There is nothing I love more than a fancy hotel at Christmas.
To me, nothing beats that sense of grandeur, style, and generosity that really only comes with someone else’s space, scale, and money.
This is not what I like about my own domestic celebrations which rest on the usual pillars of family, food, friends and a Quality Street box – pillars around which the whole precarious structure of Christmas. is created.
The edifice around pinning your dreams on 24 hours of fun is one thing but the artifice also has its place and I love big hotels as a transformative experience, taking us away from the dross of everyday life in a land of fantasy .
If there ever was a time for it, it’s now.
Back when I had a waistline, a Virgin Atlantic Gold Card, and an expense account, I used to go to New York City every Christmas.
Although this vacation took me away from my family, I have to say it was absolutely the best way to spend Christmas.
New York at Christmas is simply the most magical place in the world and words cannot describe the joy of waking up in Philippe Starck’s iconic Royalton Hotel and crossing Central Park for lunch at Jean-Georges’ at 1 Central Park. West.
Having lunch on Christmas Day while watching the snow fall over Central Park is one of my happiest memories, so happy that it even overshadowed the fact that the restaurant is located in the Trump International Hotel.
What horrors were brewing on the floors above us as we ate lunch in Trumpington, not knowing that the orange wig we saw in the corner was an eyesore to be endured not just for Christmas but for decades afterwards?
There aren’t enough truly fancy hotels on Tayside to provide the sense of wonder that offers a real-life escape for the price of a cocktail at the bar. Closest here would probably be Rusacks in St Andrews which manages to distill something of the feel of a Connaught into a much smaller space.
Better – albeit a longer trek – is the marvelous Fife Arms in Braemar, a stunning synthesis of artistry, artifice, substance, Scottishness and style, a short drive from Dundee.
Gleneagles Birnam Brewery
Closer to home is Gleneagles, this monster of a building spanning the Auchterarder countryside like a rather ugly French castle.
Surprisingly, I realized that I had only been to Gleneagles twice before – once to use their spa and once to bid on a painting at a large auction. I remember escaping the hot tub when the braying of the mustard cord and moccasin set became more overwhelming than any trip to the spa involving borage and sea buckthorn oils on my aching limbs.
Until this week, I had never eaten at Gleneagles, which was sold in 2014 to a company called Ennismore, which also owned the mega cool hotel chain Hoxton (Ennismore itself was sold to the French hotel group Accor last year).
A substantial renovation began when the hotel was sold in 2015 and I was interested to see how the ethics of a company that owned the super cool Hoxton had translated into this great lady of Scottish hospitality.
Another very current reason to visit Gleneagles is that Chef Liam Rogers went to the recent final of Masterchef The Professionals (he stole!) And we were hoping he could cook us lunch.
There is a choice of different dining options in Gleneagles and we chose the informal Birnam Brewery for our lunch, a decision made easier by the prestige of the hotel.
Andrew Fairlie Restaurant is only open for dinner.
So the chance to spot Liam in the kitchen was traded for the opportunity to try Gleneagles at an entry level, which doesn’t depend on the dress code suggested on their website.
Take note for those lucky enough to visit the magnificent Strathearn Restaurant (also open only in the evenings) – “in a room with more than a touch of theatrical magic, The Strathearn is a classic Scottish fine dining restaurant with real meaning. romance. In the evening, this glamorous place deserves a matching outfit – we suggest a collared shirt, sports jacket or blazer, or an evening dress or a nicely cut suit. ”Catch them!
While being extremely in favor of glamor, my thoughts always return to the same question when faced with such an absurd dress code like this – what would they have done with the late Apple co-founder. Steve Jobs, with his signature look of black polo collar, jeans and sneakers?
Anyway, if ever I get the chance to dine in the absolute enchantment of the Strathearn Room (she is truly lovely) I must consult my friend Dylan Jones, ex-GQ editor, to assess the cut of my jib before leaving.
No such nonsense at the Birnam Brasserie which is located in an extension next to the hotel spa and across from a rather poorly designed cafe – to get there you have to walk past floral displays and palm trees. Christmas which are unfortunately more out of date than couture.
The Birnam is interesting for a number of reasons, not least because it is probably the hotel’s most obvious attempt to attract an American clientele, at least in culinary terms (the American Bar was closed when we visited) .
