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A Perfectly Formed Boutique Hotel in Stockbridge Edinburgh – Nira Caledonia.
Thinking of visiting Edinburgh? Stockbridge is one of the few central parts of the City that still has a village feel to it. On the edge of what is known as ‘Edinburgh New Town’ – built from the 1760s to the 1830s after an architectural competition to design an overflow for the ‘Old Town’ on the other side of the gorge, Stockbridge is packed with friendly local cafes, bars and restaurants. The Nira Caledonia Boutique Hotel, with just 28 rooms, is set across two Georgian townhouses, one the former home of John Wilson (1784-1854) a philosopher and essayist who is best known for his writings under the pseudonym Christopher North in Blackwoods Magazine where fellow writers included George Elliot, John Buchan and Joseph Conrad. He lives on at the Nira Caledonia Hotel, where the restaurant and bar are named after him.
The Nira Caledonia is the kind of place you walk into and know you want to stay. Apart from helpful, friendly staff who greet you, take your bags to your room and show you where everything you need is tucked away, the hotel has a real feeling of home from home.
Rooms range from singles (with queen-sized beds) through to Jacuzzi rooms where you could swing a lot more than a cat. Even the smallest rooms have space for a proper coffee maker and a desk. There are plenty with whirlpool baths to complement the rather special massage showers. And, each room is different.
Mine was traditionally styled with huge floor to ceiling shuttered windows looking out onto the quiet, residential street over a tiny balcony. High ceilings and pretty original coving together with muted and tasteful wallpaper added There was space for an excellent workable desk, a massive bed, three pillows wide, an armchair and a comfy sofa. Pretty orchids, a Chinese lacquered storage chest that was hiding a kettle and hospitality tray, Chinese style velvet cushions and two massive ginger jars gave the room an oriental touch. On the wall, black and white photos of Sean Connery.
Heavily lined full-length curtains helped make the room feel cosy later at night and a helpfully positioned charger with both USB and conventional sockets sat on the bedside table ready to charge phones and tablets. The bed itself would have been big enough for a whole family with crisp white sheets, fluffy pillows and a firm but comfortable mattress. I had no problem nodding off – more of an issue was getting out of bed the next morning.
This is a hotel where a lot of care and attention has gone into the detail. The Nespresso machine comes with special compostable coffee pods, the teabags in the rooms and leaf tea served at breakfast are sourced from PMD Teas, a third-generation tea business which specialises in single-origin teas.
In the bathroom, l’Occitane toiletries, still made from French ingredients, sourced by l’Occitane who work directly with the farmers to ensure everything is sustainably and ethically produced.
For a solo traveller, the Nira Caledonia is somewhere you won’t feel uncomfortable. A good test for me is how happy I am sitting in the bar by myself. I had no problems at all dining in Blackwood’s Bar on my first night, enjoying a glass or two of wine and a truly delicious bowl of cauliflower and blue cheese soup with toasted pumpkin seeds and croutons. And a sneaky bowl of skinny fries which I really didn’t need. There’s a full room service menu too if you are looking for a little peace and quiet.
Breakfast in the morning is served in the comfy Blackwood’s restaurant, with a buffet set up in the bar area and an a la carte option available for no extra cost to residents.
My full Scottish on the first day came with an unexpected portion of baked beans and with plenty of Scottish elements, including a delicious pork and leek sausage, black pudding, haggis and what the menu described politely as a potato scone, but I know for a fact to be a tattie scone. On the buffet, there were jugs of juices, plenty of pastries, a good selection of fruit, cold meats and cheeses and yoghurts from Bonaly Farm Dairy. Proper tea that needed a strainer was my choice from the options of tea, fresh coffee or hot chocolate.
Dinner for four of us in the restaurant went smoothly despite the hotel catering for a large group on the night we were there. The menu for Blackwood’s bar and grill is not extensive, but everything is carefully chosen so that whatever your dietary needs you will find something to suit. The kitchen has a Josper Grill so, as you’d expect, there are a number of steaks on the menu. But, there are also vegetarian options and the staff catered well for allergies adapting the strawberry and raspberry pavlova so I could eat it and dietary requirements, ensuring there were gluten-free options for one of the other diners.
We tried three of the starters on the menu; a platter of East Coast Cured charcuterie for two of us, sourced from a family run business based in Leith that specialises in the production of traditional and contemporary slow cured Scottish meats. The vegetarian option on the menu was a delicious lentil pate with mushroom puree, toasted bread and rocket salad.
And for me, hot and cold smoked salmon terrine with capers, horseradish and sourdough, which I completely forgot to photograph. No matter, we were more impressed that one of the locals in our group knew and rated the supplier – Eddie Kwock who has a reputation for supplying the best fish in Edinburgh.
It would have been churlish not to try the Chateaubriand, a stunning steak dish for two served on a board with hand-cut chips, roast plum tomatoes, seasonal vegetables, portobello mushrooms and a choice of béarnaise or a red wine reduction. Somehow we managed to clear the board between us – the perfectly cooked steak with that characteristic char was very morish.
The other choices were no less delicious – a beef bourguignon with creamy mash, chive sour cream and rosemary bread and a pan-fried cod fillet with white bean casserole, potatoes, carrots, sauteed kale and chorizo crisps.
For dessert, we enjoyed a deconstructed winter berry crumble with toasted oats and brandy sauce, a portion of Arran ice-creams and two variations on the strawberry and raspberry pavlova (mine without the strawberries). I did think the pavlova was closer to an Eton mess but no worse for that.
We enjoyed a bottle of Pinot Noir Moulin de Gassac 2018 with our meal. Like everything else we found at the Nira Caledonia, a lot of thought has gone into the concise wine list. It’s very reasonably priced too with the most expensive option being a bottle of Champagne at £62 followed by a 2014 Lalande de Pomerol at £54.
I was fascinated to learn about the special whisky on display. Apparently, the limited-edition whiskies are produced for the Nira Caledonia by Adelphi Distillery who under the Adelphi Selection brand buy limited numbers of old casks which are then bottled and labelled. In addition to limited runs of single malts, they also produce a special blend for the hotel. What a perfect way to treat yourself.
Walking around the Nira Caledonia with Chris Lynch, the general manager, it was obvious how much care is taken to make sure all guests get the best possible service in this boutique hotel. I was impressed at the variety of room styles – all classic but some with a contemporary feel while others like mine, far more traditional. And at the very evident attention to detail as he tuned the radio in a vacant room to the ‘right’ station. Perhaps most impressive of all though is that feeling that I got when I walked into my room. A kind of ‘home from home but better’. I know I wasn’t alone either – one of my guests was trying her best to source the wallpaper with a view to using it in her own home. That’s a rare and special thing to find in a hotel and it sets a high bar for the future.
About 20 minutes walk from both of the main stations in Edinburgh, a few minutes from Princes Street and a stone’s throw from the Castle, I can’t think of a better location if you are visiting the city. While there are plenty of other hotels in the city, if you prefer a quiet location and a boutique hotel, then the Nira Caledonia is a perfect choice.
6-10 Gloucester Pl,
Edinburgh EH3 6EF
Phone: 0131 225 2720
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Disclosure: I was a guest of the Nira Caledonia – all content is editorially given
The Nira Caledonia is a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World.