The Skinny guide to Tollcross, Bruntsfield & Marchmont

Tollcross, Bruntsfield and Marchmont are three interlocking Edinburgh neighbourhoods with an intensely local feel and plenty to discover

Article by Anahit Behrooz | 26 Aug 2021
  • The Blackbird

One of Edinburgh’s most charming and confusing characteristics is the smallness of its neighbourhoods – if you’re a couple of streets wide and you’ve got character, you get your own name. Hence this Bruntsfield/Tollcross/Marchmont hybrid: it’s the size of a regular city’s neighbourhood, but each area has its own distinct vibe and community.

Tollcross’ vibrant intersection is filled with independent cafes and excellent charity shops, but climb a few minutes up the hill to Bruntsfield and the tenements immediately get fancier, the brunch spots more refined. Marchmont, meanwhile, is the perfect marriage between the two: a deceptively quiet area filled with young students and unexpectedly quirky boutiques. What the three share, however, is an intensely local feel: this is where people live and work and hang out, and there’s very little better for getting a sense of everyday Edinburgh life.

Food and drink

Brougham Street is the food hub of Tollcross: you can pick up literal mounds of noodles from Thailander (no. 25) for less than a tenner, or for a tiny bit more at Ong Gie (no. 22a), grab homemade pizza in the eclectic living room vibes of Peanut Press (no. 24), or get stuck into some of the realest Greek food in Edinburgh at charming taverna Taxidi (no. 6).

For Asian food made practically in front of you, head to Dumplings of China (60 Home St), Korean BBQ (3 Tarvit St) or sushi at Yamato (11 Lochrin Ter). Walk up to Bruntsfield for a fancier vibe: there’s fine dining and wine at Decanter (183 Bruntsfield Pl) and well-crafted Japanese cuisine at the laidback Harajuku Kitchen (10 Gillespie Pl). And for an inescapably neighbourhood vibe, Three Birds (3 Viewforth) is tucked at the bottom of a tenement building and offers a rotating seasonal menu of creative Scottish dishes.

Tollcross isn’t exactly nightlife central (except for ATIK which... beware, all who enter), but there are a few chill drinking holes. Cloisters Bar (26 Brougham St) is just like your regular pub, except it’s located in the cobbled former cloister of the church next door, while The Ventoux (2 Brougham St) is the perfect place to duck into after a meal at one of Brougham Street’s many eateries. Located almost opposite each other, Bennets (8 Leven St) has a dark wood, dark academia vibe, while The Blackbird (37 Leven St) offers a creative cocktail menu inspired by the odd book or two.

And for the daytime hours, you’re spoilt for choice for cafes: the tiny KONJ Cafe (67 Home St) serves utterly authentic, home-cooked Persian food including aromatic Persian tea and handmade treats; Don’t Tell Mama (64 Home St) has a great coffee selection and a long bar perfect for checking emails or staring out at Tollcross, and Seven Neighbourhood Cafe (7 Home St) does quite possibly the best all-day breakfast going, catering for vegans and carnivores alike. And finally, for the coffee snobs (sorry, connoisseurs), there’s nowhere better in the city than Machina Espresso (2 Brougham Pl) and Artisan Roast (138 Bruntsfield Pl), both of whom roast and blend their own coffee.

Indie shops

Tollcross/Bruntsfield/Marchmont is one of the best areas in Edinburgh for off-beat boutiques and local, independent designers. Lupe Pintos (24 Leven St) keeps the local area well-stocked with hard to find Mexican and North and Central American ingredients, from incredibly specific hot sauces to a large bin filled with corn tortillas and tacos. There’s more foodie treats up the road in Morningside at I.J. Mellis (330 Morningside Rd), just one of several of the local cheesemonger’s branches dotted around Edinburgh, plus thoughtful gift ideas at chocolatier Edwin and Irwyn (416 Morningside Rd) and wine specialists Drinkmonger (11 Bruntsfield Pl).

For the artistically inclined, Edinburgh Art Shop (129 Lauriston Pl) has everything you could possibly need for capturing the beauty of the cityscape around you, from charcoal sticks and luxurious sketchbooks for a quick doodle, to clay and screenprinting materials if you’re feeling extra inspired. More on the experience side of things is Doodles (27 Marchmont Cres), a paint-your-own ceramics workshop with a delightful primary school studio vibe: you do the painting, they’ll do the firing and finishing. Prefer looking at art to making it? The wonderfully named Flamingosaurus Rex (22 Bruntsfield Pl) up towards Bruntsfield is an eclectic gallery filled with prints and unique tchotchkes made by local artists, while Curiouser & Curiouser (106 Bruntsfield Pl) has an ever-rotating collection of prints, cards, candles, and carefully curated coffee table books.

Finally, if you’re on the hunt for something a little more practical, Snapdragon (146 Bruntsfield Pl) is a dinky plant shop filled with fresh and dried bouquets and hardy little potted plants perfect as gifts or for squirrelling away in your own home. Indie bookshop Edinburgh Books (219 Bruntsfield Pl) has a great selection that belies its size, including an array of children’s and picture books, while for the music fiends, Greenhouse Records (10 Barclay Ter) and Ilium (100 Marchmont Cres) are both a great stopping point: the latter opened over the pandemic and stocks cool clothing, locally roasted coffee, and both classic and contemporary vinyl.

Things to do

This really is a local’s area and, as such, there aren’t many tourist attractions. However, there are some unmissable local activities to feel part of the in-crowd. Blackford Hill and the surrounding Hermitage of Braid nature reserve offer some of the best views of Edinburgh (including of Arthur’s Seat). For damper days, try Cameo (38 Home St) and Dominion (18 Newbattle Ter) cinemas: both are housed atmospherically in renovated theatres but the Dominion has the extra advantage of being independent and featuring squishy sofas instead of the usual seats. And finally, for something extra weird, check out Wild West (off Springvalley Gdns), a 1990s advertising gimmick which has left an entire side street in affluent Morningside looking like a Sergio Leone set.