Leith has served the port of Edinburgh officially since 1329 and it lies on the south shore of the Firth of Forth in the north of the city. It played host to a number of industries over the years, but in the late 1980s the old industrial sites were redeveloped to make way for new housing.
The docks area became home to the new Scottish Office, and that was followed by the Ocean Terminal mall, which is also where the popular tourist attraction, the Royal Yacht Britannia, is permanently moored. As the area was gradually revived, a number of restaurants popped up to serve the new locals and the influx of tourists.
There’s a smattering of high class, fine dining establishments in the old docks area, restaurants like the Michelin-starred The Kitchin, owned and run by Scottish celebrity chef Tom Kitchin. You’ll also find some terrific seafood at The Shore in eateries like Ship on the Shore. Or perhaps the innovative beer and curry house, V-Deep, is more your style.
If you’re staying in the city center or the Old Town then Leith is a short bus or taxi trip away. The bustling Leith Walk runs down from the east end of Princes Street and you’ll find The Shore and the docks lie just beyond the end of it.
The Compass Bar is a lovely gastro pub located close to Leith Links at the corner of Queen Charlotte Street. The rough brickwork and rich red paint of the interior is studded with wooden framed prints and simple dark wooden tables sit snugly in the cozy dining area. The menu is not particularly adventurous; featuring classic pub dishes like fish and chips and steak pie, but the food is lovingly prepared from fresh produce. They have a good breakfast menu and a lunch soup and sandwich deal which is very good value for money. This warm and welcoming pub also hosts a good selection of guest ales from a variety of large and small breweries.
Recommended for Leith’s Best Restaurants because: The Compass Bar may not be fancy, but the welcome is warm and the food very good.
Simon’s expert tip: The Compass gets very busy at lunchtime, so booking is advisable.
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La Favorita specializes in delicious traditional pizza for which they won “Best UK Pizza Restaurant” in the Pizza, Pasta and Italian Food Association Awards 2012. However, they also offer a wide variety of excellent pasta dishes and even have gluten-free options which do not scrimp on taste. The decor is fresh and modern and patrons have an open view into the kitchen with its traditional log-fired ovens. La Favorita is also very family-friendly and for every adult eating from the a la carte menu a child can have a main course for just £1 which is donated to a local children’s charity.
Recommended for Leith’s Best Restaurants because: La Favorita has every type of pizza you could possibly want and they’re all freshly prepared and delicious.
Simon’s expert tip: For every adult eating from the a la carte menu a child can eat for just £1 which is donated to charity. That includes a main, a drink and a dessert.
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Smart, understated decor sets the scene for the thoughtfully prepared and well-presented seafood dishes on the menu here. You’ll find a wide range of fresh seafood and an extensive champagne and wine list. The reasonable prices and generous portions served from the lunch menu are popular among diners. Vegetarian dishes are available for those who prefer not to indulge in the seafood fare and there are always traditional alternative options like haggis and steak on the menu for carnivores who dislike seafood. Make no mistake, though, the Ship on the Shore aims to prove that Scotland has the best seafood in the world.
Recommended for Leith’s Best Restaurants because: Ship on the Shore will give you a real taste of just how good Scottish seafood can be.
Simon’s expert tip: Head here on a sunny day and dine outside for an atmosphere to match the seafood.
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Porto & Fi is a lovely delicatessen and bistro style cafe situated close to Newhaven Harbor. The interior is minimalist with simple polished wooden tables and leather chairs and a few nicely understated colored glass bottles in wooden box frames on the whitewashed walls. The smell of freshly ground coffee and delicious home baking draws in passing travelers, and the large picture windows with stunning views of the Firth of Forth encourage them to tarry a while. The deli menu ranges from freshly baked scones and cakes to more substantial meals. They also do a very good all day breakfast every Sunday.
Recommended for Leith’s Best Restaurants because: Great views of the Firth and wonderful home baking make Port & Fi a great place to pass a few hours.
Simon’s expert tip: Even on a cold day the award winning Orkney Ice Cream is hard to resist.
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Leith Chop House is a stylish restaurant in Leith which above all sets out to be the capital’s best steakhouse. The interior is chic but relaxed with some lovely design features, such as the large glass dividers offering a view of the open grill. The menu is packed with delicious carnivorous offerings, but also manages to do enough to welcome lovers of seafood and vegetarians. They also have an excellent wine menu and an inspired cocktail list. With friendly staff and a laudable commitment to local sourcing and excellence of ingredients Leith Chop House looks well on its way to meeting its ambitious goal.
