With its no tartan policy and not a haggis in sight, the Nira Caledonia is not a hotel for those in search of the stereotypical Edinburgh experience. It is, however, a sleeping spot for those who value understated luxury, delicious local food and peace and quiet. Located in the immaculate New Town, the boutique hotel was once the home to John Wilson, a friend of William Wordsworth and influential literary figure in 19th Century Edinburgh. A short walk from Princes Street, away from the screech of bagpipes and the scores of souvenir shops, you could easily spend hours wandering down the wide, cobbled streets of the area and admiring the splendid Georgian terraces.
Back at the hotel, an equally grand-looking neo-Palladian affair, Jacuzzi suites are the name of the game and I stayed in the Scott Suite which is incredibly spacious and decorated in an elegantly palatial style with a huge double bed. The floor to ceiling windows that open up onto a very pretty garden were a highlight and the perfect place to sit with a cup of coffee in the morning or an aperitif before dinner. For the more technologically minded, the Nespresso machine and iPod dock, 42-inch television, DVD player and easy broadband access should satisfy. Those who favour simpler pleasures should direct their attention to the heavenly, super-king bed which has a 2,000 pocket sprung mattress and the softest sheets imaginable.
But while the bedroom was bliss, it wasn’t all plain sailing: despite being described as a Jacuzzi suite, the bathroom felt cramped and would have benefitted from a few extra metres of space. After all, there’s surely nothing more luxurious than a long soak in a enormous tub – especially in a city where it’s often either raining or freezing.
Things picked up when I arrived at Nira Caledonia’s restaurant, the Blackwood’s Bar & Grill. Intimate and cosy, the restaurant is headed up by chef David Scott who has long championed organic Scottish produce and regional specialties, and makes it hard not to get enthusiastic about it – all of the ingredients used are farmed, caught, raised or bred in Scotland and you can certainly taste it. Isle of Mull Scallops served on peppery discs of black pudding and pea puree and venison carpaccio with a rosemary and blackberry glaze turned out to be a deliciously inventive use of classic Scottish ingredients. The 6oz fillet steak was outstanding and I was particularly taken with the green peppercorn and whisky sauce. More whisky was forthcoming later on, and I sat curled up in the bar, which has more than 25 blends and single malts available, nursing a dram after supper.
As I wandered sadly away the next morning, I decided that a big part of the Nira’s appeal is its refusal to pander to tourist clichés. For those who come to immerse themselves in all things tartan and bulk buy Walker’s Shortbread should look elsewhere. With its cosmopolitan approach to decor and the innovative take on Scottish produce in the restaurant, the Nira offers a sort of Scotland 2.0: fresh, forward-looking and a far cry from the usual Braveheart nostalgia. While you won’t get a rehash of all things Caledonian, what you will get is a comfortable night’s sleep, a slap up supper and a cosy armchair and dram of whisky to go with it. Who could possibly want more than that?
A night at the Nira Caledonia starts from £139 per room, excluding breakfast. For more information, visit niracaledonia.com. Virgin Trains runs a regular service to Edinburgh from London Euston, with prices from £42 return. See virgintrains.com for more information.
IN THE AREA…
It’s hard to leave the comfort of the Nira Caledonia but if you fancy an outing, the hotel is a short and scenic walk from Princes Street, The Scottish National Gallery and Edinburgh Castle. Also located close by is the city’s hottest drinking den, Bramble. With no signpost, this unremarkable looking bar will certainly is guaranteed to impress drinking buffs and amateur mixologists. Focusing on another Scottish speciality – gin – the bar stocks over 40 different gins and makes some seriously good cocktails. My favourite was An Ode to Betty which blends The Botanist Gin from Islay with Aperol, lemon juice, cucumber and orange bitters, are divine. Also close by is foodie favourite, The Dogs. Don’t let the name be put off by the name: this quirky restaurant serves amazing food and is extraordinarily good value to boot. If you’re desperate to sample some haggis, then this is the place to do it courtesy of the restaurant’s quirky (and delicious) beef burger with haggis, tomato jam and smoked cheese.