Where to eat in Dundee, Scotland's undiscovered culinary star

Come for the pies and cake, stay for the locally brewed IPA, spiced gin and a bounty of fish and fresh game, all ingredients in Dundee’s current culinary renaissance.

Sunset over the River Tay.

Photograph by Getty
By Jessica Vincent
Published 28 Mar 2023, 10:05 BST

It’s 1am on a Friday and I’m eating a kebab pie on an industrial estate in Dundee. University students are slumped on the curb, heads hanging over steaming cardboard boxes filled with macaroni cheese and haggis pies. Other late-night punters — taxi drivers, hen parties and workers in high-vis jackets — order meat-filled rolls with names like the Gut Buster and the Helicopter. The air is thick with the sweet, yeasty aroma of a working bakery, and I’m two bites away from cardiac arrest. The pastry of my kebab pie, still warm and greasy from the oven, is buttery but firm. Inside are ribbons of doner meat laced in lashings of blood-red Baba’s, a locally made sweet chilli sauce that gets spicier with every bite. On top, an inch of melted cheddar and red Leicester replaces the pastry lid.

I’d first heard of Dundee’s legendary pies — or ‘pehs’ in Dundonian — from a Scottish chef in London. “You have to try a Scotch pie in a roll,” he’d said to me. “And make sure they serve it hot.” A double-crust pie filled with minced beef or mutton, the Scotch pie has been a permanent fixture of Dundee’s food scene since the city’s industrial era, when 19th-century jute mill workers needed a filling and cheap meal that could be eaten on the go and — for extra carbs — wedged inside a bread roll and smothered in brown sauce. Today, a yearly World Championship Scotch Pie Awards sees bakers and butchers fight for the coveted World Scotch Pie Champion title. But a kebab pie? That’s a sign of changing times in Dundee. 

Baba’s Doner Pie is the latest addition to the menu at Clark’s, a family bakery that opened in 1950 turned 24-hour takeaway. “Dundee is a growing university city — we had to come up with pies for a younger crowd,” says Jonathon Clark, a third-generation baker who took over the family business from his father in 2000. Since then, Jonathon and his team of bakers have created dozens of hangover-inspired pie creations, including the NYC Pie (pastrami, onions, peppers, gherkins, mustard, white sauce and mozzarella and chili cheese), and the Breakfast Pie (bacon, beans, Lorne sausage, haggis and a tattie scone). According to Jonathon, Dundee’s first 24-hour bakery now sells around 5,000 pies a week. 

After surviving my kebab pie — a bestseller since its recent launch — I follow Jonathon inside the bakery, where the team are getting ready for a busy night ahead. Hundreds of plump pastries oozing with curry sauce and beef gravy are stacked in steel baking trolleys. A 78-year-old employee, who Jonathon calls “Grandad”, fills his last pastry case with steak and haggis before he clocks off for a holiday in Benidorm. A woman shouts for more sugar, another for a bag of grated cheese. Outside, the queue for midnight pies grows bigger.

 Pies from Clark’s Bakery.

 Pies from Clark’s Bakery.

Photograph by Jessica Vincent

“Before going 24 hours, we used to put the pies by the door to cool,” says Jonathon, as he inspects chicken tikka pies out for delivery. “People coming home from a night out would either nick them or ask how much they were. We always work through the night anyway, so why not open 24 hours?” 

On the wall, there’s a 1950s picture of Jonathon’s grandfather baking Scotch pies in the original Clark’s Bakery, not far from here. I ask what his grandfather would have made of a Clark’s kebab pie. “Tradition is important, but Dundee is changing. Making a kebab pie is keeping Scottish pie-making alive — it’s making sure the next generation are still eating them.”

Dundee — known since the Victorian era as the city of ‘jute, jam and journalism’ — is indeed changing. In 2018, as part of a £1 billion transformation of its waterfront, Dundee became the home of Scotland’s first design museum when the V&A opened. In 2021, 300 new e-bikes were installed across the city, and 19th-century mills like the West Ward Works were transformed into creative spaces for artists and designers. Dundee’s cultural renaissance is having an impact on the city’s restaurant scene, too: along the River Tay, modern Scottish cuisine is taking hold with the addition of The Newport from MasterChef 2014 winner Jamie Scott, and Adam Newth’s The Tayberry, where I have a lunch reservation. 

