The Breakfast Menu Breakfast reviews from the South Coast and beyond

8Nov/104

Edinburgh, Scotland

Some may see being presented with an invitation to attend a wedding in the Scottish city of Edinburgh as the perfect way to share in and celebrate the love and union between two close friends, and of course this is how I saw it too. However, I also saw this as a chance to test the early morning nourishment north of the border and take on a new breakfast challenge... Haggis!

The prospect of a 3 day trip to the Scottish capital was one I was eager to experience as we had heard for years from the blushing bride and groomie how lovely the city was.  So as soon as the invitation to the wedding was received our trip was booked,  I just had to make sure that when booking our hotel that breakfast was not included, as I wanted nothing to get in the way of enjoying the city's cafes and two breakfasts a day would get in the way of my mid-afternoon haggis feed up!

After navigating our way past the sky-high airport breakfast prices (£7+ for a Weatherspoons breakfast!), a one hour flight from Gatwick to Edinburgh was all the travelling required to get us to the Scottish capital.  With our bags hardly hitting the floor of our room for the week, Mrs NoEggs was already wanting to start taking in the fresh air and sights and sounds that the city had to offer.  Never wishing to get on her bad side I agreed, but with the ulterior motive of gathering some reconnaissance for my breakfast reviews over the next few days.  The guidebooks I had read about the city did not really paint the city as a breakfast utopia, so hard work would be needed to find the true breakfast locations which really reflect how this meal is seen in the city.  It was a task I was willing to accept.

The first nights expedition brought with it some idea of what to expect cafe-wise over the next three mornings.   The city is itself is very compact and walking the diameter of the tourist centre can be achieved in just over 25 minutes.  Through somewhat lucky planning we were staying not far from the city central Waverly train station, so we were equidistant from all of the city’s points of interests.... and more importantly cafes!  As in all cities where tourism is the primary industry the cafes were all located in and amongst the main tourist attractions, with all their menus featuring the words “Traditional Scottish Breakfast”.  The prices I found were very consistent too, with £5.50 being the cheapest breakfast found and £7.95 the most expensive.  Below I have reports from three cafes that appealed to me and lured me in.  When finding these cafes I had no prior recommendations and was being guided by my senses alone, well that and the rule, ‘go where the crowds go’.  So I hope the experiences I had will be of some use to you and may sway your breakfast decision if ever you visit the city.

Morning #1

The Elephant House [map]

21 George IV Bridge
Edinburgh EH1 1EN
Tel. 0131-220-5355
www.elephanthouse.biz

Now, I just want to make it clear from the beginning that I did not know until I was halfway through the breakfast that this was the cafe where JK Rowling wrote parts of the first Harry Potter novel.  I completely missed the massive sign in the front window, the information on the wall and Mrs NoEggs telling me this fact at least twice!  I was hungry and quality of the breakfast menu was the only thing I was concentrating on when choosing a cafe and besides the missus doesn't half drone on sometimes!  This information aside, I can see why J.K Rowling chose this cafe to pen some of her early work as it has character in-abundance.  The interior is decorated throughout with over 600 elephant influenced items and the rear of the cafe has a view of the castle from the rear of the establishment that is unmatched in the city and highlights what a picturesque city Edinburgh really is.

The location and view aside, the breakfast menu was also very pleasing with healthy egg based options alongside the traditional Scottish fry up.  The coffee was of a very high quality and freshly ground, whilst the tea was in loose leaf form and quenching in the way only a good cup of tea can be.  The breakfast however was the only real let down to our visit.  The haggis was very similar to black pudding in taste and did not fill me with Scottish spirit after eating.  After years anticipating trying it I was not sold on it being a true breakfast alternative to England's blood-based pudding.  The sausages were also of a very poor catering standard and tasted like they had been made up of the questionable parts of the abattoir floor. Mrs NoEggs also ensured me that the scrambled eggs were not worth writing home about.

The cafe's breakfasts could be so much more with just a little more care, attention and better quality ingredients. The Elephant House was easily the busiest cafe in the area that morning and can seat around 50 people, but with an endless stream of tourists following through increased quality to entice people back is, it seems, not a high priority. This I assume is because new customers are assured to enter every few minutes due to the status of the cafe as a "tourist attraction".  Encouraging people back for another visit, as other cafes try to do, is just not needed.  Despite the quality issues with the food, if I was again in the area and needed a drink and a rest after a morning of relentless sightseeing I could not think of anywhere better either side of the border.

Morning #2

 

Mums Great Comfort Food [map]

4a Forrest Road,
Edinburgh
EH1 2QN
0131 260 9806
www.monstermashcafe.co.uk

Visually 'Mums Great Comfort Food' is certainly Edinburgh’s most ‘in-your-face’ and certainly not understated cafe.  Noticed on the first nights walk-around I was keen to see whether the cafes menu matched the bold predictions emblazoned on their enormous sign above the door.  We arrived at what is usually in most cafe's deem a busy time, 10am on a Friday morning and despite being located only a short walk from two of the city's main attractions, Grey Friar Bobby’s statue and the impressive Museum of Scotland (definitely worth a visit for the view on the top floor and the F1 car simulator), we entered to find an empty cafe.  It was strange that despite being a distinctive, if somewhat brash looking, establishment in a popular tourist area there were no customers in there.

