With a regenerated waterfront, lauded new cultural attractions and a renewed self-confidence that is accelerating countless new initiatives, Dundee is a city reborn. And with its plethora of enticing food and drink opportunities, you’ve got Tay see and taste it to truly appreciate it, says Ailsa Sheldon

Dundee is a city on the rise. Long neglected by tourists in favour of Edinburgh and Glasgow, Scotland’s fourth-largest city is changing at an incredible rate, I’m here to find out if the food and drink scene is keeping pace.
“The V&A is just the beginning”, Fiona Gray from Hotel Indigo tells me, and it’s a message I hear throughout my stay in Dundee. As traditional industries declined, new ones have developed and continue to, as Dundee reinvents itself as a city of innovation, culture and design. 
It’s the city of “Jute, Jam, Journalism – and now Joysticks”. In 2014 Dundee was designated as a UNESCO city of Design for its contributions to art, medical research, comics and video games.
The city’s plans for the next few years are bold and exciting. Dundee Esports Arena opens in 2024, in the city that’s offered a degree in computer game design since 1997 (at Abertay University) and launched a dynamic new industry. 
The 4,000 seat venue aims to be the world’s best streaming venue, and will also bring more music and comedy events to Dundee. Eden Project Dundee is also aiming for 2024, the exciting new project will be built on the former Dundee Gasworks and continue the rejuvenation of Dundee’s waterfront – and no doubt sharply increase visitors to the city.
The opening of the dynamic V&A has made waves in the Scottish art scene, but students, graduates and staff from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design have long put Dundee on the creative map. 
The Dundee Contemporary Arts centre (DCA) is also at the cutting edge of modern art, showing four seasons of work every year. I catch the incredible Tako Taal and Rae-Yen Song, next up is Douglas Gordon’s major film installation k.364 (from 7th May). The DCA is also home to a superb art house cinema and an excellent café where I make my first pit stop.

Situated in the heart of the DCA, Jute Café Bar is a bright, industrial style space. I choose a seafood platter which claims to be a light option: the heaving plate of crispy tempura squid, smoked salmon and chive brioche toast and gently spiced thai fishcakes tells a different but very enjoyable story. 
It’s a shame the big windows look out on a multi-storey carpark not the river beyond, but there’s plenty more to look at. I nab the seat beside ‘Artie the penguin’ and order a glass of Vinho Verde. I remember it’s a Monday and only just 12pm, but Artie doesn’t seem to mind.

I’m staying at Hotel Indigo Dundee. This stylish hotel is in a converted jute mill and wears its heritage with pride. In the foyer there are lovingly curated mini exhibitions about the old and new Dundee industries, the perfect place to sink into a deep armchair and read a Beano. In the comfortable elegant bedrooms the little nods to the city are plentiful – jute coloured curtains, marmalade cushions – and a very welcome jar to take home. Spot the ribbon edging in the room too – mine has a Dundee cake recipe, others have Grand Theft Auto cheat codes – I know which I could make better use of.
Strolling around the city centre it’s clear that recent years and changing work patterns have hit local hospitality businesses hard, there are lots of empty units – but the ones that made it through are busy and there’s palpable potential. 
The pedestrianised areas are perfect for pavement dining. For a cosy café with a studenty feel, try Birchwood Emporium. The coffee is nice and strong and there’s a simple menu with a few interesting twists. The daily curry comes with a red rice, courgette salad and flatbread, and there are a lot of vegetarian and vegan options. A seat by the window was the perfect people-watching spot. I also liked Empire State Coffee. 
They carry a great range of Wild Hearth Bakery sourdough pastries, and serve up toasted bagels, soup and sandwiches.


