Last year I was asked to help judge Best Kept Secret Award 2013 . I picked the Dakota in South Queensferry, Edinburgh, as the winner thanks to its commitment to sourcing and championing local produce, and providing me with one of the best lumps of steak I’d had the pleasure to scoff. The family and I were lucky enough to be invited up there to test it out.

I’d never been to Edinburgh. I know – 39-years-old and had never been to this incredible city. It’s completely gorgeous. The view from the Christmas Market next to Waverley Station up to the Castle on a winter’s night was just breathtaking; full of rocky Gothic character and ancient ghostly promise.

We had lunch on the first day in Jamie’s Italian in the heart of the shopping district before heading to the hotel – about a 20-minute drive from the city centre, located at the southern entrance to the Forth Road Bridge. It’s an incredible looking building, blacked-out glass on an uber-modern cube; a little out of sorts with its surroundings, which only added to the appeal.

The reception area is astounding; contemporary touches of big screens and fire trenches make it exciting and different to anything I’d experienced before.

The bedrooms – two adjoining so we could keep the kids in their own space – were spot-on; massive beds, great telly and nice comforting touches with a shower to match!

After we settled in we went down for dinner; the restaurant is dimly lit, modern yet welcoming (a bit like Auld Reekie itself) and the staff were completely lovely. The kids felt spoilt and like proper customers rather than just add-ons. Wanna impress adults? Then spoil their kids.


Now, I’d heard talk of the steaks in this place – legendary – so I ordered the humongous sirloin. However, trying to leave space for it after the super-generous starters was a toughie.

I kicked off with a smoked salmon – one of several national dishes of Scotland. It was tender, sweet and subtly smoked. Topped by four huge langoustines of local origin, it was generous and completely perfect in every way. The missus had smoked haddock croquettes – naughty and perfectly balanced – and the two boys went for a massive bowl of tomato soup each with a lovely fresh flavour.


For mains Missus had a huge lemon sole, un-filleted for maximum portion size, and the boys had two lovely flank steaks and frites. I waited for the momentous and famous sirloin.


Claimed by many to be the best steak in Scotland, this bone-in giant weighed-in at a mighty 18oz and it smelled exactly like you dream of, charred on the outside with a beautifully even rareness. It was amazing.

The kids enjoyed sorbets and a crème brulee, and we had a great cocktail to finish off before going back to our gorgeous rooms.

This was a really lovely hotel experience and I picked a great exponent in the art of good, solid hotel food as the winner of the Best Kept Secret 2013. Sure, there are fancy-schmancy hotels (think of the Ritz for starters!) out there, but for accessible and affordable this place is right up there.