With hindsight I can now see that the style of the menu would not appeal to many international visitors, as little healthy options were available.  Despite this the strong "traditional" claims of the cafe appealed to me and after a while perusing I chose the fry-up over ordering a stack of pancakes, a decision I was later to regret.  Their "classic" breakfast was for the second morning running again an instantly forgettable fry-up.  The plain pork sausages should have been returned as the taste and texture were the worst I've experienced this year and the accompanying potato scone was in fact just an overcooked potato cake.  I expected far more from such a well designed and located cafe.  Unlike the Elephant House this cafe cannot fall back on having a rich history, amazing hot drinks to offer, or a view unmatched in the city and just leaves me to wonder when I next visit, will it still be there?

Morning #3

Almost Sunday [map]

170 High Street
Edinburgh
EH1 1QS

From our adventures on our first night in the city ‘Almost Sunday’ was the cafe I was most looking forward to visit.   A bright and welcoming cafe located on the busy city High street, not far from the city chambers, Almost Sunday over the first two days of passing was very popular with hardly a seat spare and an enticing menu offered on the cafe window.  So with great enthusiasm we looked to spend our penultimate morning there and take in what seemed a great little find.  However despite all our preparation and planning, a  combination of poor timing and the setup of the restaurant was to just about to throw a spanner into the works.

We arrived at the cafe just two minutes after the 10am opening time and found already a queue of 10 people ahead of us, this seemed a good sign as the crowds usually mean a great experience was waiting  for us.  But in an unexpected twist what we found was a cafe that did not live up to the positive appearance presented.   From the moment of opening the two members of staff entrusted to run the cafe on a Saturday morning they were unable to get ahead and cope with the influx of customers.  From joining the back of the queue it was over 10minutes before I was served and my order taken.  The long wait in the queue did however help to make up my menu choice for me.

You may well ask yourself why no breakfast picture is attached to this review, the reason is simple.  The breakfasts were not freshly cooked and were served from trays kept on a serving buffet hot plate, as each minute passed in the queue my appetite for the fry-up I had been craving was diminishing.  The ingredients as in previous days once more were of poor quality and as previously I believe the turnover of customers was more important than the quality of the breakfasts they serve.  I could not therefore justify paying £7.95 for a breakfast which looked both unappealing and grossly overpriced, so instead of a fry-up I settled for being in a grumpy mood for the rest of the morning, a coffee and an almond croissant.

Despite the fry-ups failings the coffee and pastry served were fresh and full of flavour and turned out to be the better option after all, so I dodged a culinary and financial bullet there.  Again I find myself saying that for such a stylish and popular cafe I am staggered that breakfasts of this poor quality were offered and still people flocked there.  After reading the Lonely Planet guidebook they in fact recommend going there, I would have to say to ignore this advice and instead keep walking and build up an appetite for lunch instead.

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It was never going to be easy to find the ideal breakfast location which typifies the city in just 3 breakfast filled mornings but I gave it my best shot.  Being such a popular destination for international and domestic travellers it is clear that the cities cafes are just set up to deal with a high volume of breakfast requests that meet the diners requirements, a quick snack before they start their day of sightseeing.  Quality was forsaken to meet on-time delivery for every breakfast we tried, with Almost Sunday being the most obvious example of this.  I had been an idealistic fool as in my mind I had a vision of the perfect breakfast all set out and no matter how I tried I was never going to find one which lived up to my high expectations.

For a long time I had the idea that Scotland was a deep-fried-food fans ultimate destination, but the reality I found was far from this.  To cap my disappointment on on the bus journey back to the airport Scotland finally showed me what I had been missing. As when passing through the suburbs not far from the Scottish Rugby HQ Murrayfield, the bus stopped at a set of traffic lights and I gave a weary glance to a sign in a closed cafe opposite my window and I saw the words “double fry up - £5”.  ‘Next time’, I told myself, ‘next time’.

But I think I am sounding far too negative, I did find some real gems and enjoyed every minute of my Scottish experience, no matter how successful I ultimately was.  The wedding was a perfect day and being part of was very special for me and our visit had more than lived up to the hype and I will cross the border again soon.  The Elephant house was without doubt the cafe highlight of our stay, with superb coffee and tea it is a great place to relax and take in the wonderful view, I just wish the breakfast had been a little better. But if it was good enough for Harry Potter, it’s good enough for me!  Edinburgh is a great city and copes with the high daily appetite for breakfasts with great aplomb.  In the words of the Scottish national anthem,  “I would walk 500 miles" to visit this glorious city again, I may just not have a breakfast.

Mr NoEggs

  • Mr. No Eggs

    January 2011: Just come back from Edinburgh and visited the Elephant House cafe again. The traditional scottish fryup had improved in quality and portion size, the whole group loved it. New photos have been added to the gallery for this special feature. Enjoy!

  • Susan

    Hello! I spotted a picture of my cafe ‘Hula’ on your website. I just wanted to say hello, it’s a good picture, and though we don’t do a fried breakfast I hope that if you had a coffee, smoothie, porridge or a bagel from our menu at any point in your stay that you enjoyed it. Thanks for then nice pic! Susan

    • Mr. No Eggs

      Thanks Susan! We’ll make sure we pop in for a bowl of porridge the next time we are in town. 🙂

  • chris

    As an Edinburgh resident of some years but originally from the south of England, I have to say that sadly breakfast is something Edinburgh does not do well. Most locations rely on poor quality catering options instead of the outstanding ingredients available to us in Scotland. There are however one or two outlets worth reviewing slightly off the tourist trail, and now that I have found this site I shall endeavour to provide reviews for them.