As the thought for these articles occurred to me in Bruntsfield, I’ll start there. Few places can sum up the new Edinburgh’s café culture as well as Bruntsfield. Within a couple of hundred yards there is an amazing range of options to suit every taste and budget, with honest charm and damn good coffee available from Artisan Roast to luxurious hot chocolate courtesy of the Chocolate Tree. If you want the easy reassurance of a chain, there are Costas and a Starbucks (no surprise there!). Such variety is fitting as there isn’t a single customer type in the area, the sipping drinkers are a combination of Edinburgh ladies, retirees, homeworkers, Napier bound students and lost tourists on sunny August days.
Artisan Roast’s offshoot in Bruntsfield strongly echoes the feeling of the original on Broughton Street, with the emphasis on great coffee in a relaxed environment. The investment is in the coffee, not decoration and expensive furniture. There are plenty of places to sit, on seats in the front of the shop and home-made benches in the back. Don’t expect lots of space around you, there is a fair chance you will be sitting close other coffee drinkers or sharing a bench and table in the back. If sharing doesn’t sound good to you, you were unlikely to like Artisan anyway.
A knowledgeable team deliver great coffee, but don’t expect it to be on your table in seconds. Making good coffee takes a little time and you will have to be patient (the best things in life take time). I am a real fan of their coffee, and have lost many an hour to sipping an Americano and enjoying a pastry. Artisan roast their own coffee (and for quite a few of the other coffee spots in Edinburgh) and I am happy to take their differing roasts without question. They do vary, but I trust them to deliver great flavour. If you are not keen on strong coffee, I would recommend chatting to them before ordering and seeking something a little lighter.
Their food selection is classically simple, don’t expect much more than pastries or a simple cake. For me it is all about the coffee, but I can appreciate that will not be enough for all. I know that C. isn’t as impressed as me, despite their offering a good selection of teas from Eatiquet. And, don’t expect wifi (or even a decent phone signal if you are on O2).
Most likely to see – A surprisingly mixed group of coffee lovers, from students on their way university, the locals from Brunstfield hiding away and baristas from all over the world.
In summary – This place is about the coffee. The decoration, or lack thereof, might put some people off but it would only distract from the aim: great coffee. You might get Artisan coffee all over Edinburgh, but it is still best from their shops.
138 Bruntsfield Place
Telephone: 07517 471033
The grande dame of the area, Café Grande has been serving quality coffee and cake for far longer than Edinburgh has been my home. As a young student, new to Bruntsfield, it was one of the places which gave Bruntsfield its charm.
Both outside and inside, Café Grande has the looks of a small French café. It has big windows and a large hanging awning that shades the tables out front. Inside is a classic French bistro, with a shaded space and lots of dark wobbly furniture. If you like buzzy atmosphere, you will appreciate the closely placed tables and constant chatter. Unfortunately, I am keener on space and relaxing and tend to lose sight of the charm after the fifth person squeezes past my chair and bumps my table. The service is usually prompt and friendly, but can become slow during the busier times – particularly when trying to get the bill.
I appreciate that I am meant to be writing about coffee shops (their coffee is not anything special) and it isn’t their focus. That is light meals, of which there are always a good selection especially in the evenings, and the cakes, of which there is always a good mix of excessive calorie filled cakes, tarts and pies. The alcohol licence allows your visit to transfer to a bottle of wine if stopping by later in the day.
Most likely to see – Families out for coffee & cake or a light lunch, often with a child or two in tow.
Summary – Sometimes going out for a coffee can be about the cake; on those days I need a big slab of something rich and excessive from Café Grande.
184 Bruntsfield Place
Telephone: 0131 228 1188
The Chocolate Tree could easily look dark and unwelcoming, but instead its outside looks like a rich bar of dark chocolate. Sitting at one of their tables watching the world go by, I have mused on the ratio of people buying delicacies to those looking a table. The later has always seemed the greater (but I have to confess that I am a weekend visitor). The number of tables has declined in the years since it opened and finding a space can be a challenge, but I would recommend making the effort. When buying chocolates to take away I have always found them fast and efficient, but I cannot say the same when sitting in for a coffee. It’s not the place to go when in a hurry. The coffee is tasty and robust, but discussing it is missing the point as Chocolate Tree is all about the chocolate. Whether sitting in the window eating a selection of delicious chocolates or indulging in truly amazing hot chocolate, you will be very happy.
Most likely to see – At the risk of being dreadfully sexist, personal experience has suggested that they main clientele is two young ladies catching up.
Summary – Definitely worth waiting for a seat and indulging your desire for chocolate. Oh, and the coffee and teas aren’t bad either.
123 Bruntsfield Place
Telephone: 0131 228 3144
The first word which comes to mind is ‘petite’. From the road La Barantine looks small and overcrowded, but that misses the point. It feels like a popular Parisian street café, so expect lots of tables and not much elbow room.
The team are excellent, with fast and efficient service on their variety of tasty sandwiches, soups and patisserie. They use great ingredients, are wonderfully tasty and the reason you will go. I wasn’t bowled over by the coffee; nothing bad about it, just not a winner. As a small venue, La Barantine is not the kind of place you will won’t to spend lots of time working or surfing.
Most likely to see – Morningside ladies out for a quick quiche at lunchtime with a friend.
Summary – It really evokes the feel of a small French café. You will not go for the coffee, but for the simple but great lunches with and tasty little patisserie.
202 Bruntsfield Place
Falko Konditormeister Feinbackerei
From the outside you have a split view of tables and a counter of delicious looking bread, with a couple of tables on the pavement for the Bruntsfieldians who naturally prefer the open air. Inside has an old fashioned & welcoming feel, with a counter full of amazing bread, cakes and pretzels. The team is fast, efficient and well-staffed, but service can suffer when the shop gets very busy at weekends as it is very popular. Don’t feel guaranteed of a seat or expect things immediately on a Saturday morning!
