The best places to eat in East Lothian
East Lothian deserves way more credit than it is currently receiving – with its imposing big sibling Edinburgh stealing much of the limelight, it’s easy to get caught up in all things food and drink in the Scottish capital. However, venture just 30 minutes outside the big smoke and you’ll discover over 40 miles of breathtaking coastline, golden beaches and rolling countryside to explore.
Known as Scotland’s Food & Drink County, East Lothian is bursting with restaurants, bars and cafés waiting to be discovered and with rural farmland as its landscape, it’s no shock that there’s plenty of top-quality food.
From Michelin Guide restaurants stashed in tiny villages and hearty pubs serving up local produce, to coastal eateries precariously balanced on cliff edges, here’s where you should be visiting in East Lothian.
Words by Dayna McAlpine
Hidden away on North Berwick’s bustling high street, you’d be forgiven for accidentally walking past this wee Italian restaurant.
In Italy an ‘osteria’ is a family run tavern serving simple food and wine, and although this incarnation in North Berwick offers refined cooking, Osteria is run on family values. Opened by Angelo in 2006, the entire restaurant sits just 32 guests. Head chef Daniela, took over from her father at just 24 years old and the menu is heavily influenced by her grandmother’s cooking. True to her roots, Daniela strongly believes in having everything homemade from start to finish and it’s this that has made Osteria a firm favourite in the coastal town with locals and visitors alike.
The menu is compact and focuses on East Lothian’s larder of fish and meat – ‘pollo ripieno’ offers moist chicken breasts stuffed with speck, peas and scamorza cheese with carrot purée and honey sauce. Italian classics are reinvented, with ‘cannolo scomposto’ a dessert menu staple – deconstructed cannoli with cocoa wafer, candied sweet ricotta and pistachio.
Osteria has repeatedly been accorded Best Restaurant at the Scottish Italian Awards, with 2021 marking Osteria’s fourth consecutive win and the fifth time overall – take that Edinburgh. The best part? The pre-theatre dinner menu costs just £25 for three courses, a fraction of what you’d normally pay in the city. As for Angelo, who kickstarted the whole business, you’ll find him waiting tables and continuing to welcome all his guests as if they are part of the family.
Haddington’s buzzing bistro by the River Tyne epitomises the ethos of cooking with local produce. East Lothian’s farmland, coast and countryside provides a bountiful larder and The Waterside takes full advantage of the ingredients on its doorstep.
Run by two brothers, the seasonal menu offers Scottish classics and comfort food but with plenty of eclectic dishes and sharing plates to choose from. Tender pig cheeks and Stornoway black pudding in rich tomato and garlic sauce is a soul-warming favourite, and grilled hake, mussel and white bean stew is a good option for lighter dining. There are plenty of vegetarian dishes too! The interior of exposed brick and roaring log fires make The Waterside a cosy winter destination but really it comes into its own in the warmer weather. For the full experience, book a riverside table in the summer and drink in the bistro’s spectacular setting.
We’ll go ahead and say it now, The Lawn has the best views of any restaurant in East Lothian. A bold claim we know, but there are few places in the county where you can look out on the Firth of Forth, the Bass Rock and endless beaches all in one place over dinner.
Offering up all-day dining, afternoon tea and Sunday lunch, the new restaurant within The Marine Hotel is bringing modernity to North Berwick and now challenges the likes of The Balmoral and Gleneagles. Headed up by MasterChef: The Professionals’ Chris Niven, previously executive chef at The Fairmont, St Andrews and The Scotsman Hotel in Edinburgh, he describes his food as “an approachable, seasonal menu designed around flavour and simplicity, the focus will be on the very best ingredients from East Lothian and the surrounding area”.
The iconic Marine Hotel underwent a serious transformation and modernisation last year, with the once old Victorian premises (which have operated since 1876) given a restaurant with chic booths, chequered floors and chandeliers.
As for the scran – Sunday lunch is a serious business, offering a 35-day dry-aged Tweed Valley sirloin of beef with duck fat roasties, glazed carrots, creamed cabbage, yorkies and bone marrow gravy. Forget a diddy-plate seven-course tasting menu, this is proper three-course dining at its best. Lobster comes fresh off the nearby Seacliff fishing boat, fish is smoked locally at Belhaven and vegetables are brought in from Phantassie Organic near East Linton.
Forty eight years in the making (it used to be called The Coral Reef), East Coast makes it easy to see why it’s been voted as one of the best fish and chip shops in Scotland. However, Musselburgh’s East Coast is far from just a decorated chippy – there’s also a smart seafood and grill restaurant.
And although the upmarket chippie is well loved by locals and visitors to Edinburgh’s neighbouring town, the restaurant is where the business really comes into its own.
Still owned and run by the same Crolla family, East Coast is the latest chapter of their business and although it may feature new styles of cooking, family heritage shines through. Parma monkfish on a saffron risotto served with a red wine jus is a must and it’s hard not to order helping after helping of East Coast’s herb-crusted oven baked oysters (which are smothered in parmesan cheese).
Located on Scotland’s Golf Coast, it’s a mistake to disregard The Watchman as yet another hotel restaurant built to serve visitors to Gullane.
