Great Places to Stay
- The Inn at Lathones
Travel writer Vivien Devlin journeyed north to the small village of Lathones in the East Neuk of Fife to sample the hospitality which has been available at an Inn there for 400 years. On the road to St Andrews, it has become popular in more recent times with golfers and those who want to enjoy the peace and tranquility of the area.
St. Andrews' Oldest Coaching Inn
The dictionary definition of an Inn is "a house open to the public for lodging and entertainment of travellers". Because of this origin from the ancient times of horse and coach travel - when travelling from Edinburgh to London would take over a week - the image of tired, cold and weary travellers arriving at a rural Inn still has a romantic appeal today.
The charming, traditional Inn at Lathones, which dates back 400 years, is situated in the heart of the Kingdom of Fife, just five miles from St. Andrews. I studied the map carefully beforehand and we set off north from Edinburgh on a cold, dark winter night. Be warned, depending on the route taken, once you come off the main road, there is a maze of country lanes, tiny villages and some unmarked crossroads. But our slight detour and missed turning only added to the adventure and soon we saw the glittering lights of the Inn and drove safely into the old courtyard - now the carpark.
What could be more welcoming than arriving, tired and hungry from our travels, to reach this warm and comfortable old house, a log fire burning on the grate, a reviving drink and fine dinner soon to be served and a bed for the night.
There has been a Coaching Inn on this site for 400 years with the current Inn at Lathones in business for over 200 years. The attractive white washed property comprises the old Stables, restaurant and bar, with the accommodation of fourteen en-suite bedrooms housed in two adjacent houses. Recently under the ownership of Nick White and family, there has been careful refurbishment to create a suite of new larger bedrooms in the Coachman's Wing to add to existing bedrooms in the "The Smithy" - the original Blacksmith's house. These rooms, carefully furnished with country pine and colourful checked fabrics, have lovely views over the cornfields at the back of the house.
Contemporary With a Sense of Period
We were shown to a Superior spacious attic room in the new wing with its own entrance and front door via a passage-way from the restaurant. While contemporary in design and facilities - Satellite TV and CD player - the skylight windows, stone hearth and a wood-burning stove give a sense of period. To add a touch of luxury, the bathroom has a large jacuzzi bath - just perfect for a hot dip after our journey. There's also a separate shower. Rather out of place is a modern plastic soap dispenser (empty) secured to the wall by the basin, (impossible to use when in the bath), with none of the usual supply of soap, facecloths, bath gel and also insufficient towels - just one towel per person. However on request at reception we received a bar of soap and two hand towels. Luxury expensive toiletries are certainly not expected in a small country inn, but a few basic home comforts are appreciated.
The management is in fact in the process of planning a refurbishment and upgrading project to provide superior accommodation with larger bedrooms, bathrooms and suites. This will surely make the Inn at Lathones a five star hotel and really put it on the map as the place to stay when visiting Fife.
Dining at The Inn
But now suitably washed, jacuzzi-scrubbed and changed for the evening, it's definitely time to eat. Down to the lounge bar to sink into soft leather sofas by the fire for a drink before dinner. Now we can relax and settle into the cosy, quaint, surroundings of this ancient country Inn. Above the hearth is a stone lintel, a 'wedding stone' engraved with the date 1718, the year when the former owners, Iona Kirk and Ewan Lindsay were married. They managed the old Drover's Inn until Iona's death in 1756 when, it is alleged, the wedding stone cracked and Ewan died shortly afterwards. It's also believed that the friendly ghost, The Grey Lady, is Iona, her spirit still present around the Inn, tending her horse in the stable. Today you can sit by the fire, look up at the ancient stone with its wonderful romantic tale, and sense the Inn's colourful history of travellers past, where time, in some respects, has stood still.
