With two of my favourite things – travel and dining out – severely curtailed by the pandemic, getting the chance to finally do both in Edinburgh felt like having the best drink of water after the longest thirst.
It’s fair to say our first proper getaway in ages was a bit of a luxury affair – staying in two of the capital’s best hotels and eating out in two superb restaurants.
But since everyone has been saving money on meals out and travel for the last 18 months, maybe this was the perfect excuse to push the boat out.
The first night of our stay was in a place we’ve often gazed longingly at during previous visits to Edinburgh – The Witchery.
Cheerily named after the hundreds of women and men who burned at the stake as witches on Castlehill in the 16th and 17th Centuries, and just a stone’s throw from the castle gates, this Royal Mile institution is about as atmospheric as it gets.
Helpfully we were able to park our car at The Witchery’s sister hotel Prestonfield House – more about that later – and were provided with a free taxi to take us into the heart of the Old Town.
Our room for the night was the Turret Suite, which as the name suggests was up a stone spiral staircase that wouldn’t look out of place in a Hammer horror film (I mean that in a very good way). The only thing that was missing on our climb to the room was a little candle to hold.
Stepping into the Turret Suite the Hammer horror vibes gave way to extravagant opulence, with a space that seemed custom-designed to take my breath away (well, what little breath I had left after climbing three flights of stairs).
With its four-poster bed, gold-plated roll-top bath, eastern wallpaper and separate sitting room, there were almost too many delightful design details to take in.
Having a room decorated in such a grandiosely gothic style could easily come off as kitsch, but this was too beautiful and fairytale-like to criticise.
The fairytale atmosphere continued when we stepped into the candlelit Secret Garden dining room.
Opened in 1990 on the spot of an abandoned schoolyard located next to the original Witchery dining room, we descended to the tables by a stone staircase and sat next to a terrace, where guests can dine out in the summer.
The meal – including oysters, crab, lamb and halibut – was a celebration of Scottish produce and pure luxury from start to finish.
When we arrived daylight was clinging on outside, but by the time we were clearing our dessert plates night had fallen and the dining room seemed to be lit solely by candle. It was absolutely magical.
The culinary delights didn’t end there. We awoke the next morning to discover a picnic hamper at our door that was filled with breakfast goodies such as pastries, fruit, cereal, cold meats and cheese.
After the huge meal the night before it was an indulgence – but one I was happy to get stuck into.
As we stepped out of The Witchery and on to the cobbled street, a foggy drizzle had descended, although I actually think that feels more in keeping with the Old Town vibe than bright sunshine.
Our destination was a 30-minute walk away – the perfect chance to work off some of that breakfast hamper.
Pre-Covid, one of our favourite restaurants in the capital was The Honours, a brasserie-style place run by Michelin-starred chef Martin Wishart.
Disappointingly it was one of the casualties of the pandemic, but in its place is a wonderful new Italian restaurant called Rico’s.
This is an eatery that’s clearly striving for high-end excellence, so don’t expect rustic Italian dishes “like your mama used to make” – instead this is fine dining with attentive serving staff who talk you through, and sometimes even dish up, each course as it arrives at your table.
After enjoying starters of scallops and fried squid with saffron aioli, we shared our main course – Orata al Cartoccio, oven baked sea bream.
There’s nothing like the theatre and anticipation of seeing a fish being filleted up at the table.
On the recommendation of our friendly waiter, we finished our lunch with the tiramisu, a deconstructed affair but with all the flavours and textures of the traditional dessert.
The Honours may no longer be in this New Town spot, but Rico’s proved itself to be just as good, and we vowed to return next time we’re in the city.
Our second night in Edinburgh was spent in the luxurious embrace of Prestonfield House, a country house-style hotel set in 20-acres of private parkland in the shadow of Arthur’s Seat.
Flitting between the two hotels couldn’t have been easier, thanks to the free taxi that was laid on.
To say we had a room for the night is a bit of an understatement.
The Lord Provost suite was the size of a small flat, complete with sitting room, two bathrooms and a gorgeous antique four-poster bed that was so high off the ground that a set of steps was helpfully supplied for guests of smaller stature.
Reading the list of some of the famous names who have stayed at Prestonfield – Lauren Bacall, the Dali Lama, Elton John, Sean Connery – we felt very privileged and spoiled from the second we set foot inside.
Although the hotel has a world-class restaurant called Rhubarb (Prestonfield was the first estate in Scotland to grow rhubarb in the 18th Century) we had a table booked elsewhere back in the city centre.
After sampling some feisty (and delicious) cocktails at Superico Bar & Lounge on Hanover Street, we walked a few doors up and arrived at its sister restaurant, Superico, for some South American-infused flavours.
Having started our day with a big breakfast, followed relatively swiftly by a rich Italian feast, Superico’s small plates of Latin-flavoured dishes were the perfect way to end our visit to Edinburgh.
The tiradito – a zingy Peruvian dish of sashimi cut seabream dressed in mango and blood orange juice – was perfect sharing food and set us up perfectly for the succulent confit chicken leg with a haggis croquette and mojo verde and flat iron steak with chimichurri.
As the taxi returned us to the warm embrace of Prestonfield House (and we discussed going on a diet over a night cap in one of the hotel’s cosy seating areas) I realised how much I’ve missed short breaks such as these.
Yes, this was luxury to an absurdly indulgent degree, but as we all slowly return to life as we knew it before Covid, I’m convinced it deserves celebrating in the most decadent way imaginable.
WHERE TO STAY
Castlehill, Royal Mile, EH1 2NF.
0131 225 5613 thewitchery.com
Priestfield Road, Edinburgh, EH16 5UT.
0131 225 7800 prestonfield.com
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
58a N Castle St, Edinburgh EH2 3LU.
0131 322 6750 ricosristorante.co.uk
Superico Bar & Lounge
99 Hanover St, Edinburgh EH2 1DJ
0131 225 8200 superico.com
83 Hanover St, Edinburgh EH2 1EE
0131 225 4862 superico.com