Royal Botanic Garden art gallery to be restaurant

Inverleith House today. Picture: Comp
Inverleith House today. Picture: Comp
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The world’s only art gallery based in a botanical garden is to add another string to its bow when it opens as a fine-dining venue later this year.

Inverleith House will operate as a restaurant for 30 days in December, with the menu including plants taken from surrounding gardens.

The mansion house has operated as a modern art gallery since 1986 and last year’s exhibition by Luke Fowler, which showcased his new film exploring the life and work of Scottish psychiatrist RD Laing, was nominated for the Turner Prize.

Paul Mitchell, Sodexo Prestige Catering Services director at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, said: “We have longed for the chance to use this outstanding space for fine dining and show what is possible here.

“Given the cultural and historical importance of the building and gallery, we are thrilled it has now entrusted us with this opportunity. We work at the most unusual and interesting venues in Scotland, including castles, museums and stately homes.

“Inverleith House will go straight to the top of the list of must-try destinations. The fact it will only be available for 30 days is guaranteed to increase its appeal.

“Coupled with the quality of fine dining our chefs offer, we expect to be booked out extremely quickly.”

A preview dining event, attended by many local movers and shakers, was held in the mansion house earlier this month.

Heather Jackson, director of enterprise at RBGE, said: “As a dining experience it was everything you would expect and more. It really is an atmospheric building in an amazing location and the chefs delivered an outstanding menu. Obviously this building is mainly used as a gallery but December is generally quite a quiet month for us, so it was relatively easy to create a really small window where we could turn it into a special venue for private and corporate events.”

Hire prices will not be released until more details have been finalised and with head chef Ben Harrison still deciding the menu, it’s too early to say which plants from the garden will feature on the guests’ dinner plates.

Inverleith House was constructed in 1774 to house the Rocheid family, who owned much of Inverleith at the time.

The house officially became part of the Botanics in 1875 when it was acquired by John Hutton Balfour, who was Regis Keeper, the name given to the scientists and specialists who served as director, between 1845 and 1879.

He originally intended for the house to be used as a museum, however he and his family ended up living there, as did future Regis Keepers, until it was established as the founding home of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in 1960.

When the gallery moved to its current site in Belford Road, it was decided that Inverleith House should continue to be a focus for art.


Botanist John Hutton Balfour was born in Edinburgh in 1808, and died in 1884. He was a professor of Botany at the University before becoming Regis Keeper at the Botanics, having already helped to set up Glasgow’s gardens.

He was named as Her Majesty’s Botanist in Scotland and held both positions until his retirement in 1879.

Also nominated for both posts was Joseph Dalton Hooker, the best friend of Charles Darwin, who reportedly took part in a long political struggle with Balfour for the coveted posts.

Balfour is credited with enlarging and improving the Edinburgh gardens and building teaching accommodation, the arboretum and a palm-house.

California’s foxtail pine is named Pinus balfouriana Balf after him. He was the father of botanist Isaac Bayley Balfour, who served as Regis Keeper from 1888 to 1922.

The actress Tilda Swinton is the great-great-granddaughter of John Hutton Balfour.