A couple of days in Edinburgh earlier this week gave us a different perspective on a city we know so well, mainly, but not just, because we were staying in an unfamiliar part of town.
Fountainbridge has traditionally not been the most scenic part of town. Originally an industrial area built around the end of the Union Canal, which was the unloading point for goods shipped from the west coast via the Forth-Clyde Canal, it was for many years dominated by the former Uniroyal factory and a massive brewery. With all of that cleared away, there’s now major redevelopment going on which will, eventually, see this whole area come up in the world.
In the meantime, there are the green shoots of gentrification. We stayed in the excellent Brooks Hotel, partly on price, but mainly because it was a short distance from Daughter and Heiress’s new gaff in the Napier University student accommodation at Bainfield. The Tripadvisor reviews for Brooks were pretty uniformly positive, with only a few grumbles about the ‘compactness’ of the rooms. Well, if you’re looking for a hotel room to have vast, rolling acres of carpet between you and the en suite, with herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically across the plain, this one probably isn’t for you. On the other hand, if you’re happy with a neat wee place with contemporary decor, polite and helpful staff, and a cosy lounge with a fire and an honesty bar, I can thoroughly recommend it.
Less recommended is Loudon’s Cafe and Bakery, which we went to for breakfast with D & H the first morning. You can’t fault the presentation of the food (see pic below) or the pleasantness of the staff. However, I thought my tastes were pretty cosmopolitan till I experienced chilli powder in the Eggs Royale. I mean, come on, guys! Chilli for breakfast? Call me suburban. OK, so I am suburban. And my suburban sensibilities were also kind of knocked back by the £42 bill for what was a modest breakfast for three. Far better value to head up Viewforth to Bruntsfield, where perhaps the proliferation of coffee shops has kept the price down.
I would, however, recommend the Fountain, just across the road from the new cinema complex. You can tell it’s a gastropub because it has that poncy habit of not adding the pound sign on the menu. So pate and oatcakes (v. good) might be, oh, 7 1/2. Or £7.50 to us Fifers. The beer wasn’t the best pint of IPA I’ve had, but it was definitely a cut above your usual pub grub, and a nice atmosphere.
Sadly I have to report a diminution in quality of Filmhouse audiences however. Traditionally the patrons of this long-established arthouse mecca were impeccably behaved. However, there to see the really quite funny in an undemanding way (unlike the other harrowing works of artistry on offer in the rest of the FH programme) Hunt for the Wilderpeople, I am disappointed to say the whole lot of them yakked right through the Pearl and Dean and trailer offerings, with one couple even daring to keep talking WHEN THE FILM HAD STARTED. Fortunately, they were shushed Quite Severely by the Edinburgh matron in front of them. However, the bad behaviour didn’t stop there, as many people left as soon as the credits started rolling, instead of sitting respectfully on to see who the Key Grip had been. O tempora, o mores…
In general I was really impressed with the way Fountainbridge is coming on. The bit at the end of the canal, with its grafted on restaurants and bars, is starting to look less incongruous as the surrounding area comes up in the world. Mind you, the whole of Edinburgh seems to be on the march at the moment: the sounds of construction were with us wherever we went in the rest of the city, too. There was a slightly surreal visit to the universally-loathed St James centre, a Sixties-built mall of near-legendary ugliness which is now ghostly quiet, the retailers all having been moved out apart from the anchor, John Lewis. Quite spooky.
There’s a reason for all this construction, of course. With the dip in fortunes of oil-dependent Aberdeen, the capital’s become the major economic powerhouse in Scotland, and is set to exceed Glasgow population-wise in the next few years. The City Region Deal currently under negotiation should unlock the infrastructure needed to drive all this development forward. I hope it can all be done sympathetically. I’m very far from being a dyed in the wool Cockburn Association old crusty, but Edinburgh is a special place, and the planners need to balance the demands of the developers against preserving that special character.
Good luck with that. We suburbanites will be watching.
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