Leith Walk is going up in the world. It’s still the main route from the city centre to Leith and it’s still lined with shops, bars, cafés and residential tenements. Not that long ago, quality eating and drinking options were limited to a few reliable old stagers, but in recent years a number of restaurants and café-bars have arrived making the thoroughfare a very different proposition indeed. Here is our pick of the most diverting half dozen.
With its modest dining room, random selection of chairs and air of improvised décor, the Walnut arrived late last year offering modern British cooking with a hint of international flavour – dates and almonds have been spotted in some dishes. The menu is chalked up on a blackboard and can bring mains like braised ox cheek pie with roast parsnips and goat cheese, or roast mackerel with tomatoes, mint and new potatoes – there are vegetarian choices too. Pricing is keen and you can BYOB, so it makes for a quality night out without breaking the bank. It has no official website but you can find it on Facebook.
9 Croall Place, Leith Walk, Edinburgh EH7 4LT
In décor terms, this café-bar is an exercise in design archaeology: original cornices, warehouse tiling on the walls, supporting pillars, robust wooden tables and a couple of booths. So far, so hipster. It opened in late 2014 with friendly staff, a decent cocktail list, craft beer on tap and a menu that very much concentrates on burgers, hot dogs and pizza, but there’s virtue in keeping things simple and doing them well. The Auld Reekie Burger comes with smoked cheese and smoked bacon for example; the Volcano Dog with jalapeños, chorizo and peri-peri sauce; the Italian pizza has goat cheese, rocket and sun-dried tomatoes; alternatively just pop in for a drink. Target market well and truly hit.
17 Albert Place, Leith Walk, Edinburgh EH7 5HN
Serrano & Manchego
Another late 2014 debutante, this establishment functions as a café and tapas restaurant so you can find people eating breakfast in the morning (fried eggs with de la Vera pepper and grilled bread perhaps), others pop in for coffee, you might have a couple of small bocadillos for lunch or a full tapas extravaganza later on. The venue prides itself on the quality of its jamón serrano and artisan manchego – both indeed excellent – while tapas dishes stretch from simple and expected tortilla to chistorra a la sidra (pork and beef sausage cooked in cider), crujiente de queso de cabra (goat cheese dumplings with sherry drizzle) and much more; speciality mains include octopus, chicken with prawns, and Iberian steak. If you’re en route from Leith to central Edinburgh or vice versa, it’s worth stopping.
297 Leith Walk, Edinburgh EH6 8SA
The story in brief: accomplished pizza restaurant opens in small premises on Leith Walk in 2011, proves astonishingly successful, moves across the road to bigger premises in 2015, success continues. The current incarnation of Origano is spacious with an open kitchen, exposed brickwork and a hint of Bohemianism from the cushions and candles. They will do you an accomplished salad or some lasagne but most diners come for the brilliant pizza, available in 11”, 14” or 16” versions. The are more than 20 on the menu, but we’ll put in a special mention for the Pizza Funghi with tomato, mozzarella, various mushrooms, garlic, parsley and truffle oil. The latter ingredient is no aspirational gimmick – it really does work very well. There is a short but decent wine list, Birra Moretti on draught, plus other beers and cider by the bottle.
236 Leith Walk, Edinburgh EH6 8PD
There have been a succession of typical Leith pubs at this address over the years – some alright, some not so alright – but in late 2015 Leith Depot arrived with a completely different attitude. It’s a café-bar downstairs, live music venue upstairs. Focusing on the former, it’s a simple room with wooden flooring and tables, assorted chairs and the bar itself as the dominating feature. There is a snack menu (beer-battered pickles or leek fritters with lemon zest crème fraîche for example), while mains might bring straightforward fish and chips, a steak baguette with many trimmings or a vegan platter. Meanwhile the house version of caesar salad is a bold departure, including chunks of beer-battered halloumi, but it’s surprisingly good.
140 Leith Walk, Edinburgh EH6 5DT
Initially launched in 2010 as Punjab’n De Rasoi, a community project to provide training and job opportunities for local Sikh women, this venue rebranded as Punjabi Junction in 2013, giving itself more of an official restaurant feel. That said, it remains a very simple operation both in terms of décor and menu. It looks a little like a community centre canteen while the kitchen sticks to tried and tested dishes, so don’t expect to be handed a laminated fold-out list of every curry under the sun when you sit down. All those caveats out of the way, the fish pakora starter is excellent, the dal has a homemade authenticity, the fish curry is rightly popular and there's a decent house thali and some light lunch options like chicken curry chapatti wraps, too. Price-wise it’s an absolute bargain and is BYOB too. Be warned however, it’s not a late evening venue: it closes at 6pm on Monday and Tuesday, 8.30pm Wednesday to Saturday.
122-124 Leith Walk, Edinburgh EH6 5DT