The views from my table at The Tayberry are stunning. Large windows frame a silver River Tay lapping at grassy dunes swaying in a strong winter wind. If I crane my neck to the right, I can see Broughty Castle, a 14th-century fortress built to protect Dundee’s coastline from English invasion. On the menu today is a range of seasonal Scottish produce, such as tartare of oak-smoked Perthshire venison and Loch Duart salmon with Shetland mussels. I opt for an Arbroath smokie soup to start, made with the EU-protected hot smoked haddock that’s prepared 30 minutes northeast of here. 

Mixing a gin cocktail at Draffens bar.

Mixing a gin cocktail at Draffens bar.

Photograph by 4corners

“We let our surroundings write the menu,” says The Tayberry’s sous chef, Ross Smith, as my soup arrives. It’s light as foam with a hint of oak and comes with a seared Scottish scallop and a teaspoon of caviar. “When people think of modern Scottish food, they think of Edinburgh or Glasgow. But in Dundee, the Angus Glens are around 20 miles north and the fish is right here,” he says, pointing to the river. “Two minutes from my house I can forage for chanterelle and cep mushrooms 
— I’ve paired them with your grouse today.”

The wild grouse, shot that morning in the Angus Glens, arrives with a haggis bon bon and red wine jus. The meat is sweet and pungent, the foraged mushroom puree earthy with a hint of pepper. Pickled walnuts add a welcome sour punch.

“Dundee wasn’t an eating-out city, but that’s changing now,” says Ross, who’s from the town of Kirriemuir but moved to Dundee to further his career in fine dining. “People are finally talking about the city — as a chef, you feel like you’re part of something that’s just beginning here.”

The next morning, I have a tour and tasting arranged at Verdant Spirits, the first distillery to open in Dundee in almost 200 years. “Dundee has a history of packaging and exporting spirits,” says founder and managing director Andrew Mackenzie, who opened Verdant Spirits in 2017 after studying food and drink innovation at Abertay University. “But there wasn’t anyone making gin in the city, possibly because the water was so polluted from the jute industry.”

Braised blade of beef, parsnip purée, carrot and shallots at Daisy Tasker.

Braised blade of beef, parsnip purée, carrot and shallots at Daisy Tasker.

Photograph by Jessica Vincent

Housed inside the engine house of a former jute mill, Verdant Spirits has replaced 19th-century factory engines with a 500 litre, state-of-the-art pot still called ‘Little Eddie’, where small batches of Verdant Dry Gin are made — the first and only gin distilled in Dundee. “Dundee has a reputation for being rough because of its industrial past,” says Andrew, as he feeds juniper berries into Little Eddie for distillation. His daughter Sophie is labelling bottles ready for delivery. “But this city has a way of bringing out innovation in folk.” 

Andrew pours a glass of his signature gin. I can smell cardamom and coriander, a nod to Dundee’s trading route with India. The taste is slightly bitter and very fresh, with sweet notes of liquorice and the citrusy punch of Seville oranges, the star ingredient in Mackays’ Dundee Marmalade. “Our gin tells the story of Dundee’s past,” says Andrew. “But I hope people will also see Dundee’s potential for premium products.”

A three-minute walk from Verdant Spirits is 71 Brewing, Dundee’s first brewery in 50 years. Housed inside a former ironworks factory, 71 Brewing’s 27,000sq feet Victorian foundry is now home to a beer garden, bottle shop and a brewhouse, which hosts tours and tastings. 

“Dundee was the last city in Britain without a brewery,” says co-founder Duncan Alexander, while showing me brewing vats with session IPAs and hazy sours made with local tayberries. A former software engineer who left Dundee in 1993, Duncan returned to his home city in 2016 to pursue his dream of opening a brewery. “I never thought I’d come back to Dundee,” says Duncan. “There have been various attempts to regenerate the city, but the V&A felt different— you could see the physical change to Dundee. That gave me the confidence to open a business here.” 

V&A Dundee design museum has helped give the city a new lease of life.

V&A Dundee design museum has helped give the city a new lease of life.

