Cullen skink is one of my favorite dishes in Scotland, but something many people might not order if only because they don’t understand the name. I’ve spent months trying Cullen skink at restaurants all over Edinburgh, trying to find the best. Some are certainly better than others. Here are my top recommendations.
What is Cullen Skink
As usual, there are conflicting reports of when the Cullen skink was invented, and if there was an older skink soup it developed from. Some websites say it originated as far back as the 1890s, while others say it could be as recent as the 1980s. The Diner’s Dictionary mentions there’s no record of the soup before the 1920s. But what’s not in question is where it comes from, and the origin of the name.
Some people might be familiar with the skink lizard. While there is a lizard bearing the same name, in this case, skink goes back to the Scottish word for shin (similar to Middle Dutch schenke meaning shin, leg, or ham), and there’s also an obsolete definition in Scotland referring to a soup made from a boiled shin of beef. Cullen is a seaside town in northeastern Scotland where the soup was invented. As Cullen was a fishing village and specialized in smoked haddock, this ingredient replaced the beef.
Nowadays, Cullen skink is considered one of the main dishes of Scotland and even tied for second in the 2022 TasteAtlas.com rankings of the best soups in the world (#35 in 2023). Although I didn’t particularly enjoy soup growing up, this is one I’ll always order when I see it on the menu.
Best Cullen Skink in Edinburgh
As mentioned, there are many different qualities of Cullen skink. Some restaurants stick to the recipe, while others (without naming names) reheat a premade soup in the microwave. Of course, even the recipe itself has variations depending on who you ask, or which cookbook you use. I prefer a Cullen skink made with either milk or single cream (so it’s light), both leeks and onions (like Tom Kitchin makes it), and a bit of seasoning.
The Magnum Restaurant
So far, the best Cullen skink I’ve found in Edinburgh is at the Magnum Restaurant. This family-run restaurant has been around for over 30 years and the chef is truly incredible. I know there are going to be plenty of locals who think a bit of green on the plate is the worst thing ever, but the herb oil drizzled on the soup elevates it to a whole new level. Of course, everything else at the restaurant is equally fantastic. Consider pairing your soup with the haggis bonbons.
Mussel and Steak Bar
Another very good preparation of Cullen skink in Edinburgh is at Mussel and Steak on the Grassmarket in the Old Town. This is one of the very few places I’ve found in Edinburgh that makes the soup with whole milk instead of cream. Again, it’s a family-run restaurant and has had the skink on the menu since they opened in 2005. If you’re looking for other good seafood dishes, Mussel and Steak is one of the best options in Edinburgh.
The Fishmarket in Newhaven has been the fishmonger’s market in Edinburgh for centuries. Thus, they have some of the freshest and cheapest ingredients. Not long ago, the Fishmarket was also named one of the best fish and chips shops in Scotland, and I agree. There is a sit-down restaurant and also a takeaway, where you can get plenty of versions of fish and chips, but also some fantastic Cullen skink cooked to order. While the quality is great, it’s also half the price of any other restaurant in Edinburgh.
George IV Bar
The George IV Bar is my go-to for the Edinburgh food tour. It’s part of the Old Town Pub Co, which has about a dozen pubs in Edinburgh’s Old Town, and only half of them are gastropubs, the other being music and dancing venues. Unlike several of the pubs in the old town, George IV Bar makes the Cullen skink from scratch every day, and the chefs keep the quality consistently high.
One more restaurant I would recommend in the city center for Cullen skink is The Piper’s Rest. It’s part of a group of three restaurants that stick to high-quality, local butchers and suppliers. What’s unique about their Cullen skink is that they serve it San Francisco-style in a sourdough bread bowl. The portion size is slightly smaller than other locations for a comparable price, but the bread makes it a full meal more than just a starter portion.
Finally, a location a bit further from the city center is Miro’s at Portobello Beach. This small, independent cafe is known for its Cullen skink, and for good reason. Just like the other locations on this list, they make it fresh every day. The interior designs are beautiful, plus you could get a view of the sea depending on where you’re sitting in the cafe. Miro’s has a second location in Stockbridge, but I’ve yet to see them put Cullen skink on the menu there.
My Favorite Cullen Skink Recipe
How to cook perfect Cullen skink depends on who you talk to in Scotland. I even heard a rumor that one top chef received death threats when he gave a recipe in his cookbook that not everyone agreed on. Of course, you could always attend the Cullen Skink World Championships in Cullen to find what the judges consider a perfect Cullen Skink. Perhaps someday we’ll get a Cullen skink competition in Edinburgh, but until then, we have the above fantastic restaurants in Edinburgh for Cullen skink.
Some Cullen skink recipes from top chefs and websites I would recommend are as follows:
- Tom Kitchin – Scotland’s youngest Michelin-starred chef
- Gary McLean – Scotland’s first MasterChef winner and first National Chef
- Sonja and Phil and their Scottish Scran website
For more information about Edinburgh and Scotland, make sure to check out the rest of my Scotland articles.
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