London. If UK music festivals are your thing, I’ve done a round up of vegetarian and vegan food at some of them too!