Look east: Baba bar and restaurant brings a taste of the Levant to Edinburgh

Baba Edinburgh back bar

Levantine-influenced bar and restaurant Baba has opened at The Principal Edinburgh Charlotte Square hotel. Pictures by Gareth Gardner, Marc Millar and Julian Franklin

The flavours and styles of the eastern Mediterranean infuse the food, cocktails and design of new bar and restaurant Baba in Edinburgh. It has been created as part of the £25million transformation of the former Roxburghe Hotel in Edinburgh’s Charlotte Square into the city’s second location for The Principal hotels. Made up of seven Georgian townhouses originally designed by leading 18th-century architect Robert Adam, the Grade II*-listed building retains many of its striking original features but with a contemporary look created by hospitality design specialist Goddard Littlefair with consultant Katherine Arnold and Robbie Bargh of consultancy Gorgeous Group.

They were set the task to create a new destination bar and restaurant within the hotel, working with Jonathan MacDonald and Daniel Spurr of acclaimed Glasgow restaurant Ox and Finch. The result is Baba, or “BABA” as they prefer it, which is built around the idea of a Mr Baba, a fictitious character based on a vintage photograph found in a souk in Turkey. His face provides the backdrop to the bar counter as a large mural and also recurs in the interior design and branding.

baba restaurant

Turkey along with other eastern Mediterranean countries such as Cyprus, Lebanon and Greece – part of the historical region of the Levant – inspire the cuisine in the restaurant. Under head chef David Barnett, it ranges from kebabs to kofta, including Scottish-influenced dishes such as haggis and harissa kibbeh.

Levantine flavours have also made their way onto the cocktail menu, under bar manager Astrid Carleton, with twists on the classics such as a Bloody Mariam with vodka, spicy harissa paste, ras-el-hanout spice mix, sumac spice, lemon juice, tomato juice, olives and vegetables pickled with za’atar herbs. The Olive Oil Negroni (pictured below) combines Sacred Juniper Gin and Absenteroux Vermouth, Campari and Sacred Rosehip Cup with extra virgin olive oil, while the Pistachio Julep mixes Maker’s Mark bourbon, brandy and mint with chocolate spirit and pistachio.

Baba Olive Oil Negroni

For an alternative to an Espresso Martini, the bar offers the Arabica-Pick-Me-Up which is a frozen shot of Dark Matter Spiced Rum from Scotland with aged Semillon raki infused with coffee. Just as much thought has gone into the non-alcoholic options such as the Sumac & Mint Limeade made with Persian white lime, sumac, mint, preserved lemon and “honey pomegranate molasses”. The wines have also been sourced from the eastern Mediterranean, including Cyprus, Lebanon, Turkey and Greece.

Levantine influences carry through to the interior design against a canvas of the 18th-century architecture, points out Will Hutchings of Goddard Littlefair. “We incorporated a number of period elements that paid respect to the building such as Georgian-era tiling designs as well as architectural salvage elements that linked other key spaces. We then alluded to the Levantine-influenced food offer with, for example, a series of rugs fitted to the walls like tapestry artworks and via the richness of the colour scheme which includes aubergine, teal and peacock leather armchairs, with the whole concept overlaid with a bold and contemporary freshness.”

With its own street entrance round the corner on George Street, Baba’s bar is furnished with banquettes with aubergine leather backrests, hung from scaffolding poles, as well as reclaimed cinema seats plus contemporary stools lining the bar counter. The bar itself has been refurbished with a re-finished, dark-stained timber front and re-used zinc top, retaining signs of ageing and character from its previous life. A new gantry above the bar counter has been built out of mesh cages and more scaffolding poles to provide storage. The ceiling is painted in a rich teal tone, with multiple framed mirrors attached, while the new poured concrete floor has been decorated with a stencilled repeat motif. Four wall lights with timber-panelled shades play with light and cast intriguing shadows.

baba Map Room

As well as the main restaurant, Baba features semi-separate spaces suitable for private dining, dubbed The Map Room (pictured above), The Salon and The Library (pictured below). The hotel also features The Garden, another destination for all-day food and drink that has been created out of a central courtyard space. Now with a glazed roof and filled with trees and plants, it is a light-filled area inspired by hothouses and orangeries on country house estates, with Art Nouveau peacock chairs and a reclaimed green-painted workbench at its centre.

With its high-quality cuisine and cocktails and the plush, elegant interiors, Baba is designed to appeal both to hotel guests and to Edinburgh locals, says Katherine, a former director of Gorgeous Group and now a partner at Baba. “We believe with Baba we’re bringing something genuinely new and inspiring to Edinburgh’s thriving restaurant and bar scene and to visitors. We have travelled all over the eastern Mediterranean looking for inspiration for both the menu and design to capture and create a unique environment and menu for people to indulge in.”

Baba, The Principal Edinburgh Charlotte Square, 130 George Street, Edinburgh EH2 4JZ
Tel: 0131 527 4999

Baba interiors photography by Julian Franklin. Drinks photography by Marc Millar schnappsphotography.com. Other hotel interiors photography by Gareth Gardner garethgardner.com.

baba library

Behind the scenes
Interior design: Goddard Littlefair
Main contractor, fixed furniture: Thomas Johnstone
Architect: 3DReid
Bar consultant: Gorgeous Group
Lighting design consultant: Susan Lake Lighting Design
Curtains: Osborne Heath
Artwork: Artiq
Furnishings: Restoration Hardware, OKA, Andy Thornton, La Maison Chic, Reclaimed Bespoke, Tinek Home, Pure White Lines, The Contract Chair Co, Maison Du Monde, Taylors Classics, Lassco, Revivalist
Map Room lights: Janie Knitted Textiles
Ironwork: Made By The Forge
Lamps: Alexandra Raben
Rugs: Nemetnejad Brothers
Lighting: Visual Comfort, Bespoke Lights, Pholc, The Lighting Company, English Salvage
Fabrics: Pyton, Lelièvre, Samuel & Sons, Abbott & Boyd, Kobe, GP&J Baker

baba garden

Originally published in the February 2018 print edition of Bar magazine.

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