English whisky? We are in Scotland, right? To be precise we're at the Roxburghe Hotel, a country house hotel near Kelso and checking the bar menu for a drink before dinner. And there it is... an English whisky. And a Scottish vodka, a Bulgarian vodka, Indian, Japanese and Swedish whiskies, and a range of Scottish gins.
This is a seriously good bar menu, we tell the barman. He turns out to be the Bar Manager, Stuart Mackenzie, who's also a Whisky Ambassador. He regales us with tales about the whiskies they stock, how he's built up the bar list since he's been at the Roxburghe, the difficulties of balancing the old with the new... and how customers return, as there's always something original and unusual to try. If he's disappointed when we only order two fino sherries, he manages to hide it well.
A Small Selection from the Roxburghe's Impressive Bar
In fact the sherries go well with the amuse-bouches that arrive while we're reading the menu. One is a black pudding bon-bon, so combines two of our favourite things, and the other was basically brie on a biscuit though they called it something fancier than that and it tasted gorgeous.
One of the Roxburghe's Lounges
Dining at this Kelso Country House Hotel
It's our 10th wedding anniversary so we go for it: Scotch rib-eye steak for Mike and game of the day, grouse, for Donna. It's only a few weeks after the Glorious 12th, after all. She asks how it's served. 'We serve it whole,' says the waitress, 'but the chef can slice it for you afterwards, if you prefer.' She does prefer, and after the presentation of the work of art at the table the plate is whisked away to reappear with the grouse expertly sliced within seconds, it seems.
As starters we'd both had the scallops from Berwick, served with an unusual selection of contrasting flavours: cauliflower, golden raisins and olive tapenade. They work together brilliantly with the plump and juicy scallops for a variety of tastes and textures. Dessert was also a unanimous decision, after the meaty mains: Classic Albert Roux Lemon Tart. And classic it was, the perfect lemon tart.
The Wine List
The Roxburghe also has an unusual wine list, including some from the Duke's own cellars. We opted for a Château Méaume Bordeaux Supérieur, which the menu assures us the winemaker supplies only to his own brother and to the Duke of Roxburghe. Lucky Duke and brother, we say, as it was a fruitily smooth Bordeaux and available at a house-wine price.
Our room at the Roxburghe for our anniversary treat really was a treat. It was actually a split-level cottage in a cobbled courtyard (see above and below) where roses climbed the walls and the chef's herb garden was right next door. Downstairs was a spacious living room adorned with paintings and porcelain (plus flat-screen TV and free WiFi!), and upstairs an even more spacious bedroom with a 4-poster canopy bed.
The woman who showed us to our room pointed out that in the bathroom we had a listed loo! We've no idea what that meant but it was clearly very ancient, like a chest that opened up to reveal a toilet inside it. The handle you pulled vertically up but while it was very old it was also very effective.
A Room with a Listed Loo!
The bedroom was big enough for a table and chairs in the window, so we sat and gazed out over the grounds, enjoying the view with some magnificent trees. This all belonged to the Duke of Roxburghe, and we planned to visit his home at Floors Castle next day. It's been called the biggest inhabited house in Scotland, but we were perfectly content with our cosy cottage and a 10th anniversary to remember.
A Few Titles from the Well-Stocked Library
Dec 26, 16 03:03 AM
Beyond London Travel visits Floors Castle near Kelso in the Scottish Borders, family home of the Duke of Roxburghe and one of VisitScotland's 5-star visitor attractions, a Scottish Downton Abbey.
Dec 04, 16 12:37 PM
The Beyond London Travel Books page reviews guidebooks, history, mysteries and fiction to help readers enjoy their visits to England, the UK, France, and beyond.
Dec 04, 16 12:20 PM
Beyond London Travel reviews Food Trails, a new guidebook from Lonely Planet for the culinary traveller which helps you plan 52 Perfect Weekends in the world's tastiest destinations.