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Food Hotel: Greywalls, Scotland

Muirfield, Gullane, East Lothian, EH31 2EG
+44(0)1620 842144
Cuisine: European
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Edward VII, Brigittte Bardot and Barbra Streisand and golfing greats such as Lee Travino and Nick Faldo have all slept in its elegant rooms and strolled through across its manicured gardens, but if Scotland's Greywalls Hotel had a role model, it would be Greta Garbo: beautiful, classy, and just a little hard to find.
 
Almost entirely hidden from view, the only sign of its presence is a small heritage-brown sign pointing you up a narrow country road. Even then, by some strange slight of hand, it's not until you pass fully through its arched entrance into a spacious and immaculately-manicured courtyard, that the hotel's beatiful curving edifice of honey-coloured stone, as designed by notable 20th century architect Edwin Lutyens, reveals itself.
 
Though built it in 1901, the only thing missing is a cast dressed in Restoration clothes and a Michael Nyman soundtrack because you could easily be standing in a scene from Peter Greenaway's The Draftsman's Contract.
 
In keeping with Greywalls' low-key identity, its defining feature is concealed behind its wings: the property sits directly on the edge of the world famous Muirfield golf course, a regular host to the Open Golf Championship. Over the decades some of the greatest players in the sport have enjoyed the hotel's hospitality .
 
The interior, however, is closer in look and atmosphere to Brideshead Revisited, with its large, comfortable bedrooms, a book-lined study crammed with sofas and a piano, and an array grand paintings of aristocrats and photos of past-Open champions including Jack Nicklaus and Nick Faldo.
 
Comfort and understated elegance is the order of the day, a world away from the fashion-focused boutique hotels you find in city centres, and more of a stately-home-from-home with an emphasis on relaxation and informality. Certainly, if you fancy playing the role of the pre-war laird to the hilt, there there are plenty of opportunities available - maybe a game of croquet out on the lawn or a few sets of tennis in the grass court, followed by a wander through the six acre garden set out by influential 19th century designer Gertrude Jekyll, before a pre-dinner drink in one of its many reception rooms.
 
But plush and stately as the surroundings are, it is the arrival of Albert Roux's latest addition to his collection of restaurants last month that has caught the attention of gastronomes and journalists.
 
Rechristened Chez Roux, the menu shares many of its dishes with the chef's two Michelin-starred Le Gavroche, now in its 43rd year, the dining room looks much the same as it did prior to closing its doors for a two-year slumber: a surprisingly intimate space with pistachio green walls and expansive views across the golf course to the Forth. But there is a proliferation of Roux-related memorabilia and pretty much everything on the table bears his insignia, a rather sweet caricature of Roux himself peering over his spectacles. Yet there is no Roux-overkill and the rest of the building has been left in its original state of walnut floors and cosy furnishings. Then again, you don't come here for the shock of the new, it's all about the comfort of the familiar.
 
Even with the menu, the components are just as you would expect to find in French cooking: lobster, roast lamb, calves' liver and pike are present alongside the freshest organic butter, cream and eggs as Roux's take on classic French dictates. But while the menu implies a solid rich and dense affair, the reality was a meal whose recurring theme was a lightness of texture and delicacy of flavour.
 
Greywalls' head chef Robert Bates, a protege of Roux, says that while the 74-year-old is closely involved in the running of the restaurant, he trusts him to express his own creativity: "I've worked for him for 12 years, I was trained by him, so he knows that anything I'm going to do is within the lines of his expectations of classic French cooking.
 
"He gives me a lot of very positive feedback and we speak to each other on the phone once or twice a week." The du jour menu is Bates chance to make the most the local seasonal produce, and so will change as - and - when produce becomes available.
 
For our meal, however, we tackled the a la carte menu, keen to try some of Roux's Gavroche classics. Among the stand-out starter dishes was a pillowy Pike quenelle, one the chef's signatures dishes, which came accompanied with duxelle of mushrooms, brown shrimp and a lobster sauce. Finely balanced and with a generous helping of juicy shrimps, it allowed the flavours to come through without being overpoweringly fishy . A decadent but whisper-light souffle Suissesse, another Roux classic presented S with a beguiling combination of nutty Gruyere cheese and double cream.
 
Of the mains, my fillet of cod viennoise with sauted mushrooms and spinach, was a gorgeous left-field choice, a large helping succulent flesh with a spicy sweet-sour topping balanced with its buttery accompaniments, but it was the rump of lamb with spring vegetables that was perhaps the dish of the weekend - meltingly tender, perched atop a pile of buttery, garlick-flavoured mash, the baby-turnips and asparagus bringing a sharp top-note to the earthy tones of the meat.
 
Of the mains, my fillet of cod viennoise with sauted mushrooms and spinach, was a gorgeous left-field choice, a large helping succulent flesh with a spicy sweet-sour topping balanced with its buttery accompaniments, but it was the rump of lamb with spring vegetables that was perhaps the dish of the weekend - meltingly tender, perched atop a pile of buttery, garlick-flavoured mash, the baby-turnips and asparagus bringing a sharp top-note to the earthy tones of the meat.
 
The puddings were dominated by the Rothschild omlette, created, legend has it, when the chef worked for the hyper-rich banking family, the egg whites and sugar whipped to a barely-there sugar-sweet consistency balanced an piquant apricot and cointreau sauce. Perhaps the only disappointing note of the dining experience was when S ordered a selection of cheeses, which, while nicely chosen, was a bit limited in range, but that's a minor gripe.
 
Of the wines we tried, the Rioja Crianza and Roux's own house Champagne proved to the most memorable, the former packed with red berry flavour, while fizz had a satisfying complexity - special mention should go to the knowledgeable and tactful Greywalls' waiters, though, whose recommendations were on the money without heading to the far end of the wine list. 
 
But then again to think about Greywalls in purely pecunary terms would would perhaps be vulgar - as author Evelyn Waugh perceptively pointed out, "money is only useful when you get rid of it" - and there is something seductively elegant about indulging in old-fashioned good living without worrying if you're wearing the right labels.
 
Now, who's for a quick game of croquet? 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 


 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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27 June 2010
By: Craig Brown
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