Has every great banking hall in the country been repurposed into something fabulously millennial replete with extravagant floristry and a degustation menu? The last time I was in an actual bank was the now closed, deeply unlovely Stoke Newington branch of HSBC, when I had to pay in a cheque – a bizarre physical artefact in a virtual world. It all felt like the most tedious anachronism, with the inevitable broken pen chained to paying-in slips. That disappeared because no one uses banks anymore, and all the great banking halls disappeared before it because people had long stopped equating a lavish façade and marble interior with reliability and quality product. The same could be said of many hotels.
The Edinburgh Grand on St Andrew Square – what I consider as the epicentre of New Town, if not of the whole city – is doing its best to create something new that everyone actually wants. It has taken over most of the imposing building that was once the HQ of the National (now Royal) Bank of Scotland. Under the same roof, inside the old banking hall, there’s a branch of Hawksmoor. It looks swoon-inducingly handsome, although my last meal there was lacklustre (meh chips) and the product as a whole feels a touch jaded. There’s also Lady Libertine, a new bar and restaurant, serving impressive cocktails. Upstairs at The Edinburgh Grand there is The Register Club, which also has a large function space that launched semi-regular supper clubs with visiting star chefs this year.
The night I was in residence it was the turn of Neil Campbell, head chef of Rovi, the white-hot London offshoot of Ottolenghi. A set tasting menu showcased what has been getting everyone excited in Fitzrovia: a plate of nibbles comprised Scotch bonnet pickled carrots, smoked cod roe, dukkah, parsnip croquettes and pickled walnuts. A venison carpaccio was lovely but overwhelmed by Jerusalem artichoke pickle, while langoustine in a sauce from its claws was light and flavourful. All largely great, inventive stuff. The vertiginous high point – salt-baked celeriac, cooked forever. One perfect moment.
This kind of evening isn’t for everyone: you dine en famille at large tables "to encourage people to talk". Many dishes landed with spoons to be shared out among new friends.
You have to be in the mood for this sort of thing, which – misanthrope that I am – I wasn’t. Service was also muddled, along with what felt like greed-inducingly short pours of natural wine pairings and the constant clatter of cutlery to the floor as dishes were swapped around. The Register Club serves as what would be the hotel’s main dining room from breakfast to supper, if this were a hotel.
The Edinburgh Grand is at pains to point out it is a collection of 'serviced apartments' rather than a hotel. But the only real difference is that you’ll have a kitchen in your room, an access code rather than a room key, and no nightly turndown. There’s less 'service', but so what? One potential annoyance is if you want 'room service', you have to go to The Register Club to order and pay for it, and alcohol is only available for delivery with food. The serviced apartment gimmick is widespread, and in Edinburgh – where half the populace rolls around like Scrooge McDuck in a sea of gold coins each September after putting their house on Airbnb throughout Festival time – it’s exceedingly popular.
But I’ve rarely seen it executed with this kind of sophistication before. The chequered marble floor of the lobby is made spectacular when viewed from the circular galleried landings above, each carpeted in a dizzying mosaic of squares of angled black lines that becomes a kind of op-art maze, offset by an ornate brass railing.
This is sensational design – and the rooms are splendid, too. My Grand Apartment had high ceilings, Bose audio tech, wood-panelled walls throughout, touches of gem-coloured upholstery, lovely wooden furniture by Gervasoni and the most beautiful emerald green-tiled bathroom (albeit without a shelf in the shower – a particular quibble for me as I’m weird and like to brush my teeth there). The kitchen was better kitted out than my one at home, and I could have cooked for and hosted a great dinner party. The apartment felt genuinely – as both its name and that of the building would have you hope – grand.
In a virtual world, this is a not-quite-hotel with real substance.
Rooms from £151.20, Grand Apartments from £211.50 per night. Breakfast excluded. There are three fully accessible apartments. Mark C O’Flaherty travelled as a guest of LNER, which offers direct high speed rail services from London to Edinburgh, from £26.50 each way.
Read the full review: The Edinburgh Grand