Café Royal remains one of the grand salons of Edinburgh. Scotland’s oldest oyster bar was founded in 1826 on West Register Street, a short dash from Waverley Station and Princes Gardens. The Victorian Baroque setting, with stained glass, dark mahogany wood, plush booths and an ornate circular bar, has been reinvigorated with a modern Scottish, produce led menu.

Bar snacks include devilled whitebait and calamari or a smoked haddock Scotch egg. The spectacular fruits de mer platter can be served hot or cold and features Loch Fyne oysters, lobster, Atlantic prawns, smoked salmon, potted brown shrimp and queen scallops. Mussels are presented in a sweet potato and spring onion chowder or with white wine, shallots and garlic.


The main substance of the a la carte menu continues to be seafood with Bradan Orach smoked salmon, Cullen skink and whole Scottish lobster. A classic fish pie is a highlight of the menu for winter alongside a monkfish and prawn curry. There’s a selection of Scotch malt whisky and expanding range of local gins and craft beer at the bar.

Manager Michael Eaton moved to Edinburgh from Manchester when he was a student and became part of the local hospitality scene. “I wouldn't have ever imagined I'd work somewhere like this” he says, “but now I’m doing it, I couldn’t really imagine being anywhere else. Some of the people that come in, they have an association with the bar that goes back over 50 years.

“They say that it’s still the same and that’s a good feeling because it means that we have updated the hospitality side while keeping the atmosphere and the heritage in place. We change the food and change beers depending on the seasons, best produce and relationships with suppliers but it’s still the Café Royal.”

The sweeping bar is the focus of the main room, with an outline of large booths and some high tables around. Most people favour the window side of the bar, Michael explains, “even when the rugby is on and this place is very busy, it’s always the one side that people want to stand. I’ve never figured out why.” There is a dining room behind the bar area which has become more popular for lunch bookings. 

While international visitors are more obvious over the summer months, people from all over Scotland will arrive at the Café Royal in November and December, around sporting occasions and shopping trips. “We will also have people from Edinburgh returning home around Christmas and Hogmanay who make a point of stopping in here for their annual drink” Michael says. “We are close to the train station so often we are busy after work for commuters getting a pint on the way there and wanting to tell you about their day.”


The focus for the months ahead will be in building on the success of the food menu, “food is more a part of our hospitality offering, we’ve shifted in a Scottish direction for the dishes as that fits with our whisky and gin collection.

"We have found that people are looking for a local experience and we have the seafood heritage to be able to offer that.”  Alongside the Loch Fyne oysters and lobsters, their butcher is John Gilmour in Tranent and the kitchen also uses Welch Fishmongers at Newhaven.

From the menu for winter, their signature oysters can be enjoyed as a half dozen or dozen, served hot with a thermidor gratin, tempura or crispy curry. A cold selection has the options of bacon jam and chives, Buffalo hot sauce or Mignonette sauce.

This feature was part of the November issue of Best of Scotland magazine, published on the last Sunday of each month with The Herald on Sunday and Sunday National newspapers. 

Cafe Royal, 19 W Register St, Edinburgh EH2 2AA