Crossbasket Castle

High Blantyre

IN ONE OF those moments that seem to mark post-lockdown dining I find myself arriving late into the magnificent hallway of Crossbasket Castle and having a conversation with staff masked to the eyeballs who keep repeating the word: gin.

Uh, gin, what gin, I splutter like the major in Fawlty Towers, I’m here for the Michel Roux dinner.

Turns out to my surprise it’s the same thing, actually a gin-paired dinner. As my wife will point out when she arrives the only real surprise is that I somehow didn’t notice that the very first word on the dinner description is, um, gin.

Fast forward through panelled corridors, gently snoozing libraries onto an exposed mezzanine above the sprawling Roosevelt Room (Eleanor apparently and tenuously) where below me tables are already fully occupied, and a man – not a Roux – is chuntering on about, sigh, gin.

Like a captive on a gangplank I am being urged to descend an open staircase into all this blather with the promise that at the bottom someone awaits to direct me swiftly to a table. I descend, the talk pauses, everybody looks. And… comedy gold: there’s nobody waiting. So I stand alone, shuffle alone, redden alone and finally do a walk of shame to a random unoccupied table.

Did I say no Roux? Crossbasket Castle has the Roux imprimatur as you will have heard, people certainly keep asking me about it, and I have tried to come here before but hit the rocks on a quaint switchboard divert system, a laconic phone pick-up policy and their opaque attitude when it comes to pushing their own Roux Restaurant.

Put it this way: any time I have phoned before, I have either given up while holding or got through but foundered on the press-this-button-shuffle or even got a human and discovered opening times are, well, weird. And that was pre-pandemic.

Of course, this is a hotel. And you are talking to someone who has yet to eat at a non-franchised hotel restaurant that was really any good, and I don’t really expect to see Michel Roux either out here or in the kitchen tonight.

That gin though. Here’s the funny bit. I don’t drink. Debs does. But as we arrived in separate cars at separate times with no2 son (17) those glasses of gin (more than a dozen) must remain untouched. But hang on, don’t turn over yet – there is food too. Okay you could blindfold me and I would still guess just what is going to be on tonight’s menu. This being Scotland.

Smoked salmon starter; venison main and then strawberry mille feuille to finish, – yawn, fortunately no haggis or heather. We eat, the taster man sonorously describing the taste of the alcohol (gin and dinner, whatever next) and we compare notes on the food.

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Hands up? It’s surprisingly good. Deft, technical, yet pretty to look at. Flakes of hot smoked salmon part on the fork spilling pink to crimson on white porcelain; kibbled onion and pickled radish sparkle across the tongue and the very last drop of saffron cream is wiped clean not with the Sunday Post but freshly baked bread.

Yes, the Monarch of the Glen may nowadays be reduced to a bland farmed flavour carrying nothing of the depth or natural spice of wild, hanged venison and this main course is no different, but its colour is perfect, the texture velvet and somehow tonight that almost trumps blandness.

Again the bread comes out. To soak up the remains of the accompanying savoy cabbage, smoked celeriac and redcurrant and juniper jus. By the time the layers of mille-feuille dessert are broached, crackling under fork, filling squidging sideways, tart strawbs a-yelping I’m saying out loud this has been good, and I am enjoying the gin man’s finale.

I paid £45 a head tonight, and didn’t touch a drop of the included alcohol, yet it seems reasonable value. I wonder what they can do when they really try?

Crossbasket Castle, Stoneymeadow Rd, High Blantyre

01698 829461

Menu: This was a gin-paired dinner and the menu was presumably toned down so as not to steal the show, but all the usual Scottish standards with some fairy-dust applied. 3/5

Service: First you have to go through the glorious hotel which is fine, but does not carry the same immediacy as a restaurant entrance. 4/5

Atmosphere: Social distancing maybe accounts for the very large spaces between tables in the airy Roosevelt Room. The castle is magnificent though. 3/5

Price: There was loads of gin included in the £45-a-head price but actually the food itself was almost worth the admission fee. 4/5

Food: Hard to tell just how good they can, or cannot, be but everything at this meal was flawlessly prepared and presented. 6/10