Not on the High Street
Take a stroll along East Market Street's Waverley Arches, Edinburgh's newest eating and drinking quarter
Most successful eating and drinking destinations are born, not made. A chef opens their first restaurant, a bright spark refurbs the pub next door and slowly, slowly, a Shore or Stockbridge emerges. It tends not to work quite as well when the process is developer-led; it seems we have an aversion to shiny new 'quarters' that arrive fresh out of the box. It's interesting then that East Market Street's arches project seems to be establishing itself as something really rather good.
The row of 19 C-listed Victorian arches – the smallest barely more than a crawl space, the largest now holding a 60-seat restaurant – lay mostly disused for years, until the Hidden Door festival opened them up, bringing them to the attention of an impressed public. It then emerged the arches were to be part of the New Waverley (formerly known as Caltongate) development. The Caltongate saga has been a long and controversial one, with legal challenges to the council and bankrupt developers all in the heady mix. Importantly, it's been a real hook for debate about the kind of city we want to live in, both architecturally and socially (40 affordable houses across a 7.5 acre site hardly sounds lavish, after all). Even as the shiny new hotels have opened their doors and office buildings and apartments have started to rise from the ground, the issues haven't gone away. But perhaps it's time to take a stroll and see what at least some of the fuss is about.
The arches themselves are striking – part of the fun of a wee daunder along is seeing how each vendor handles the space. Tiny wine shop Vino embraces its arch's cave-like nature, with shelf upon shelf of wines which can all be enjoyed from one of a handful of seats for a modest corkage fee. There's a simple menu of nibbles to accompany your glass – and it's worth noting nearly all the arches have a few outdoor seats with cracking views. Gannet and Guga fittingly festoon their ceiling with a flock of origami birds to admire when picking up your lunch of fresh Vietnamese summer rolls or a pile of pulled meat. And at the end of the row, the city's second Chop House steak restaurant gets over the challenges of literally fitting a square peg into a round hole by seating diners inside a chunky metal endoskeleton, suspending the ground-floor seats from the newly created mezzanine ceiling.
Inevitably, with two hotels, existing offices nearby and more planned, there's a focus on food on the go. Baba Budan takes its coffee seriously, but their fabulous donuts are the real draw as well as a range of bits and pieces from other city names like the Bearded Baker and Union of Genius. Tempo Tea specialises in bubble tea, the addictively odd Taiwanese drink. If all that doesn't float your boat, Juice Warrior brings the now-obligatory clean and raw vibe and Comely Bank's Ronaq have plans to bring their second Indian restaurant to the corner of the block.
With a range of indie retailers dotted among the row, there's a real sense of community building between the vendors and their customers. Here's hoping that translates to the rest of what has been one of Edinburgh's most troubled developments.
Waverley Arches, East Market Street, Edinburgh