When Virgin Hotels were about to move into this premises, which encompasses three listed buildings, they were required to do a bat survey.
If they’d found the fellows roosting in here, they presumably would have had to halt or postpone the creation of their monolithic 222 room hotel.
It seems a bit David and Goliath-esque that Richard Branson’s empire, which includes Virgin Atlantic, could be slowed down by a pipistrelle.
Their wings are tiny and they can’t even do long hauls. The only meals on their flights are insects.
Anyway, we used echolocation to track down this place. Not really. I’ve had a look around before, so there was no clicking required. It’s pretty swanky, and I would be happy to hang from the rafters in one of their smart bedrooms. My toenails are certainly long enough to grip.
They already have the wood-panelled Commons Club Bar on street level, and their other restaurant, Eve, will be opening soon.
The Commons Club Restaurant is downstairs, past a display of portraits of notable Scottish women, like Isobel Wylie Hutchison and Annie Lennox.
The venue consists of eating spaces in two separate areas. There’s the light and bright one with the high stools, shelves of colourful objects and open kitchen. While, across the corridor, there’s a cosy wine-cellar-themed vibe with bare-brick walls and vaulted ceilings. From this vantage spot, you can look up to people passing by on George IV Bridge.
I say that, but there’s just a small aperture, so you can only see them from the waist down.
Currently, there are lots of fanny packs, chinos and sandals in the city. Practicality reigns.
The food list, created by their executive chef, Steven Wilson, is a little bit fancy and a touch comforting for residents, with a few cheffy twists.
Their signature take on a Caesar salad (£14) was a pretty looking thing, with a halved and char-edged baby gem that had been gussied up with borage flowers, stamps of bacon, a few sweet and plump langoustines, chicken skin wafers, anchovies and a lettuce emulsion. It was rather lovely, to forage for salty nuggets among the greenery, like Peter Rabbit gone carnivore.
We also tried the sea bass ceviche (£14). The waiter said he’d bring us a lemon, if we needed it, which seemed like an unusual precursor. However, I can see that some might want a bit more acidity, as this fish dish had more of a saline feel, thanks to the blobs of green olive puree, shaved fennel and green apple matchsticks. It was an intriguing mix, but next time, we might try it with the lemon.
Since the first couple of weeks of Edinburgh Festival-going has made me feel a bit weak and anaemic, I went for the main course of beef (£32). There were four pink pads, which had been cooked in the sous vide, but charred on the outside, with a barbecue-ish flavour. These came with a sinister looking dollop of charcoal mash, bone marrow, spots of salsa verde and a handful of blanched and squishy surfaced broad beans. It was very satisfying and restorative. I felt my iron levels returning to normal.
The cod (£27) dish was similarly robust. We could smell it before it landed. The lightly smoked piece of loin – topped by a yellow thatch of shaved bottarga - was a beautiful piece of fish. It came with a creamy kedgeree fregola, which was so super rich that I’m surprised we hadn’t spotted it driving a Lamborghini up the Mound, taking the long way round to Necker Island. To keep the soft and porridge-y texture interesting, it featured little chunks of compressed cucumber and samphire.
After those two dishes, we could only manage one pudding to share - the pineapple (£9). This was a total palate-cleansing dream, with two hoops of the fruit, and all sorts of interesting lightly syrupy and fragrant notes, including pink peppercorn and cardamom, mango and lime. Among the sunshine-y yellow, was a single white scoop of balmy coconut sorbet.
As far as restaurants go, this slots quite nicely into Edinburgh’s luxury hotel portfolio, and mention must also be made of the staff, who are incredibly helpful and engaging. I don’t know where they found them, but they’re the creme de la creme.
We pretended we didn’t have a show to get to, and lingered over our cocktails.
Why not, this is a pleasant place to hang out. I’m sure the bats would have agreed.
Virgin Hotels Edinburgh
1 Victoria Street
(0131 526 4810, www.commonsclub.com)
How much? Dinner for two, excluding drinks, £96