Stephanie Abbot enjoys a ‘country’ retreat in the city at The Dunstane Houses in Edinburgh.
DISCOVERING hidden gems on your doorstep has become a hobby for many. Whether that’s walking routes, a little independent bakery or being able to use the local park as your own outdoor gym, you’d be surprised by how much there is to uncover in your own town or city.
Living in Edinburgh, I already knew there were great places to eat and stay all around me. Try as I might, my list of eateries and watering holes I’d like to check out doesn’t appear to get any shorter.
One I did manage to check off last week was The Dunstane Houses. Set over two Victorian homes, located very conveniently close to Haymarket station, the five-star boutique hotel is a great base for a city break. The moment my friend and I stepped inside, we felt like we were in a home in the country. Check in was quick and we were shown to our room, which happened to be just off the main hall. There were hand sanitiser stations as we entered the building and the dining room, which helped to ease any pandemic anxieties. We were slightly concerned we’d be bothered by the noise of guests arriving and leaving but, truth be told, we hardly noticed.
Built in the 1860s, the two buildings have housed merchants, musicians, doctors, distillers and bankers. Family run and independent, you get the warm sense of home when you come in the door and – from what my friend and I experienced – when you walk into your room. With beautiful high ceilings, a bed almost as big as my bathroom and a bathroom almost as big as my friend’s kitchen, we were both incredibly content with our home for the night. One little feature I particularly liked was the vintage phone by the bed and I took great delight in phoning my dear Gran from it later in the evening.
After a swift lipstick re-application and sprucing of the hair, we were just about ready to go to dinner. I endeavoured to take a selfie so proud was I of said spruced hair and freshly painted lips. However, the reality of our room location soon thwarted my plans. No sooner had I managed to catch the perfect light with just the right balance of happiness and mystery, did a young man catch me in the act. Needless to say, I felt like a pillock. Perhaps it was karma for my vanity but failing that, the benefits of a first-floor room would have been appreciated.
We made our way to the Ba’ Bar and were seated in a lovely spot by the window. Described as “reinventing modern Scottish cuisine using the very best Orcadian (the owners have roots in Orkney) and Scottish ingredients”, we perused the menu with excitement. While we made our final decisions on our meal, we were served sourdough bread with homemade hummus and butter with cracked sea salt. The hummus had a lovely citrus flavour through it, which made it taste all the more fresh. I’d have happily sat there and eaten just bread and that hummus all evening but there was work to be done.
To start, I opted for the Orkney hand-cut smoked salmon served with dill mayonnaise, capers, lemon and seeded bread. I was pleasantly surprised to see a generous portion of salmon arrive, having been disappointed so often at the sight of three meagre slices. Paired with the capers and creamy dill mayonnaise, the obviously high-quality salmon was allowed to shine through. Even without the back up dancers, this would have been an enjoyable starter. My friend selected the roast tomato and bell pepper soup with garlic crouton and chilli oil, served with artisan bread and salted Scottish butter. A twist on a favoured classic, the soup was seasoned perfectly and tasted lovely. The salted butter was excellent.
Feeling both hungry and in the mood for a classic, I chose the spiced Orkney beef burger with Orkney mature cheddar, sriracha mayonnaise and skinny fries. I don’t often go for the burger option when I’m out – it’s something I really have to be in the mood for – but I am very glad the mood struck on that evening. The burger was spiced perfectly and added a twist to a classic. The beef was succulent and juicy and, combined with the cheese and sriracha mayo, was a winning combination. It was by far the best burger I have had in a very long time. I just feel sorry for my friend having to watch me try (and fail) to eat it in dignified and lady-like manner. She chose the Innis & Gunn beer-battered Scrabster fish served with triple cooked chips, chunky tartar sauce, vinegar and lemon. Battered fish can often be a bit heavy and filling but this was very light and tasty, the chips were also perfectly seasoned and delicious. We shared a bottle of Chilean sauvignon blanc over the course of the meal, which was light, citrusy and very drinkable. It was a great pairing with each of our fishy courses.
To finish and satisfy our sweet tooth, we felt it only right to go for a pud. My companion went traditional and opted for the Granny Smith apple and Stoat’s oats crumble served with caramel custard. I couldn’t resist the warm dark chocolate brownie served with fresh berries and S Luca’s vanilla ice cream. Unfortunately, the brownie didn’t arrive as described and was cold but a quick chat with our waiter and I soon found myself with a warm(ish) brownie in front of me. That being said it was rich and chocolatey, rounding off the meal perfectly.
Throughout our meal the service was great. Our waiter was friendly and helpful, really adding to our dining experience. Despite the fact the staff were all wearing masks, it didn’t hinder their warm and welcoming manner across our stay as a whole.
Suitably stuffed there was only one thing for it but to retire to our rooms and dig out those fluffy white robes. Cosy and comfortable, we took full advantage of the huge Samsung smart TV in our room and settled down to a classic rom-com before we both drifted off into the best sleep either of us have had in a while.
Having pre-ordered our breakfast the night before and choosing to have it served in our room, we were particularly excited to begin the morning in a state of total relaxation. Arriving on a tray, we placed it on the bed and let our eyes take in our bedroom banquet. We had selected fresh coffee, apple juice along with eggs and soldiers, fruit salad and a filled breakfast roll. I had selected a fried egg with pork sausages so was a little disappointed when I discovered bacon and egg instead. It was still tasty and satisfying but I was looking forward to sausages as a wee change from my – way too – frequent bacon butties. My friend’s eggs were soft boiled perfectly as requested so before I knew it, both those and the soldiers disappeared. The experience of breakfast in bed was the perfect way to start a Saturday and one I shall try to insist my flat mate treats me to on all weekends from here on in, I’ll let you know how that goes.
With things to do for the rest of the day, there wasn’t time to sink into the huge bath tub, but the generous walk-in shower was lovely all the same. Stocked with Noble Isle bath products, showering was like a little spa experience as the gorgeous scents filled the room.
Relaxed and ready to begin the day, we checked out thanks to another friendly member of staff and left feeling happy and content. The Dunstane Houses feels like a country home in the heart of the city and is one hidden gem I’m very glad I discovered.
Find out more at www.thedunstane.com