Remember when guest houses or B&Bs meant polyester sheets and breakfasts containing eggs that looked as though they’d been lurking around all morning? They were run by Mrs So-and-So who would have clocked your ring finger status as soon as your toe was on her much-patterned carpet, and invariably had monikers such as Dunroamin’, (Duncarin’ more like). I’m perhaps being a little unfair. There is, I’m sure, some really good B&Bs of the traditional kind out there.
Today’s traveller, though, has higher expectations. We’re looking for a spot of luxury when we’re away, or at the very least to stay somewhere that’s as good as our own homes. The quality of the breakfast served is of the upmost importance as is the decor and finishings in the room we’ll be sleeping in. Service should be friendly and welcoming, kind of pally whilst still being made to feel a bit special. Not everyone wants the anonymity, or indeed expense, of a large, chain hotel and these requirements have seen the rise of the boutique guest house and small hotel.
We were travelling down to Edinburgh to attend the Innis & Gunn Beer Tasting Dinner at The Bonham. As it was an evening event, and one that involved booze, we decided to stay over for the night. There were no rooms available at The Bonham so I decided to book us in to 94DR. I’d come across the place before and fancied staying. It looked like our sort of place.
94DR, which holds a Scottish Tourist Board 5 Star Gold Award, is run by a fabulous couple called Paul Lightfoot and John MacEwan, (not forgetting their black Labradoodle Molli who is too gorgeous, and well-behaved, for words!) Paul and John are from a marketing and hospitality background and wanted to create the sort of environment and service that they would expect from a guest house. The result is a beautifully designed 6 3/4 roomed, (the 3/4 is a wee room for the nippers), home from home.
Quality, humour, sincerity and relaxation are 94DR’s watchwords and I would say this is pretty spot on. Both my initial telephone call and the welcome we got on our arrival were extremely warm and friendly. Without sounding completely cliched, it was like arriving at the home of an old friend.
We’d booked in to the Bowmore room, (all the rooms are named after whisky), which had a big bay window looking out on to Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Craggs. The view also meant we were facing out on to the main road but traffic noise was minimal. The Bowmore is a large room, beautifully decorated in greys and creams with a gorgeous old fireplace and rather nice chandelier I quite fancied trying to fit in my suitcase. The en suite bathroom has a Victorian roll-top bath, underfloor heating and has White Company toiletries supplied. Our bed was already occupied when we arrived…by a very cute teddy bear who I’m sure I heard saying, “Please take me home…”!
I was absolutely delighted to see a couple of Tunnock’s Teacakes had been supplied instead of the usual depressing variety pack of biscuits. The only negative was that the coffee supplied in the rooms was Nescafe. I hate Nescafe instant coffee and I just won’t drink it. However, I’m absolutely sure that if I’d asked for a cup of ‘proper’ coffee or a different brand of instant I’d have got it. As it was, we were rushing back out again so I didn’t really have time for a coffee anyway.
One of the great things that 94DR has, which we took advantage of when we got back from our dinner, is an honesty bar. The bar is part of a comfy, cosy lounge, decorated in the same contemporary style as the bedrooms. The bar was really well stocked and the prices were amazingly reasonable. There were a large number of books on offer as well as some magazines and there also appeared to be a couple of iPads for guest use.
I’m a terrible sleeper but the superkingsize bed was really comfy and I got a good sleep and was ready for my breakfast the following morning despite the beers the night before!
Ah, the breakfast. What can I say? It’s one of the very best I’ve tasted, perhaps helped by the fact that Paul is a trained chef. We were served in the orangery which looked out on to the lovely garden. The room was decorated to the same high standard as the rest of the house and was filled with some stylish and unique touches such as the funky cow milk jugs I’m sure I’ve spotted on notonthehighstreet.com and cups and saucers from a range I’ve been coveting for a long time from Harvey Nichols, (I’m sure they were the pasta girl ones). The kitchen was annexed off from the main room which gave the sense of an open kitchen which added to the friendly, ‘we’re at our pals’ house’ feeling. The mix of guests were a young couple from Germany, a family flat hunting for their university-bound daughter, a couple that looked as though they were there on business, and us. A fairly wide range of people I’d say. John chatted to everyone in the room while Paul got on with the important job of making the food.