As a fan of a strong black coffee, I enjoyed but felt it lacked a little depth. And, I know others have been less than impressed when ordering lattes and cappuccinos.
A visit to Falko is all about the bread or the classic cake. C. loves their bread, on the pricey side but unquestionably good. I enjoyed their classic German cakes and tarts, but have never understood why they serve them with the plastic still on. I appreciate that keeps the cake slice fresh, but I doubt the journey from the counter to the table is far enough to warrant it staying on for the journey.
Most likely to see – Parents treating their children after school and queues of people buying their amazing breads.
Summary – You do not go there for their coffee, you go there for some of the best bread and cakes you can find in Edinburgh. You may have to wait, but it is worth it.
They are closed on Mondays and see if you can work out why they leave the plastic sleeve on the cake slices.
185 Bruntsfield Place
Telephone: 0131 656 0763
I feel it is a little unfair to write about Montpeliers as I haven’t been in for coffee since they refurbished. I was in for a boozy lunch the other day and I will say their refurb’ has dramatically changed the look and feel, and the new light and airy atmosphere makes it a much nicer place to be.
159-161 Bruntsfield Place
Telephone: 0131 229 3115
Nardini’s famous history is clear from the outside, this looks more like an ice-cream parlour than a coffee shop. Step inside and the feeling continues; Nardini’s is not a bad place be, I just feel it is trying too hard to be ‘chain’.
The team is very polite, helpful with fast and efficient service and I understand there is wifi but couldn’t find it on visit (I understand it is there and I had a temporary blip).
I would love to offer great description of the coffee, but it wasn’t that memorable. Food is more their thing and they have a decent selection of paninis, pastries and cakes. Their focus is really their large variety of ice-cream which will impress. C. enjoyed our joint visit as she likes ice-cream and appreciates the retro-design.
Most likely to see – A very family friendly space with groups of families crossing the generations.
Summary – I don’t want to overly measure it here as it is not really a coffee shop/bar. It is a very pleasant space for a bite to eat & conversation, and ice-cream lovers will be very happy.
1 Merchiston Place
I debated where to place the Piecebox in this list as it doesn’t quite fit any of the main areas. Following an estate agents logic, Bruntsfield and Polwarth quite close to each other and you should always claim to be in the more expensive district. From the outside, Piecebox has a welcoming feel – reminiscent of the much missed Loopy Lorna’s of Morningside. A mix of seating styles and a counter crammed with multi-layered cakes (not for the calorie conscious!).
As a busy venue they squeeze a lot of tables into their space, but unlike a lot of venues they have left space for travel, elbows and to reduce conversations leak. They offer the polite and friendly service you would expect and on weekdays their service is fast and efficient. At weekends I find they slow down as the place fills up, and getting the bill can be a challenge.
This may read like a strange admission for a piece on coffee shops, but I have never had coffee at the Piecebox. This is not a comment on them, simply that eating an excess of gateaux brings out a desire for tea in an old fashioned china pot to wash it down. I can say that their Earl Grey tea is very good!
Most likely to see – Hmmm. A very eclectic crowd. The last time I was in had a group of old ladies, a group of young ladies, two builders and several singles reading books.
Summary – Piecebox is lovely place to spend an hour with friends enjoying a mountain of delicious cake and a bit different from the standard Bruntsfield fare.
2 Polwarth Crescent
Telephone: 0131 629 6284
Project Coffee is one of my local favourites. I like the feel of the place, with exposed walls and simple dark wooden furniture. It isn’t spacious, as you will discover if you try to get a table on a Saturday morning, but is big enough to cope the rest of the week.
The team is friendly and helpful, although it has changed a lot in the past few years (a long way from their initially reputation for fast & efficient service from surely and unsmiling staff). I appreciate being left alone and began going there to avoid the chains demanding my first name with an order, trying to befriend me and wanting to discuss their corporate coffee beans.
As with their siblings in the group, they supply a good coffee with depth and flavour without trying to take your head off (although I always think the coffee from Wellington is stronger, but I fear it could be my imagination). The usual selection of teas & infusions guarantees most their preferred tea choices. Over time their popularity has increased and customers seem more inclined to their food offerings now, especially on Saturday morning. During the week, I enjoy their morning pastries. At weekends, their light meals have become the basis of many of our Saturday brunches. Caroline is historically a fan of the eggs benedict, but has recently moved to the vegetable fritters.
Project Coffee’s popularity is obvious from the constant business and turnover of tables. Not a problem during the week (without wifi people don’t tend to use seats for hours), but don’t presume you will get a space at the weekend. It will be busy so don’t expect a table for more than four and ensure someone arrives a few minutes early to claim a space.
Most likely to see – Weekdays it will be the early forty-somethings with flexible calendars meeting friends for a catch up, especially Bruntsfield mums. At weekends it will be full of groups of brunching child free thirty somethings.
Summary – After admitting it to be a personal favourite, you may have already guessed that I will offer a positive recommendation. I am like weekday mornings for a simple coffee and croissant, but I would definitely recommend it as a bustling venue for a tasty Saturday morning brunch with few friends.
196 Bruntsfield Place
I appreciate that I haven’t been exhaustive on the places for coffee in Bruntsfield, but I can assure that drinking this much coffee around the area has been exhausting (and bad for the waist line). Some I have missed out by choice as I feel they most definitely fall into a different camp, some I have included as they might be something else in the evening, such as Montpeliers, but I feel they are sufficiently café during the day for inclusion. If I have missed anywhere you enjoy, please let me know (either to update this or simply for my own enjoyment).