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The beach at low tide in the North Berwick, East Lothian, Scotland

10 reasons for food lovers to visit East Lothian, Scotland

Published: February 23, 2022 at 1:54 pm
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From fine-dining restaurants to coastal coffee shops and fish and chips by the sea, this pretty corner of Scotland is the perfect pit stop for a foodie break

Veer east from Edinburgh and just a pebble's throw from the Scottish capital you'll find a bucolic corner fringed with golden beaches, its gently rolling interior peppered with picture-postcard villages and ancient market towns. The fertile countryside is home to farm shops and a raft of innovative food and drink producers, the seaside towns full of delis, cosy cafés and gastropubs.

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For coffee on the coast

After stumbling across a café in an old shipping container in Bristol, Jo and Stuart McNicol had a lightbulb moment. They shelved plans for a farm shop on their 430-acre arable farm near North Berwick and six shipping containers later Drift was born - a wooden-clad, container-chic café on the cliffs near Tantallon Castle with wide-angled views through floor-to-ceiling windows out over the Firth of Forth to the Bass Rock.

They began by serving coffee and cake (don't miss their famous carrot and chocolate Guinness cake) but now offer brunch and lunch too. When lockdown hit they converted an old horsebox into Driftaway for take-out coffee and knocked up socially distanced bench seating along the cliffs from old potato boxes.

In the seaside town of North Berwick, meanwhile, artisan roaster Steampunk's story began back in 2011 with a roaster in coffee connoisseur Catherine Franks' garage and an old VW van called Mavis (officially Café Wagen) which became a staple at Stockbridge Market in Edinburgh and festivals and events around Scotland. Now parked up and with a permanent base in an old warehouse in North Berwick, Steampunk is an eclectic cafe with enviable eco credentials – the up-cycled furniture is not stylised shabby chic but the real deal. On the menu you'll always find two types of espresso, filter and iced coffees and bags of beans or ground coffee to go such as La Angostura from Mexico with notes of macadamia nut, brown sugar and caramelised plum.


For fish and chips at the beach

Seagulls wheeling overhead, the sound of waves crashing on the beach – and fish and chips to go... Above the long sandy beach at Longniddry, you'll find the Alandas fish and chip trailer. Focusing on sustainable and locally sourced seafood, along with haddock and chips you can tuck into a crispy haddock sarnie in a soft white roll with tartar sauce and salad. Or how about garlic and chilli-battered squid or breaded wholetail scampi at this famous sunset spot? This small family business also makes another seaside staple: award-winning ice cream. Their ice cream parlour in North Berwick sculpts – not scoops - small-batch gelato, freshly made each day, the milk and cream from a local dairy and flavours ranging from Scottish strawberry to tart Italian wild Amarena cherry.

A box of fish and chips with the sea as a backdrop

For coffee and cake

Cradled by rolling countryside and nicknamed the 'hidden toun', the picturesque market town of Haddington is home to a light, bright contemporary café in an old stone building, its sheltered courtyard strung with hanging baskets and scattered with tables and chairs. The Loft Café and Bakery champions local suppliers such as Ailey Mae chocolate from North Berwick (stock up on the moreish peanut butter bar) and smoked mackerel and trout from the Belhaven Smokehouse. The bread comes from Dunbar Community Bakery, the eggs from plastic-free, Slow Food Greengrocer of the Year East Coast Organics, the flour used in their baking from Mungoswells. On the menu you'll find a Toast Board (sourdough topped with your choice of peanut butter, jam, marmalade, honey, Marmite or Nutella), homemade sausage rolls, mackerel pate and oatcakes along with coffee and home-baked cake.

A courtyard with a table set for brunch

For pint-sized pubs

It all began with a homebrew kit. Now Steve Holligan and David Mackinnon own a microbrewery, Haddington-based Winton Brewery making beers with verve and attitude – and strange names. Think Oh Ya Can't Make a Cherry Sour this Guid; Mon Then, a hop-rich New England IPA; craft lager Tap's Aff; Peelywally, a grassy, citrussy IPA; and Stooty Fruity, raspberry oatmeal stout with hints of coffee and chocolate. After setting up a brewery they bought a pub – well a micro-pub and beer garden, the Station Yard in 'sunny Dunny' (Dunbar) where you can sup them.

East Lothian is also where you'll find the oldest working brewery in Scotland, Belhaven, outside Dunbar and dating back to 1719. The brewery offers tours and tastings taking visitors through the brewing process and ending up in the mini in-house pub with a paddle of four award-winning beers (the tours last one and a half hours and cost £15, Monday-Saturday).

Winton Brewery beer cans against the sea

For afternoon tea

On the same estate as the grand Georgian mansion Archerfield House near Dirleton, the 18th-century Archerfield Walled Garden is home to a contemporary wood-clad café and food market. After meandering through the rose garden, beautiful meadow, kitchen garden and exploring the estate, threaded with paths and trails, you can settle down to a DIY afternoon tea ​with the variety of teas and moreish homemade cakes, including a selection from Mimi's Bakehouse, secure in the knowledge that food miles are minimal. Much of the produce used in the garden café is grown in the garden.

