Location of The Bonham in Edinburgh offers the best of both worlds—nestled in the middle of a line of sturdy Victorian homes on a quiet street, yet an easy 10-minute walk from the western edge of Princes Street and the busy traffic, shops, museums and art galleries therein.
Entrance is up several thick stone steps bordered by a black wrought-iron handrail with boxed plants either side. Inside is a short narrow hallway with the restaurant to one side and the reception desk behind a door on the other. Opposite the reception desk is what would probably have been in the 19th century Britain a drawing or smoking room, a place to retire for leisurely post-dinner conversation. With a modern, crimson sofa as its centerpiece and a few small tables and chairs positioned around the oak-framed fireplace, the room looks out on a small park through large, heavily-curtained windows.
Bedrooms are reached via a small elevator or up the thick carpeted staircase. Standing on the first landing, one has the distinct sense of gentility from a previous era, of being in what would have been considered a century ago a grand home. It doesn’t take much to imagine the clatter of horses’ hooves outside, the whoosh of carriage wheels coming to a standstill and ladies in silk and lace and gentlemen in top-hats and cravats disembarking after a night at the opera.
Part of the Townhouse Collection, which also owns another property in Glasgow, The Bonham is a 49-room boutique hotel that displays its ambitions by linking past and present—anchoring itself in modernity through large, contemporary framed photographs and abstract paintings decorating the high-ceilinged rooms while granting recognition to its proud past with its grand wood-carved wall panels and staircase.
A small back room reflects this amply, with a generous range of drinks displayed behind a glass-fronted bar directly opposite nail-head trimmed leather chairs around small, oak tables. Vintage cast-iron heaters adorn the room while a warming glow emanates from an authentic Victorian-era fireplace.
Our room was comfortable without being spacious, with a view out of a large bay window down on the garden below and a good part of the city and low-lying hills beyond in the distance. Interestingly, our bed-board was an intriguing bright rainbow of colors while a simple set of chairs nearby were of the same. A small table was suitable for reading and writing purposes.
Running along the entire length of part of the ground-floor is a busy restaurant, popular among business professionals working in the area. It offers French-inspired dishes using a variety of local Scottish produce. Aside from a la carte menu, a seasonal market one is also offered. We chose that while seated near a large window framed with curtains of a dark-grey tartan design.
Scottish weather performed its usual ritual and we ate to the rhythmic accompaniment of rain beating against pane glass. My starter of duck rillettes with prune puree and sourdough toast proved satisfyingly rich and smooth while my partner’s seared squid with caramelized watermelon, feta salad and spring onion was delightfully light yet, at the same time, full of character due to the subtle lemon balm touch.
When our main dish of braised pork belly with celeriac gratin, savoy cabbage and apple puree arrived, we once again questioned our tendency to avoid pork dishes. With crisp, glazed skin and soft, tender, moist meat beneath it provided excellent testimony to the restaurant’s reputation. Other choices included butternut squash risotto and roasted coley fish.
Being served by young French waitresses and waiters in the heart of Edinburgh was somewhat surprising but allowed us the opportunity to gage their opinions on that classic of French desserts, moelleux, which we had noticed on the menu. Ultimately, of course, “the proof is in the pudding” so we indulged in the chef’s interpretation: chocolate and raspberry with vanilla ice-cream.
I have a warm affection for the particular version that incorporates a small pocket of chocolate sponge which when gently pierced with a spoon releases a tiny volcano of melted chocolate. On this occasion, however, it was of firmer texture, quite brownie-like, with fresh berries scattered in it.
I persuaded my companion to choose the assorted cheese platter and, seeing it, she thanked me most profusely, for it not only included some unique Scottish brands, such as Criffel, Isle of Mull cheddar and Ailsa Craig goat, but came with a coin of quince jelly and a variety of homemade biscuits, all of which satisfyingly completed our afternoon epicurean experience.