Right, the food. These guys care about food. That is really evident. The starters were a choice of a summer cup (granola with natural yogurt, honey and new season strawberries) or porridge with cream and honey. We both opted for the summer cup and it was so delicious I can’t even tell you. The specials of the day were ‘All the Benedicts’ and you could have classic eggs Benedict, Florentine with spinach or Royale with smoked salmon. I swithered over the classic but in the end greed took over and we both ordered the Scottish breakfast: bacon, sausage, tomato, black pudding, haggis and a choice of eggs. We both opted for scrambled, (honestly, we don’t normally order the same things!) I’m pretty fussy about scrambled eggs. I like them to be loose and creamy. I know it’s not easy to make them that way. Without asking though, that’s exactly what I got. Proper scrambled eggs. In my opinion. Toast made with seeded bread, fresh orange juice and really good coffee, (definitely not Nescafe instant), accompanied all this. It was a fantastic breakfast cooked to a really high standard with not a bit of grease on the plate. Health food then surely?
Seriously, this was one of the best breakfasts I’ve had away from home and I’ve stayed in some pretty nice hotels over the years. It’s clear Paul and John are really passionate about food and take absolute pride in providing their guests with a great meal. They also run a twice monthly Supper Club at 94DR under the name ‘Under The Table‘, and I really, really want to go to one of those.
If you’re planning a trip to Edinburgh please have a look at 94DR. Based in the Southside they’re about a 10 minute walk into town and really close to all the usual amenities and attractions. It looks like they book up quickly though so I’d get in there fast! Rooms are £80 – 150 per night depending on time of year, length of stay, etc. You can also rent out the whole place for house parties which Paul and John will cater for. How much do I want to do that?!
I was quite sad to check out and would have happily stayed another night. The handful of Cadbury’s Eclairs Paul gave us on the way out the door sweetened the moment though.
*I would like to clarify I have not been paid in any way for this review. I paid for my stay and all the opinions given are my own.*
A Beer With Your Breakfast?
During breakfast we got talking to John about our previous night’s dinner with Innis & Gunn. John asked us if we were tasters. “No. Just drinkers.”, I replied. He then returned with a bottle of beer for us and said he wanted to give us this but would we be kind enough to let him know what we thought of it. Seemed like a fair deal to me.
The beer was Harviestoun Old Engine Oil Engineer’s Reserve. The Harviestoun brewery is in Alva, Clackmannanshire. I think John said he was doing some marketing work on the beer so was keen to hear people’s opinions.
When we got home that evening we decided to give the beer a whirl and I made a proper, old school Ploughman’s to go with it. John had said he thought it might go well with blue cheese.
The cheeses we had this with were Blackstick’s Blue, Caboc and a strong Scottish Cheddar. We also had the usual Ploughman’s bits and bobs along with it.
The beer smelled really earthy and treacly. Not dissimilar to a stout. It also tasted treacly and a bit chocolatey as well with a wee bit of smokiness. I need to reiterate here that I’m no beer aficionado and this is purely my opinion. I tried the beer with the Blackstick’s Blue and it was fantastic. It’s quite a salty cheese and the earthy sweetness of the beer went really well with that saltiness.
I’m not sure this is a beer I’d pair with, say, beef, but I’d absolutely drink this again with cheese. The beer’s flavour stood up really well against strong cheeses and pickles and even though it was really dark and earthy it was surprisingly easy to drink.
This is a beer I hadn’t come across before but I’ll definitely be looking out for it in the future. I was just disappointed we only had one bottle of it!
Thank you so much John for your kind gift. It was a great way to finish off our wee boozy trip to Edinburgh.