- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 29, 2007

EDINBURGH, Scotland — Forget the castle and tartans, haggis and neeps; despite its usually cool climate, Edinburgh is hot.

Hip hotels, innovative restaurants, chic shops and a rocking club scene shed a bright light on the formerly staid Scottish capital. Plus, a controversial contemporary Parliament Building is still turning Edinburgh on its ear three years after opening.

Let’s start with lodgings. The buzz is on George Street, the city’s centrally located premier address for the next best things, where two of the newest suspects are holding sway.

Behind its elegant Georgian facade, Tigerlily definitely is a hotel, although you might not realize it at first. The lobby is a spacious bar (the “small bar,” the bartender says) with a mirrored mosaic wall, fuchsia bar stools and an intricate, sinuous Italian glass — called a “cloud light” — hovering overhead.

The reception-concierge area is a small counter in front of the big bar, which itself is surrounded by lounges with fireplaces, restaurant booths with chain-mail curtains and indoor and outdoor courtyards.

Two bars with a drink menu five times as long as the restaurant menu, and a hot new club in the basement called Lulu, with sound-responsive disco lighting under the dance floor and Swarovski crystals embedded in the walls are a tipoff to its partying credentials. Not to mention breakfast served until noon and the attractive young Scottish woman with a clipboard who usually greets you at the entrance, as if your being a registered guest is the last thing on her mind.

Above this wide-open entertainment space is a boutique hotel with 33 stunning rooms full of cutting-edge comforts and surprises. There are the high-tech lighting controls (you may need help), a pre-loaded IPod whose music is updated regularly by the Opal Lounge DJ, as well as free wireless Internet access,

large flat-screen TV, and the requisite entertainment center. Wall-to-wall windows have strips of red lights embedded in the sills; they cast a ruddy glow at night that from George Street suggests a playful bordello, particularly amusing because Tigerlily is next door to the Church of Scotland headquarters.

Furnishings are sleek and modern: polished wood flooring, double sofas and stolid wood tables for a sitting area, a round table in a circular alcove with a leather game board for chess and backgammon. My bathroom had a 6-foot-square shower, a stylish square sink with a faucet that delivers a horizontal waterfall rather than a conventional flow, and White Company toiletries.

Some rooms have four-poster beds, fireplaces and bathtubs. There are a couple of Georgian suites and an under-the-eaves Black Room (with black toilet paper). Overheard at breakfast: universal accolades for the extraordinarily comfortable beds.

Despite its undeniable glam and appeal to single women, Tigerlily was making a lot of middle-aged hotel guests, some with teenage children, very happy when I was there.

Tip: Request upper-floor back rooms for quiet.

A few blocks down George Street is Le Monde, another new design-trendy boutique hotel that might just as well be called Das Welt or El Mundo because each of the 18 rooms is styled after a different world city. You can watch “Memoirs of a Geisha” from the black-slate sunken bathtub in Tokyo or “Casablanca” In Marrakech, down a pint of Guinness in your own Irish snug in Dublin or sip champagne in Paris. Black leather in Milan, white leather in Los Angeles, and a see-through tropical fish tank between bedroom and bath in the fantasy city of Atlantis. You get the idea.

Every city, er, room, has its iconic touches, but in all of them, you’ll lay your head on Egyptian cotton sheets, walk on heated floors and plug into up-to-the minute technology, including a Nintendo Wii.

Le Monde has three dining bars: Vienna, the Mitteleuropa coffeehouse for lunch and dinner; Milan, the stylish coffee bar for breakfast through late dining; and Paris, the brasserie for cocktails, dinner and weekend lunches.

Because this is a boutique hotel on George Street, there’s a rocking club in the basement: Shanghai, open every night until 5 a.m., has an ever-changing party lineup, from the video DJ on Mondays to Sunday soul.

