What does Scottish food mean to you? Top-quality game? The very best berries? Or fresh seafood? Whatever you think of when you think of Scottish produce, you’ll find it done to the highest standards in Edinburgh’s Café Royal. From oysters to haggis, lobster to lamb, the menu is a showcase of the very best of Scotland’s national larder.

This is despite the restaurant having a decidedly Parisian feel inside, albeit with plenty of nods to Scotland (most notable are the 19th-century stained glass windows depicting a variety of popular Scottish outdoor pursuits). This intimate feel is amplified by the fact Café Royal is tucked away on West Register Street, making it feel like a hidden treasure despite being just a two-minute walk from Waverley train station. 

It has been in its grand baroque home since 1863, with the entire building and its interior is officially listed after Woolworths attempted to knock it down in the 1960s to extend their store nearby. Yet that doesn’t mean they are opposed to change, with the menu recently updated to “showcase a great range of seafood while focusing more on seasonality and fresh local produce.”
Café Royal is home to a popular pub – packed to the rafters when we visited on a Friday night – but a partition wall separates this from the sophisticated restaurant and oyster bar. On arrival, we were quickly ushered to our table, which was secluded while benefitting from the hubbub of background noise from next door. 

I started with one of the six delectable champagne serves – it was a Friday night, after all – a Raspberry Royal served with Joseph Perrier, Chambord and raspberries. It was delicious, but I had a hard time choosing between that, the six varieties of spritz or the famous Café Royal Bloody Mary. The drinks list really is extensive, with more than 100 single malts to choose from as well as dozens of gins, rums and a mammoth wine list. 

And what better to wash down my champagne than with iconic Café Royal oysters? We opted for half a dozen Scottish rock oysters but struggled to pick between the mignonette sauce and the chilli, lime and gin sauce. “Have both,” our friendly server suggested, the exact type of service that indicates you are in a top-class establishment. The oysters were, predictably, delicious, and quickly followed by our other appetiser, a souped-up Scotch egg made with smoked salmon and pickled radish.

The Herald:

Next up, starters: braised pork belly and a tempura soft shell crab with crushed avocado and kimchi. I’m often disappointed when ordering crab, with its delicate flavour being either overwhelmed or imperceptible, but the spicy avocado gave it the perfect lift, elevating the meat without overpowering it, while the tempura batter stopped anything from becoming soggy. Full marks from me.

The pork belly, too, was paired perfectly, served with rhubarb puree and crackling. I greedily eyed the mains and was tempted by haggis, neeps and tatties or the Balmoral chicken. Ultimately, I opted for the grilled Scottish lobster (with fries and garlic butter).

The Herald:

If I thought the crab was good, then the lobster was truly spectacular. Full of meat, and with mercifully little time spent digging around the shell, it was probably one of the best seafood dishes I’ve ever had. My dining partner opted for the fish pie – complete with a king prawn sticking out of the top – which was packed with both fish and flavour.

I declared myself delightfully full and in no need of a dessert… until I saw the menu. The offer of a gin and tonic cheesecake and a cherry chocolate mousse was too good to refuse, with perfectly delicate textures to follow such a big meal. I rolled out of Café Royal feeling happy, full, and thoroughly proud to be Scottish.