Is Edinburgh becoming Scotland’s vegan capital?

Harmonium is the latest eatery to open in Edinburgh with a completely vegan menu (Photo: Harmonium / Facebook)
Harmonium is the latest eatery to open in Edinburgh with a completely vegan menu (Photo: Harmonium / Facebook)
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Over the last decade, the number of vegans in the UK has increased by more than 350 per cent.

With veganism becoming a more popular dietary choice, restaurants, cafes and shops have adapted to keep up with the demand of over half a million vegans. Edinburgh, in particular, has seen a recent surge in vegan establishments, making it one of the most vegan-friendly cities in the UK.

Vegan restaurant Holy Cow is popular among the local vegan community (Photo: Emma Bathgate / Vegan Edinburgh)

Vegan restaurant Holy Cow is popular among the local vegan community (Photo: Emma Bathgate / Vegan Edinburgh)

Harmonium (a vegan bar and kitchen run by Thoughtful Enterprises) is the latest fully-vegan business to open in Edinburgh.

Having opened several successful bars and restaurants in Glasgow – including Mono, Stereo and The Flying Duck – the Thoughtful Enterprises team decided it was finally the right time to come to Edinburgh.

“Whilst Edinburgh has been well serviced by vegetarian establishments for decades, there have never been very many vegan places at any one time and there has never been a vegan bar,” explains Craig Tannock, director of Harmonium.

Pioneering restaurants, like Henderson’s, which opened in 1962, Kalpna, David Bann, The Engine Shed, Forest Cafe and Black Bo’s paved the way for a thriving vegetarian scene in the city.

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But veganism seemed to trail behind – especially in comparison to what was happening in Glasgow. “It’s quite strange really. The two cities have been on completely different development curves,” notes Tannock.

“In the early to mid ’80s, Edinburgh was way ahead on all veggie fronts. Lots of good vegetarian restaurants, plus a completely vegan cafe, Seeds.”

This all changed in the early ’90s when Seeds closed and, at the same time, Glasgow got its first vegan cafe, the Bay Tree.

“Since then, Glasgow’s vegan scene has steadily developed, and then exploded in the last few years, whilst in terms of fully vegan eateries Edinburgh became a bit of a desert for many years, despite the vegetarian offerings remaining strong” explains Tannock.

Despite the slow start, Edinburgh now has the largest number of vegan eateries in Scotland, with places like Paradise Palms, Nova Pizza, Henderson’s Vegan Bistro, Holy Cow, Juice Warrior and Grassroots all offering vegan cuisine in the capital.

“Vegans are now as well catered for as vegetarians were 10 years ago – it is becoming a normal choice for people,” says David Harrington, founder of the EdVeg vegan and vegetarian society.

In addition to the growth in vegan eateries, there is also a thriving social community in Edinburgh. “There are many active community groups, including dedicated groups for vegan runners, cookery classes and social groups.

Emma Bathgate, the blogger behind veganedinburgh.com, became vegan almost two years ago, and decided to start a blog when she struggled to find a comprehensive online guide to vegan food in the city.

Bathgate agrees that Edinburgh is increasingly becoming a more vegan-friendly city, even in the short time since she set up her blog. “It certainly helps if you know where to look, but the vegan scene in Edinburgh is thriving at the moment,” she says.

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Even many non-vegan restaurants now offer a good selection of vegan options. “It is much more common for restaurants and cafes to know, when asked, what it means to be vegan.

The increased demand has meant a large increase in the number of eateries that serve good food, irrespective of whether they are totally vegan or not,” adds Harrington.

Bathgate believes more credit should be given to the hidden ‘omnivore’ gems that have great vegan options as part of their main menu. “Bread Meats Bread on Lothian Road offers an incredible ‘pulled’ BBQ mushroom sandwich which even the most hardened meat-eater will enjoy, while Breakfast, Brunch & Lunch on the Pleasance does a full vegan fry up – perfect for a morning pick-me-up,” she says.

The future of veganism in Edinburgh

Despite the recent changes, there is still room for improvement, like when it comes to labelling on menus and food packaging. “When I first became vegan, I hated being that awkward punter who grilled the server on what was (or wasn’t) in the food,” admits Bathgate. “Clear signposting on the menu would make everyone’s life so much easier, but I am delighted to say it is getting better all the time.”

Harrington notes that many Indian, Chinese and Thai restaurants have a huge range of vegan options, but are missing out on vegan customers as they don’t publicise it on their menu.

After the successful launch of Harmonium, Tannock believes that there is plenty of room for more vegan eateries to open in the city. “As long as vegan places succeed in attracting all sorts of people and not just vegans, then I believe that there is no limit to the number of vegan businesses that Edinburgh can sustain,” he says.