I fall head over heels in love with a new city every seven years or so, and at the moment I’m going steady with Edinburgh. The romance of the winding closes of the old town, the drama of Edinburgh Castle and windswept Arthur’s Seat, the free Sunday-evening concerts at spooky St. Giles Cathedral: I relish every step I take on those time-worn cobblestones. On my first sojourn I rented a room in a block of flats so old that there’s a niche for the bed on one end of the kitchen, so you can pass the night in the warmest part of the house. My hosts still slept in that cozy little nook, behind a curtain, and I always felt a bit awkward coming into their sleeping space in the mornings to put my coffee on!
In those days I was still stirring cow’s milk into my morning brew, and my breakfast might include a slice or two of Cotswold cheddar. Like a longtime sweetheart, Edinburgh has watched me grow into veganism, and supported me every step.
In the winter of 2013 I was fortunate enough to receive a monthlong writing residency at Hawthornden Castle, about six miles outside Edinburgh; this was my first time in the UK as a vegan, but given that the whole concept of veganism started in Britain I knew I had nothing to worry about. The castle chef often cooked up a special dish for me, and always made sure I had chocolate soy pudding or fruit sorbet for dessert when everyone else was having traditional bread pudding. The head housekeeper, bless her heart, often tucked a wax-paper parcel of soy cheese slices in with my peanut-butter sandwich and thermos of vegetable soup. (When I wasn’t working on my novel, by the way, I was reading The China Study in preparation for Main Street Vegan Academy.)
Upon “re-entry”—back into the world beyond the writing retreat—my dearest friend arrived on the train from London, and we treated each other to a relatively fancy meal at David Bann (which, along with Henderson’s is Edinburgh’s most well established vegetarian eatery).
On my most recent visit, in the spring of 2014, I hopped off the train at Waverley station and hurried straight for The Baked Potato Shop on Cockburn Street (a road so quaint that I was surprised to learn it was only built in the 19th century). Like most veg eateries I’ve visited in Great Britain, this delightful little spud shop is not exclusively vegan, but you can get a huge baked potato piled high with veggie haggis, baked beans, or quinoa salad for under £4, and wash it down with an elderflower soda. A more bohemian spot is the Forest Café, which is part of an arts collective. The food is relatively simple here—falafel/hummus plates and the like—but they do a luscious vegan chocolate cake, and it’s a nice spot to hang out with a cup of tea and listen to live music. I also really enjoyed a green smoothie at Meadowlark Number 39, which is affiliated with a yoga studio. You’ll find more vegetarian and veg-friendly listings on Happy Cow.
If I have to pick a favorite Edinburgh eatery, though, it’s definitely Henderson’s. They have both cafeteria-style and more formal dining options, and any salad, soup, or warm meal you choose is bound to be delicious. Here the veggie haggis comes in an elegant little tower with mashed potatoes and gravy, topped with baby greens and a sprig of currants. And according to Happy Cow, as of this year their bistro menu is 100% vegan!
I wish I had more vegan restaurants in my favorite city to recommend, but Henderson’s is a terrific start. If I can measure my evolution from one visit to the next, so too can I measure Edinburgh’s progress by mine—and when more vegan restaurants start opening up, I’ll be even more in love.
Camille DeAngelis, VLCE is the author, most recently, of Bones & All, a novel about cannibals aimed at getting readers to rethink the practice of flesh eating. She lives in Somerville, Massachusetts. Visit her at www.cometparty.com or get in touch via Twitter at @cometparty.