Rain was batterring against my poor excuse of a jacket. The Meadows were deserted save for a stray dog walker. Did someone forget to tell Edinburgh that it is still only September?
I found shelter in the deli doorway, taking a seat by the steamy windows. After the first sip of a rich mocha, the damp state of my clothes and my probable likeness to a drowned rat had vanished. Although the weather was akin to a stormy scene out of the novelist’s Les Miserables, this Victor Hugo told a different story.
First established for the quality of their teas and coffees, Victors of Edinburgh deli moved to their current location in the Meadows 52 years ago. Then, after a name change, came Victor Hugo from names of the original founders Hugh and Victor.
Victor Hugo embodies the classic deli dining experience with its stacks of vibrant sandwiches, sweet cakes, pastries and quiches sat behind glass, waiting to be picked. Insisting they couldn’t do better than the Italians, VH source their gelato from Turin. If a creamy scoop of Stracciatella, Pistachio or Vegan Dark Chocolate doesn’t tickle your fancy as is then why not try it as a Hot Gelato Croissant, a new addition coming soon to their mouth-watering menu.
Their breakfast and brunch menus last until 3pm; what is a fat stack of waffles with lashings of maple syrup if not a perfect remedy for a hangover? Like any great deli, VH is awry with rye bread. Their signature Pastrami Special consists of a thick layer of pastrami, sweet gherkins, Emmental cheese and their house dressing between two slices of crusty rye bread.
Well-balanced with a mix of salt from the meat and sweet from the pickles, this sandwich is one of their most popular alongside the Catalan baguette with smoky chorizo, manchego, sun-blushed tomatoes and fiery harissa.
They also offer a range of ciabatta melts, croissants and selection of baguettes that cater for both the vegetarian and vegans amongst us. One such baguette is the Caprese: sliced tomato, mozzarella, basil and pesto sit themselves comfortably on a warm bed of fresh baguette.
The sandwiches are reasonably priced with the majority coming under £6. Saying this, let’s not forget the Eat Out to Help Out scheme that will take 50 per cent off of it when sitting in and booking in advance.
If your sandwich looks a little lonely, I would add one of their homemade house salads to accompany it. The Russian Potato salad is packed with dill, as well as creamy peas and carrots and only £1.70.
All their food is prepared in-store, as are their wide range of sandwich fillings which helps to manage their food waste.
When it comes to quality they don’t compromise, opting to source directly from importers as well as local suppliers and producers. This is also seen through the relationship with their egg supplier, Nith Valley Eggs by Dumfries. Karol, VH deli manager tells me “they are expensive eggs, but happy chickens”.
As for the sweet treats on offer, you’re spoilt for choice with their staggering selection. Flaky almond croissants, aromatic cinnamon buns and sticky maple & pecan twists -to name just a few- bedeck the deli bar.
Nestled beside them are their popular Portuguese custard tarts, a smooth custard flavoured delight with delicate vanilla encased in crispy pastry. At under £2, they are not to be missed. Neither are their flans: the apricot and almond one is beautifully buttery and on the right side of indulgent when paired with a strong coffee brewed in-house. Lockdown has taken many favourite eateries off the streets of Edinburgh, yet Victor Hugo has survived. They appreciate the help from their loyal locals and have put in place new routines to which the staff have adapted quickly and responsibly.
Now busy with online orders and takeaways after re-opening, it is a joy to see Victor Hugo thriving. With travel abroad practically coming to a halt, you can still get a dose of summer by popping into this continental cornucopia.
Image Credit: Meredith Bailey