Nestled in by some old railway tracks in a port in Leith, is the Fingal. The Fingal was built in 1963 and was used as a lighthouse service ship until it was docked, and subject to a five million pound renovation into a luxury ‘boatique’ hotel. For anyone who has never been in the fortunate position to charter a yacht, this might be the next best thing.
As you walk along the water, up the side of the ship to the red carpet entrance, you know you’re in for something special. The the first thing that strikes me about the reception, apart from the very glamorous brass lift created to look like a lighthouse, is the smell: Noble Isle candles burning. The Fingal is home to the Lighthouse restaurant and bar, which has beautiful views of the ocean from the top of the ship, and is sister to the Royal Yacht Britannia, now a museum tour and tea room, just a short walk along the port.
To the left is a renovated function room, with fairytale staircase on either side, perfect for a grand entrance at a wedding. It’s currently kitted out with a few beautifully decorated tables, though I’m told that there are usually more when restrictions aren’t in place. The walls are Bookmatch fiddleback sycamore, which is a bit of a mouthful to say but stunning to look at, and the lights in the space are adjustable for any event. The engine room is also on display behind glass, and (I am told) was state of the art in 1963.
Our room (or cabin) was warm and cosy. It had a welcome note and an assortment of petit fours including shortbread – we are in Scotland after all! The room was also kitted out with a Nespresso machine (fresh milk delivered on request) and a mini bar featuring high quality local products, all of which I wanted to stow away with me.
All cabins are named after Stevenson lighthouses, and there are a few to choose from. There was a felt map of ours at the head of the bed, along with photos on the wall, and all very tastefully done. It was so quiet and peaceful, and the bed in our room was honestly one of the comfiest beds I’ve ever slept slept in. Be careful when getting out though, as they left the original slopes on the ship, which never the less felt like part of the fun. The bathroom was equally stylish, with heated floors and gorgeous green tiling and stand alone round sinks. We had a full selection of Noble Isle products to choose from and the freshness of the bath robes alone made it hard to leave our room when we woke up in the morning. Luckily breakfast at the Fingal is until 11am, so there was no rush to get on with our day!
Everywhere you go on the ship there are nautical nods: davy lamps, the brass handles on our taps that looked like ship helms, the original porthole windows, and there were rope ball doorstops by the restaurant. The lighting in both bathroom and bedroom was very modern, and somehow added to the feeling that we were at sea.
There are a selection or rooms, from classic cabin to luxury suite all the way to a penthouse that leads out onto the deck. Though some luxury hotels do have the less desirable cheaper options, the standard here starts at splendid: regardless of your choice, you will not be disappointed.
The restaurant has a yacht-like, glitterati vibe to it, with low lighting and modern booths next to a more casual area with stylish sofas, which was ideal for after dinner drinks and afternoon tea alike. Keeping with the theme of the hotel, the corrugated steel ceilings are manipulated to look like the surface of a water at night, and at the top of the ship we had perfect views of the harbour.
We were given champagne on arrival, in frosted glasses, which was a nice touch. We were then served our choice of homemade breads and local butter, which really did taste fresh from the oven. The vibe felt like city dining with a pinch of casual about it, and our waiter had a fun sense of humour which relaxed us immediately. They had a great but not overwhelming wine list, and our drinks were served in deep wine glasses.
To start, we went for the salmon and charcuterie options. The salmon tasted fresh and the notes of the additions – marinated cucumber, roe and horseradish – balanced it out nicely. The charcuterie went perfectly with the pickled vegetables and olives. It came with bread, but I would have been perfectly happy to have another portion of the homemade rolls.
I then had the lemon sole main and my guest chose the pork belly, which was perfectly cooked and melted nicely on your tongue. The sole came with curried fish cream and mussels, the mouth watering saltiness of the fish balanced out by the sweetness of the sauce.
For desert we had a selection of delicious Scottish cheeses with sour dough crackers, and I chose the fig almond sponge. The sponge was light, with a lovely mascarpone cream. I’d recommend this desert for anyone who prefers creamy over sugary, but fancies something different.
I was particularly impressed with the cocktail menu. Half of the pleasure of having a cocktail is what it looks like, and I’ve often found myself disappointed with presentation and taste when it could have been avoided if I was just provided with more information at the start. The Fingal gave a page of menu to each cocktail, with all the details, and there was even an illustration at the bottom. I chose a mocktail, The Fingal’s Cave, which arrived in a brass glass and tasted better than I could have hoped. My guest had the Fingal’s take on a scotch old fashioned, and in all honestly both drinks were perfect. These bartenders know what they’re doing.
At the moment the Royal Britannia’s pastry chefs are working at the Fingal; the silver lining of lockdown’s effect on this business being that they are able to share their award winning chocolates, which came on a bed of cacao nibs, with the coffees (we went for mint teas.)
The restaurant also has a private dining space, which when not in use has a selection of old log books from the ship on display. There is also an old helm and, for the movie lovers out there, an original Chadburn or E.O.T as featured in the Titanic.
For breakfast we had fresh orange juice, coffee and a selection of Royal Britannia pastries. I then had the eggs Benedict, which was lovely, and my guest had a traditional Scottish breakfast with haggis, black pudding and more butter from the Edinburgh Butter Company. I will not apologise for raving about the butter any more than I will apologise for raving about the toiletries.
Out and about
Next door is the Royal Britannia Yacht, the official royal yacht until it sailed its final voyage and ended up in Edinburgh. It is now open for tours that last about an hour and a half, tickets are £17 and there are a range of concessions and discounts available. The tour takes you from the queen’s bedroom on the upper deck, to the various officers cabins and drinking areas, to the grandeur of the dining and parlour rooms, and then lower down to where the sailers and engine rooms live. The detailed tour is audio-guided, unless you want one in person, which at the moment isn’t a popular choice. It was interesting to learn about how a ship is run, and a nice thing to do in the morning before heading back out into the world. They also use the space for events, and have a tea room at the top overlooking the harbour. Their afternoon tea is no doubt one to be sought after, given our experience in the Fingal’s restaurant.
I must add a personal note here: I like the royal family, but witnessing the opulence of their living quarters in direct juxtaposition with the bare minimum living conditions that were provided for the men in the lower decks was quite sobering. A thoughtful experience, and indeed one that is touched on in the detailed audioguide.
The Fingal restaurant and cocktail bar was full of metropolitan elite, tourists and locals alike. There were a lot of couples but we didn’t see any children.
The Best Thing
We loved that it was something different to try, without ever feeling kitsch. We revelled in the the relaxed but sophisticated vibe. Hats off to the friendly staff, the thoughtful, stylish design, oh… and the beds. We loved the beds.
The worst thing
Leith doesn’t have a huge amount to do: you’re better off going down the road to Portobello if you want a seaside walk, or to central Edinburgh, which is host to many more attractions. Once you’re in the ship however, you’d be hard pressed to find a reason to leave.
They have a selection of packages available to suit your needs, including tours, afternoon tea, supper and stay and Hogmanay celebrations. Rooms range from £270 per night to £1200 for the penthouse.
Reservations: +44 (0)131 357 5000
Alexandra Dock, Leith, Edinburgh, EH6 7DX