What George Street is to boutique hotels, Edinburgh’s port area of Leith is to restaurants. One of the newest and most interesting is Kitchin, which opened in June 2006 in a renovated canal-side whiskey warehouse and seven months later won a Michelin star for its 29-year-old chef-owner, Tom Kitchin. Here Scottish produce meets French culinary technique, a marriage that comes naturally to the Scottish-born chef, who cooked in the three-star Michelin kitchens of Guy Savoy, Alain Ducasse and Pierre Koffmann.

Kitchin’s hallmark is seasonal Scottish produce, what Mr. Kitchin’s wife, Michaela, the general manager, describes as “from nature to plate,” with everything made from scratch by the chef. My summer dinner began with an amuse-bouche of fresh pea soup, dill and creme fraiche; a signature starter of roasted langoustine tails from Scotland’s west coast; pulled pork; and crispy, paper-thin, deep-fried baconlike tuiles from a boned pig’s head that gave the dish a salty tang. A succulent rack of local lamb with summer vegetables was followed by a cherry clafouti with salted almond ice cream and fresh berries drizzled with berry coulis.

The small restaurant, a friendly, casual room for about 50 guests, has soothing gray walls and wood tables with charcoal gray raffia place mats. Along one wall, several tables on a raised platform have views of the kitchen activity, seen through a wide window.

Abstract, make that Abstract Edinburgh, came to town in February with a story as intriguing as any in Edinburgh Castle across the street. It began when its older sibling, Abstract Inverness, was featured on bad-boy chef Gordon Ramsay’s British television show, “Kitchen Nightmares,” where it received some notoriety and a critique of overly fussy food.

Everything has been straightened out since then. Mr. Ramsay is not to be seen at either restaurant. AbIn now has a Rising Star nod from Michelin, and AbEd has a new chef, Damien Rolian, whose French cuisine is AbFab.

The dining room is gaudily stunning: a gilded recessed ceiling, mirrored terrazzo pillars, brown faux-snakeskin-covered tables, and dark wood walls with monochrome paintings (abstract, of course). The background music is mellow Rodgers and Hart and Gershwin, and the waiters are so French it’s sometimes hard to understand them, but no matter, the menu is in English.

A lot about dining here is very grand: The wine book lists 226 vintages, most of them French; an enormous basket holds five or six special breads; and not one, but three amuses accompanied my meal.

The first was lemon couscous in a tiny spoon, mackerel ceviche, and melon-and-mint gazpacho in a shot glass sitting on a thinly sliced cucumber coaster; the second was cream of asparagus soup in a sculpted demitasse cup; the third, a small square of passion-fruit cake and sorbet, preceded dessert.

What I actually ordered was crab-and-avocado salad with dollops of creme fraiche and caviar; seared salmon with pea puree, broad beans and creamy morels; and a quartet of pineapple desserts, from pina colada to roast chunks and fresh carpaccio. It was all superb.

A seven-course tasting menu is one way to sample the chef’s flights of cuisinary fancy, which include mustard ice cream and candied olives; another is the chef’s table, a Gordon Ramsay legacy and the only one in Edinburgh.

Oloroso isn’t brand-new, but it has a hold on Edinburgh hearts, perhaps for its rooftop location on George Street with views straight over to the castle, or its unique grill menu. There’s a swanky bar, a spacious dining room with sleek black-suede chairs and two window walls looking out on the city, and a wrap-around terrace.

I went for the famous Highland beef, but the grill, alas, wasn’t working, so I settled on some Scottish produce. For a starter, Oloroso’s own salmon, smoked with oloroso sherry and 8-year-old Bacardi rum, then roast chump of lamb, a cut new to me that’s used for chops and roasts.

The accompanying butternut squash, pine nut and chive risotto with savoy cabbage was extraordinary, sweet, spicy and crunchy, a treat I would have missed had the grill been operational. A particularly diner-friendly touch are the 18 wines by the glass, each offered in two sizes.

There’s also a popular bar menu with light fare, including chicken satay, a daily curry, nanza (tandoori flat breads with toppings), foie gras terrine, and chef Tony Singh’s favorite, smoked bacon and fried egg on a potato scone.

