We review the Dunstane Houses, a newly refurbished hotel set between two grand old buildings in Edinburgh where you can sink into sleek copper bathtubs, feast on haggis bonbons with whisky mustard mayo and sip a gin, rhubarb and pepper tonic
Looking for hotels in Edinburgh? Check out our expert review of Edinburgh hotel, The Dunstane Houses. The Dunstane houses is one of Edinburgh’s best boutique hotels. Expect vintage pieces with contemporary design, bags of personality and, signature gin cocktails.
Orkney-born Shirley and Derek Mowat left the northerly archipelago for London in 1988 but screeched to a halt in the Scottish capital, opening their first guesthouse in Edinburgh’s Trinity neighbourhood. Now their latest venture has just opened in the same city, The Dunstane Houses.
Set back off a busy road on the way into – or out of – Edinburgh, Dunstane Houses is a two-for-the-price-of-one boutique hotel made up of Dunstane House, a rambling Victorian mansion designed by architect William Playfair in 1852, and its equally stately sister property, Hampton House, across the road. Both are just a ten-minute stroll from the city’s West End.
Re-launched this summer, the million pound refurbishment was orchestrated by London-based interior designer Hannah Lohan whose portfolio includes Foxhill Manor and The Fish in the Cotswolds and La Escondida, Terry Venables’ boutique hotel in Spain.
Lohan mixes vintage pieces with contemporary design and, for Dunstane House, she has seamlessly woven in the Mowats’ Orkney heritage, peppering rooms with traditional tweeds and historic black and white photographs of island life (elsewhere, the hotel’s Edinburgh and Orkney-themed art collection has been curated by local artist Nicky Brooks, from the Red Door Gallery in the city’s Old Town).
The overall impression is the antithesis of an anonymous boutique hotel. Dunstane House has bags of personality and personal touches. The atmosphere is relaxed and friendly, returning guests are greeted like old friends. It feels like the perfect hybrid: a cosy family-run guesthouse and a sumptuous small hotel.
The food at Dunstane Houses
With no traditional hotel restaurant the dining options are relaxed. An all-day dining menu (well, 12-9.30pm) is served in the light, airy lounge with its low-slung seating, peppering of tables and deep velvet sofas. The lounge opens into the bar with its darker, more dramatic, décor and cluster of higher tables where you can also grab a bite.
The menu, divided into wee bites, bigger bites and sides, champions Scottish produce and also reflects the Mowats’ Orkney roots. Signature dishes include Cullen Skink with artisan bread, honey-glazed, crispy Ayrshire Clash Farm pork belly and pan-seared, hand-dived Orkney scallops with cauliflower Mornay and Campbell’s black pudding.
The crispy Campbells haggis bonbons with Glenkinchie single malt whisky and Arran mustard mayo were cloyingly moreish, rich and delicious, the scallops perfectly cooked, the traditional whisky-slaked Cranachan a wicked medley of whipped cream, malt, honey and raspberries. It’s all good, albeit slightly safe.
But that’s fine. If it’s eye-poppingly innovative cuisine you’re after you’re spoilt for choice in Edinburgh. Michelin-starred restaurants jostle for space with quirky communal rustic dining spots. Bag a table at Norn, down in Leith, or a seat at The Table’s single table (there are 10 chairs) for a sparkling set tasting menu.
The Edinburgh Food Studio will broaden your culinary horizons while Edinburgh stalwart David Ramsden (of The Dogs) has just opened The Fat Pony (no website) on Bread Street, a bijoux wine bar with around 20 wines by the glass (including organic and biodynamic) and a selection of charcuterie and local cheeses. The wine bar, by all accounts, is having a renaissance in Edinburgh…
The drink at Dunstane Houses
Talking of drink, the hotel’s Ba’ Bar takes its name from the traditional Orcadian street football game. The dark paintwork and mustard velvet chairs and backlit whisky cabinet give it a cosy vibe.
Try one of the signature cocktails such as the refreshing Gin, Rhubarb and Pepper tonic made with rhubarb bitters and grated black pepper – or a Whisky Spice (single malt, chilli sauce, ginger ale and lime).
There’s a wide range of local craft beers, the 15 or so artisan gins are all Scottish bar one (Sipsmiths if you’re interested), including a bottle of the recently launched Old Tom Rhubarb Gin from the Orkney Gin company, while the whisky menu (with tasting notes) is around 60-strong.
The bedrooms at Dunstane Houses
For now, book one of the 16 newly revamped rooms in Dunstane House – Hannah Lohan hasn’t yet worked her magic over the road, though plans are afoot that she will (there are 35 rooms split between the two properties).
Spread over three floors, all with Orkney-inspired names, I was in the Scapa Suite on the first floor, the large sash windows framing views of the Pentland Hills in the distance.
The bed was a (very comfy) chunky black four poster with a burnt orange velvet chaise longue at its foot and a glamorous deep copper bathtub set against gold peacock feather wallpaper.
The shower room had a geometric-patterned tiled floor and fixtures and fittings from Fired Earth. Other nice touches included a digital Roberts radio, fresh milk in the fridge and a bag of crumbly Scottish tablet.
Sneaking a peak at some of the other rooms I glimpsed oversized tweed headboards, Scottish wool throws and Persian rugs. Up in the eaves the cosy double, Auskerry, comes with a telescope for stargazing.
Breakfast at a low-slung lounge table was, unsurprisingly, relaxed, the bar spread with a giant bowl of luscious-looking strawberries, a picnic hamper of pastries, artisan breads and traditional cereals.
Other guests were tucking into oak-smoked Orkney kippers but I chose the Full Scottish with Ayrshire back bacon, rare-breed Clash Farm pork sausage, Campbell’s haggis and black pudding, tattie scone, grilled tomato and poached eggs from Lintz Hall Farm.