It was quite empty when we arrived for lunch and we were shown a corner table right next to a family of four.
I noticed right away that an adjacent room looked much more interesting and also more festive, which, after all, was part of the reason for our visit.
This other section – The Winter Garden – was smaller than the main brasserie we were in and featured a huge (unlit) fireplace and extensive greenery along the walls and ceiling, presumably inspired by Patrick Blanc’s brilliant vertical gardens. .
If you’re like me and the couple close to us who asked to change tables (their first offer was a small table right next to the cashier service area – in an empty restaurant!) You might want to ask why not everyone is given the possibility of a table in the winter garden.
My advice is don’t bother because this is a space better to see rather than sit down – when you walk in it, you kind of feel like a suburban veranda.
We had looked at the menu online and were very encouraged – there was a lot we would love to eat here.
The site itself promises “you will find the best of French and Italian cuisine, from spaghetti vongole, venison rigatoni and Milanese risotto, to steak tartare, mussels (sic) and Niçoise salad”.
None of these were on our lunch menu (to be fair there were mussels a la Normande for £ 18). The more complete menu presented online is only available in the evening.
The prices for this concise menu were largely reasonable considering the location.
The delicious bread (which took an absolute age to arrive) was £ 2 and the entrees (called light bites here) range from £ 6 for soup to £ 16 for a chic thyme marinated chicken sandwich.
The problem with “light bites” is that they were all variations on the idea of a sandwich – aside from the soup, there wasn’t a single thing that didn’t come on some bread. form.
The salads seemed to be a better choice for a starter and were reasonably priced starting at £ 8 for the pea and bean salad with Greek feta, black olive, orange, fennel, toasted pumpkin seeds and shaved black truffle.
Since fresh beans and peas are out of season, we both went for different salads and I’m afraid to say both were wet firecrackers – literally that, as they both arrived cold and flabby.
My venere salad dish (£ 9 starter, £ 12 main) sounded great on the page – black rice, snow peas, pear, baked radicchio, minced radish, cashews, millet and cider dressing – but the ingredients were so cold and the dressing so scantily that he didn’t have much. The radicchio, which I love burning from a grill, has been made torpid
out of coldness.
David’s starter of the heirloom tomato salad (£ 9) was accompanied by fregola, watermelon, raspberry, pine nuts and basil and was overpowering. Chilled inches from the tender, the bizarre addition of raspberries and watermelon only added to the feeling that we were in the wrong place in the wrong season.
Frozen raspberries were made even more out of place next to watermelon and basil, with the whole dish being more of a plea for summer than a celebration of it.
You might be wondering why we ordered a tomato salad knowing it had such incongruous ingredients in it? Well the truth is there was very little here that was appealing and, if we had realized that the online menu wasn’t available at lunchtime, we wouldn’t have come.
David’s main course was another salad. Yes I know! But there were very few vegetarian options on this menu and he just didn’t fancy a buckwheat risotto with green peas, baby spinach, apple and mint (£ 15).
His beetroot miso Caesar salad was only notable as a reminder that some dishes are classics for a reason and some riffs should be confined to Johnny Marr, not the kitchen.
I chose the West Coast Lobster Risotto (£ 32) because I wanted to review real food and also wanted to see if that justified the high price.
It was a decent risotto but with a small amount of lobster. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it although it was by nature a rich single note symphony that could have benefited from a little more herbs.
We ditched the desserts which were mostly cake based. The service was pleasant, a little indifferent as is the case in 2021 but quite friendly. The room – standard ersatz deco-brasserie references – is pleasant.
This expedition taught me a lesson, in a way, even knowing that we had chosen this restaurant as a more affordable option than some of the other restaurants.
options in Gleneagles.
But, just as my mother laughed at those she considered a fur coat and no panties, the
Birnam struck me as a waste of time – probably more suited to hotel guests and a little jaded by the full razzamatazz of the two more formal restaurants.
I would have preferred to dress up, wait for the Andrew Fairlie restaurant to open in the evening, and spend more money to get into Christmas.
Now where’s my beautifully cut costume?
Address: The Birnam Brasserie, Gleneagles Hotel, Auchterarder, PH1 1NF
Phone. : 01764 694270
Price: Starters from £ 6, main courses from £ 11, dessert from £ 3.50
- Food: 3/5
- Surroundings: 3/5
- Service: 3/5