Following from the recent post on Brunstfield, my stroll around Edinburgh has now made it into the heart of the city. The centre of Edinburgh is full of good places to rest your feet while sipping a tasty brew, therefore this list is not exhaustive but only contains a few suggestions of places worth the effort. While I included some bars when writing about other parts of the city (this is being written in the Fountain), I have avoided this in the city centre because there are simply too many of them!
As with so many of Edinburgh’s basement cafés, Urban Angel’s narrow grey exterior gives no hint to what lies behind. Urban Angel can rightly claim to have been one of the first of the new breed of Edinburgh cafés to combine minimalist style and quality food. I must confess to not be a regular at Urban Angel. Not because of a negative experience, it’s simply that (I rarely feel stylish enough to fit in) they are more of a lunch venue than a coffee stop. It is a nice place to be, balancing a clean modern look with a welcoming feel, and leaving enough space around you to be able to not knock your neighbour’s table. The majority of the seating is in the back, but I prefer to sit up front by the counter where there is more light and air. If you avoid Saturday lunchtimes, service is always friendly, quick and efficient. You shouldn’t have to wait more than a few minutes to order or receive.
I had a well-balanced Americano, a nice fruity coffee with a little sweetness to ease the taste. I understood it to have been from Alchemy, so you should be guaranteed a decent cup. One negative is their habit of serving filter coffee when an Americano is requested, rather than a shot of espresso with water. (I now know they only serve espresso when a long black is ordered). Without fuss my ‘Americano’ was quickly replaced with a long black. I had a pain au chocolat on the side and was very impressed with its light pastry and hit of real high coco chocolate. And the food has to be the key recommendation for Urban Angel. They do wonderfully simple things with great seasonal produce and you are guaranteed a great lunch, including a good selection of vegetarian offerings. While they do offer free WiFi, I cannot imagine someone using it for more than a quick social media update. This is a place to enjoy with friends, not to sit staring at a laptop.
Most likely to see – Groups of four well made up 20 something ladies with a large handbags in the their elbows.
Summary – If you need to meet your ex-public school friends for a Saturday lunch of organic gluten-free super salad, there a few places better than the ever-fashionable Urban Angel. Seriously though, while the people in Urban Angel may fit a stereo-type, the food and service are very good and you will not be disappointed.
121 Hanover Street
The smallest coffee shop in Edinburgh? If you like the thought of a city centre coffee bar with a large coffee machine squeezed into an incredibly small space, then Wellington was designed for you. With only a small amount of seating, Wellington feels more takeaway or 10 minute caffeine shot (definitely not a place to while away the hours). That said, they have pleasant basement garden for enjoying a coffee & croissant to watch the bustle of the street pass overhead in our brief summer.
Efficiency is the name of the game. You might have to join a short queue, but the polite team behind the counter fills orders quickly and keeps things moving. Professional and no fuss.
As with their sister shops, they offer a tasty, fruity and robust coffee (with a hint of sweetness). It has enough kick to get your interest, but is not overpowering. Wellington offers the now standard coffee shop selection of pastries, scones and tray bakes (but get in early if you want a croissant).
Hardened business types might ask about WiFi, but that would missing the point. Why would you want WiFi if you are not planning to hang around? Wellington is about the quick conversation over coffee (or take away).
Most likely to see – George Street office workers grabbing a quick espresso before/during/after work. This is a place to note the difference between the barista and the customer. Few places highlight the difference as much between the ‘suits’ buying the lifestyle coffee and the people who have made coffee their life.
Summary – Reading back, I hope I haven’t seemed negative on Wellington – I like the place! Wellington serve exactly what their customers want – good coffee (Square Mile) and efficient service without fuss. What more could you want in the centre of Edinburgh?!
33a George Street
When you walk past and look in from the street, eteaket’s windows are full of happy customers eating large cakes and scones and sipping ethereal tea from old, mismatched china. They may not have been the first place in Edinburgh to offer speciality teas with excessively large slabs of cake, but they are among the busiest (expecte a few minutes queueing at the door on Saturdays). The two seating areas may be a little too crowded, but that is the price of success. With a reasonably sized team rushing around, it is a joy during the week but I wouldn’t guarantee fast service at weekends.
Their coffee is from Artisan Roast so I would expect it is good, but I must confess to have never had a cup of coffee here. I enjoy Artisan’s coffee, but it is hard to not want to experiment with eteaket’s teas when faced with such an amazing choice (black, Oolong, Green, White, Rooibos, herbal, and Flowering). eteaket offer a varied mix of foods, which can feel strange with the focus on teas and mismatched china. The huge cakes, sandwiches salads and scones all fit the feel of the place, but I must confess a little shock at the pub-ish full fried breakfast (although I must be alone as it has stayed on the menu). Sticking to the cakes is more sensible, they should really be considered as a meal in their own right. They have WiFi, but I wouldn’t suggest it gives a ‘hang out and surf’ feel.
