Edinburgh is often lauded for its architecture. From the imposing castle and the regal surroundings of the Palace of Holyroodhouse through to the Marmite-like love-it-or-hate-it concrete mass of the Scottish Parliament, it’s easy to see why tourists flock to Auld Reekie. In amongst all the noise made about the Scottish capital’s buildings, it feels like Glasgow sometimes gets left out. Marching down the gridiron streets in the city centre on the way to a meeting, it’s all too easy not to look up and enjoy the surroundings.
As the Year of Innovation, Architecture & Design – or YIAD to its friends – continues, it’s time to take a moment to enjoy Glasgow’s splendour. And it’s not just the usual suspects either, like the City Chambers, Gallery of Modern Art or Scotland Street School. How about the Art Deco facade of the Beresford on Sauciehall Street? Or St Aloysius Roman Catholic Church in Garnethill? Or even the modern flows and curves of the Hydro?
And what better place to act as a base for a stroll around Glasgow city centre than a hotel that can be classed as an architectural sight in its own right? Blythswood Square was once home to the Royal Scottish Automobile Club (RSAC), which was founded in 1899 to promote the rather painful-sounding ‘automobilism’ in Scotland. The club began buying up townhouses along the eastern side of the square until it owned the whole row and then commissioned architect James Miller to redesign the terrace so that it could become its headquarters, which opened in 1926. The RSAC moved out of Blythswood Square in 2002 and the site was bought by hotelier Peter Taylor’s Town House Collection in 2006 for £5m.
A series of setbacks delayed the full opening of the site until 2011. Yet the £20m investment to restore the Georgian building and construct a 70-bedroom extension at the rear was well-worth the wait.
Last year Taylor sold Blythswood Square and its sister hotel, The Bonham in Edinburgh, to Harrogate-based accommodation operator Principal Hayley, which is backed by Starwood Capital Group, an American company that has also invested in the De Vere Venues and Four Pillars Hotels brands.
Stepping inside the foyer of Blythswood Square, the restoration work that went into preserving the historic architecture is easy to see, from the fluted columns through to the Art Deco tiling. The hotel prides itself on offering five-star service but in a relaxed atmosphere, and those two elements certainly come together, with the members of staff on duty in reception striking the right balance between friendliness and efficiency.
Across the entrance hall from reception sits the hotel’s restaurant, which is housed in what used to be the RSAC’s ballroom. The restaurant was buzzing, even on an early mid-week evening, and the staff provided the same well-balanced mix of courtesy and camaraderie.
What was most striking about the eatery though was the value-for-money; a two-course dinner from the market menu came in at £20, while a third course only took the price up to £25. A starter of roast tomato and sweet pepper sauce delivered all of the required thickness, richness and creaminess and – most importantly – was served piping hot, along with a choice of five breads.
The chicken supreme with garden peas and gem lettuce was moist, while the pancetta fricassee was smoky and almost too rich and creamy. To finish, a sweet and tart yoghurt panna cotta was joined by a creamy and light dark chocolate mousse and delicious fresh raspberries, all sitting on a soft chocolate biscuit crumb.
The meal was accompanied by a fresh and bright A20 Albarino from the Rias Baixas region in Galicia in North-West Spain, just over the border from Portugal’s Vinho Verde area. The modern style of the Albarino combined concentrated peach, apricot and honeysuckle aromas and flavours to match the refreshing acidity.
From the ‘last few bottles’ section of the intriguing wine list came a more traditional style of Albarino from Martin Codax, which brought together the same signature acidity with more classic green apple and mineral flavours.
Upstairs, a superior room in a corner of the second floor facing the square showed off the hotel’s accommodation at its best. As well as the massive super-king-sized bed, the room included a coffee table and sofa, decked out in some of the 9,000sq m of Harris Tweed that was bought for kitting out the hotel’s interior, the largest single order since the QE2 ocean liner was built in the 1960s.
The marbled bathroom came complete with the separate shower and bath plus the double sinks now expected of up-market hotels, along with the necessary arm of large white towels. Free wifi – which actually worked – was also a welcome bonus.
When hotels reach the heights of five stars, it’s the little things that help to differentiate them and set them apart from each other. The establishment’s salon bar on the first floor certainly falls into that category, offering a view out across the square while sipping Scotch or a local St Mungo’s lager from West Brewery. The bar even has a ‘whisky bottle keep’ from which guests can buy an expensive Scotch and leave it at the hotel, so they can enjoy it on subsequent visits.
A private cinema is another interesting feature – although with so many films available for free in the bedrooms, it would take a special flick to entice viewers away from the comfy beds.
After pounding the streets to see Glasgow’s architectural prowess, the spa at the hotel was the perfect place to end the visit. Small yet perfectly formed, the pool is definitely designed for relaxation rather than Olympic training, but the warmth of the water was still very welcome for an aching pair of feet.
Bed and breakfast at the Blythswood Square hotel in Glasgow starts from £160 based on two people sharing a standard bedroom. Find out more at www.townhousecompany.com/blythswoodsquare