Great Places to Stay
- Malmaison Hotel, Leith, Edinburgh
Edinburgh-based travel writer Vivien Devlin and her partner didn't have to travel far to reach the Malmaison in Leith. Now part of the capital, Leith is on the waterfront of the Firth of Forth. Although the trip may have been short, they found it well worth while!
With such a wide choice of hotels these days - from international chains, popular high street brands, boutique chic - selecting where to stay to suit your individual needs and taste is a tricky business. Many city centre hotels - like the designer clothes we wear (or wish to wear) - have become fashionable, trend-setting, stylish and the place to be seen. While other middle-of-the-road, regular but reliable hotel chains could be compared to M&S or Topshop, the Malmaison brand of hotels is, in my view, akin to Prada. Ultra cool, contemporary, sophisticated and sexy.
It is extraordinary that it is less than ten years since entrepreneur hotelier Ken McCulloch created the Malmaison hotel group, named after Chateau Malmaison, the original home of Napoleon and Josephine just outside Paris. How romantic is that! Between 1994 and 1998, McCulloch in collaboration with Amanda Rosa, interior designer, began to create a select group of high-quality, contemporary styled hotels in many leading UK cities - Glasgow (pictured here), Edinburgh and Manchester. The Malmaison brand was based on a distinctive vision to fill a gap in the hotel market, offering the modern-day traveller a taste of luxury living, fabulous decor, style bars and bistros - all at a mid price tariff.
By 1997 Malmaison hotels were voted the best brand in the UK and Tatler magazine announced they were the best in the world. Riding high and with plans for other hotel projects, McCulloch felt it was time to sell Malmaison to an American company. Since then the Malmaison group has continued to thrive with new hotels in Leeds, Newcastle, Birmingham and London while still maintaining McCulloch's original concept and Rosa's innovative style of contemporary design.
In the Heart of Leith
The Edinburgh Malmaison is situated right in the heart of Leith in a unique position right on the water's edge overlooking the Harbour and further over the Port and Ocean Terminal. The property was formerly a Seaman's Mission, a hostel for sailors, which has been radically renovated inside without destroying the imposing architecture outside.
From the moment you walk in you realise this is no ordinary hotel. The mood (not the temperature) is ultra-cool with sombre walls and furnishings in grey, black and white with occasional bold colours or diagonal stripes. To the right of the lobby is the spacious L-shaped Brasserie with neatly arranged tables for two, four or more with high windows all around for a view out to the harbour. Opposite is the bar, all black leather and glistening chrome, subtle lighting with exotic designer plants in giant sand filled pots. But it's not cocktail hour yet. Time to check in and explore the bedroom.
There are 100 bedrooms and suites all totally individual in style and in every shape and size due to a major development of a new wing of accommodation, looking out on to the side street. The new standard double rooms are compact but rather cramped for two sharing, (one armchair so the other person would have to sit on the bed to watch TV/read/eat breakfast) - but well furnished with top quality fabrics. Opt for a superior room for more space and a touch of luxury. While each room may have very different decor, artwork and layout, all have large beds, rich fabrics, colourful throws and cushions, Cable TV, CD player, [CD library at reception], excellent well stocked mini-bars with drinks and snacks you really might want to have - Tortilla chips, Kettle chips, jelly beans, chocolate, full bottles of wine, Gin and tonic mix etc etc.. Also a tea and coffee tray. The home-from-home comforts are carefully selected for people like me and you. Bathrooms have a wonderful array of branded toiletries (Malmaison label made by Arran Aromatics on the Isle of Arran using natural ingredients) in purple and orange with matching tooth mugs. And you'll find toweling bathrobes too. As I say, this is your ultra-chic designer hotel.
We had a superior bedroom in the old, original building right at the front with two large windows giving a superb view over the harbour, which is to be recommended. This was very spacious with two armchairs, coffee table for in- room dining and a spacious bright bathroom with a window too.
