Great Places to Stay
- Norton House Hotel, Edinburgh
Elegant and Historical
One of the beauties of Norton House is that it is an elegant and historical Country House hotel hidden up a long tree-lined drive, yet within easy reach of Edinburgh. Although set within a quiet, rural setting of 55 acres of beautiful parkland, woods and manicured lawns, the city centre is only six miles down the road, the airport just ten minutes drive away, with easy access to the motorways to Glasgow, Stirling and over to the Forth Bridge. This is the perfect location for visiting the city and touring further afield, or for business meetings and conferences. And on the romantic side, Norton House specialises in weddings due to its glorious garden and historic setting.
History of Norton House
This Victorian mansion was built in 1840 and while it has been redesigned and extended since then, it still retains fine architectural features with marble pillars, ornate chimney-pieces, wood panelling. An interesting facet is that from 1883 to 1951, the Norton Estate was the home of the Usher family, the well known local brewing company who also gave their name to the Usher Hall, Edinburgh's main concert theatre (a key venue for visiting international orchestras during the Edinburgh Festival). As you enter the cosy hall, there's still a homely feel about the place with its beautifully carved oak staircase, period furnishings, murals and paintings, giving an ambience of the former Usher days.
2003 has been an exciting time for Norton House with a change of ownership and a major refurbishment programme. The hotel is now one of the prestigious Hand Picked Hotels, named after chairman and CEO Julia Hand, who is creating a fine collection of 15 country houses across the UK and the Channel Islands. The new look has been carefully created by Ian McCloud and his team, who have retained the original features while at the same time adding contemporary touch through state of the art in-room entertainment, bold designs, quality fabrics and furnishings such as stylish black leather and polished wood in the restaurants.
Choice of Bedrooms
Guests have a choice of bedroom style: For a more traditional look request the rooms and suites upstairs in the original house. These spacious rooms are named after local place names such as Cramond, Lothian and Lomond - which have their own wrought iron balcony with spiral staircase down to the garden. The furnishings are traditional, pretty and elegant. If you prefer a more contemporary decor, rooms located in the adjacent wing have huge beds, colourful red and black cushions and comfortable recliner armchairs.
All rooms have 42-inch plasma television screens, which are fabulous - your own in-room cinema with DVD player - as well as fine views over the gardens. There's also a mini-bars, ironing board and trouser press. Bathrooms can be rather small, depending on the room, but all have quality Molton Brown toiletries. In Lomond, one of the traditional rooms, the bathroom is larger but unfortunately has the usual narrow, short bath with a poor, low, overhead shower. It's certainly a rare hotel luxury to find large bathrooms with separate shower cubicle and two basins for easier ablutions when sharing a room with your partner.
Wining and Dining at Norton House
There is one absolute certainty when you stay at or visit Norton House. You are sure to be extremely impressed by the standard and range of cuisine matched by friendly and personal service. As with the bedrooms, there is a choice of dining to suit all tastes and preferences, appetite and style.
I would definitely recommend that you experience a meal at Ushers, the fine dining restaurant. This is a beautifully elegant and intimate setting with soft creamy latte-coffee tinted walls, candle-light, armchairs, crisp white linen and glistening crystal glasses.
Arriving at the restaurant "to check in" a waiter leads us to the Glass Lounge, the former Conservatory, just next door for a pre-dinner cocktail. As we sit sipping a glass of champagne, the restaurant hostess, Sheena Simpson came over to introduce herself and offer the oversized menus printed on thick parchment paper. This is where the Wow factor kicks in. There is a choice of six starters including Hand-dived Scallops, Confit of Gressingham Duck, Home Smoked Salmon Terrine and Lobster Ravioli with spaghetti vegetables and langoustine dressing. This latter creation was delicious, the tiny chunks of lobster, tender and sweet. A White Bean Veloute, with spinach and nutmeg wontons and a dash of truffle oil was smooth and delicate with subtle flavours.
Moving on to the next course, this is the exquisite description of the first dish - Fillet of Buccleuch Beef, served with a smoked bacon and cabbage potato cake, truffle and Foie Gras sausage, Celeriac and Parmesan tart with a root vegetable jus. Alternatively, Pan Fried Fillet of John Dory with Crab tortellini, Roast fennel, artichoke and tomato confit with a whitebean and caviar froth. Other choices include Venison, Lamb, Grilled steaks and a vegetarian risotto. The inventive creation and unusual combinations of flavours of all these dishes is superb, stylishly presented on large square glass platters.
Throughout the meal we were personally attended by the hostess, Sheena who glided about the room, always attentive, unobtrusively filling water and wine glasses, and offering second helpings of home-made bread. Service is impeccable with a relaxed charm.
To finish there is a short dessert menu including Caramel Soufflé with peanut butter ice-cream and Chocolate Tortellini. Alternatively there is an extensive and carefully selected Cheese board featuring Filetta Brebis from Corsica, Jersey Blue and Carola, a soft Ayrshire cheese.
There is a fine wine list, overseen by French restaurant manager, Pascal Kurth who ensures that he has tasted every wine and can therefore personally recommend a suitable choice to each guest.
The Executive chef at Norton House, Graeme Shaw has been there for almost two years, building up a fine reputation and part of a close knit creative kitchen team. "We all care deeply about the dishes we create and the food they serve whether it is freshly baked organic bread, or prime rib-eye steak", comments Shaw. "We follow the seasons and use suppliers who provide consistent quality. My favourites are hand-dived scallops and Gressingham duck, which is specially bred for the quality of the meat".
If you prefer a more casual atmosphere for a meal or snack, The Brasserie is long, modern, sleek and chic furnished in black leather and polished dark mahogany-style wood. Down the centre there is a long, banquette seating for added comfort with separate tables for two or four, with larger circular tables spaced along the window. Contemporary design matched by a contemporary menu - Mussels in white wine garlic sauce, Thai beef spring roll, Chargrilled Chicken Caesar sandwich, Lamb rump with black pudding potato cake, steaks, burgers, haddock and chips and pasta dishes.
Breakfast is served in the Brasserie, where a buffet of juices, cereal, fruit, cheese and pastries is laid out. The menu of hot dishes is extremely appetising with a superb selection of dishes to suit all tastes. Bacon rolls - what a sensible option - 3-egg omelette, vegetarian sausages, grilled oak smoked kippers and poached haddock and egg. Service is welcoming and friendly with requests of more toast, tea and coffee arriving quickly.
Norton House prides itself in the range of hospitality and facilities it can offer. Weddings and receptions, private parties, Business meetings and events with a self- contained conference centre in a converted Victorian stable block.
The hotel can also organise a range of sports including clay pigeon shooting or archery in the walled garden as well as golf, horse riding and sailing nearby.
The Hand Picked collection of distinctive fine hotels have each been selected as they share one common characteristic. They were all built for pleasure - formerly traditional family homes and country houses. Norton House offers a quiet retreat away - but not far - from the city centre, with excellent personal service, two superb restaurants and peaceful gardens - all in all, comfort and hospitality with a touch of style.
For more information or to make a reservation see the Norton House Hotel Web site.
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