It’s hard to measure time in a windowless room. Stripped of the cues that changing light naturally provides, it makes spaces feel timeless, almost illusory. Casinos and shopping centres use bright lights and disorientation to keep you there longer: that won’t cut it in a restaurant. 

Instead it’s about creating an environment that stimulates the senses in other ways. Without natural light, we notice other details: textures, smells, colours and tastes. In many ways it’s the ideal setting for a restaurant, intimate and cocoon-like, encouraging you to suspend normal living and lean into the dining experience. That’s certainly what we do below ground at The Balmoral. 

Number One at The Balmoral Hotel was opened in 1997 and extensively refurbished in 2015, designed by Rocco Forte Hotels’ Director of Design, Olga Polizzi. The walls are a deep red lacquer, with large oak tree prints by Adam Ellis. Solid oak floors and grey wool banquettes add to the intimate root-level feeling. There’s the illusion of windows, but behind them you would find the escalators descending into Waverley station. 
We’re welcomed to the restaurant with a glass of champagne and delicate canapes and an introduction to the temperature controlled wine vault at the centre of the restauarant. 

It’s clearly the pride and joy of sommelier Callum McCann who is full of interesting stories of vintages and producers. From here we move to the restaurant’s newest addition: the private dining room. With wrap around seating and wood panelled walls, it’s a cozy spot for a special group meal. I can already imagine the years of tiny weddings and special birthdays this wee room will hold. The private dining room has a minimum spend but the main menus will cover the charge, so there’s no extra cost. 

Our tasting menu begins, as I’d start every summer meal if I could, with Isle of Wight tomatoes. Confit tiny red and yellow tomatoes are sweet and juicy, and nestled among them are pink pickled red onions and tiny basil leaves. We’re encouraged to use a round of the house linseed sourdough to mop up all the gorgeously sweet tomato juices, music to my ears. Paired with the tomatoes is a 2013 Riesling, Cuvée Frédéric Emile from Trimbach in Alsace. McCann tells us this wine has been made by the same family for 13 generations, (and it took them 13 years to agree on a new colour for their label). The wine is full-bodied and herbaceous, with notes of apricot and quince, a fresh acidity and a saline finish. 

A perfect Isle of Skye langoustine tail arrives next, with a langoustine and dill raviolo, in a pool of deeply flavoured langoustine bisque and dotted with Oscietra caviar. It’s an exquisite dish, and every ingredient sings. Head chef Matthew Sherry says: “This dish is the closest to what I’m pushing towards, with a lot of different layers.”

Edinburgh-born Sherry has been at the helm at Number One for two years, returning to his home city after rising to head chef at Lancashire’s Michelin-starred Northcote. He is clearly loving cooking with Scottish produce again.  “The Balmoral being what it is allows me to develop what we do,” Sherry says, “we can buy the best and be very selective.”
North Sea halibut is my main course, simply cooked, flaking beautifully and served with seasonal vegetables. Today the artichoke, courgette and charred baby gem lettuce of high summer produce meet girolle and hen of the woods mushrooms: a culinary reminder that autumn comes quickly in Scotland. It’s complemented by a dry Greek red Xinomavro, not an obvious pairing but a successful one. 

Our first sweet course features Balmoral honey produced by around 20,000 hard working honey bees that live on the hotel roof. Restaurant Manager Emma Hemy tells us the bees are microchipped, and love the gorse in Holyrood Park. A yogurt ice cream, and honeycomb bring out the herbal honey flavours. Leadketty Farm strawberries complete the meal, surrounding a grown-up version of ice cream and jelly. I feel that the first patrons of this hotel, which opened as the North British Station Hotel in 1902 would approve, but so do I. 

I don’t know how long we’ve been here, or how many courses we’ve had. But I do get the sense that as The Balmoral is rooted in Edinburgh history, Number One is firmly rooted in this hotel. The menus change regularly but it’s the timelessness of the restaurant that is a core part of the appeal here: a firm foundation of excellent hospitality, and Scottish produce allowed to shine. 

Number One, The Balmoral, 1 Princes St, Edinburgh EH2 2EQ
0131 557 6727