With rooms good enough to eat and the food as enticing as the free-standing baths, it’s little surprise that 21212 has the esteemed honour of being Edinburgh’s only Michelin-starred restaurant with rooms…
Our first day in Edinburgh is blighted by beautiful weather.
Coming down Princes Street, the castle and its entourage of crags and spires are silhouettes against the brightness of it. When we fetch up at 21212’s townhouse on Royal Terrace, the open space either side of us – Calton Hill behind us, Arthur’s Seat a short walk to the east– is a fierce, improbable green in the sunshine.
It buoys the heart. It gladdens the soul. And makes it really hard to justify staying all day in our room at 21212 – even if in the wetter weather we were expecting from an Edinburgh April you’d have to carry me out, prising my fingers one by one from the door jamb on the way.
Because our room at 21212 is a thing to buoy the heart as well. Paul Kitching and Katie O’Brien are both from restaurant backgrounds, so you’d be forgiven for assuming the hotel side of their business would be afterthought to them. The restaurant’s been accumulating Michelin this and Rosette that at a rate of knots since its 2009 opening, but there’s no rule that says the bedrooms have to be equally as knock-out as the food.
They are, though. Decorated in greys, greens, creams and metallics, with the high ceilings and huge windows typical of Edinburgh’s townhouses, they’re rooms to match up to the food’s legion of awards. In other hotels the shower – triple-sized compartment, stocked with Noble Isles products, warmed on all sides by underfloor heating – would merit a review to itself. At 21212, though, it’s eclipsed by the bathtub, which is freestanding, boat-sized, uplit by spotlights embedded into the floor. Between the siren call of that bathtub, a small decanter of sloe gin left on a side table and a large, L-shaped sofa, it’s hard to force ourselves back to the outside world.
But force ourselves we do. Advance intel suggests that a Paul Kitching restaurant is a place you should arrive with a very open mind and a very animal hunger. With that in mind we prepare for our dinner reservation by climbing Arthur’s Seat in the blazing sunshine, then circling back slowly through the city via the craft beers and hop cannon at Brewdog, and the log-burning stove and Scandi-hipster aesthetic at Timberyard. By the time we’ve arrived back, test-driven that waterfall shower and dressed for dinner, summoning up an animal hunger isn’t an issue. Which is fortunate, given the epic sweep of what follows.
The menu at 21212 is very simple, and at the same time, very intricate. The way it works is the simple part: on weekend evenings there’s a straightforward offering of five courses. The second course is soup, the fourth course is cheese. The starters, main courses and desserts come in choices of three.
From there on things get more complex. With the canapés and palate cleansers punctuating the dinner, the five courses look more like seven or eight; before we reach our starters we’ve already had a saucer of queen olives, tiny pickles and teacups of spring soup. The soup’s built in alternating textures – foams, green purées, dehydrated mushroom wafers – in thick-and-thin layers, in deference to the symmetry of the menu. It’s a small work of art in itself, though I suspect its main function is to reassure you that no matter how intricate the dishes on the menu might sound, Paul Kitching can more than handle it.
As an example of just why diners might need that reassurance, a direct quote from the menu: Lamb Curry C. C. C. C – Chilli, Coriander, Currants, Courgettes, Indian Spices, Exotics, Haggis, Filo, Capisicum Puree. This is Ric’s starter, and it’s as poetic on the plate as it is on paper, the haggis cropping up as recurring small crumbs of richness across the broken-down dish. Like everything that follows, the execution’s as light-handed as the description, stripping it of the po-facedness you sometimes get when there’s this much technical brilliance going into a menu.
The cheese plate is just as impressive, and our waiter just as poetic as he talks us through the provenance, flavours and a recommended running order. To name them all would demand more space here and better note-taking at the time, and anyhow it’s then eclipsed straight after by the desserts. Mine arrives as a dense, rectangular box and heated shot glass of, and I quote, Fig ‘Rock and Rolls’ – Crispy Crème Brulee, sweetcorn, almonds, cottage cheese, vanilla (Figure 1234).
As with everything we’ve had this evening, it’s intricate without being fussy, incredibly texturally complicated and unwaveringly amazing. We tear ourselves from the restaurant after coffee and cocoa-dusted truffles with about equal difficulty as we had leaving our bedroom earlier in the day. Only the promise of a late-night walk and later-night cocktail in one of Edinburgh’s crop of speakeasy basements spurs us on.
The esteemed T L White has been on record recently confessing his temptation to leave with a dressing-gown from Raffles Istanbul. It’s easier to resist temptation at 21212, as they’ve made it fairly impractical to pack up the things from the hotel and restaurant you’d really like to keep; the shower’s too big, and the underfloor heating is too underfloor. The Caravaggio mural in the private dining room, where we have a sprawling, four-course breakfast, is too fastened to the wall. The Timorous Beasties carpets covered with a golden insect print are too fastened to the floor. And Paul Kitching is his own man and kidnapping is bad form.
Fine, then. Have it all, Edinburgh. Have the rooms and the food and the breakfast views across the Firth of Forth, and the heat of spring on your skin on Arthur’s Seat. Have the stone-smooth clay tankards and Scandinavian clean lines of Timberyard, the Gothic spikiness of Edinburgh Castle in the early evening light on the walk back to Royal Terrace, the after-dinner wander along Calton Hill and Queen Street, and the speakeasy-sleaze of the velvet alcoves at Bramble.
Consider it all left temporarily in your care. We’ll be back.
A 2 night weekend stay at 21212, Edinburgh’s only Michelin-starred restaurant with rooms, starts at £475. The 5 course menu in 21212 Restaurant is £69. To view their bedrooms, private dining options and this week’s menus go to www.21212restaurant.co.uk. For reservations and menu-decryption contact 0845 22 21212.