What is The Principal Edinburgh’s USP?
The Principal Edinburgh Charlotte Square opened in 2017 on the former site of the Roxburghe Hotel, in Edinburgh’s New Town. The hotel consists of seven interconnected Georgian Townhouses which gives it a kind of cosy, clubhouse feel even though there are 199 revamped rooms and suites squirreled away upstairs.
And the vibe?
Relaxed, friendly and inclusive. Staff are generous with recommendations and directions for the local area and, although it’s quite a large hotel, it feels intimate and boutique-like.
Which room to book?
Choose from entry-level to luxury according to your budget and preference (history buffs will be torn between the period details of rooms in the older buildings and the castle views you get from some of the rooms in the New House).
Though they vary on size each one comes with a welcome ‘tuck box’ (with treats like Tunnocks Caramel wafers, crisps and sweets) and a mini fridge (with fresh milk for tea and coffee and space to store your own drinks). Likewise, the colour scheme is the same throughout: muted with soft greys, browns and blues punctuated by tartan blankets and cushions.
The hotel’s tiled bathrooms are slick, with huge heated mirrors (no steaming), walk-in rainfall showers, fluffy towelling robes and toiletries from The Perfumer’s Story. Superior rooms also have portable turntables and a selection of classic vinyl to chill out with.
What’s good to drink?
There are two bar areas in the hotel, one linked to BABA, the main restaurant, and the other part of the Garden – a conservatory-style all-day dining space in the centre of the hotel, peppered with on-trend rattan chairs and hanging plants.
The cocktail menu at BABA is quirky and inventive and reflects the Levantine flavours on the food menu. We tried a Sesamartini – sesame gin, dry vermouth and mandarin bitters and a Sufi Fizz – vodka, vanilla, rose, cardamom and ginger soda, both nicely balanced considering the multiple flavours at work.
A new summer cocktail menu has also just launched inspired by the eastern Mediterranean with some brand new creations including the Olive Oil Negroni – sacred juniper gin, absenteroux, rosehip cup, campari, extra virgin olive oil and the Almond Blossom – saffron gin, lemon, almond, rose and egg white. After dinner the barman happily made us an off-menu espresso martini and chatted us through the inspirations behind the cocktail list.
And to eat?
The main restaurant at the Principal is BABA, a mezze bar and grill. The bright buzzy space is awash with colour, from distressed turquoise walls to coloured tiles and decorative hanging rugs. Tables are comfortably spaced and there’s some roomy booths to slip into or, if you are feeling more sociable, a large raised communal table in the middle of the room.
The menu promises food inspired by the Levant with small and large dishes designed to share – you can see the chefs at work on the huge open charcoal grill that runs down one side of the restaurant. We chose a mix of snacks, mezze and grill dishes. Perfectly crisp little cauli fritters were served with a punchy zhoug (a spicy coriander sauce) and tempered by cool crème fraiche. A mezze plate of baba ganoush was lovely and silky with a drizzle of pomegranate molasses to cut through the creaminess and scooped up with pillowy, puffy flatbreads hot from the grill.
Larger plates from the grill are super-generous – we tried a Goosnargh chicken leg with harissa hummus, pomegranate and pickled cabbage and slow-cooked lamb shoulder with giant couscous, preserved lemon and tahini yoghurt – either would have made a meal on their own. Our only mis-step was forgetting to order a salad or veg on the side to balance some of the richer offerings. We did finish with a sweet/sour pomegranate and mint sorbet, though, which was a beautifully zingy way to end.
What’s the breakfast like?
Breakfast is served in The Garden, which is flooded with natural light from the glass roof. Its outdoors/indoors feel makes for a good breakfast spot and there’s a huge buffet to choose from (fresh juices, fruit, pastries, bread, cereal, cold meats and cheeses) plus a menu for made-to-order hot dishes. We tried the smashed avocado on toast with poached eggs and a more traditional hearty full Scottish breakfast (including black pudding and haggis). Portions are generous so you can easily set yourself up for the day.
Any other food experiences I shouldn’t miss?
Once breakfast has ended The Garden becomes an all-day lounging area with sandwiches and snacks served during the day then botanical-themed cocktails and a Twilight Tea in the afternoon and evening. You don’t have to order anything to sit there, though, and there are plenty of little cubbyholes you can just curl up in with a book if you like.
Is it family-friendly?
We saw both kids and dogs during our stay but the vibe is a bit more adult-focused in general. Superior double rooms can sleep three, with a child on a sofa bed, and cots and folding beds are available on request, but most rooms sleep only two. The Garden serves a decent kids menu with a set price for three courses.
What can I do in the local area?
The hotel is minutes away from Princes Street (for shopping), Rose Street (for its famous pub crawl) and it’s a short walk over Princes Street Gardens to Castle Terrace where on Saturday mornings the farmers market hosts over 40 local producers including Arbroath Fisheries, Seriously Good Venison and Kedar Cheese (who make Scottish mozzarella).
It’s also a very short walk down cobbled streets to trendy Stockbridge, home of Tom Kitchin’s gastropub The Scran and Scallie (highly recommended) and Six Degrees North, a Scottish brewery making Belgian style beers (over 40 of their own are on tap and there’s a cellar of bottled classic Belgian beers).
The concierge says…
Our concierge recommended the Scran and Scallie (which we’d already booked), and insisted that we order the beef and ale pie and try Tom Kitchin’s own beer Yer Ben, winning recommendations.
Do make use of the local knowledge of the mostly young, Scottish staff. We wanted some suggestions for live music venues and by the time we’d been shown to our room we had a list of completely different experiences from traditional boozers to smart cocktail bars.
Words: Janine Ratcliffe
Photographs: Marc Millar
Double rooms at Principal Charlotte Square start from £120, room only