For a special occasion you may also select the superior room on the first floor with a four-poster bed and 'sea view', or alternatively there are a range of luxurious suites with separate living room (ideal for entertaining or for families) and adjoining bedroom.
Several guests at Malmaison hotels (as well as at One Devonshire Gardens and the Columbus, Monaco) have appreciated Amanda Rosa's very individual interior design and then approached her to refurbish their own homes. It's not surprising to learn that she was recently named Interior Designer of the year.
Bar and Brasserie
Fine wining and dining within a stylish contemporary setting and a lively ambience has always been at the heart of the Malmaison concept. The bar at the Edinburgh Malmaison is an intimate place to sit for a leisurely café latte, beer or a snack by day or share a bottle of wine or indulge in a cocktail or two by night. It's a lively meeting place for non-residents to enjoy the Malmaison experience as well as the hotel guests with waiter service which all adds a touch of class to a night out. In the summer months and warmer days, there are tables outside on the patio to make you really feel you are away from the city.
The Brasserie de Malmaison changes its menu every few weeks but the selection of dishes for each course is pretty extensive so that you could return time after time and still have a good choice. The cuisine is inspired by the great French Cafes of Paris which developed during the turn of the last century with a contemporary twist offering "a collection of the simple things, food, wine, service, environment, and unique atmosphere that is the famous Brasserie buzz".
Classic dishes such as Eggs Benedict, Smoked Salmon or Mussel Chowder for example to start. Alternatively Pheasant Salad or Braised Ham and Foie Gras Terrine with spiced prune chutney. I selected an innovative Potato and Truffle Ravioli with Chive Beurre Blanc, which was mouthwateringly delicious (I could easily have asked for a second helping!) - as was my companion's smooth sleek Leek and Gruyere Tart, served correctly warm, not hot.
If you are a fish lover then the Malmaison Brasserie will suit your palette. Select from Grilled Tranche of Turbot, Pan Fried North Atlantic Cod, Roast Hake or Grilled Scottish Salmon. A signature dish here are the Salmon Fishcakes which were on the menu some time ago, were taken off for a change but immediately brought back by customer demand. Crispy outer coating, succulent, tender flakes of fish inside - served with Pommes Frites this was real comfort eating but fabulous.
Carnivores may select Barbary Duck, Loin of Venison, or a Mixed Grill of steak and chops and there's a wide range of side dishes, such as Gratin Dauphinois, Honey roasted carrots and parsnips, and herb salads. The menu has several imaginative and tasty vegetarian starters but just one main dish - Sweet Potato and Butternut Squash Gallette with goats' cheese and pepper and aubergine relish.
The French do desserts with style and you'll require a healthy appetite to cope with the portion size. A huge round platter of Creme Brulée for instance as well as a wide selection of tartes, ice-creams, other luscious chocolatey puddings and of course cheese and biscuits.
A full breakfast is served in the Brasserie until 10am (10.30am weekends) while a continental breakfast may be brought to your room. This is described as " a terrific tray of goodies" - so I was intrigued to find out what this was all about and put in an order.
At the appointed hour came the knock on the door and not one, but two room service waiters arrived each bearing a large tray for each of us. There was orange juice, a bowl of fresh fruit, French [quality] yoghurt, croissants, preserves, and a pot of coffee served, as requested, with hot milk. A tray of goodies indeed.
Back in 1994 Ken McCulloch created a new style of city hotel to woo the weary traveller with something different - fresh exciting interior design blending surreptitiously with homely comforts. Luxury on a budget. The concept has worked brilliantly and now nearly ten years on the Malmaison brand continues to spread its name city by city around the UK and - perhaps - beyond.
I loved staying at the Edinburgh Malmaison and whether sitting in the bedroom, sipping a cocktail in the bar or enjoying dinner at the Brasserie, I really felt that I could have been in New York or Paris - the ambience was all so deliciously sophisticated and smart. But then I do love Prada.
For more information or to make a reservation see the Malmaison Hotel, Edinburgh Web pages or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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