Near the art college Gallery 48 brings together authentic Spanish tapas and striking art exhibitions in a sunny stylish space. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a glass of wine, order a few little dishes, and discover new up and coming artists.
I keep spotting signs for ‘Peh’, even ‘Peh and Prosecco’. I’m fairly sure it’s a pie, but stop in at Scott Brothers Butchers to check. I’ve come to the right place. The butcher tells me a Scottie’s Peh is a classic Dundee pie – fillings range from classic Scotch or steak and gravy, to mince and baked beans. 
Scott Brothers have been perfecting their recipes since 1935 and they sell over 4,500 a week. I shouldn’t be surprised, it’s Desperate Dan’s hometown after all. I get a quick lesson in ordering pehs and bridies in a Dundee accent too (thankfully there’s no recording).
In the evening we eat at Daisy Tasker, housed in the same former jute mill as Hotel Indigo. Daisy Tasker was a former mill worker who organised the social activities here – she would recognise many of the mill’s remaining original features (not least because they keep the roof up). It’s a funky well-designed space with comfy booths to spend an evening, dimmer lights would add to the sophistication. 

House cocktails were on the sweet side but tasty – we opted for a Rhubarb Ginsecco and a Marmalade Cosmo. My beetroot salad was definitely trumped by my dining partner’s delightful Arbroath Smokie risotto. Polenta came with charred sweetcorn and tenderstem broccoli and hazelnuts but was a little style over substance with crunchy radishes confusing the palate. The duck with squash, savoy cabbage and figs was a better choice. 
The restaurant is a lively stylish spot with well trained and helpful young staff and clear skill in the kitchen. It doesn’t quite follow through on the local links the hotel is so proud of, but with a few tweaks could easily do so. 
I’d love to see more provenance on the menu, perhaps some Dundee marmalade rather than wee jam packets at breakfast, and I would definitely have chosen more Arbroath Smokie with my perfectly poached eggs over avocado.
Ready for a nightcap we head into town, following whispers of a (not very) secret bar. We find the door in a dark alleyway and descend the steps to Draffens. This speakeasy style bar is the place for a real cocktail and would be a hit in any capital city. The menu is extensive and original, told through the story of a 1920’s Draffens department store catalogue. With leather booths, dark green walls and good music, both the drinks and the atmosphere are elegant and self-assured – with a sense of humour too. 
In the same building but a few floors up there’s sophisticated Italian style The Blue Room which I’ll return to for an Aperol Spritz next time.
In between eating opportunities, and to work up an appetite, I take a hike up Dundee Law and enjoy the better understanding of the landscape the view from here gives. I also visit The McManus Gallery which brings together art and history – there’s a new exhibition bringing an old street to life that’s a lot of fun.  Don’t miss the incredible exhibition of photographs by Joseph McKenzie, a portrait of the changing city from 1964-87.
For a last late lunch we try Tahini, a family run Lebanese restaurant that people across the city keep recommending. It’s on a quiet street with an unassuming entrance, but the enticing smells that hit as soon as I open the door make any doubt disappear. Be prepared, portions are large so it’s easy to over-order, but you’re unlikely to mind. 
The fattoush was bright and fresh with plenty of parsley, falafel were crisp and tasty with a garlic and tahini dip, the baba ganoush was deliciously smoky, and an enormous portion of crispy halloumi almost defeated us. The staff were delightful and with helpful recommendations, and surprised us with excellent baklava and figs.

I can’t leave Dundee without a visit to iconic Fisher & Donaldson. With branches across Fife and Angus this family run business has been baking sweet treats for over a century and the fudge doughnuts are legendary. The café here is like stepping back in time, in a very good way. 
Also planned for my next trip is newbie Wrecking Ball Doughnuts, owned by MasterChef winner and chef patron of The Newport Restaurant Jamie Scott. On the same street The Cheesery is a brilliant deli and yes, cheese shop. The food and drink scene in Dundee isn’t perfectly executed, it isn’t fully gentrified or Instagram-perfect. It’s friendly. 
Portions are generous and smiles are genuine, everyone I ask happily recommends their favourite places, and there are no cafés too achingly cool to be comfortable. Dundonians seem proud of their history, of where they’ve come from and where they’re going, and so they should be. The future is exciting – and delicious. Mine’s a peh.