Another walled garden – and indulgent afternoon tea – can be found at elegant Edwardian country house hotel Greywalls on the coast nearby. Afternoon tea is a sumptuous spread. The Champagne version includes a glass of blanc de blanc champagne, tea (from English breakfast to darjeeling), chef's artisan sandwiches, scones with jam and clotted cream, cakes and chef's treats.


For seaside street food

From Citroën van to shipping container, chef Christopher Percy-Davis's The Big Blu Sea, a stylish seafood shack on Dunbar harbour, dishes up street food that's a cut above from April to September. Think panko-breaded cod and skin-on fries with homemade tartar sauce and lemon, smoked haddock and garden pea mac ’n’ cheese, fried halloumi tacos with red cabbage, tomato salsa, feta cheese, coriander and spiced lime house sauce, and fish tacos.

You can find another gourmet seafood shack on the harbour at North Berwick. On the menu at the Lobster Shack is dressed crab with double-dipped chips, salt and pepper squid with lemon and sriracha aïoli, Shetland rope-grown mussels in a white wine, garlic, thyme and cream sauce served with garlic bread – and, of course, local grilled North Berwick lobster and chips with garlic and herb butter or chimichurri oil.

Lobster Shack, North Berwick

For creative cocktails

Rupert Waites and Tom Chisholm founded Buck & Birch in 2008 with their first wild dining event, creating a feast from local hand-harvested ingredients. Over a decade later they now produce a range of liqueurs, spirits and bottled cocktails from locally foraged ingredients such as The Dandy Lion (dandelion wine, birch caramel vodka and sweet dandelion jam with apple juice and citrus – dubbed golden sunshine in a glass) and the Aelder Sour which combines their award-winning elderberry liqueur with whisky and a dash of citrus. You can meet the makers at Buck & Birch's distillery tasting sessions on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The sessions last an hour and a half and feature a selection of wild nibbles (£10 per person).

At the recently revamped Marine North Berwick you can sip a locally inspired cocktail in the hotel's Bass Rock Bar. A Stone's Throw is a heady mix of local Fidra gin, honey syrup, lime juice, crème de peche, crème de abricot topped with raspberry lemonade – inspired by the hotel's location close to the beach and the stone formations on the uninhabited island of Fidra in the Firth of Forth.

A black bottle of cocktail in wild shrubbery

For farm shop fare

In old airfield buildings near the RAF base at Drem (home of the Supermarine Spitfires during the Second World War which intercepted the first German bombers heading to Britain in 1939), Fenton Barns Farm Shop is part of a cluster of craft and interiors shops. Brimming with local produce, the café dishes up home-cooked fare from hearty soups to pies and quiche and moreish cakes.

On the edge of Dunbar, The Strawberry Barn is another farm shop and café, serving up wholesome fare and fresh produce on a working strawberry farm – where you can pick-your-own during July and August. Don't miss the homemade sausage rolls in a range of flavours, from pork and black pudding to pork with sage and nutmeg, and pork and chorizo.


For field-to-fork dining

Edinburgh chef Tom Kitchin's first foray outside the capital, The Bonnie Badger is a cool gastropub with rooms in Gullane, a picture-postcard coastal village complete with wild dune-backed beach, five miles west of North Berwick. The pub has 12 eclectic rooms in the main house and two cottages while the menus showcase his 'nature to plate' philosophy. In The Stables restaurant, all soaring rafters and exposed brick, starters include home-cured salmon and rye bread, Highland beef tartare with soya and sesame alongside Blackford Estate pheasant terrine with celeriac, pistachio and prune dressing. For mains think pan-fried North Sea halibut with roasted fennel, potato and seaweed butter sauce, for dessert sea buckthorn meringue with a sea buckthorn consommé.

A wooden table has a platter laid on it. In the platter sits oysters in their shells on a bed of ice

For distillery tours and tastings

Just outside North Berwick the NB Distillery is a family-owned, award-winning distillery with stellar eco-credentials founded by Viv and Steve Muir in 2013. Their first still was a homemade contraption concocted from a slow cooker and old central heating pipes. Now they make gin (voted the Best London Dry Gin in the world in 2015) in a custom-built copper still called Gloria in their state-of-the-art distillery. They've also added vodka and rum into the mix and offer a number of tours and tasting experiences. The Ginspiration tour starts with a classic G&T (with pink grapefruit and basil garnish) and finishes with a tasting flight in front of the log burner. In between visitors learn about the gin, rum and vodka making process (£25 per person).

Dubbed the Lowland home of Johnnie Walker by drinks giant Diageo, Glenkinchie distillery in the pretty village of Pencaitland reopened in 2020 after a multi-million pound revamp. The new visitor experience is centred around a landscaped garden and the distillery's traditional Victorian red brick warehouses and tours range from the Glenkinchie Flavour Journey, a one and a half hour tour and tutored tasting (£17.50) to the Flowers and Cocktails workshop (£53) and a two-hour behind-the-scenes tour and tasting (£130).


*Check the latest government guidance prior to travelling and to check with businesses directly for booking arrangements, opening times and safety measures. For practical information, head to VisitScotland for the latest travel advice.

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For more information visit Visit East Lothian

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