The Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh, the Caledonian offers a range of new bespoke experiences that capture the best of Scotland.
Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh The Caledonian sits inside a 1904 historic building in the heart of the city.
It’s midday on the River Tay, and I stand alone on the shore watching the water and sky. The river’s current ushers a small, open boat downstream. The craft is captained by an elderly man wearing a wool cap and jacket to defend against the chill. I notice an assembly of fishing poles jutting out of the boat’s stern.
“How are the salmon?” I ask.
“How do you mean?” he says, as if he has several answers at the ready.
“I’ve only been out here a short time, and I’ve seen several fish leap from the water. So, are they biting?”
The man waves away my comment as he floats by. He turns back to me and yells, laughing, “Son, they’re always biting.”
Which could be a metaphor for Scotland; everything, it seems, has a way of delivering the unexpected. The team at the 241-room Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh, The Caledonian (hilton.com) captures more than a little of this national magic by creating new experiences that not only off er the lures of its historic 1904 property (it’s within walking distance of the Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Mile and Old Town), but also the riches of the countryside.
The Pompadour is led by chef Dean Banks.
Thirty minutes before my encounter with the fisherman, I’d eaten one of the best meals of the year in a rustic, loch-side cabin, known as the Cargill Salmon Fishing Lodge, complete with a fireplace, cozy and bright furniture and a deck that overlooks the river. Prepared by the culinary team at The Caledonian, the meal included smoked salmon and Champagne. Guests can enjoy a similar experience and arrive at the remote hideaway—roughly one hour from Edinburgh—via a Mercedes V Class.
“We want our guests to be able to get a taste of Scotland at the property and through curated experiences off -site,” says Dale MacPhee, a Canadian transplant and general manager of The Caledonian. “Experiential is the name of the game these days. The people in Scotland want to make your trip the best you’ve ever taken. It’s part of their DNA.”
Want to play a round on the legendary course at St. Andrews or tour the storybook town’s ancient cathedral rimmed by the sea? Waldorf Astoria can make it happen. Staff also can set up fly-fishing excursions like the one I enjoyed on an off shoot of the River Tay, where anglers cast into eddies populated with wily brook trout.
A day after my experience at the salmon lodge, the Waldorf Astoria team delivers me to the Tay to try my luck at catching trout. Only problem: My fly-fishing skills are nonexistent. Within 20 minutes, though, I’m casting like Brad Pitt in A River Runs Through It (well, in my imagination). Wearing knee-high Wellies, I drop fly after fly into the water, occasionally feeling the familiar tug of a fish, only to lose the battle to set the hook. It hardly matters. Surrounded by green hills dotted with hundreds of sheep, the setting is dreamy (I half expect a bagpiper to emerge from a rocky outcropping). It’s one of the finest fishing experiences I’ve ever had, and I never even landed a brookie.
Scallops accented with popcorn at The Pompadour
Not that any guest would ever go hungry at the property. The Caledonian’s culinary program, bookended by chefs Dean Banks and Mark Greenaway, continues to distinguish itself among five-star properties worldwide. Banks, who has become one of the evangelists of modern Scottish cuisine, meets me one day along the harbor in St. Andrews. The spot is a few blocks from one of Banks’ restaurants known as Haar (haarrestaurant. com). During the height of the pandemic, the young chef ensured that the local fishing industry stayed financially afloat by sourcing everything from lobster to scallops for his creative dishes.
“I left home and cooked all over the world,” says Banks. “When I returned to Scotland, I looked around and realized we have some of the best, most coveted ingredients anywhere. I decided to stay and make a go of it here.”
In addition to Haar and other ventures, Banks leads the kitchen and creates the constantly changing menu at The Pompadour at The Caledonian. The chef’s signature menu showcases his inventive flair, with dishes like Loch Melfort trout ceviche, amped with passion fruit, ponzu cucumber and verdita—the latter providing an unexpectedly spicy kick. Another revelation is Banks’ hand-dived scallop, which is drizzled in miso, honey and kaffir lime. Gigha halibut rounds out the surprises: The dish, cooked a la plancha, is elevated with a chanterelle, XO mushroom ragout.
The artistic confections for afternoon tea
Grazing by Mark Greenaway is the property’s other signature restaurant. “We want guests to have a quintessential Scottish dining experience,” says Greenaway, who wows patrons with details. For example, the restaurant cures every piece of salmon; the mackerel is line caught; and the beef is aged 28 days, then an extra 10 days in hay. “It’s the beefiest beef you’ll ever taste,” jokes Greenaway.The chef even created a special “haggis” dish for me: six types of mushrooms, including chanterelle, cooked inside a tender onion. When my fork nudges his work, the tender root vegetable opens with a puff of steam and the rich, earthy scent of fungi. Greenaway’s five-course tasting menu includes confit Loch Duart salmon, pan-roasted duck breast and a truly fun raspberry ripple lollipop with white chocolate.
Peacock Alley, a lounge common to every Waldorf Astoria, is all about architectural drama at The Caledonian. Formerly a station concourse and ticket office, the vast space is the buzzy heart of the hotel. Don’t visit the property (or Edinburgh, for that matter) without experiencing afternoon tea, a marvel of the sweet and savory. It’s one of those events where the surprises come in waves.
After a choice of looseleaf tea, a three-tiered stand appears at the table with finger sandwiches like hot-smoked salmon, lemon, dill creme fraiche and leek; and prawn Marie Rose on a brioche bun. Treats include nougat candy with roasted pistachios and almonds, salted caramel brownies and freshly baked scones—buttermilk, white chocolate and black currant—served with fruit jam and clotted cream.
For those who want to be a master mixologist for a night, the team at The Caley Bar also will stage a contest among small groups (guests also can take classes in the Vault Bar). It’s the boozy equivalent of Top Chef with bragging rights on the line. I’m far better at pouring a pint of Guinness than crafting cocktails from scratch, but I dive into the competition with several others. I notice three groups emerge: The confident faction, like Tom Cruise in Cocktail; the showy faction from Coyote Ugly—and me, a fumbling teenager raiding his parents’ alcohol stash and mixing anything not nailed to the bar. There’s much shaking, stirring and plopping of perfectly oversize square ice cubes into crystal glasses. For my cocktail, I opt for crushed ice and employ Nàdar gin from Scottish distiller Arbikie (arbikie.com). It’s an impressive spirit crafted from peas and featured at the Met Gala last year.
Rooms have exceptional views of the city.
Despite the perfection of my gin, I err when adding too much lime and limited tonic. The kindly judge (one of the venue’s master mixologists) tries my cocktail. I detect a wince. “Well, I love where you were going with this,” she says, smiling. “It’s… um, refreshing. But it’s a wee bit sour for me.” Or, really, anyone with taste buds intact.
We all move on to respectable drinks and make a series of toasts. “To Scotland!” someone says. “To my misguided cocktail that shall never be made again!” I say. Everyone laughs. And yet, with a staff that can fulfill nearly any adventurous whim, I just might figure out how to make something palatable one day in this land of history and constant renewal.
Photography by: COURTESY OF WALDORF ASTORIA; GRANT ANDERSON