Informal dining is on the rise, with a new breed of cafés and wine bars appearing across the country offering a less formal eating experience allied to innovative, mouth-watering menus. Ailsa Sheldon picks her favourites.

As we move into summer, we want relaxing places to hang out for coffee, a spot of brunch, or perhaps a cold glass of wine . . . even an outdoor table, if the weather is on our side. Across Scotland we’re celebrating a constellation of brilliant new cafés, wine bars and some that are a bit of both – swapping the coffee machine for a corkscrew as the work day winds down. 


The newest venture from top chef Roberta Hall-McCarron, Ardfern opened in Leith on June 3. No doubt joining The Little Chartroom and Eleanore as favourite foodie hangouts, Ardfern will offer a more relaxed all-day dining experience. Brunch will be first up and we’re looking forward to Hall-McCarron’s take on a full Scottish breakfast, alongside mushroom and asparagus flatbreads, cooked-to-order doughnuts and pastries. 
Later in the day swap coffee for cocktails, or wine by the glass. The food will become heartier too. Teasers from the first menu include shrimp and langoustine potato rosti; a fish finger sandwich with mussel curry sauce and kohlrabi slaw, and sharing pies.
10-12 Bonnington Road, Edinburgh 


Eastfield recently opened in Dundee to much acclaim. It’s the first solo venture for chef-patron Harris McNeil, and named after the area where his wife grew up, just north of Dundee. McNeill has worked in many of Scotland’s most creative kitchens, including 27 Elliot’s, The Kinneuchar Inn and as head chef at Ballintaggart. “All I wanted to create was a small simple space, using the best of Scotland’s produce, with the best staff and the best customers,” McNeill says. “I change the menu weekly at the moment, I’m constantly looking for small producers growing, catching, and hunting the bounty we have here! There will always be pasta on the menu. I love it: like me and like the space I’ve created, it’s always imperfect, always non-uniform.” 
Also on the menu you will find generous brunch and lunch dishes and delicious coffee.
91 Perth Rd, Dundee            

The Herald:


A new venture from the family team behind Leftfield, Margot is a gorgeous laid-back cafe and wine bar overlooking Bruntsfield Links. Come early in the day for a coffee or lazy brunch, we love the Croque Margot: pancakes with a fried egg, spinach, béchamel and roast ham. In the evening return for organic and interesting wines by the glass and a changing menu of ten small plates. 
Each dish makes a perfect accompaniment to an early evening aperitif, or even better, order a big selection to share. Highlights include Cumbrae oysters with balsamic and jalapeno; broccolini glazed with tequila; cured halibut with wild garlic and seaweed, and Scottish smoked trout pâté on a wedge of toast. The wine list is diverse and exciting, and staff make excellent informed recommendations.
7-8 Barclay Terrace, Edinburgh EH10 4HP


Mara is a brilliant new small plates and wine bar in the West End of Aberdeen. Owners Ross and Carolina Cochrane previously ran the highly-regarded Rothesay Rooms in Ballater and bring decades of experience to their new city centre venture. To match the predominantly Italian wine list there’s a changing menu of Italian-inspired antipasti to enjoy as a snack with a glass, or make a meal from. Try truffle arancini with parmesan, rabbit and fennel sausage with tomato ragu, and save room for Mara’s tiramisu. Mara is a very welcome addition to the Aberdeen eating and drinking scene.
40 Thistle St, Aberdeen


While upstairs at Montrose is a refined restaurant with a tasting-menu style offering, downstairs it’s a more casual affair with small plates and wines by the glass. Pull up a seat at the bar or grab a walk in table, and order oysters, devilled eggs, or creamy burrata to scoop on sourdough toast. There are some very special bottles on the wine list to share and a dozen or so by the glass or can, as well as homemade kombucha and homemade soft drinks.
1 Montrose Terrace, Edinburgh 

Mistral at Williams and Johnson

Mistral until recently had premises on Bonnington Road; instead this summer the wine-loving owners have teamed up with neighbourhood coffee favourites Williams & Johnson at Custom Lane with a pop up wine bar for the long weekend summer nights. Co-owner Sam Barker explains: “It’s a scaled down version of our old place – keeping things quite fun and concise, rotating a smaller selection of wines more frequently and doing lots by the glass, along with a smaller bites menu of the same quality cheese, meat, nibbles and lots of fun aperitivo spritzes and drinks. People can join us inside the café or in the covered courtyard where there’s plenty of seating and all are welcome, dogs, babies the lot!  “We never had the opportunity of an outdoor area on Bonnington Road so for people to be able to enjoy what we offer outside in the warmth is really exciting!”
1 Customs Wharf, Leith

The Herald:

No.40 by Bruin

No.40 is a community-focussed business in the heart of Bearsden, offering the best of Scottish produce in an inviting, friendly setting. Pop in for coffee and cake, or pick up some bread, cheese and charcuterie. Producers and suppliers often host tastings or workshops here so keep an eye out for those. The bottle shop sells Scottish gins, whisky, rum, cocktails, beers and spirits, and organic, natural biodynamic wine from small producers. No.40 by Bruin also has a popular monthly wine club with fun and informative evening wine tastings.
40 New Kirk Road, Bearsden


Not all wine bars are in city centres. New venture Unwined brings relaxed family-friendly eating and drinking to the Highland town of Strathpeffer. Alongside an varied wine list, you’ll find small plates and generous sharing platters featuring excellent local producers, including Great Glen Charcuterie, Cockburn Butchers, Highland Fine cheeses and Black Isle Dairy.