The oak-panelled dining room welcomes guests seven days a week and from locally sourced rib-eye and triple-cooked chips to small plates for sharing, head chef Nick Lang has worked hard to make The Watchman a destination for everyone in the county.
All the food is made on site and, like any good East Lothian restaurant worth their salt, The Watchman serves up dishes focused on ingredients local to Scotland. The West Coast cod with curried butter, tomato and fennel risotto stands out alongside simpler crowdpleasers such as towering burgers.
The Crown and Kitchen pub is the local everyone wants on their doorstep. With the charms of a humble country inn, the Crown is a blend of gastropub, restaurant and beer garden.
The 18th-century building lay closed for many years but was bought by owner Billy in 2013 and has since become one of East Lothian’s must-visits.
Pretty flower boxes brighten up the outside, while inside the menu mixes traditional pub classics with contemporary dishes with cheffy touches. Although the menus change with the seasons, classics such as haggis, neeps and tatties (done well and not just as a Scottish eatery tickbox) stick around all year. Ten draft ales and beers are stocked, as well as an impressive selection of whiskies – best enjoyed on warmer evenings in the surprisingly large beer garden stashed out the back of the premises with a pork and black pudding Scotch egg.
Yes, you really can head to Musselburgh for a taste of Argentina. If there’s two things that this surprising addition to the town’s high street does well, it’s steak and malbec.
Buenos Aires manages to blend Mediterranean-influenced Argentinian cuisine with Scottish ingredients and the the place is well known in the community for their passion for food.
Order the huge tomahawk steak which comes with portobello mushroom, chips, cherry vine tomatoes, a choice of two sauces and mixed salad to boot. Garlic gambas and haggis can both be added as sides for even more luxury to enjoy the full range of what the grillhouse can offer.
Truly an icon of not just East Lothian’s, but the whole of Scotland’s restaurant industry, La Potinière has been serving Michelin Guide-praised food for more than 25 years from Gullane’s Main Street. The tiny restaurant is run by owners Mary and Keith, who share cooking duties between them. Don’t expect a massive menu with endless options, the couple offer just two choices per course – many of which feature vegetables and herbs grown in La Potinière’s own garden. The options themselves are seriously thought out, their steamed fillet of locally sourced sea bass comes with home grown new potatoes, langoustines and a chive and saffron scented fish sauce.
Dinner comes in at three courses for £37.50 per person – with La Potinière recognised by the Michelin Guide you’ll be hard pushed to find a restaurant in Edinburgh which offers that level of value and service.
Run by husband and wife Patrick and Jackie, The Linton Hotel sits next to the River Tyne as it flows towards the coast via East Linton.
A restaurant focused on all things East Lothian, The Linton features a menu based on locally sourced fruit and vegetables, meat and game, and fish and shellfish. The Linton Mixed Grill features a whopping mix of pork steak, gammon steak, a 3oz beef steak, sausages, onion rings, beef tomatoes, mushrooms, a fried egg and fries, of course. For something a bit lighter, there’s pan-seared sea bass served with crushed potatoes, seasonal greens and a tomato and pineapple salsa. Sit by the fire or venture outdoors to The Linton’s unique walled garden (when Scottish weather allows).
Simple, honest, home-cooked food is the focus of this Haddington dining spot – to call it a café is to do it a huge injustice. The Loft works with people who care about the food they produce and boasts a fantastic list of local producers who supply everything from the spices to oat milk.
The large light venue with a large courtyard was once East Lothian Council’s canteen but has undergone a breathtaking transformation. The furniture is all second-hand and upcycled and all the food is freshly prepared on site, from mouthwatering sandwiches to freshly baked filled rolls, wraps and salads. Everyone in East Lothian knows about The Loft’s heaving bowls of homemade stovies, a potato-and-beef winter warmer that sells out daily in the colder months.
Breakfast features shakshuka and pancakes with bacon and maple syrup, lunch offers up mackerel pâté on homemade oatcakes, pearled spelt salad and The Loft’s legendary ‘huge and porky’ sausage rolls.
Made up of six wooden-clad shipping containers, Drift is perched on the edge of a North Berwick cliff offering panoramic views across the Firth of Forth and to the Bass Rock. People come from near and far to eat and drink at the East Lothian favourite, which has been continually evolving since it first opened in 2018.
The menu started out simply offering homemade cakes, savoury muffins and soup but now locals and visitors race to bag a seat for Drift’s brunch menu. Everything is freshly made and Drift promises to “strengthen the connections between the land, sea and the table.”
Drift uses some of the finest ingredients from East Lothian and around Scotland and the menu changes seasonally – 90-95% of Drift’s menu is made with produce from around Scotland. Their menu now offers sharing boards, small hot plates as well as homemade desserts and slices of cake, which are still as good as when they first opened. If you can’t get a seat indoors, pray for sunshine and bag one of picnic tables surrounded by planted herbs and take in the sea air.
Planning a trip to the East Lothian area? Make sure to check out Visit East Lothian’s handy tips and guides before you do.
Please check government guidance before travelling. For practical information, head to VisitScotland for the latest travel advice.
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