Cameron Buchanan, who will be sworn in next month as a Tory list MSP for the Lothians following the death of David McLetchie, said it was just a pity Mr Salmond was in the SNP.
"I've met him quite a few occasions," he said. "Very impressive, very single-minded - a lot of respect for him. What I would say is, he's a class act.
"I always thought former Presiding Officer George Reid was a class act. It's a pity they're both SNP."
As to whether Mr Salmond would win the independence referendum, he admitted: "I don't know. It's too early to call. He's the type of politician who could spring a surprise at the last minute and we would be wrong footed."
Mr Buchanan, 66, promises to be a colourful addition to the 15-member Tory group. Educated at Oxford and the Sorbonne, a former globe-travelling textiles buyer, and a polyglot with four foreign languages, he has also been the Honorary Consul for Iceland in Edinburgh for the last 20 years.
"I knew Magnus Magnusson," he explained. "It's who you know. I had never been to Iceland and probably couldn't even spell Reykjavik. That was the truth. But I have now been many times."
He said business, cutting red tape and health would be his hobbyhorses as an MSP.
"I'm appalled at some of the business ideas that come out of the Scottish Parliament, from all parties," he added. He also said he found a lot of debate at Holyrood "juvenile" but was ready for some "argy bargy".
A frequent Euro election candidate since 1999, and the Tories' man in Edinburgh East in 2011 - "a no hope seat" - he described himself as centre-right, and said he joined the Tories a year after their 1997 electoral wipeout in Scotland because he wanted to restore some "balance" to Scottish politics.
Like his old friend and golf partner David McLetchie, who died from cancer, Mr Buchanan was struck by a brain tumour. But although it was the most aggressive form, a glioblastoma, he appears cured.
"I was diagnosed in 2010. It was caught very early and I was lucky. I woke up one morning with a dead leg and went to the doctor and he said, 'This sounds like a stroke.'
"I had had no illness before, I was very fit, played golf, tennis, everything else.
"Then I went in for a scan, and they said, 'No, it's nothing to do with a stroke' - I thought, 'Thank God.' They said, 'No, it's a brain tumour.'
"I was operated on, had chemotherapy, radiotherapy, lost my senses, teeth, hair. They say it's clear. One doesn't know. I've had no relapse, no symptoms, nothing.
"The leg is still a bit weak and I have slight difficulty walking but that's all."
Despite speaking French, Italian, German and Spanish, he said he would not be following the recent vogue for new MSPs to be sworn using a second tongue, such as French or Doric.
"I'm going to say it in Queen's English. I have no plans to do it in French, German or Italian - that would be showing off."