When I’m on holiday, breakfast is the meal I most look forward to. With no daily routines to tend to, it’s the perfect chance to indulge in treats I wouldn’t normally have the time to make at home, source from a store, or savour in a more comfortable setting than my bleak, busy office. Weird as it may sound, one of the first things I look up in any travel guide is the “Eating” section, to shortlist the cafes I want to have breakfast in during my visit. Sure, I also plan my lunches and dinners, but there’s something special to starting the day on a high note: I can only describe such bliss as my personal traveller’s delight.
Indeed, eating lots of great food was one of the best things about my family holiday in Edinburgh. From a fulfilling seafood dinner at highly recommended Mussel Inn, to a chance encounter with a Thai restaurant down one of the Old Town’s steep alleys, we were never dissatisfied, no matter how random or uninformed our choices. However, you may have guessed that the two spots I most want to recommend to you are cafes, and have two things in common: good coffee and tasty sweet treats, my favourite kind of breakfast.
1. Artisan Roast (57 Broughton Street, New Town)
Sitting at Artisan Roast felt like a revival of my university days. Its laid-back atmosphere elicited memories of long gone winter afternoons, spent nestling in a quiet cafe or in someone’s shared house, doing nothing but sipping coffee and chatting with the couple of friends I’d met with the fleeting intention of studying. Boy, I miss those days. I wish my afternoons could still be like that.
The decor did little to break the spell. Walls covered with coffee sacks, lamps made from broken mugs, and a dim-lit backroom with low tables and wooden benches give the cafe the shabby and quirky character of a student’s rented apartment: the kind of place that tricks you into thinking “I’d like a house like this”, until you realise that there’d be no more room for your hard-earned Ikea furniture and framed vintage prints.
While the Broughton Street coffee shop is one of three branches around Edinburgh, there’s more to the Artisan brand than just catering: they also roast and supply coffee to a number of award-winning cafes, and support them all throughout the quest for great coffee, providing equipment and barista training as well as roasted beans. Need a quality benchmark? The espresso I had reminded me of Workshop Coffee. I bet a few of you London-based readers are already sold, aren’t you.
The selection of snacks varies throughout the day: although choices are limited to three or four treats at each time, these shortlists are so well planned that you can’t not find something you like. Afternoon cakes and morning pastries all look excellent, and positively hearty. The sheer size of the pains au raisin made me feel compelled to try one, and the first bite confirmed I was in for a glorious breakfast. With such a soft, fluffy dough, and lots of juicy raisins involved, it couldn’t be otherwise.
2. The Edinburgh Larder (15 Blackfriars Street, Old Town)
The Edinburgh Larder wraps you in a completely different kind atmosphere. If sipping a coffee on Artisan Roast’s window sill felt like one of studenthood’s long lost pleasures, winning a table on the Larder’s tiny, packed floor was the equivalent of treading the inescapable path towards maturity. The clientele seemed to be mostly made of small groups of friends, relatives and colleagues: the privileged population of a comfortable world, made of relaxed weekend breakfasts with loved ones, and convivial lunch breaks in cosy places just round the corner from the office. I wouldn’t be surprised to find they’re all regulars, as the Edinburgh Larder gives the occasional visitor more than one good reason to return, the first and most important being the quality of the food.
The deli counter offers a diverse choice of savoury fares, all made with seasonal ingredients sourced from independent local producers. Breakfast and lunch menus are varied enough to cater for both tiny and more substantial appetites, fussy eaters and omnivores; and even if you’re not as “in the know” as it takes to marvel at the Slow Food sticker on the front door, there’s no escaping the success of the taste test. As a light lunch, I enjoyed a sandwich made with artisan sourdough, cut on the premises and served with a choice of two pulse salads. Simple enough to remind me of my weekday packed meals, except that the joy of savouring my lunch at the Edinburgh Larder was as far from the gloom of eating from a Tupperware box as it can get.
As for the breakfast bonanza I’ve been promising all along, here’s the proverbial picture worth a thousand words: the Plum Victoria Sponge that won all our hearts at first sight. Soft sponge, sweet and smooth buttercream, an unusual yet winning twist on the jam filling: need I say more?
The Edinburgh Larder
15 Blackfriars Street
Edinburgh, EH1 1NB
0131 556 6922
Open daily – Check website for more details