Recommended for Leith’s Best Restaurants because: The Chop House is a meat-lovers paradise with an impressive wine and cocktail list
Simon’s expert tip: Chateaubriand is always an expensive treat, but theirs is worth pushing the boat out for.
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This unusual pub is off the beaten track just beyond The Shore in Leith. It’s a little bit quirky, offering an imaginative range of food and booze which extends to some great breakfast options. It’s very friendly, the furniture is mismatched and you can get cocktails served in teapots for your very own Madhatter’s Tea Party. You won’t find any other pubs quite like it and there are a lot to choose from in Edinburgh. You’ll find traditional fried Scottish breakfast offerings alongside porridge and French toast with bacon and maple syrup. The menu changes but it’s generally tempting. If you like pubs with character then seek it out.
Recommended for Leith’s Best Restaurants because: The Roseleaf has a quirky and delightful menu with great healthy options as well as indulgent puddings
Simon’s expert tip: Adorn the toilets with your own work of art using the blackboard and chalk provided.
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Tantalizing seafood dishes served in a friendly, no-frills atmosphere. Fisher’s Bistro is located on The Shore in Leith and offers a first rate casual dining experience. Menu selections change daily, featuring dishes made with the freshest catch of the day. Grilled halibut or chargrilled swordfish are examples of the dishes that are served here. There is also a comfortable and well-stocked bar area for pre-meal drinks. The staff are friendly and professional and the food is fresh and delicious. There is also a Fisher’s in the City on Thistle Street in the New Town if you can’t make it down to Leith, though it isn’t quite as good.
Recommended for Leith’s Best Restaurants because: Fisher’s Bistro brings fresh delights from the sea to your plate with the minimum of fuss.
Simon’s expert tip: It is a very popular restaurant so it’s always best to book in advance, even during the week.
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The Gardener’s Cottage is a wonderfully convivial restaurant located within a charming Georgian cottage in Royal Terrace Gardens. Designed by William Playfair as the home of the gardener in charge of the beautiful grounds, the cottage has been tastefully renovated by owners Dale Mailley and Ed Murray. Diners sit on communal benches at large wooden tables wrapped in the aromas of the trees, plants and the vegetable garden, making for a decidedly rural atmosphere despite the city center location. The restaurant is dedicated to communal eating and seasonal produce. Dishes are simple and delicious, elegant yet unpretentious. As they grow many of their own herbs, fruits and vegetables the food is wonderfully fresh and bursting with flavor. How can you resist?
Recommended for Leith’s Best Restaurants because: The Gardner’s Cottage has become one of Edinburgh’s favorite restaurants.
Simon’s expert tip: The weekend brunch is a thing of beauty and the perfect pick-me-up after a long and tiring week.
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Photo courtesy of Simon Hill
One of the finest British chefs cooking today, Martin Wishart, opened his eponymous restaurant in 1999. This Michelin starred Leith dining venue offers high quality French cuisine. You’ll find elegant surroundings, extremely high quality, attentive service and the freshest Scottish produce. It is an expensive restaurant with a formal atmosphere but a host of little special touches will make your visit a memorable experience. The six course tasting menu is sure to satisfy and impress. This is delicate and original food accompanied by fine wines and served by helpful and knowledgeable staff. If you want a real fine dining experience then it is an essential stop on your Edinburgh trip.
Recommended for Leith’s Best Restaurants because: Martin Wishart is a little bit special, a formal fine dining experience for special occasions.
Simon’s expert tip: The cheese selection costs extra but is unmissable if you like your cheese.
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Seasonal local produce is the name of the game at The Kitchin. Chef Patron Tom Kitchin is a well-known celebrity chef and he won a Michelin star just six months after opening The Kitchin in 2006. The restaurant has gone from strength to strength since then with a string of prestigious awards. This is the best of British cuisine influenced by French techniques and showcasing the finest Scottish ingredients. The service is nothing short of excellent and you’ll find a top notch selection of wine to accompany your food. As you might expect, this is an expensive night out but lunches give you a taste of what it is all about on a lower budget.
Recommended for Leith’s Best Restaurants because: Seasonal, local produce prepared by one of Scotland’s best chefs makes the Kitchin hard to resist.
Simon’s expert tip: Make sure to book in advance and ask the knowledgeable staff if there’s anything you’re uncertain about. If you’re lucky you may even get to meet the chef.
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