Most likely to see – Crowds of twenty somethings with best friends or mothers, sharing lives little mysteries.
Summary – During the week I would recommend for a catch up over a cup of flavourful tea and a large slice of cake, but avoid at the weekends.
41 Frederick Street
Brass & Copper Coffee
Being a shop on William Street is an advantage, it has such a lovely feel and could almost make you forget that you are in the big city. Entering Brass and Copper Coffee leads into a contrasting space, with sharp lines from a classic tiles floor contrasting with an eclectic mix of furniture. It was quiet when I first entered and I was surprised by the number of tables (space for around 20 people), but 10 minutes later every seat was occupied. Brass and Copper Coffee can certainly change its feel in a few minutes. The first rush resulted in a bustle from the banging of the coffee handle and the business meetings on every table. Then, 20 minutes later another sudden change occurred and every table had expensively dressed ladies in their 50’s with an excess of pearls. That was quick!
I cannot complain about the service being slow, but I did get the feeling that the male server didn’t want to be there. The coffee and sandwich where brought over by someone else who showed a enthusiasm and interest (saving the day). Just goes to show that you should not judge the service from just one person.
I found the coffee to be drinkable, but definitely on the weaker side (not a kicker). Unfortunately a cold was messing with my taste buds and prevented any stronger opinions. The sandwich was a good mature cheddar and sweet chutney sandwich, pleasant with the emphasis on a bold cheddar.
Most likely to see – This was going to read ‘business folk having a quick offsite’, but the sudden change to ‘ladies who lunch’ threw me. I would not be surprised to find that Brass and Copper Coffee have a number of differing ‘most likely to see’ as the day moves on.
Summary – After the initial poor service, I enjoyed my light coffee and sandwich. This might seem a little wishy-washy, but while I wouldn’t put it on a top 5 list neither would I be annoyed if a friend suggested meeting there.
Brass Copper Coffee
18 William Street
Cairngorm Coffee Co.
Stepping down into low-ceilinged Cairngorm Coffee’s basement space you are greeted by a ‘mountainous’ coffee bar, with a counter stacked with tasty morsels (sandwiches, cakes, healthy bars, etc.) on a stack of thick granite slates. Cairngorm Coffee is a reasonable size for the middle of town, with seating for around 20 people inside and a small off-street space outside for a couple more. Mixing low table and counter seating, including a couple of tablet PCs built into one counter, there should be somewhere for you to sit (with the usual acceptance that those at the counters will be sharing with fellow patrons). The counter team are friendly and helpful, and you will rarely wait more than a few minutes for food orders but I noted slightly longer delays for coffee when takeaway orders stack up. I would blame the quite small machine, but it did look fantastic!
I had an Americano with lots of vitality and very good flavours. As lunchtime approached, I added an unhealthy but tasty mature cheddar sandwich with a spicy tomato chutney – very satisfying. I noticed that there were plenty of healthy of snacks at the bar with healthier directions, but managed to avoid them.
They have a good Wifi connection (password free), the tablets in the counter and a number of people catching up online while I was taking notes.
Most likely to see – George street office workers grabbing a bite, or the occasional tourist sheltering from the weather.
Summary – A great coffee shop in town for a quick bite at lunchtime and now a personal favourite.
41A Frederick Street
Just 100 yards from St. Andrew’s Square, stepping up into Fortitude is a relief from the busy traffic from York Place. A small but well laid out space makes full advantage of the small space with mainly low and counter stools. This is a place for meeting in twos; a group of four would be very fortunate to find the only large table free in such a popular local coffee shop. As fits a small local venue, the serving team are friendly, helpful and are usually busy keeping up with the constant traffic. I have rarely waited long for my coffee.
On my first visit the coffee in use was very light and fruity, to the point where it required a couple of sips to adjust my taste buds and decide if I liked it (a definite ‘yes’ by the end of the cup). My most recent visit’s blend had a less challenging and more balanced flavour. It reminds me of visits to Artisan back in the day, when you could never be sure what to expect of the day’s blend but were happy to keep going and challenge your taste buds.
Sensibly they stick to the core coffee shop food offering of pastries, simple lunch items (quiches and soups) from good local suppliers (can’t go wrong with Union of Genius!).
Fortitude offer a free WiFi but I have never felt comfortable enough to nurse a coffee and drag out a visit. With such a small space I feel it is unfair to hog seats when new patrons need somewhere to rest.
Most likely to see – Local workers popping in for a quick cup of coffee to escape the office.
Summary – Relatively new to the Edinburgh coffee scene, but a welcome addition. Good coffee, which changes regularly to keep your taste buds alive. Well worth remembering when standing on St Andrews Square looking for a coffee.
3C York Place
While thinking about Fortitude, it is worth mentioning the nearby Café Portrait. Caroline was impressed by her recent lunch visit and recommends them. I wouldn’t put them in my normal coffee list due to the likelihood of a queue at lunchtime, but I would recommend reading Caroline’s review and considering a visit (especially if you want some classic lunch combinations).