Afternoon tea experiences don’t come much more impressive than being on board a luxury, floating ‘boatique’ hotel. The story of how the Fingal came into being is fit for a Hollywood movie. It was commissioned by the Northern Lighthouse Board to undertake maintenance work on lighthouses on the western and northern shores of Scotland. It was sold to a private owner when it was decommissioned and in recent times, sold to The Royal Yacht Britannia Trust and turned into a premium hotel on the shores of Leith.
It might be a sister ship to The Britannia and a 5-star hotel, but it is fascinating to discover that it used to be a working ship. Even if you are just popping in for an afternoon tea like we did, if you speak with the hotel staff politely, they will gladly take you on a tour of the ship. Two places you must visit are the spectacular ballroom to admire the splendid acoustics, and the engine room to get an understanding of what the Fingal was about. And if not in use, do visit their unique, luxury cabins such as the penthouse Skerryvore Suite with one of the most elegant bathrooms you will find anywhere in the country and every small detail attended to like the super kind size bed headboard with map contours to trace of the famous lighthouses in Scotland.
Afternoon tea in their Lighthouse restaurant is a decadent affair with sumptuous art deco interiors that transport you back to a time when cruising the seas was only a luxury for the elite classes. The tea selection isn’t necessarily the most lengthy you will come across, but it’s been carefully curated to appeal to most people including their own Fingal’s blend, which includes different Ceylon teas, combined with Assam, Yunnan, and First Flush Darjeeling tea. They are keen to support local businesses and use Pekoe Tea Edinburgh, a Leith-based artisanal tea supplier. They offer a Champagne upgrade option with either Moët & Chandon Impérial or Moët & Chandon Rosé Impérial.
The showstopper here is the exquisitely prepared canapés-style dishes. Each piece is a dainty work of art, that invigorates your sweet, savoury, umami taste buds without ever making you feel bloated. The heritage tomato arancini had a zingy sweetness that you know comes from well-sourced tomatoes rather than artificial sugars. Likewise, the pork rillette had a refreshing sweetness that came from the beetroot relish. Sandwiches were present and correct such as free-range egg mayonnaise and hot smoked salmon but the chef is more than aware, no one wants to walk out of a restaurant feeling like a sack of wheat.
Mastering the texture of a scone is a tricky affair but the pastry team at Fingal seems to have come up with the winning formula: it’s light and crumbly. They are freshly made daily in-house rather than purchasing stale supermarket varieties. It comes in buttermilk, plain and fruit options and served with Tiptree preserves and Rodda’s clotted cream.
The sweet items were universally impressive with highlights including hazelnut praline choux bun and Oakchurch raspberry trifle with Chambord jelly.
It might be quite a trek to travel from the historical part of Edinburgh to Leith, but this is one-afternoon tea worth making the pilgrimage for.