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March 20, 2015

How to eat like the French in Edinburgh

FRENCH cuisine may have been somewhat overtaken in recent years when it comes to dining out – but while gourmet burgers, cronuts and kale may come and go, Gallic gastronomy still sets the global standard. And it's perfectly possible to eat like the French without leaving Edinburgh.

Gordon Ramsay named La Garrigue his favourite French restaurant on Channel 4's Ramsay's Best Restaurant, and the AA guide is a fan too – awarding it two rosettes and a Notable Wine List Award. The menu focuses on the food and wine of owner Jean Michel Gauffre's native Languedoc, where, thanks to the region's varied geography, traditional dishes range from cassoulets of beans and confit of duck to fresh fish stews and Catalan-influenced tapas.

The last remaining outpost of Edinburgh institution Patisserie Florentin – which began life some 25 years ago on Thistle Street as a tiny treasure trove of the sort of authentic croissants and confections that were nowhere else to be found in the capital, before migrating to bigger premises on St Giles Street – is to be found in Stockbridge. Easily spotted by its sunny yellow exterior, inside you'll still find the best viennoiserie in the city (matched only by The Manna House ).

There are two branches of Henri's  bistro and deli in Edinburgh – one in Stockbridge, which is more of a bistro, and one in Morningside, more of a deli – both of which have built a loyal local fan base, including wholesale customers from the city's restaurants. Swing by to pick up imported French staples such as macarons from Paris, preserves and pastries, truffles and terrines, organic wine and beer, and of course, the daily bread, plus your pick from an impressive array of cheeses and charcuterie.


Petit Paris

Petit Paris

Café Rouge: don't laugh, and bear with us. Somehow the Edinburgh outpost of this national chain has overcome its origins, and survived a cull of branches elsewhere, to become a New Town institution. The interior, with its high ceilings, shining wooden floors, red banquettes, mahogany bar and gilded mirrors, is authentic and the fries, croques and soupe à l'oignon – standards of French café cuisine – are excellent. The terrace is packed out in warmer weather, presumably by French tourists as well as locals if the glowing Trip Advisor reviews written in their native language are to be believed.

Pierre Levicky's ill-fated chain of 147 Pierre Victoire bistros started life on Victoria Street in 1988 before taking over the British High Street with its then-novel affordable French fare, then imploding ten years later to the tune of £6 million of debt. After a spell in Paris Levicky returned to Edinburgh, opening Chez Jules and Chez Pierre, the latter of which he triumphantly re-christened Pierre Victoire four years ago. Levicky has gone back to basics, providing the sort of well-priced, simple bistro classics that saw the business soar to its pre-receivership heights.

French-owned La P'tite Folie  occupies the elegant, light-filled upper floor of the Tudor House in the West End, making for an utterly charming place to sit down to some steamed mussels in garlic and white wine, tartiflette or sole Florentine with creamed spinach. For special occasions pre-order the croquembouche – a show-stopping tower of profiteroles bound together with spun sugar that is the traditional wedding cake of France.

Don't be put off by its location at tourist central on the Grassmarket – lively, friendly, cosy, buzzy little Petit Paris  with its checked tablecloths, hanging copper pots, sprawling terrasse, Gallic pop on the stereo and native-speaker staff, is truly French. The menu embodies the “if it ain't broke” philosophy so dear to every French bistro owner's heart, offering up onion and Reblochon tart, Toulouse sausages, snails cooked in garlic, parsley and Pernod butter, and crêpes in Grand Marnier, and even fondue nights.

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Lindsey Johnstone is a freelance journalist based between Edinburgh and Paris. She has written for, Wow 247, The List, The Skinny, The Scottish Sun,, Fest and The Local France on arts, travel, news, food, fashion and pop culture.
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