The Spence

Gleneagles Townhouse


TRUE STORY: there’s a fascinating conversation going on at that table over there. Right now. The one with the button-down couches, turned table legs, with that man in a double-breasted navy-blue pin-stripe. Him. Holding court.

The subject. Guns? Boom. Shooting. Eek. We know this because we’ve put down our second cornbread with chicken butter and crispy skin, very nice by the way, just to try and listen.

Any minute now...if this was Glasgow? The coppers will come crashing through the door.

But it’s not Glasgow. And it’s not that kind of shooting. It’s grice shooting. Or whatever. It’s Edinburgh. And nobody but us is paying the slightest attention.

Imagine now you are way up there on that magnificent dome. Looking down. On us. We’re like ants.

Sitting at a table right beside a flickering fire. There’s a belt-way of staggeringly attractive bas-reliefs marching around the ceiling, marble pillars reaching all the way up to that sky. It’s vast in here, it’s beautiful, it’s airy and it’s so calm.

The gentle murmur of comfortable chat only broken by occasional tasteless outbursts from me. Like this one: How much do you think this crab is, Joe?

Its fresh, puffy, completely proper hand-made crumpet base depressing like a feather pillow as I scoop some up, spilling spiced brown crab, butterscotch of all things, here and there. Eigh-teen-bangers I say.

Whew, comes the reply.

This then is The Spence, the public, to the likes of you and me anyway, restaurant of Gleneagles Hotel’s new place in the city. Check your plus fours in at the door, old man.

Now, I scoffed at the Pressed Rabbit and Ham Knuckle Terrine when I saw it, £15 for a starter that is almost everywhere on planet food. Yet it is good, moist, meaty, considered.

Read More: Murphy’s Pakora Bar, Argyle Street, Glasgow. Ron Mackenna review

I almost rolled about laughing when the single slice of cornbread with a smear of chicken butter at a fiver arrived, then tasted it and ordered a second. The final throw of the guess-the-price game will come with the Wild Roe Deer Haunch, Red Cabbage, Bramble, Salsify.

“The chef recommends either pink or well done,” says the waitress. Well done, says I, that’s a new one, let’s try that...

“Do you notice,” I say to Joe as I pick up a Rare Breed Crispy Pig, Brown Sauce, crunchy, bit dry, somewhat ordinary, in breadcrumbs, “ that the waiting staff in here all have the same accent”.

Hmm, he agrees slicing again into that West Coast Crab Crumpet. “Is it posh Edinburgh or Home Counties”. The Roe Deer, well done, arrives. Honestly? Five slices, crispy edged, pleasant texture, rush of beetroot.

That looks like my Mum’s Sunday Silverside, says Joe, and tastes like it too. Ther-tee-three-quid for that, says I. And it’s like a big starter portion. The cod though, the cod… It is perfection. A hunk, a chunk, of a fillet, bronzed in the pan, caramelised, so moist inside. We’re supposed to pour roasted cauliflower and cockle chowder over it, and the pickled fennel.

But the fish is too good for that. We devour it naked (the fish) and turn to the chowder, crowned as it seems, deliciously too, in cornflakes. Twenty-eight pounds since you’re wondering.

Now, when I say to the waiter we’ll take the Baked Alaska I swear there’s a twinkle in his eye. I mention this to Joe, adding do you think nobody has ever ordered this £20 dessert before. But no. It’s because it’s a little bit of theatre. He returns with a whisked peaked confection, sets fire to it, pours on more rum, throws chopped nuts, then chocolate, I think, on too and sets it before us. Still flickering. Is it good? It’s certainly spectacular.

But the surface is not set meringue, it’s gooey, like an unset Italian meringue with cream. I have had a Baked Alaska for my birthday just about every year of my life. I know an Alaska. And that one’s a phoney. But the Spence isn’t. What a place. What a price. Food’s okay too.


The Spence

Gleneagles Townhouse

39 St Andrews Square


Tel: 0131 332 3798

Open: seven days

Menu: It’s Gleneagles Hotel’s place in the city and there’s a whiff of the country in the fishy, gamey menu with a hint of comfort food too. 4/5

Service: They’re a little bit posh but also pleasant, friendly and knowledgeable and I have no complaints. 5/5

Atmosphere: Magnificent, gilded, domed and pillared room that would be worth paying just to see but is even better when dining. 5/5

Price: Staggering at times, shocking at others but then you look around, soak it all up and somehow it makes sense. 3/5

Food: It’s not really about the food so chapeau for making a significant effort; loved the corn bread, the cod was shimmering success, the roe deer so-so but all round? 8/10

Total: 25/30