Sumptuous surroundings and culinary concoctions bring a wee bit of magic to Crossbasket Castle in Blantyre, as Peter Ranscombe discovers.
I don’t often wear a tie to dinner these days. But, for Albert Roux, I made an exception.
Alongside his younger brother, Michel, Roux opened Le Gavroche – the UK’s first Michelin starred restaurant – in London’s Mayfair in 1967. In the 1980s, he became a consultant and began working with Inverlochy Castle Management International (ICMI) in 2005.
His name now graces the restaurants at several of the hotels in ICMI’s portfolio, including Sir Andy Murray’s Cromlix, Greywalls in East Lothian, Inver Lodge in Sutherland, Rocpool in Inverness, and now Crossbasket Castle at High Blantyre, near Glasgow, along with that of his son, Michel Junior.
I’m always a bit sceptical when I see a celebrity chef’s name branded onto a restaurant, especially if it’s a chain. How much time can they really spend looking after so many eateries?
Interestingly, Roux receives weekly emails from the general managers, telling him which dishes have sold. He also visits each site once a month for management meetings. So, with my curiosity satisfied and my tie knotted tightly with a double-Windsor, I slipped into my seat in the Baillie Room at Crossbasket to enjoy dinner. For starters, a circular “torchon” or smooth pate of duck liver was served with shredded braised pig’s head at its centre, delivering a delicious combination of textures and accompanied by Sauternes jelly and a single slice of truffled brioche.
The lack of brioche was more than made up for by the selection of breads – sourdough, seeded and white baguette plaits – alongside a lava salt butter and a stunning smoked paprika butter. Now, where has that been all my life?
The trio of Orkney beef – consisting of a roast fillet, a short rib and shredded cheek – was a cracking main course, again mixing textures and flavours. It slipped down nicely with a bottle of the 2012 Domaine Drouhin-Laroze Gevrey Chambertin, which had tonnes of red cherry, red plum, violets and wood smoke on the nose and surprisingly fresh acidity, which was flagged up in the excellent tasting notes on the extensive wine list.
Although the delivery of the dark chocolate soufflé took longer than advertised, it was well worth the wait. Light as you like – to quote Michel Roux Jr’s Masterchef colleague, Greg Wallace – it was simply gorgeous.
If the portion sizes at dinner were sensibly restrained then breakfast headed off in the opposite direction. Possibly the thickest pancake I’ve ever seen was served with crispy bacon and acacia syrup. The homemade pork sausages were also tasty.
While the restaurant is certainly a highlight, it’s by no means the only attraction at Crossbasket. The derelict 17th-century castle was bought in 2011 by Steve Timoney – of Smart Metering Systems fame – who spent £9m renovating it into a five-star hotel. Many of the furnishings in the nine-bedroom facility were chosen by Timoney’s wife, Alison, and the quality of the finish is very impressive.
The mediaeval hall-style events space at the rear of the property looks stunning with its decorative wooden beams, while a ceremony space recently opened for weddings. Equally striking is the tower suite, split over four levels and with a spiral stone staircase.
Crossbasket’s proximity to the transport network is also sadly its only Achilles’ heel. Even with the shutters closed, there’s still a wee bit too much noise from the A725 East Kilbride expressway. It’s a small gripe though – and a delicious meal in stunning surroundings more than made up for a little rumble of traffic.
A superior double room starts from £320 per night. Find out more at www.crossbasketcastle.com