Edinburgh bites: Festival food to fill any gap
Whether you're after an indulgent three-hour feast or grabbing a lightning-quick snack between shows, Scotland's capital has plenty to offer
Edinburgh's International and Fringe festivals kick off this weekend and theatregoers, comedy-lovers, writers, directors and performers in their thousands will descend on the Scottish capital in search of great writing, hilarious comedy, new experiences and - yes - tasty food.
Finding the best place to fill the gap, both temporal and abdominal, is essential when mapping out your festival schedule. Sometimes you will have only a short break to grab a bite, while other times you will have a good few hours to indulge in one of Edinburgh's fine restaurants.
Here is The Week Portfolio's guide to the best places to eat, depending on how much time you have to spare between shows.
If you find yourself with a good long break in the middle of the festival, or simply want to treat yourself to a culinary spectacle every bit as dazzling as what's on at the Lyceum or Underbelly, then do yourself a favour and book a meal at 21212 for an indulgent three hours.
Paul Kitching's fascinatingly eclectic tasting menu is bursting with ideas, flavours and cooking styles. Every table in the room has a view of the kitchen so you can marvel as the chefs put each dish together. And a mesmerising performance it is, too. Rather than one person dedicated to a specific dish, the whole team is involved, with different chefs adding an ingredient, a garnish, a foam or some other delectable embellishment.
It becomes clear why so many hands are involved with each plate that arrives at your table. Kitching's cooking is a fascinating multilayered affair, with no two mouthfuls - let alone dishes - the same. For example, the amuse-bouche was (from bottom to top) a sweet corn puree with couscous, topped with a garlic and tomato gazpacho, served with horseradish sauce, and a crisp of whole grain mustard. Thanks to the layered effect, different flavours emerge as you dig deeper into the dish.
The name of the restaurant itself comes from the structure of the menu, which offers your choice of two starter courses, then soup, then two main options, then cheese, then two desserts, hence 21212. In the evening, the choices are expanded to three - perhaps 31313 would be more accurate - and the extra option just makes the decision on what to select that much harder.
The dishes' cryptic names hold their cards close to their chest. We take a punt and order one of each and soon, courses and ingredients are piling on top of one another. Risotto a la Grecque may sound like a peculiar fusion, but the mix of Italian rice and greek salad works a treat, while a mysterious-sounding Scuffles and Trollops turns out to be several spoonfuls of delectable spoonerisms.
But the triumph of the meal is the CFC - Kitching's cheeky take on one of the Colonel's chicken dishes. It looks beautiful on the plate, with strawberries, chicken breast, carrots and perfectly crispy bacon rising like towers from the plate, and the flavours intermesh perfectly.
They say too many cooks spoil the broth, but the opposite is decidedly true at 21212.
21212, 3 Royal Terrace, 21212restaurant.co.uk
Contini George Street
If you have a bit less time, but still fancy a memorable meal, a visit to Contini George Street may be in order. The high-end Italian restaurant is set in a former bank, with all the grandeur and scale you might expect from such a building, but towering marble columns, plush leather couches and chandeliers can't hide the star of the show - the food.
Two hours should be ample for a proper Italian feast, including antipasti, pasta, secondi and something sweet.
We begin with a wonderfully creamy mozzarella di bufala topped with courgette flowers, along with a crispy calamari and bruschetta - an indulgent, perhaps slightly over-the-top way to kick off a four-course meal.
Carbonara is all-too-often an abused dish, with egg curiously replaced by cream in its transition from the continent to the UK. Here, however, it is an ideal mix of al dente trofiette, organic eggs, Pecorino Sardo and - unexpectedly - pig's cheeks and broad beans. A delicious combination.
Perfectly pink lamb chops with mint salsa verde and rich Milanese chicken cooked with Amalfi lemons round out the savoury section of the meal, followed by tiramisu steeped in such lashings of marsala mascarpone cream that we are relieved we have gone for just one dulce to share - tempting as our neighbour's chocolate mousse looked.
Contini George Street, 103 George Street, contini.com/contini-george-street
One of the most difficult things to conjure in a restaurant is atmosphere - you either have it or you don't. L'Escargot is brimming with it. From the moment you enter, you are swept up in Gallic hospitality which might almost feel like cliche - "bonjour monsieur", "ca va?" etc - if it weren't so very authentic.
L'Escargot Blanc is the younger sibling of the popular L'Escargot Bleu, but feels entirely different - and possibly even superior to the original. The bright, airy upstairs area is decorated with vintage posters, classic French photographs and, the night we were in, happy diners chatting and laughing.
As well as merriment, the room is also filled with the thick scent of garlic, which drove me to select the eponymous dish from the menu - les escargots themselves. They arrived in a 12-hole snail plate, swimming in garlic butter and parsley. Piping hot, they almost scald the mouth as they go down, but it hurts so bon.
Next is pan-fried monkfish, with saffron, prawns and mussels - delightfully light and beautiful to look at - while the rabbit with chestnuts and oregano jus is equally tasty.
L'Escargot Blanc is also incredibly well located, smack bang in the middle of Usher Hall and the Modern Art Gallery and an easy stroll from the New Town and the Edinburgh Playhouse. A perfect way to while away two hours.
L'Escargot Blanc, 17 Queensferry St, lescargotblanc.co.uk
Ok, time is short and you have only an hour to spare between the one-woman spoken-word thing you booked because it got five stars from The Times and the Japanese mime act everyone has been raving about. Why not stop off at one of the following for some quick, satisfying sustenance:
El Cartel, Thistle Street: No reservations mean this place is either going to work for your timeframe or isn't, but it is worth taking a punt and turning up for some duck carnitas, plantain tacos and apricot and tamarind Chamoy chicken wings. Quick, satisfying handheld food - plus a margarita menu that changes daily. elcartelmexicana.co.uk
Civernos Pizza, Hunter Square: Pizza by the slice - the very definition of quick food. Civernos is rightly regarded as offering some of the best slices in Edinburgh. Go classic with a simple Margherita, or try the Civernos house special, which adds two types of sausage, rosemary and burrata. You don't name a pizza after your restaurant for no reason. civerinos.com
The Outsider, George IV Bridge: Get here early if you want to get in and out quickly because while it can serve up swiftly, The Outsider is also a great place to take your time over the extensive and ever-changing menu. The lunch list, however, is short, with soup, a burger and a couple of meat and pasta dishes to choose from. All come in under £10, leaving you change to pick out a nice glass of wine to go with your lunch. theoutsiderrestaurant.com