So, it’s nearly August and in Edinburgh that means one thing – festival time. It’s already kicking off in George Square Gardens with Assembly Food Festival and next week, the Fringe and International Festival starts in earnest. And then there’s also the Book Festival that starts later this month. It can be overwhelming on where to start planning what to do.
For any foodies there’s lots to entertain, great food and drink stalls to sample and lots of pop-ups during the month.
In celebration of the fact that the Fringe is celebrating 70 years since it started, my bumper guide of 70 things to do, see and taste will hopefully give you a little flavour of what’s on offer.
Assembly Food Festival – until 30 July
Back for a third year, Edinburgh Food Festival celebrates the finest of Scotland’s food and drink offerings with artisan producers, stallholders and demos taking place. Free to enter the festival runs in George Square Gardens, Edinburgh.
Also getting taste buds tingling are a series of foodie talks and demos taking place in the Piccolo Tent. From whisky to gin, savoury ice-cream to edible insects, and foraging fun to Slow Food adventures for kids, they’ve got it covered.
My top tips to catch are:
Edible Insects – A trend ‘flying’ into the food industry at the moment is the phenomenon of edible insects. Regarded by some as an obvious source of natural proteins, millions around the world eat insects on a regular basis. Some are regarded as delicacies, whereas elsewhere, like here, the yuk factor looms large. Join a talk at 6pm, Saturday 30th for a talk on this wriggly topic, with the first 50 guests getting three juicy bugs to sample if you dare.
Poco Prosecco, basically fizz on tap and fabulous to sample in George Square Gardens if the sun is shining.
Slow Food… but fast learning! Kids of all ages can explore the wonderfully diverse food and drink offerings Scotland has to offer through a range of taste adventures provided by Slow Food Edinburgh.
Sunday Brunch – Sunday 30th, 11am – 2pm – By far the best meal of the day, on the cobbled streets of Edinburgh, just outside George Square gardens, the lovely stallholders will each be serving a brunch dish for the hungry hordes to eat at the Capital’s best ever brunch.
Carina Contini – An Immigrant’s Food Story – Talk – Sunday, 30th, 2pm – Together with her husband Victor, she runs three successful Edinburgh eateries: Contini George Street, Cannonball on the Royal Mile, and The Scottish Café at the National Gallery.
The first female chef to be asked to join the Slow Food Chefs’ Alliance, Carina is also the author of “Carina Contini’s Kitchen Garden Cookbook”.
The Umami Spice Girl & Boy team have quite the range of offerings for Edinburgh Fringe festival goers this year at George Square.
This is where you will normally find me hanging out and eating during the Fringe. Spice Girl is returning with some firm favourites from last year including her Taste Star winning Malaysian Beef Rendang curry and Chicken Thai Satay Kebabs. Having travelled to Mexico; the Quesadilla promises to have an even more authentic flavour!
Spice Boy will be taking influence from time spent in Jamaica learning to ‘Jerk’ with Chicken and Beef on the menu, enhanced with Junior’s secret sauce! They’re also offering a delicious Cubano (toasted Cuban sandwich packed with pork, Cheese, pickles and more!). See what they got up to on their travels on their Facebook and Instagram pages @umamispicegirl and @umamispiceboy
For sweet treats try the Crema Caravan – I spied these at the Street Food Awards but didn’t have room for one. They’ll be serving up some favourites from their ever-changing menu of flavours and homemade toppings – from the classic Madagascan Vanilla to Crema Catalana, and the popular Salted Caramel.
Not to be confused with the Assembly Food Festival, the Foodies Festival is a festival within a festival, which takes place the first weekend of the Fringe. Meet MasterChef Winner 2016 Jane Devonshire, Great British Bake Off Judge Prue Leith, Great British Menu Scotland Representative Michael Bremner, Michelin starred chefs Brian Grigor and Marcello Tully and acclaimed local culinary talents like Mark Greenaway, Neil Forbes and Fraser Allen as they cook their signature recipes in the Stoves.
