How much? That tends to be the reaction when looking at pub and restaurant menus in Edinburgh. But there are hidden gems where you can eat well on a budget. Updating his last report on the Scottish capital, Tony Naylor chooses a fresh 10Nungwi Village
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A premises to warm the heart of any pub purist, Thomson’s has no music, several real ales and serves, at lunchtime only, a tight, affordable menu of three pies, a daily hot dish and a few panini. I had assumed that the website’s advice to get there dead on midday, to be certain of getting a pie and a seat, was hype. But, no. I arrive at 12.20pm and the place is already packed with office workers tucking into enormous steak pies with lush, well-worked mash and serviceable mushy peas (£5). Perching my plate on a ledge, I tuck in with gusto, the only caveat being that the bottoms of these entirely puff pastry pies can get a shade gloopy under the weight of all that steak and gravy. A half of Cromarty Brewing’s rigorously bitter Rogue Wave (£1.90), seals a very satisfactory lunch.
Pie lovers who can’t stretch to a fiver could try Piemaker (38 South Bridge, 0131 558 1728, thepiemaker.co.uk), a pasty and pie shop which it is almost impossible to talk about without using the phrase a posh Greggs. On a rundown stretch of South Bridge, it sells a wide range of relatively exotic and cheap savouries (lamb’s liver and bacon for £1, say), which deliver more flavour than you might expect. For instance, a slosh of stout gives its steak and ale (£2.49) decent depth, and the advertised oregano shines through.
• Meals £2.50-£5. 182-184 Morrison Street, 0131-228 5700, thomsonsbaredinburgh.co.uk
“Yummytori is like a Miley Cyrus party for my mouth,” raves one punter (on a mirror given over to such hagiographic graffiti). I wouldn’t go that far. Even if I knew what it meant. What I do know, however – and hold me a space on the wall for this zinger – is that Yummytori is pretty good, for the money. It specialises in yakitori, grilled skewers, and ramen noodle bowls, with perhaps its best bargains to be had in the afternoon, when you can grab a bento box of three skewers, rice, salad and a side (£5 takeaway, eat-in £6.90) with miso soup and dessert. The light soy and mirin sauce that covers the skewers was a shade sweet for me, but that goes with the territory. Chicken meatballs spiked with lemongrass were the pick of the trio: the stubby rice was authentically sticky, and the seaweed scattered salad was interesting. A full belly and novel flavours, for a fiver? Miley, Billy Ray, the whole Cyrus clan would surely approve of that.
• Double skewers/tapas from £3, ramen bowls from £6.90. 90-92 Lothian Road, 0131-229 2206; yummytori.co.uk
Quiz Irvine Welsh on his guilty pleasures and you might expect a pretty lurid response. But as he told Shortlist magazine, chief among them these days is the haggis burrito at Los Cardos. He is not alone in his addiction. Many in Edinburgh are equally in thrall to this takeaway’s novel treatment of that trad Scottish staple. As a non-native, however, I opted for the carnitas burrito, filled with slow-cooked pulled pork, which, after hours marinating in a tomatillo-based Mexican salsa verde, had taken on a distinctly fruity tang. These aren’t the cheapest burritos and Los Cardos should go easier on the sour cream if they want everything – black beans, vivacious salsas – to shine, but they’re a hefty, filling meal and tasty, too. Even without the haggis.
• Burritos £5.15-£6.30. 281 Leith Walk, 0131 555 6619, loscardos.co.uk
Bad ones must exist, but I’ve yet to eat at a South Indian restaurant that, compared with the heavy, interchangeable dishes of your average high street curry house, is anything but a revelation. Tanjore, a rudimentary restaurant space jollied up with tapestries and wooden screens, is another lesson in how fresh and vibrant curry can be. Its lamb masala dosa is exceptional. The crepe-like dosa has a lively lactic twang to it; the lamb, lentil and potato filling is elegantly and sensitively spiced; and the accompanying chutneys are light and clean and, particularly the mint and coconut, pack a deceptive, long-fuse heat. Also, BYOB with no corkage.Nungwi Village
Less sophisticated, but cheaper and, arguably, a lot more fun, Bollywood Coffee Box (curry’n’rice, £3.50-£4.50, 99a Bruntsfield Place, 07910 453121, bollywoodcoffeebox.wordpress.com), is another favourite with curry lovers, housed in a former police box. Artist-cook Nutan Bala has repurposed this tiny hut as a takeaway/arts space: it’s decorated with poems, drawings, temporary art and more. Somehow, from within this Tardis, while chatting away 19 to the dozen over blaring music – “If you come here, the rule is you have to dance!” – Bala rustles up neat snacks, such as pakoras and samosas, as well as wholesome curries and dals.
• Lunch thali £8, main dishes (with shared rice) from £6.95-£11.20. 6-8 Clerk Street, 0131-478 6518, tanjore.co.uk
Union of Genius
Done right and prepared with love, plain old soup can be a wonderful thing. That’s the thinking at Union of Genius, a colourful little takeaway cafe with just a handful of seats. It is all reassuringly right-on. The emphasis is on local ingredients and suppliers (including matched artisan breads from Dough Re Mi), and the kitchen cooks a selection from more than 80 tried and trusted recipes from scratch, daily. The soups get pretty out there: Ghanaian chicken and peanut curry; Moroccan harira; coronation chicken; even swede, cardamom and black tea. But, first, try UoG’s caldo verde (from £3.80), a soup of such vivid paprika and chorizo-based warmth that, even on the filthiest of winter afternoons (and aren’t they all, in Edinburgh?), it’ll lift your flagging spirits.
