February 14, aka Valentine's Day, is fast approaching. For some people it means stubbornly body-swerving flower and gift card shops and cursing the mixture of shallow schmaltz and commercialism-run-amok Valentine's Day has come to represent. For everyone else, it means booking that most memorable of evenings out for you and your special someone, or if you’re single but striving to change that, planning a first date down to a tee. To help you on your way, here’s a handy run-down of some of the best restaurants in Edinburgh for a romantic meal and some of the best bars in the city for a date, plus a few Valentine-themed event ideas if you fancy something more elaborate.
The best romantic restaurants in Edinburgh
Oh, you’re taking your date to Kitchin? Must be pretty serious then. Star chef Tom Kitchin’s Michelin-starred flagship ‘from nature to plate’ restaurant down by the shore in Leith is one of the best – not to mention priciest – in Scotland. The à la carte menu is a veritable love letter to Scotland’s larder and waters.
Impress your dining partner not just with a great meal, but all the wow factor old-school Embra can bring to bear at The Witchery. Situated at the top of the Royal Mile in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle, everything is crafted to make you feel special – from the candlelit stone staircase to the heavyweight cutlery, crisp linen and extravagant candelabras.
Another Michelin-starred wallet-burster – but if you’re really going to town for Valentine's, you might as well go to town at superchef Martin Wishart’s eponymous fine-dining paradise. This is elegant, decadent eating at its best, with Scottish ingredients laying the foundation for both traditional and modern French cuisine.
A little less conventionally romantic, but bursting with hip cachet, The Gardener’s Cottage is based in a hitherto disused William Playfair-designed cottage dating back to 1836, transformed to create something unique to Edinburgh’s food scene – a tiny, cosy restaurant doing utterly delicious seasonal food all sourced from local producers, some of it even grown in the garden outside. As well as a signature six-course dinner menu, they do the best brunch in town – possibly useful to know if your date goes especially well.
Another good call for more relaxed romance, The Scran and Scallie is a self-styled ‘public house with dining’ but as the brainchild of two Michelin-starred chefs, that rather undersells just how good the food is at this stylish and atmospheric standout in Edinburgh’s affluent Stockbridge. There are pub staples, sure – fish and chips, burgers and fish pie – but each are made to a standard worthy of the esteemed owners’ culinary ethos.
Show your commitment to your special someone by taking them to meet mom and pop – not your actual mom and pop, mind, but the eponymous Katie and her husband who run this lovely homely little American-diner style eatery overlooking Bruntsfield Links. The food’s all about twists on the traditional burger, including chilli cheese, BBQ, Mexican, Hawaiian and Cajun varieties.
Champagne and oysters – it’s a bit of a Valentine's cliché, but you really can’t go far wrong, especially at the quaintly atmospheric, wood-paneled, nautically-themed Ship on the Shore overlooking the water down in Leith. You can get a glass of bubbly and six oysters here for £20 – worth it just for a flirt with Valentine's tradition if nothing else.
The best bars to take a date to in Edinburgh
Under the Stairs is a dimly lit, cosy wee hidey-hole with soft furnishings hanging off beat-up armchairs and vintage clocks ticking away above the glowing fish tank. Selections from the long and inventive cocktail list – be it a beetroot and Wasabi-tequila margarita or a green tea cooler with pear, cucumber, lime and vodka – should help lubricate the conversation.
Hip, but not achingly so, this retro-ish Lower East Side New York-style cocktail hangout is a classy alternative to its showier neighbours on nearby George Street, and definitely a keeper. There are 13 liquor bottles behind the bar at The Lucky Liquor Co., used to create an ever-changing menu of 13 cocktails. Here's to you getting lucky.
If it’s a discreet liaison you have in mind, make for this historic village pub in pretty surrounds on Edinburgh’s outskirts – a smart, rustic boozer restored from the original 16th century public house, now complete with cosy open fires and squashy cushions. Just make sure you’ve got enough to cover the cab fares - it ain't especially close to town.
Confirming all those clichés about Scandinavians being good-looking, Boda – like its various Swedish-style sister establishments around Edinburgh such as Sofi’s and Hemma – is an eye-catching little corner bar down on Leith Walk littered with quirky vintage-style armchairs and comfy lived-in sofas. If you want to keep things laid-back, then you’ve hit the Swede-spot.
The perfect haunt if you like your beer, like your date, to be ideally tall, bronzed and with a good head. If it’s rare, hoppy and craft brewed and it’s not at The Hanging Bat, it’s not worth drinking. Just quit staring affectionately into your schooner and remember to attempt some chatting-up.
Toeing the fine line between pretension and perfection, Panda and Sons is a charming, hidden-away Prohibition-style speakeasy - perfect for getting thoroughly sozzled on specialty cocktails such as the rum-infused Emperor’s New Clothes or the gin-based Be Yourself, Relax and Return Home, the latter of which might be a good mantra for a successful and dignified first date.
How does a pot-tail – that’s a cocktail served in an old-fashioned china teapot for two – sound for a spot of chintzy, intimate drinking? It’s the signature refreshment down at the cosy, quirky Roseleaf, one of Leith’s best-loved café-bars, where romance, not tea, is liable to brew.
Things to do on Valentine's Day in Edinburgh
Alternatively you could go for this much more traditional (in some senses) romantic dramedy about a gay couple who, finding themselves forced to relocate following some homophobic employment practises, have to move into seperate abodes. Alfred Molina and John Lithgow deliver career-best performances as the central couple.
The Cameo cinema is promising a special treat this Valentine's weekend, with several special screenings of erotic thriller 'The Room' - the 'Citizen Kane of bad movies', according to Entertainment Weekly. Not only that, but 'The Room's creator, Tommy Wiseau, will be on hand to introduce the movie, plus an extra added surprise - an episode of his new sitcom, 'The Neighbours', which promises to be just as, erm, 'special' as the film.