There has been a degree of scepticism among those who have not visited Dundee in recent years at the city’s new found international fame.
In the last year alone it has been rated alongside the likes of Shanghai, Montenegro, Madagascar, Fiji, New Orleans and Los Angeles as one of the world hottest, or coolest, destinations.
The recently-opened V&A Dundee, Scotland’s first design museum, has undoubtedly been the single biggest factor in the city being singled out for praise by the likes of the Wall Street Journal, Lonely Planet and Bloomberg.
Much of that is down to the remarkable design created by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, who drew inspiration from the sea-cliffs he found on the east coast of Scotland. Now that the museum has opened its doors, after three-and-a-half years of building work, the city has to cater for an influx of new visitors.
As befits Dundee’s status as the UK’s first UNESCO City of Design, the city now boasts a growing number of fashionable cafes, bars and restaurants. This year has also seen the city’s accommodation sector start to catch up. One newcomer, Hotel Indigo, is undoubtedly going for a hipster Shoreditch vibe, between the docks area and Dundee’s main shopping district, and it succeeds, helping to generate buzz about the city’s design-led renaissance.
An old jute mill, nearly 200 years old, has been given a remarkable makeover to become a boutique hotel which warmly embraces its previous life. It is a symbol of the city’s rich heritage, yet it also epitomises its new-found self-confidence.
Built by father and son William and Edward Baxter, whose family would go on to become one of the world’s leading linen manufacturers, the building can be easily identified from the waterfront thanks to a bell tower said to have been modelled on the Santa Maria della Salute in Venice.
Despite its newcomer status, the 102-room hotel is also a good starting point for first-time visitors to gen up on Dundee’s past, present and future, especially by taking in the breathtaking views we enjoyed from the Tay Bridge Suite.
Many features of the original 1822 mill building have been cleverly incorporated and exposed in the design of the hotel. There are discreet nods to the city’s history in almost every corner of the hotel, from the Dundee Marmalade motif on a bathroom tile and textile designer Hilary Grant’s “wave blankets”, inspired by the River Tay, to secret gaming codes hidden in some of the rooms and copies of the Beano to welcome you to Scotland’s comic book capital on your arrival.
The city’s track record in videogame development, including global hits like Lemmings and Grand Theft Auto, is celebrated in the hotel’s smart foyer, as part of an eclectic exhibition of all things Dundee.
There is more of an industrial feel to the hotel’s bar-restaurant, Daisy Tasker, named in tribute to a former mill worker who started working there at the age of just 14 and for many years organised all of the main staff social gatherings.
The hipster-friendly menu included torched mackerel, pig cheek and pearl barley risotto, but with the wind and rain swirling around outside it was hard to avoid heart-warming favourites like Arbroath Smokie chowder and stovies, while Dundee marmalade ice cream was as delectable as it sounds. While Daisy Tasker is undoubtedly one of the most fashionable hang-outs in Dundee, the city is not short of others.
The pick of the recent new arrivals on the waterfront are the Bird and Bear, a buzzing cocktail bar and restaurant, and The Wine Press, which serves no fewer than 70 wines by the glass and has an enomatic dispenser to keep uncorked wines in the best condition.
The worst-kept secret in the city, but almost unmissable, is the city’s speakeasy-style cocktail bar, Draffens, hidden in part of an old department store of the same name, behind an unmarked door down a cobbled and forbidden-looking lane.
For a top-drawer fine-dining experience, we visited The Tayberry Restaurant, a 15-minute taxi ride away in Broughty Ferry. Chef proprietor Adam Newth’s pledge to showcase the best of Scotland’s natural larder is more than lived up to in dishes like risotto of brown crab, with avocado ice cream and caviar, or pan roast cod, with sweetcorn bhaji, courgette, baby tomatoes, and lemongrass and ginger fumet.
While V&A Dundee has been making headlines around the world, no short break in the city should be complete without visiting RRS Discovery, the famous Dundee-built ship which carried Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton on their first Antarctic expedition.
We rounded off our weekend with a trip to the McManus, the city’s Gothic Revival-style art gallery and museum, where its ground-floor displays celebrating “the making of modern Dundee” are fascinating stuff. ■
Hotel Indigo, Lower Dens Mill, Constable Street, Dundee DD4 6AD (0330 3311 750, www.hotelindigo.com). Rates from £75 for a double room.