Union of Genius supplies a number of local outlets with soups and salads, including nearby third-wave coffee shop, Brew Lab (6-8 South College Street, brewlabcoffee.co.uk). The space itself may look half-finished, but don’t worry: all that fashionable exposed, distressed concrete is no reflection on its ability to serve an (impeccable) flat white, £2.50.
• Soups, savouries and salads £2.50-£7. 8 Forrest Road, 0131-226 4436, unionofgenius.com
Manna House Bakery & Cafe
A short, appetite-sharpening walk up Abbey Mount from the Scottish parliament, this bakery-cafe more than justifies the detour. It’s a small, homely space (with a few worn painted tables and chairs, and a small gallery of original art), but delivers big, polished flavours at keen prices. The centrepiece is, of course, a glittering counter of cakes, tray bakes – don’t miss the cinnamon and apple crumble slices, £1.80 – and finely wrought patisserie. However, the sweet stuff is but one strand of Manna’s work. Daily, it also produces grand bacon and cheese croissants, soups, salads and posh sandwiches (porchetta, smoked mackerel, mozzarella in spelt and honey), all, naturally, served on Manna’s own rustic breads. A slice of bacon and spinach quiche (£2.80) was, if not literally manna from heaven, pretty miraculous: solid in the hand, light in the mouth, its filling properly seasoned and fully loaded with those primary ingredients.
If you’re shopping here for a picnic in Royal Terrace or Regent Gardens, make sure you stop in at Cornelius next door (18-20 Easter Road, 0131-652 2405, corneliusbeers.com). It carries a remarkable range of craft beers from near (Fyne Ales, Tempest) and far (Mikkeller, Nøgne Ø), from £1.80 a bottle.
• Eat-in breakfast 60p-£4.25, lunch £2.50-£5. 22-24 Easter Road, 0131-652 2349, themannahousebakery.co.uk
Is there so much condensation in the windows that you can’t see the menu? Don’t worry. That’s a good sign. This simple cafe is all steamed up because it’s busy with punters who value its foodist rigour (lots of scratch-cooking, keen emphasis on ace Scottish produce). From dense, chewy Scots morning rolls, filled with good things at breakfast, through a lunch menu of cheese, smoked fish and deli platters, upmarket sandwiches and salads, the Larder delivers – and just a stone’s throw from the Royal Mile, too. Even if you don’t want to sit in, you could pick up a cake while you’re passing. The walnut chocolate brownie is terrific.
• Breakfast £2.75-£9.50, light meals £5-£8.50. 15 Blackfriars Street, 0131 556 6922; edinburghlarder.co.uk
There are sexier (and more expensive) deli-cafes, but Broughton demonstrates its quality where it matters – on the plate – while offering more variety than most. The menu travels far and wide, from breakfasts of Mexican eggs, US pancakes and a fry-up that includes venison lorne – an unusual take on the Scottish square sausage – through to north African flatbread meals and a ramen soup. Its selection of jazzy, creative salads was excellent, particularly an East Asian-style medley of raw cabbage, radish and broccoli. The warm, spicy flavours in a squash and chickpea tagine, mined with explosive shards of preserved lemon, could have been a little more clearly delineated, but that was a minor quibble. This hot takeaway dish of the day punched its weight and, for £5.50, was a big old portion.
• Eat-in breakfasts £3.95-£8.50, mains £6.80-£9.50, takeaway sandwiches and meals £3.50-£7. 7 Barony Street, 0131 558 7111, broughton-deli.co.uk
Craft beer and burgers: what’s not to like? Although I wasn’t quite as taken with Holyrood as some locals are. I like a burger that’s a beef bomb, the dominant flavour in my bun, whereas my Holyrood patty was more in the style of one of those lightly flavoured minced steak burgers, which have a tendency to be somewhat overwhelmed by the sauces and cheese. My cheese burger (excellent sourdough bun and spot-on fries, incidentally), topped with Swiss, fried onions and mustard mayo, tasted sweet rather than profoundly savoury. It’s a matter of taste and I’d happily eat it again. It just didn’t rock my world to its core. Unlike Holyrood’s 25 keg and cask beer pumps, which are a glorious sight. A half of Joker IPA (£2), from ace Scottish brewer Williams Bros was magnificent: sharply bitter, almost sourly tropical.
Talking of burgers, across town Wannaburger (burgers from £2.99. 7-8 Queensferry Street, 0131 220 0036, wannaburger.com) is a plucky independent trying to take on the fast food giants. You pay McDonald’s prices and you get something that tastes, well, a lot like Maccy D’s. But if that’s your bag, better you eat here than under the golden arches. And you can wash it down with a Brooklyn lager (bottle, £3.89).
• Burger and fries from £7.95. 9A Holyrood Road, 0131-556 5044, theholyrood.co.uk
A couple of doors down from the Mosque Kitchen, a legendary Edinburgh moneysaver, this Sudanese cafe is almost as well-loved. At lunch, students flock for its toasted wraps: huge batons served on lightly toasted khobz bread, featuring north African favourites such as (ethereally light, crisply encased) falafel with hummus and spicy peanuts; baba ganoush; ful beans with onions and tomato; and, erm, a rather more prosaic tuna and sweetcorn. A few African maps and mementos, a highlife soundtrack and cheery service bring a bit of sparkle to an otherwise basic joint. It’s the food, however, that is the real bright spot. A wider à la carte menu of intriguing dishes is available into the evening but here mains hover around the £10 mark.
• Wraps £3-£4.50. 6 Chapel Street, 0131-667 8200
Travel between Manchester and Edinburgh was provided by First TransPennine Express (tpexpress.co.uk)