The Inn at Lathones prides itself in excellent award winning cuisine and offers a wide range of menus from the a La Carte, the daily Market menu, imaginatively selected three course Theatre and Memories menus or push the boat out with The Gastronomes, a superb seven course banquet for those who seriously appreciate fine foods and wine. The chef is Marc Guibert [with assistant Kai Plentz] and in 2002, for the third year in succession, the Inn has been awarded 2 AA rosettes for the quality and standard of the cuisine which could be described as a blend of classic French with a touch of contemporary "fusion" style, using the best local Scottish produce. Marc is an exceptional pastry chef and came runner up in the British dessert of the Year competition.
The À La Carte menu is extensive in itself, with a wide selection of hot and cold Starters, dishes From the Sea and From the Land. The seafood is of course the freshest you could imagine, brought straight from the lobster pots and fishing ports of Crail and Anstruther a few miles away along the south Fife coast. Start with Crispy Wanton and pan fried Scallops with a raspberry dressing, a delicate poached Monkfish tail with a mussel nage, or smoked Chicken Breast salad in a white truffle oil. One of the popular specialities of the Inn is their Smoked haddock and Fresh Salmon Fishcake. Crispy outside, soft and succulent inside - a tasty homely dish and highly recommended.
Excellent game, steak, and fish are on offer for the main course such as Roast Loin of Venison with an Arran grain mustard jus, Grilled Fillet of Angus Beef with peppercorn and Lagavulin sauce, and Grilled Sea Bass with Champagne sauce. If you give the chef a day's notice [and subject to the weather and availability] you may request a Seafood Platter featuring oysters, langoustine, crab, lobster, mussels and winkles - etc, etc.
Vegetarians are also welcome with a choice of Herbed Risotto with Shitake Mushrooms, or Hot Onion tart with a grilled goats cheese and walnut dressing.
As you would expect from such a fine-dining restaurant, the wine list is exceptional and personally selected by Nick White, a real connoisseur of the grape, who will be pleased to offer recommendations to suit your meal. House wine from £10.50.
Do leave room for a special dessert such as Hot Apple and Calvados Tart with homemade Cinnamon Ice cream, a smooth Winter Spiced Creme Brulée, or perhaps a rich Belgian Chocolate Indulgence. Alternatively a platter of fine farmhouse cheese with crisp oatcakes. Then coffee and a dram, sitting by the fire to digest a fabulous feast.
Apart from the main restaurant, the original 17th century Stables next door, with its fabulous smoke-charred oak beams, stone walls and flagstone floor offers the perfect ambience for a private party or corporate function. Seating up to 70 people, every kind of occasion can be catered for from weddings, business lunches and celebratory dinners.
Bed and Breakfast
The peace and quiet of the countryside - and the clean, fresh air itself, encouraged a good sound sleep in our comfortable, cosy attic bedroom. After such a superb dinner how could we have an appetite for breakfast the next morning - but we certainly did. Orange juice, porridge, prunes, apricots, yoghurt, eggs, bacon, kippers, smoked haddock, mushrooms - the works. Whatever you want, with tea, coffee, piles of toast and preserves to finish off. A great start to the day.
According to "house rules", breakfast is served until ten although a charming note is added "these are only approximate times so if you wish to eat earlier or later, give us notice and we will do our best to accommodate your needs."
Service is at all times very friendly and attentive with a delightful young South African couple, Craig and Heather, looking after the dining room and reception as well as the proprietor Nick White, the genial host, personally welcoming his guests as they arrive.
Apart from the exceptional quality and first class standard of hospitality and comforts, fine food and wines, the experience of staying at this delightful country Inn has in many ways not changed in generations.
Just five miles away is St. Andrews, famous as the Home of Golf and the Inn is able to offer personally tailored golf programmes for guests. All around the area are historic castles, National Trust houses, and the charming fishing villages with old smugglers` inns, along the East Neuk of Fife with lovely coastal walks. There is a magical sense of history and tradition wherever your go so come to Fife and stay awhile at the Inn at Lathones.
For more information or to make a reservation, see the Inn at Lathones' own Web site.
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