Photograph by Alamy

This spring, 71 Brewing will open the top floor of The Old Foundry Building to creatives looking for studio space. “A big part of our mission is to breathe life back into this building,” says Duncan. “We don’t want to forget the city’s industrial history. Repurposing The Old Foundry for creative use will merge the two sides of Dundee: its industrial past and what I hope will be a more creative future.”

I finish my time in Dundee with a hike up to The Law, an extinct volcano with views over the city. From here, the change that Duncan speaks of — the “two sides of Dundee” — is as clear as the sky above me: red-brick factories stretch out east and west as far as I can see. But among the remnants of jute, jam and journalism, design museums, Michelin-starred restaurants and contemporary breweries and distilleries are thriving, while a strong sense of identity — one that’s deeply rooted in the city’s unwavering industrial spirit — remains.  

Five food finds

1. Goodfellow & Steven's Dundee Cake
Invented by the same family behind Dundee Marmalade (see below), the best Dundee Cake — made with sultanas, orange peel and blanched almonds — is prepared by Goodfellow & Steven, a bakery founded in 1897.

2. Dundee Marmalade
Mackays orange marmalade — created in Dundee in 1797 after a Spanish ship carrying bitter Seville oranges took shelter from a storm in the city’s harbour — is delicious on toast, in ham hock sandwiches and even in gin cocktails.

3. Fisher & Donaldson's Fudge Doughnut
Fisher & Donaldson’s legendary fudge doughnuts are rectangular-shaped, filled with a silky-smooth confectioner’s custard and topped with a devilishly good caramel glaze.

4. Arbroath Smokies
Arbroath smokies belong to a fishing town just north of Dundee, but the PGI-status smoked haddock is used by many of the city’s best chefs and can be bought in delis and fishmongers across the city. 

5. Ogilvy Vodka
Ogilvy, produced just outside of Dundee in the East Sidlaw Hills, is Scotland’s first potato vodka. Taste the award-winning spirit in Dundee’s cocktail bars or book a distillery tour at the Ogilvy Farm.

Slice of Dundee Cake.

Slice of Dundee Cake.

Photograph by Alamy

A taste of Dundee

Bridgeview Station
Looking out onto Dundee’s 19th-century Tay Rail bridge, this former Victorian train station has been lovingly restored into one of Dundee’s best waterfront restaurants. Passionate about local produce, chef Rory Lovie serves modern Scottish cuisine fit for every occasion: for a taste of fine dining, choose from elegant dishes like pigeon breast with haggis pearl barley or hake fillet with celeriac and savoy cabbage. When comfort calls, opt for the ham hock bloomer with Dundee Marmalade and Arran mustard or the smoked applewood macaroni cheese with sauteed leeks. Mains from around £14.

Vegan and gluten-free meals are scarce in Dundee, a city of butchers and bakeries. But Serendipities — a social enterprise cafe that employs adults with learning disabilities and mental health barriers — is changing that. The seasonal, zero-waste lunch and breakfast menus offer meat- and dairy-free Dundee favourites at bargain prices, including vegan mac & cheese and a full Scottish made with vegan black pudding and tattie scones. Their freshly baked cakes, which include gluten- and soya-free options, are delicious, too. Dishes from £5.75.

Daisy Tasker
Housed inside a 19th-century jute mill, Hotel Indigo’s first-floor restaurant pays a titular tribute to the mill worker who organised legendary parties in the building for her fellow weavers. It celebrates the city’s industrial past with a dining room of exposed piping, hardwood timber floors and a minimalist bar with pendant lighting. The menu, like the decor, is understated but refined, with Angus-sourced burgers and steaks — the venison burger with Arran hot beetroot chutney is delicious — and haddock battered with 71 Brewing’s Pilsner lager. Mains around £15-20.

Published in the April 2023 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

Sign up to our newsletter and follow us on social media:

explore videos


Meet the different faces of Oman


The Basque




Central Spain


Explore Nat Geo

  • Animals
  • Environment
  • History & Culture
  • Science
  • Travel
  • Photography
  • Space
  • Adventure
  • Video

About us


  • Magazines
  • Disney+

Follow us

Copyright © 1996-2015 National Geographic Society. Copyright © 2015-2023 National Geographic Partners, LLC. All rights reserved