The Howard

“Luxurious bolthole in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town, with a unique butler service thrown in to the price”

Review by Fiona Duncan, published 6th May 2007.

I could get used to this, I really could. We are in a dignified, sedate townhouse hotel, with luxurious bedrooms. It's the sort of place, looking around its traditional, somewhat heavily decorated public rooms, where I would expect correct, if slightly distant, service.

I would be surprised to find more than 12-hour room service, and though I would hope for help on such matters as restaurant bookings and theatre tickets, it would probably be of a fairly peremptory nature. The hotel's tariff is in line with many similar establishments, where you find high standards but fairly hands-off management.

I imagine you'd get what you pay for.

Not at the Howard. Here you get something - or rather someone - a good deal extra for your money: a dedicated butler. A butler, you ask? Do I need one? Yes, believe me, you do. It's a special way of delivering service, and one that feels deliciously spoiling.

I can think of very few hotels, in Britain or abroad, where butler services come as part of the price for all guests, not just those in suites, and certainly none where the price isn't at least double, if not quadruple, the Howard's.

You can pay £150 for a double room here and benefit from an array of perks, from having your laundry done, your shoes polished or mended and a tailor summoned for a suit fitting, to a candlelit dinner served in your room, or a romantic tea for two in the Royal Botanical Gardens laid on just for you.

There's no reception desk. Instead, we are ushered into the drawing room, with comfortable sofas, a large chandelier and a cabinet of single malts, and are offered tea or coffee before being introduced to our butler, Fernando, his native Portuguese accent overlaid with a Scottish lilt. Dressed smartly in tails, he shakes us by the hand and escorts us to our room.

Here is where we sign in and where we decline Fernando's offer to unpack our bags (I always marvel at people whose luggage is in a fit state to be seen by anyone but themselves). Once I have disgorged my clothes from their bursting container, I find, as usual, that they almost all require pressing.

Away with the travel iron…I summon Fernando, who immediately whisks them off and whisks them back, beautifully ironed, at no extra charge. I begin to see the point of a butler.

We phone him: could he organise a hire car? Could he let me have a list of the most interesting clothes shops, and their addresses? Certainly. Could we take afternoon tea in our room? Instantly, rolled in on a white-clothed table with a tier of delicate sandwiches and scones.

You can either dine in your room, or in the small, quiet Atholl dining room, with a charming mural by David Roberts, the 19th-century painter of Edinburgh vignettes.

Our food, served by Fernando in an entirely butler-like way, is delicious, featuring Scottish cooking with a twist. We can't fault anything. Which is roughly what I feel about the whole hotel. Next morning our hire car is brought to the front of the hotel, the luggage neatly stowed, and we are waved farewell. How we will cope without these ministrations as we leave the Howard-cocoon, we do not know.

34 Great King street (0131 5573500; www.thehoward.com). Doubles from £150 to £450, including breakfast.

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The Hotel Guru verdict

Rooms
3 out of 5

A little dark and heavy for my taste, but luxurious, with plasma tvs.

Service
5 out of 5

Exceptional: the butler service is beautifully executed.

Character
3 out of 5

Three dignified georgian townhouses in the heart of elegant new town.

Food and drink
4 out of 5

On our visit, everything from tea to dinner to breakfast was excellent.

Value for money
5 out of 5

A steal if you make good use of the butler service; excellent packages.

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