Great Places to Eat in Scotland
- Spoon Café Bistro, Edinburgh

A magical, literary location...
The original and best loved Spoon café was previously located on Blackfriars Street, just off the Royal Mile, which Moira McFarlane and Richard Alexander owned and managed for 7 years. The warm atmosphere, friendly service and good coffee, home-made cakes, salads, soups and sandwiches enticed a regular happy crowd.

With the Seven Year Itch, time to move from a small coffee house to a spacious, much enhanced Café- Bistro. The good news about this sparkling, polished Spoon in its new home on Nicolson Street is that it's now open in the evening for dinner.

This first floor restaurant opposite Edinburgh University used to be called Nicolson's, where a daily visitor in the early 1990s was J. K Rowling, in the days before global literary fame. Joanne had returned to the UK from Spain with her daughter Jessica to relocate to Edinburgh where her sister Di lived. She also arrived with an early draft manuscript of a children's story in her suitcase, written while travelling by train across Britain and it was while living in her new home in Edinburgh where Harry Potter, the boy wizard was fully imagined. Here the young writer was inspired by Castle on the rock, narrow rambling cobbled streets, the towering turrets of Heriot's school, (Perhaps the real Hogwarts? See the picture on the right), Greyfriars Churchyard with its ancient tombstones, and Arthur's Seat, linked to the legend of King Arthur.

"The idea that we could have a child who escapes from the confines of the adult world and goes somewhere where he has power, both literally and metaphorically, really appealed to me."

Living in a tiny cold flat, Joanne would often go to Nicholson's a warm, comfortable place to sit with a cup of coffee where she could write while the baby slept. The co-owner Dougal McBride remembers this regular customer in the café. "She would just rock the pram back and forward with one hand and write away with the other," he recalls.

Take a step back in time ….
This spacious first floor restaurant is reminiscent of a New York Loft apartment with huge picture windows spanning the entire length around this corner block. According to co-owner Moira, there was no set plan with regard to planning the cool and fashionable interior design - it just came together, she says. Brilliantly!

Vintage clothes are all the rage now, so here we have the classic 1950s retro look with an antique curios collection of oak tables, bentwood chairs, armchairs, Chesterfield sofa, Granny's standard lamps, house plants, a kitchen cabinet, old mirrors, portraits and Penguin books. This is Charity Shop Chic. Blending in neatly is a subtle Pop Art theme, with a few tables covered in laminated road maps and French newspaper design chairs. On each table a pretty vintage flowery teacup holds a tea light.

So here you may sit, eat and drink amongst all the quirky, kitschy furnishings and ephemera and absorb the charming, laid back ambience.

Food and drink
Proprietor / Chef Richard Alexander has wide international experience, from White's in London to Sydney Opera House while working in Australia for five years. He admits that he has always wanted to open his own restaurant. "Spoon cafe was the first step and when the opportunity came to cook a wider range of dishes for more people, I had to take it."

This larger, revamped Spoon Café Bistro (seating nearly 100 diners) is his dream come true, located in the University district, just a block from the Royal Mile in the heart of the Old Town. The Edinburgh Festival Theatre presenting opera, ballet and concerts, is just across the road, so Spoon is ideal for theatre goers. An early supper is exactly what I experienced, arriving at 6pm prior to a dance show at 7.30pm.

The short yet comprehensive Dinner menu is as imaginative and quirky as the interior design, suitable for carnivores, fish fans and vegetarians. From the list of varied starters, including Arbroath Smokie chowder and Chicken liver parfait, I selected Mushroom and Chestnut omelette - freshly made, piping hot, this saucer-shaped miniature omelette was stuffed with tasty chunky fungi. My dining partner chose Smoked Mackerel and buffalo mozzarella salad, an ingenious hearty winter salad. Meanwhile we sipped a glass or two of the House wine, an Argentinean Shiraz Malbec.

Next I sampled Salmon steak with tiger prawns and saffron pilaf. The fish was cooked to perfection atop a bed of tender rice with a spicy chilli oil dressing. Across the table, a plate of Smoked Haddock served with white bean puree was quickly consumed. Portion sizes of fish were very generous. Other dishes being ordered around Spoon that night included Venison, Braised ox cheek and Pumpkin, sweet potato and carrot gratin. Desserts reflect the house retro style, with such family favourites as Rice Pudding, Apple Crumble and Sherry trifle.

The Bill
ContactSpoon Cafe for current menu and prices.

Spoon Café Bistro is open for breakfast, snacks, lunch and dinner. (Mon-Sat 10am-11pm, Sun 12 - 6pm). Call in for coffee, home-made carrot cake or bacon roll - breakfast served all day. And there's a bar if you just want to pop in for a drink. (NB Stair lift for access to 1st floor.)

Further Information
Spoon Café is at 6a Nicolson Street, Edinburgh EH8 9DH. Telephone number is 0131 557 4567. Spoon Cafe also has its own Web Site and their email address is

With a warm welcome and friendly service, Spoon is a unique, charming and relaxing place, any time of the day or night. J. K Rowling would, I am sure, be happy writing here, over a cappuccino or two.

Vivien Devlin

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