If you want a venue that provides a decent backdrop to a date, you don’t have to spend preposterous amounts. An accomplished gastropub, an incredible Indian or an iconic restaurant late at night all offer date-night alternatives that should be less taxing on your bank balance. But if you do go to one of Edinburgh's best restaurants for three courses with wine, it might not be cheap but, hey, it might be worth it. And if it's not? Go and drown your sorrows in one of Edinburgh's best pubs - you'll have forgotten about your lack of luck in no time.
Date restaurants in Edinburgh
Edinburgh’s most important opening of 2014 enchants foodies and demonstrates a sense of dining adventure. Chef Stuart Ralston uses a monthly changing list of ingredients to whip up a set four-course tasting menu for £35 per person; mixologist Krystal Goff pairs the drinks. You can specify what you don’t eat – what you do end up eating will be fresh and creative.
This is the dining room of a chic New Town hotel and the menu here specialises in steak although vegetarian options are available. Main dishes are £15-£30. The interior is neo-Edwardian and feels like a gentleman’s club. Even the views are elegant – you can see Gloucester Place is directly outside the restaurant window.
There is a certain cachet to saying, ‘I know a restaurant in a private members’ club.’ The club is a branch of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society but its ground floor Dining Room admits non-members, the surroundings are classy and the food is good value. For £35 per person you get a three courses from the à la carte menu featuring mains built around the likes of duck, monkfish or partridge.
Whether you are meeting someone for the first time after taking the plunge on Tinder, or you’re just looking for a little bit of space away from work and kids, then how about Pickles? It’s a small basement wine bar, chunky natural wood dominating the colour scheme, the menu largely consisting of cheese and meat platters, and pâtés. It’s completely informal, operates a no-bookings policy – so you just have to take your chances when you drop in – and it doesn’t even open until late afternoon. But if you do score a table and park yourself with her, or him, in front of a Scottish cheese board and a couple of glasses of appropriate wine then at least you have the building blocks of a great evening in place.
Aesthetics are important, don’t you think? That holds true for virtually everything on a date, from presentation of self, through use of language, ease of interaction to choice of venue for dinner and the appearance of whatever is magicked on to the plate. At Kanpai, you can concentrate on chat, eye contact and the avoidance of wardrobe malfunction because the food is reliably drop-dead gorgeous and serves as a launchpad for all kinds of conversations.
If you’re shying away from big bucks or look-at-me gestures on your date then stepping instead into a café where the décor transports you to an obscure corner of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar might be a winner. Empires is a small Turkish meze venue, it’s not expensive and what it lacks in finesse is made up for by an enduring charm.
Pubs are reliable for informal dates but it has to be a good pub. Foodwise they don’t come much better than this. Local Michelin-starred chefs Dominic Jack and Tom Kitchin are involved in the ownership and the menu, which ranges from sausage and mash to whole roast partridge; mains £9.50-£22.
This accomplished restaurant in the Modern European style (on the fourth floor of the fashionable department store) has fabulous views over Edinburgh and the Forth. Guinea fowl, halibut or veal typically form the basis of mains, usually for around £17-£25.
The basement situation, the subtle lighting, the art on the walls, the linen and sparkling glassware – it all creates an excellent impression when you enter this restaurant. Chef-proprietor Jason Gallagher creates elegant Franco-Scottish dishes featuring the likes of halibut or venison, mains priced £21-£25.
Part of the rolling gentrification of Leith Walk that has seen some much better bars and eateries appear up and down the thoroughfare in the last few years, the Walnut launched at the end of 2015 as a small, independent venue offering a high standard of bistro cooking in simple surroundings: one room, mix’n’match chairs, wooden floor, light colour scheme. In terms of accessibility, informality, sheer quality and its BYOB policy, it’s an absolutely lovely place to eat. A typical three courses here might involve pea and ham hock soup with poached egg and truffle oil to start; lamb hotpot with black pudding as a main; apple frangipane tart to finish. Vegetarians are very well catered for (roast carrot, goat cheese and walnut salad with sherry vinaigrette to start; chickpea and aubergine cassoulet as a main for example) while the BYOB idea means you can splash out on some wine to do justice to the food (Oddbins, Sainsbury’s Local and Tesco Express are all very close by while there’s a Majestic about 10 minutes’ walk down Leith Walk). There's nothing intimidating or distracting here: just you, great cooking, decent wine, your date – and a bill that will seem pretty economical given the talent in the kitchen.