KEVIN McAteer checks into Edinburgh’s George Hotel, a venerable yet modern establishment
As you might expect of a hotel which shares its name with that of the “mad” king (George III, 1738-1820) who was on the throne when the original townhouse, first occupied in 1784, was built on the spine of James Craig’s New Town, and whose perhaps most famous recent visitor was the world’s most handsome man, a Kentuckian actor also called George, the 249-room George Hotel is quirky and characterful as well as suave and sophisticated, both venerable and modern, reassuring yet progressive. Like actor George it has all the attributes of modernity, but as befits a building which dates from George III reign, is not without its peculiarities.
We were staying overnight with dinner, bed and breakfast at this Grade 3 listed grand hotel which combines a block of former townhouses amid the Georgian neo-classical splendour of George Street with its colonnades, cornices, centre roses, skylights and circular stained glass inverted cupolas. Given its listed status and the straitjacket of Georgian interior dimensions in the upper floors, the hotel is a bit of a warren, but all floors in this seven-level hotel have lift access.
Budget or boutique?
The hotel is undergoing a refurb, due to end mid-April but we weren’t perturbed by this, nor upset by the smallish bathrooms – a small price for staying in great comfort and splendour in the heart of the New Town. Rooms are linked by dividing doors, allowing for the creation of suites, and the hotel has nine spaces that can be booked for conferences and events.
Our room had a view towards the Firth of Forth, and what a view. Thanks to head housekeeper Louise Doig, our recently refurbished room was immaculate, in soft greens and creams, with oak desk, chaise and armchair and voile-draped windows. The walls were decked with a projection of the New Town, a pencil portrait of visitor Robert Burns, and a plaque with a quotation from Scott’s The Bride Of Lammermoor. Sir Walter was also a visitor. There was a plasma TV with on-demand movies, a laptop-sized safe, valet and food service, courtesy of the inhouse coffee shop Burr & Co (@BurrCoCoffee), which runs a Friends/Cheers like space on the ground floor.
Wining and dining
We ate in the extremely popular (book ahead) 180-seat Printing Press Bar & Kitchen restaurant, run by restaurateur Des McDonald (once chef at The Ivy) with chef Colin Fleming producing the culinary delights. After a drink in the bar (St Mungo’s ale for me, a Malbec for my partner), we were guided to the restaurant where I ordered scallops, rump steak and a double chocolate pot, and my partner chose roast wood pigeon, cod on creamed lentils, and steamed marmalade pudding with a Drambuie custard sauce. That bald list of ingredients does not capture the perfect cooking (my medium rare steak just as ordered) but again there were plenty of modern twists: a squid ink flavoured bed of puy lentils with some coriander leaves, or the translucent cod which flaked perfectly to fork.
After a perfect night’s sleep in our king-sized bed we could have enjoyed breakfast in bed at a modest supplement but went to the buffet breakfast in the Printing Press Bar. A full range of gluten free food and soy milk was also available and more than enough to keep any vegetarian grazing.
Worth getting out of bed for
You’re right in the centre of Edinburgh with its shops, galleries and attractions. We walked along George Street to the West End and visited the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (the Paolozzi sculpture in its cafeteria always makes me laugh).
On arrival in our room we had a cafetiere of excellent coffee, courtesy of Burr & Co. Also, if arriving by car, the hotel has a discount deal with town centre car parks.
What Clooney and the much misunderstood Hanoverian monarch George III share is something the George Hotel itself has to spare… call it charisma, but I would prefer to say hidden depths and in a word lovability. It is the ideal place for a top-notch wedding, or major family event, offers everything the business conference might need and the perfect spaces for a romantic break. Book now while it’s still finding its feet after the long refurb. You won’t be disappointed.
• Dinner, bed and breakfast in a deluxe room from £159. (0131 225 1251, www.thegeorgehoteledinburgh.co.uk)