Across from the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Old Town, at the foot of the Royal Mile, which runs up to Edinburgh Castle, controversy still rages over the wildly innovative Scottish Parliament building that sits among its medieval and 18th-century neighbors. It is either an architectural embarrassment, three years late and millions of pounds over budget, or Edinburgh’s visionary icon, like Bilbao, Spain’s Guggenheim Museum or Sydney, Australia’s Opera House, worth the wait and every penny.

The cluster of low buildings designed by Catalan architect Enric Miralles, the design competition winner, is meant to evoke Scotland’s landscape with leaf motifs, upturned boatlike shapes on the roof, Scottish granite on the floors and local wood furnishings.

Architects love the symbolic and metaphorical references and awarded it the prestigious Stirling Prize for “the greatest contribution to British architecture” in 2005. That same year, in a poll by Channel 4, it made the short list of Britain’s dozen most hated buildings.

Get to Edinburgh and see for yourself.

•••

Tigerlily, 125 George St., 44 (0)131 225 5005, www.tigerlilyedinburgh.co.uk. Thirty-three individually designed rooms and suites in a listed Georgian town house that opened in June 2006 on historic George Street by Charlotte Square, and winner of the 2007 Scottish Hotel Design Award and the 2007 Scottish Hotel Bar Award. Doubles start from about $350, excluding breakfast.

Le Monde, 16 George St., 44 (0)131 270 3900, www.lemondehotel.co.uk, opened in March 2006 and won that year’s Scottish Hotel Design Award. Doubles from about $290, including breakfast, plus many package offers on the Web site.

The Kitchin, 78 Commercial Quay, Leith, Edinburgh; 44-(0)131-555-1755; www.thekitchin.com. Open Tuesday through Saturday for lunch and dinner. Starters $16 to $28, main course $46 to $50, desserts $13 to $17. Lunch: two courses $31, three courses $39.

Abstract Edinburgh, 33-35 Castle Terrace, 44/(0)131-229-1222, www.abstractrestaurant.com/abstract_edinburgh.htm. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Starters $20 to $26, main course $39 to $48, dessert $16, chef’s tasting menu $110, with wine selection $160; lunch, two courses, $26, three courses $34.

Oloroso, 33 Castle St., 44/(0)131-226-7614, www.oloroso.co.uk. Lunch and dinner daily. Starters $15 to $21, main course $33 to $43, grills $46 to $52, desserts $13, bar menu $9.50 to $19.50.

Belinda Robertson, 13a Dundas St., 44/(0)131 557 8118, www.belindarobertson.com. This is cashmere central, where Madonna and Oprah shop.

Current faves are the satin-cowled sweater Helen Mirren wore in “The Queen” and cheeky cashmere knickers with a satin bow. Cashmere Couture is made in Scotland, $400 to $1,000; the trendy and young White Label is made in China, $120 to $400.

George Street is home to a number of popular clubs, among them Opal Lounge, a fave of Prince William in his student days. Hotel clubs have an undeniable extra appeal for their guests, who usually can jump the lines for quick entry and make equally smooth exits right up to their rooms.

Lulu, 125b George St., 44/(0)131 225 5075, www.tigerlilyedinburgh.co.uk, is in Tigerlily’s basement, with entrances through the hotel and from George Street. Open nightly from 8 p.m. to 3 a.m., entry free before 11 p.m.

Shanghai, 16 George St., 44/(0)131 270 3900, www.lemondehotel.co.uk.

The Scottish Parliament, at the foot of the Royal Mile opposite the Palace of Holyroodhouse, 44/(0)845 270 0152, www.scottish.parliament.uk/vli/visitingHolyrood/index.htm. Open daily, free entry.

Continental Airlines flies nonstop two times a day between Newark and Edinburgh.

For more information contact VisitBritain, 800/462-2748, travelinfo@visitbritain.org or www.visitbritain.com/usa.

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