Feast in the Street Food Avenue; learn to bake in the Cake and Bake Theatre; indulge in afternoon tea in the Vintage Tea Tent; taste wine, champagne and craft beer in the Drinks Theatre; buy from local producers in the Artisan Market; kids enjoy the Children’s Cookery Theatre; enter the Chilli Eating Competition; and enjoy refreshing cocktails from the Bar Bus and Pimms Teapot.
Shows about food
There’s no shortage of shows about food, not only at the Fringe but also at the Book Festival.
George Egg: DIY Chef (Sportsman, Gilded Balloon Teviot)
George Egg cooks really good food on stage using the most unconventional equimpment, and you get to try what he’s made at the end of the show.
The Thinking Drinkers – History of Alcohol (Underbelly, Med Quad)
They’re back with a new show. Enjoy five free drinks as these award-winning professional drink experts definitively prove that alcohol has influenced everything that has ever happened. Ever.
The Gin Whore Tour – Paradise in Augustines
Take a sip of sin and tonic! You’ll enjoy four of the finest gins during this slightly naughty one-woman show. Delve into historical tales of hooch and harlots to celebrate the modern gin renaissance.
Mother’s Ruin – A Cabaret about Gin – Gilded Balloon at the Rose Theatre
Equal parts historical and hysterical, lose yourself among sailors, barmaids and bootleggers in this darkly comic cabaret. A raucous journey through the history of gin.
And not forgetting the Book Festival (12-28 August), which has a number of Afternoon Tea events where you can tuck into afternoon tea and hear tales on a range of subjects, as well as some great cookery writers.
The ones I want to catch are: Nigerian cookery writer, Yemisi Aribisala; Niranjala M Ellawala & Prakash Sivanathan of the Elephant Walk restaurant in London; renowned expert in Chinese cuisine, Fuchsia Dunlop; London-based chef Joudie Kalla bringing memories of growing up in a Palestinian household where culinary concerns were a top priority; Davy Zyw talking on champagne; TV foodie and executive chef, Vivek Singh of the Cinnamon Club; and British-Iranian food writer and human rights campaigner Yasmin Khan. Edinburgh-based Tom Kitchen is also talking about cooking with game.
It probably hasn’t escaped your notice that there’s a lot of things about gin happening at the Fringe and here’s my top picks. There’s also quite a few on Scotland’s national drink, whisky, too.
The Art of Gin – Hanover Street
Edinburgh Gin presents an interactive, full sensory experience using projection mapping technology, taking you on a journey of gin discovery.
Arbikie’s A Club – Merchant’s Hall
Arbikie Highland Estate is the world’s first single estate distillery producing vodka, gin and whisky from ingredients grown on their farm. Join them for a journey from field to bottle as they explore their international award-winning gin. The Arbikie team will guide you through their world-class spirits, distilling process and perfect serves. A welcome cocktail and samples on offer too.
A Dram is Worth a Thousand Words – Scotch Malt Whisky Society
Home of the largest single malt, single cask collection, The Scotch Malt Whisky Society invites you to a three dram tutored whisky tasting like no other, in the company of our brand ambassador.
Dram and Smoke: The Campfire Cocktails Experience – The Biscuit Factory
Take a journey away from the main hub of the Fringe to to a woodland campfire hideaway, near Leith, within the unique setting of a former biscuit factory. During this interactive masterclass, you’ll be tutored on the ins and outs of creating great cocktails, and enjoy the fruits of your libation labour. With an emphasis on the provenance of Scottish spirits and foraged ingredients, this is a place to stimulate both the palate and mind. The ticket includes two cocktails.
Scotch Egg club presents: whisky on water – Lochrin Belle
Ever wanted to drink whisky, eat cheese, chocolate and scotch eggs while cruising along a canal? Well now you can! Scotch Egg Club brings you a Whisky tasting with a difference, where you’ll sample six delicious drams, each carefully paired with tasty bites to eat, on a leisurely two-hour trip on the Lochrin Belle canal boat. In-between drinks you’ll be regaled with the hilarious, romantic and incredible folklore of a few hundred years of whisky history. Slàinte mhath!
