The former Caledonian Hotel in Edinburgh proudly reopens her doors as a Waldorf Astoria after a major refit, says Claire Smith
THE kitchen staff in the Pompadour restaurant are still wearing the old Caledonian Hilton tunics, but there is a brand new, shiny plaque on the front of the Pink Lady of Princes Street bearing the legend Waldorf Astoria.
Over the last few months, the former station hotel has been undergoing a £24 million refit and proudly opened its doors this week to show the world.
But while the Caledonian has a new name, a new look and new interior spaces, it has stayed open for business. General manager Willy Blattner, a Swiss who has been at the helm for eight years, says: “At times it was challenging, but overall people just pulled together and did what they had to do. The guests still had a great time.
“The great thing was that when work was going on we were able to close the doors on that section of the building. If people were out of the hotel during the day they might not even realise what was going on behind the curtains.”
One of the biggest changes is the creation of Peacock Alley – a huge interior lounge space and bar and open to non-residents and residents alike for coffee, breakfast meetings, cocktails and afternoon tea. The name, shared by lounges of Waldorf Astorias around the world, derives from the salon created to link the two original hotels in New York and which became a favourite meeting place for high society.
With a high glass ceiling above what used to be a courtyard garden the space, designed to harmonise with the distinctive pink exterior walls, features an abstract light sculpture by French artist Valerie Boy inspired by a spray of peacock feathers. The salon still has an inside-outside feeling and runs up to what used to be the hotel entrance to the Princes Street station, which was closed in 1965.
Adjoining Peacock Alley is the new Galvin Brasserie de Luxe – a French-style brasserie with a tiled exterior French style in what was formerly the bar Henry J Beans. It is the first Scottish venture for Michelin-starred chefs Chris and Jeff Galvin
Upstairs, the brothers have also taken the helm at the Pompadour, the fine dining restaurant with huge semi-circular windows and decorated Louis XV-style in pastel colours with delicate murals of tiny birds. The listed interior has been lovingly renovated but adjoins a new shiny kitchen with an oven so huge it had to be crane-lifted through the windows.
Former Number One chef Craig Sandle is now executive chef at the Pompadour, presiding over a kitchen once a rite of passage for Scottish chefs, where people including Martin Wishart and Roy Brett learned their trade. The menu is classic French, using the best Scottish ingredients with nothing too fancy-schmancy – unless you count the Poulet en Vessie: a chicken cooked whole in an inflated pig’s bladder and flavoured with Armagnac and foie gras butter. The Pompadour is unashamedly setting its sights on achieving its own Michelin star in the near future.
The hotel’s 241 bedrooms have also received a thorough make-over with some expanded in size, while the health club and Guerlain spa – the first in the UK and inspired by the signature spa on the Champs Elysee – is due to open in November.
Despite all the changes, there is still a strong sense of tradition here. On the upper floors you can see stained glass windows decorated with the crests of towns connected by the Caledonian Railway. The corridors between the rooms are unusually wide because the hotel was built at a time when women still wore crinolines. And, amazingly, the hotel still has one long-standing porter who has been at the hotel for 49 years.
Robin Stewart, director of business development, who first came as a boy when his parents supplied the hotel with wine, says continuity is part of what makes the hotel special: “Everybody calls it the Caley and it just has that history to it. ”
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