Under the Stairs – an interesting home away from home

Last year Sainsbury Magazine asked me to recommend an Edinburgh restaurant that was interesting but not too expensive. I suggested Under the Stairs. Here’s why.

The med sharing board: all the olives you can eat.

The med sharing board: all the olives you can eat.

I’ve been going to Under the Stairs for years: with friends, for drinks and for dinner. When Christopher and I have taken a turn around town and visited our favourite comic shop we often go here for a drink and a snack after.

Under the Stairs is a cellar restaurant and bar. The ceiling is low, the furniture second hand, the colour scheme is woody neutrals and stone grays. On cold winter nights, the fire is on. The pale light that filters through the windows in the front, where the armchairs and sofas are, does not reach the restaurant tables in the back. It’s cosy. It’s relaxed. It’s popular with people of all ages (although the late twenties probably have it on numbers).

What’s on the menu?

What I like about Under the Stair’s menu is that it’s varied, interesting and provides for a range of diets. The vegetarian options are often very tempting and I don’t think it’s ever been mushroom risotto.

The menu is divided into small, medium and large plates so you can pick and choose what you want depending on hunger and budget. There are also sharing boards, a two-course set-price menu and brunch options.

Fennel tart.

Fennel tart.

At the weekend, we shared a med sharing board (olives and bread) and a bottle of prosecco before deciding we needed something more substantial. Christopher had a fennel tart and I went for crab sticks and a clam chowder. The chowder was gorgeous: rich and creamy, very filling. The buttered bread that came with was my desert. The crab sticks with salsa verde were fun: crab’s a very subtle flavour and it didn’t quite fight its way past the breading. The fennel tart looked lovely and autumnal: a crown of puff pastry hugging half a head of fennel. Christopher had coffee and lemon cake while I finished my delicious bread.

The menu changes often enough to keep things interesting. Some examples of what you might see are grilled mushroom bruschetta, truffle butter kiev, hare agnolotti pasta with hare and sage consmmé, Welsh Glamorgan sausage burger with red cabbage and apple slaw, venison osso bucco with goats cheese polenta.

One of my all-time favourites are the savoury doughnuts with cheesy dipping sauce. We had beetroot ones but I’ve also seen a mushroom version. Flavours and dishes come from all over the world and are fun as well as tasty. They don’t get it right 100% of the time but that’s OK because they get it right often enough that I keep coming back.

Dreamy creamy chowder.

Dreamy creamy chowder.

Did you say drinks?

I mentioned that we sometimes go to Under the Stairs just for a quiet drink. We usually get a seat but it’s not always quiet: we’re not the only people who like this place.

They have a good range of cocktails as well as a decent range of beers, wines and spirits. I like smoky flavours so am a fan of both the Blackflip (peated whisky, espresso, ristretto liquer, hop and liquorice reduction, sherry and egg) and the Maple Manhattan (rye, vermouth, maple syrup, smoke essence, bitters). The light and refreshing Midsummer spritz (gin, elderflower aquavit, gooseberry and prosecco) is also good.

In summary, then, Under the Stairs is a great place to relax with drinks or food. There should be something for everyone on the menu and you’ll have an interesting time deciding what you want. Enjoy!

Under the Stairs

3a Merchant Street
EH1 2QD Edinburgh

Telephone: 0131 466 8550

Twitter: @UTSedinburgh | Instagram: underthestairsedinburgh | Facebook: edinburghuk |

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About Caroline von Schmalensee

Cooking, eating and drinking is fun as well as necessary. I do food for fun and I write for a living. Good food makes the world a more delicious and satisfying place. Good writing, meanwhile, can make the world a less confusing place.

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