Pop Up Dining Experiences
Glengoyne Whisky Suppers at Contini Cannonball
From 9.15pm, every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday in August during the Fringe, £30 per person. A fantastic tutored whisky tasting by Glengoyne’s brand ambassador with two special samples followed by a sensational two course supper showcasing Scotland, land of food and drink.
Dram & Smoke: Campfire Feasts – Biscuit Factory
Scran, bevvy, general flumgummerie. A Scottish pop-up dining event in a former biscuit factory. The experience draws on the flavours and nostalgia of an adventure by the campfire, where the culinary wonders of a fleeting Scottish summertime are celebrated. The ticket includes a welcome cocktail followed by a seasonal four-course tasting menu. After dinner (which lasts around two hours), late-night party vibes are the order of the day, with countryside cocktails, great beer and well-sourced wine behind the bar, alongside live music each night.
Toasted Radish Supper Club – Arthur Canon Doyle Centre
For one night only on 12 August, join fellow diners at a supper club popping up at the Arthur Conan Doyle Centre. Set in this magnificent building overlooking St Mary’s Cathedral, expect a meal worthy of a crime fiction heavyweight. Canapés, three courses, coffee and petit fours.
Faulty Towers Dining Experience – The Principal, George Street
I have to confess that I’ve never experienced this but this is the year. Experience their 10th Fringe anniversary shows in their swanky new venue. With over 70% of it improvised and some new script, every show is different – though chaos always reigns as Basil, Sybil and Manuel serve a three-course meal.
Where to refuel during the Fringe
Eating and drinking during the Fringe can cost you a fortune but play your cards right and there’s still good value to be had around the venues.
Eating during the Fringe is normally about refuelling on the hoof rather than lingering for any length of time in a restaurant. However if you do decide you want a leisurely meal, ensure you book, although many restaurants will not take reservations during August.
Check out BYO restaurants – it makes for a cheaper evening
Edinburgh has lots of BYOB restaurants too, which are worth checking out.
It’s worth going off the beaten track, away from the main Fringe venues. Some of my favourite BYOs are on Leith Walk and it helps that they are near my home. Try Middle Eastern Pomegranate, Indian Kushis and Bodega.
Around George Street
You’ll also find me drinking at the new Hyde & Co, a bar and café at aparthotel Eden Locke; grabbing a coffee and one of their amazing cheese and bacon scones at Wellington, both on George Street; or at Cairngorm, either on Melville Place or Frederick Street.
Street Food Stalls
Food at the Fringe has definitely improved over the last decade. No longer is the choice just an unhealthy burger in a bun. Fortunately now there’s no end of street food stalls offering everything from vegan to vegetarian, to Swiss dumplings from Alpings to Mexican and Indian from Umami Spice Girl. Check out those around George Square Gardens; The Pleasance Courtyard; Summerhall Courtyard; or the Underbelly’s Pasture. And if it’s raining, seek refuge in one of the many inside bars and cafes at the Gilded Balloon. They do great nachos!
Afternoon tea is a great option
If you want to get away from it, refuel with afternoon tea. Try The Scottish Café at the Scottish National Galleries on the Mound and catch their exhibition ‘Beyond Caravaggio’; and the Colonnades at the Signet Library; One Square at the Sheraton, overlooking Festival Square.
Or try a Quintessential Scottish Breakfast
Alternatively start your day with the Quintessential Scottish Breakfast at the Waldorf at the Caledonian. It includes a basket of freshly baked bread and pastries, your choice of specialty coffee or tea, a variety of fruit juices, a selection of Scottish cheeses as well as meats, fruits and yogurts, followed by their exquisite Salmon Trolley which includes the signature orange salmon. The Quintessential Scottish Breakfast Experience will take you on a journey of discovery. You won’t need to eat anything else all day.
And finally, I’ll also be found at Checkpoint. It may not be off the beaten track but it is close to Teviot and George Square. It’s a place to eat, a place for coffee and a place to drink; in fact a place for all of it and more. Their bowl food, especially their rice, ginger and chicken, nam pla, lemon and coriander is one I turn to time and time again and at £5, it’s a steal.
Now go out and enjoy the festival. I really count myself lucky to live in Edinburgh, especially during August. There’s so much to fuel my soul and my stomach!