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Issue 52 - The lap of luxury

Scotland Magazine Issue 52
August 2010

 

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The lap of luxury

Gavin D. Smith finds out more about Albert Roux's latest Scottish venture.

Greywalls Hotel at Gullane, in East Lothian, stands close to the shores of the Firth of Forth and 17 miles from Edinburgh. It has been lavishing attentive country house hospitality on its guests since 1948, and a visit makes it obvious that practice clearly makes perfect.

This magnificent property was designed as a holiday home by the fabled architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, and remains the only surviving house he designed in Scotland.

The gardens of Greywalls, which are still a striking feature, were planned by Gertrude Jekyll, who collaborated with Sir Edwin Lutyens on many country house projects.

Greywalls was created for the Hon. Alfred Lyttelton, who was a keen golfer, and it was therefore constructed virtually within putting distance of the 18th hole of the historic Muirfield Golf Course. The exclusive Muirfield club is the oldest in Scotland, having been founded in 1744, and has been based at its present location since 1890.

Greywalls was subsequently purchased from the Lyttelton family in 1905 by William James, who went on to expand it considerably. King Edward VII was a friend of the family and was a house guest on several occasions. A permanent legacy of His Majesty’s time at Greywalls is a bedroom located in a corner of the garden, and converted from what was traditionally known as ‘The King’s Loo,’ as this lavatory facility was built for Edward’s visits!

1924 saw the house acquired by Lt Col Sir James Horlick, part of the dynasty that created the famous malted milk bedtime drink. After his daughter married, it came into the possession of the Weaver family, who still own Greywalls today.

During the Second World War, the house saw service as a ‘rest and recuperation’ facility for RAF fighter pilots stationed at nearby Drem airfield, not to mention a hospital for Polish troops and finally a maternity hospital. With the return of peace in 1945, the Weaver family needed a revenueearning use for the property, and the idea of developing it as a country hotel was born.

There were, however, certain practical difficulties to overcome, as present owner Giles Weaver explains. “When the hotel opened in 1948 rationing was still in force, and dinner cost one shilling and three pence (seven pence). One course consisted of bread and butter, and you had to have your ration card with you in order to get that!” Greywalls was one of the first country house hotels in Britain, and despite such an apparently inauspicious culinary start, it soon developed a reputation for comfort and hospitality. Discreet additions were subsequently made to the structure, including a new wing, created during the early 1970s, comprising five double bedrooms and bathrooms.

Today Greywalls boasts 23 luxurious but not overwhelming en-suite guest rooms, each individually designed and furnished with antiques. There are a number of selfcatering apartments, not to mention a traditional library, walled gardens, tennis courts, putting green and a croquet lawn.

The Gertrude Jekyll garden remains an enchanting and relaxing place for a predinner stroll, and it provides herbs and salad ingredients for the hotel, as well as now being home to five Scots Dumpy hens, which provide free-range eggs for the breakfast menu.

Sharp-eyed visitors may also see the pair of venerable tortoises, which Giles Weaver was given when he was a small boy!

Giles and Ros Weaver took over Greywalls from Giles’ father, Colonel John Weaver, in 1977, and their great affection for the property, which remains their home, is clear from even the briefest conversations. “We love the house and we hope you do.” This part of East Lothian is a golfers’ Mecca, with no fewer than 10 courses within two miles of the hotel.

Not surprisingly, Greywalls’ self-catering apartments are often rented out by golfing parties, and when the Open Championship is hosted by Muirfield some of the world’s leading golfers stay in the hotel, attested to by the photographs of sporting greats such as Jack Nicklaus and Nick Faldo which adorn the house.

A regime change earlier this year has seen Inverlochy Castle Management International take over the day to day general running of Greywalls.

The company is also responsible for a number of other luxury Scottish hotels, including Inverochy Castle itself, near Fort William, along with Villa Giuseppina, on Lake Como in Italy.

With that change has come a new dining experience in the shape of a ‘Chez Roux’ restaurant, created by legendary French restaurateur and gastronome Albert Roux, whose La Gavroche restaurant in London was the first in Britain to be awarded three Michelin stars.

“Our aim is to put the house on the map of the world,” says Roux. “We want to attract European clientele as well as local diners, who are, of course, essential.” A passionate advocate of using seasonal and local produce, Roux declares that “It’s vitally important to me that at least 90 per cent of the menu comes from Scotland.

“Here you have the best beef in the world, not just Aberdeen Angus, but Belted Galloways and Highlands, too. You have great lamb, and the game is second to none.

The area of East Lothian around Gullane is very fertile, and grows excellent potatoes and vegetables such as asparagus. And the sea is a reservoir of great things.” The Chez Roux dining experience at Greywalls Hotel, where meals are served in the traditional Scottish country-style restaurant which overlooks Muirfield’s ninth hole, is summed up as “French classical cuisine with a flair and lightness.” The menu includes dishes such as ‘Seared Scallops, Pea Puree and Stornoway Black Pudding, Cider Butter Sauce’ and ‘Supreme Free Range Guinea Fowl, Morel Mushrooms and Madeira Jus.’ Tian of Eyemouth Crab, Slow-cooked organic Scottish salmon, Buccleuch rib eye and roast rump of Borders lamb also feature among the main course options.

Albert Roux has always been keen to nurture young talent, and the list of chefs who have worked in his kitchens reads like a veritable ‘Who’s Who’ of gastronomy.

His latest protégé is Derek Johnstone, winner of the television MasterChef contest in 2008. Johnstone is currently being trained for the role of head chef at Greywalls Hotel.

He is from the West of Scotland and describes the challenge as “daunting, but a great privilege.” In addition to a snug bar which serves bar meals to residents and non-residents alike and offers some 30 single malt whiskies, Greywalls boasts an intimate, dedicated Whisky Room.

This showcases 50 fine and rare whiskies in bespoke wooden display cabinets. All the whiskies are available by the glass, and are complemented by some seriously expensive gift bottles which can be purchased as potential presents. These include a beautifully packaged 30 Years Old Macallan, on offer at £795.

The good news for those who have stayed at Greywalls in the past, and for those yet to visit, is that the atmosphere of the hotel remains warm, personal and idiosyncratic, with superb food and drink, attentive yet unobtrusive staff, and an outstanding natural setting.

This Edwardian architectural gem continues to offer the quintessential country house experience.