I recently had the pleasure of enjoying more than a taste of five-star luxury in one of Scotland’s most prestigious hotels, the Waldorf Astoria in Edinburgh.
After only a two-and-a-half-hour train journey from Aberdeen to the capital, we arrived at the hotel just after noon and received the warmest of welcomes from French receptionist Marine.
Catherine, from Portugal, showed us to our room on the corner of the hotel, which enjoyed stunning views of both Princes Street and Auld Reekie’s most famous attraction, Edinburgh Castle.
The Waldorf Astoria, the Hilton Group’s flagship hotel in the capital, has a storied history. It opened in 1903 as the Caledonian, known to all locally as the “Caley”, a grand old railway hotel which was part of the Caledonian Railway’s Princes Street railway station.
The station’s original concourse now forms part of Peacock Alley, the hotel’s popular lobby lounge, where once tickets were issued to countless travellers. The order of the day now is coffee, cocktails and afternoon tea in the most atmospheric surroundings.
The afternoon was given over to a little shopping expedition. On our return, we had intended to visit the hotel’s luxurious Guerlain Spa for a rejuvenating massage, followed by a swim, sauna and soak in the Jacuzzi, but we had spent too much time exploring the delights of Princes Street and nearby Rose Street, with its numerous bars and cafes, so we settled for a relaxing pre-dinner drink in the aforementioned Peacock Alley.
We could have dined in the hotel’s impressive Galvin Brasserie Deluxe, but instead we opted for fine dining, French style, in the Pompadour by Galvin.
The decoration really did make us feel as if we were dining in Versailles – until we looked out of the huge picture windows offering stunning uninterrupted views of Edinburgh Castle.
What better way to ponder over the menu than by sipping a glass of the finest French Champagne?
We thoroughly enjoyed a brace of complimentary amuse bouches before my wife and I both started with a soft herb and truffle custard tart with summer vegetables – absolutely delicious.
For the main course, I opted for tranche of wild turbot, fennel, orange, fresh almonds and chervil veloute, my wife opting for an equally delicious pepper-glazed Goosnargh duck, grapefruit, turnip and confit leg.
I just had to choose a Pencarrow Sauvigon Blanc from the small town of Martinborough in New Zealand, from the comprehensive wine list. It brought back one of our happiest holiday moments ever.
A decade ago, after enjoying a relaxing round of golf with the Martinborough secretary, the club’s husband-and-wife caterers joined me for a refreshment after hearing my Scottish accent.
Their great-grandparents had left Scotland in 1898 for a new life in the Antipodes, ending up founding the farm and vineyard which my newfound friends have continued to run to this day.
They produced a photo of them on a motorbike holiday they had been on in Scotland a few years before, outside the house their forebears had left more than a century earlier.
They were incredulous when I proceeded to tell them the house had later been lived in by farmer Donald Forsyth, the entrance to the right was the door to the church, and the house on the left was the former residence of exciseman Peter Malloch, all in my native town of Rothes. It really is a small world!
Now, I’ve enjoyed many a fine dessert over the years, but my raspberry soufflé, yoghurt and raspberry ripple sorbet is up there with the very best. My better half chose a beautifully presented Bruce Farm strawberries and cream millefeuille with white pepper sorbet.
The food was fabulous, but our culinary experience was greatly enhanced by the exceptional level of service we received on the evening.
Our Colombian waitress Katherine was delightful, and the rapport we enjoyed with the restaurant’s senior manager Eric Arens, from Belgium, made our night. The pride and the passion he has for the Pompadour shone through brightly throughout.
We made an early start the next morning to get to the first day of the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open at Gullane in good time.
We were lucky enough to be invited into one of the hospitality boxes overlooking the 18th green where we enjoyed breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea, as well as a couple of refreshments on what was a beautiful day at the championship course.
I was fortunate to bump into and have a chat with Stuart Foster, Hilton’s vice-president and a keen golfer himself, with responsibility for the group’s global marketing for its flagship brands.
He said: “Golf is a passion point, particularly for the leisurely traveller, and the Waldorf Astoria in Edinburgh has more than 30 golf courses within easy commuting distance of the hotel.
“We feel our hotel in Edinburgh is timeless. The key has been bringing it up to date, bringing that classic Victorian architecture, and incorporating the former Caledonian atrium into Peacock Alley, the place where people continue to meet and greet to this day, in an delightful mix of the timeless and the timely.”
After an enjoyable and exhausting day on the fairways following the fortunes of some of the world’s top golfers, we relaxed on the train journey home, vowing to return soon for another spot of life in the lap of luxury at the Waldorf Astoria.