Muted Midlothian Magnificence
Location is everything in the accommodation scene and, with an easy, long driveway access from not only the nearby Edinburgh City bypass, but also from all major trunk roads to the nation’s capital and the airport, reports Iain Robertson, Melville Castle, near Dalkeith, is an idyllic riverside retreat.
History notes that Malleville was an estate owned by an Anglo-Norman baron, Galfrid de Malle, who was Sheriff of Edinburgh and Governor of its Castle in 1155. Although his descendants sold the estate to the Ross family in 1371, its chequered past maintained it through the centuries until it was rebuilt by renowned Scottish architect, James Playfair, in the late-1700s. At that time, under the ownership of the first Viscount Melville, the new Castle was lived in and remained in that family’s ownership until around forty years ago.
Despite a gradual denigration over the next few years, Melville Castle was bought by a local developer, Mr William Hay, around thirty years ago, when a labour of love commenced, as he reinstated its grandeur. The task was immense, as the slate tiles had been stolen, allowing unrelenting Scottish rain to penetrate the formerly grand interior. Yet, this story could have been termed equally ‘Third Time Lucky’, as Mr Hay has now returned to a position of control, after two previous and expensive failed attempts were made to operate a high-class hotel from the redeveloped estate.
Its current Italian manager, Lorenzo Menghini, has an exceptional 30 years Scottish record of high-end hotel management. A similar pedigree exists for the French food and beverage manager, Laurent Memeteau (previously of The Royal Mile’s exceptional ‘The Wychery’ restaurant), while the ever-active octogenarian Mr Hay maintains a well-judged but watchful eye over his enormous long-term investment.
A grand vestibule awaits guests, off which is a stylish library bar, several, elegant ante-rooms and the ground floor dining-room. A Brasserie serves evening meals in the basement. Shown to my grand room on the top floor, I was delighted with its muted splendour. It was spacious and furnished in a not-so-heavy gothic-lite style, with a beautifully carved four-poster bed and modern, immaculate, en-suite facilities. Two large, south-facing drape windows provided a view onto the surrounding hillsides, allowing plenty of daylight to flood the room and, although not audible, only at night-time was a view of car headlights possible several hundred yards away, through the trees.
If you want to experience the locale, then the City of Edinburgh is a mere ten minutes taxi ride away (or 20 minutes by bus, from a stance at the top-end of the driveway), where its enormous range of year-round entertainments exist to meet all personal, couple and family requirements. There are museums, Edinburgh Castle, galleries and attractions galore, historical and hysterical, with which to become engaged. Of course, the place is packed at the annual Festival period but Melville would provide a peaceful countryside respite from the clamour. While there is no spa at Melville, the lovely landscaped grounds are full of potential for strollers and there is a Spanish woodcarving artist-in-residence (Javier Diaz), whose poor command of English is readily forgiven for his remarkable carving talents, which are for sale.
Prepared by chef, Alasdair Ritchie, a fine dinner, consisting of a choice of delicious courses provided excellent three-course value at £24.95pp, plus drinks, in Melville‘s bustling basement Brasserie. I enjoyed the warm Ayrshire bacon, black pudding and sausage terrine starter drizzled in an especially piquant Melville sauce, while my wife sampled the salmon roulade and sweet pickled cucumber, with delicious dill dressing.
They were followed by baked Pittenweem smoked haddock, featuring a Mull cheddar rarebit topping, a poached runny egg and creamed potatoes and leeks base, upon which was drizzled a grain mustard vinaigrette for my main course, while the Memsahib enjoyed the succulent pan-fried Borders lamb rump, accompanied by a feta cheese, slow-dried plum tomato and minted new potato salad. Both courses, despite the complexity of their complementary flavours, went down exceptionally well, accompanied by a lovely 1999 Mouton Cadet.
For dessert, I endured a sticky date and banana loaf accompanied by a fresh coconut parfait dessert and the Castle‘s own butterscotch sauce. To say that I was smacking my lips most of the way through the course would be an understatement. Madame elected to try the zesty lemon posset, topped by three crunchy but chewy baby meringues, a raspberry coulis and a solitary physalis. The attention to detail was perfect. We partook of a nocturnal snifter in the relaxing library bar afterwards.
Although the mattress was firm, my uninterrupted sleep was superb and we were both warm and comfortable beneath the enormous Egyptian cotton-wrapped downy. The power shower provided the perfect wake-up, next morning, the plush but first-class drying towels (in duplicate for each of us) served purpose. Once ready (and packed), we took the lift to the ground floor to enjoy an excellent Scottish self-served breakfast (with Ayrshire back bacon, local pork and herb sausages, scrambled egg, roasted plum tomatoes, black pudding, baked beans and the obligatory ’tatty’ scones kept warm on the servery) that included haggis and as much Earl Grey tea and hot toast as our waitress could deliver to the table.
The selection of fresh fruit juices were of excellent quality, while the cereals and yogurt pots were also fresh. Although the bedroom accoutrements were basic (flat-screen TV, water, kettle and tea, coffee and milk portions), they were adequate for purpose, after all, it is not so much the in-room treats that please at Melville Castle but what there is to enjoy outside.
When you consider that B&B costs from just £99pp, to which you can factor an additional £24.95 for dinner per head, plus the cost of drinks, Melville Castle offers remarkable value for money. Any half-decent hotel will charge you around £130pp per night and none of them offers the restful tranquillity delivered by Melville Castle in spades. For its location, easy City access, fantastic range of local activities and events, total privacy, security and peaceful restfulness, I do not know of any other retreat anywhere in the UK that can boast better value.
Castle exterior, hotel entrance
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