Ingliston, Newbridge EH28 8LX, United Kingdom www.handpickedhotels.co.uk/nortonhouse
If there’s one thing better than a stately home, it a stately home shrouded in mystery.
The fact that nobody knows much about Norton House for the first 43 years of its existence only enhances the romance of this beautiful building in its little nestle of woodland.
Built in 1840, the house’s history becomes traceable when it was bought by – wait for it – the Ushers.
Thankfully no relation to Poe’s ill fated lot, this famous Scottish Brewing family established the Whisky Distilling and Blending Company of Andrew Usher & Co in 1813, and the famous Usher Brewery in Edinburgh in 1831.
John Usher was a close lifelong friend of Sir Walter Scott, and acquired Norton House because of its close proximity to Edinburgh.
The décor points to a man of varied tastes, with original features ranging from the colossal ‘liver coloured’ marble pillars in the entry hall to the nature inspired William de Morgan tiles in the residents’ lounge.
The Brasserie restaurant is a surprisingly relaxed and modern space. In traditional brasserie style, the food is a mix of favourites, from teetering gourmet burgers to my delicate plate of hake with aubergine puree.
I like this type of democratic dining that eschews food snobbery in favour of what people really want to eat. A home made burger served with some rustling good chips is the kind of food we often dream about but would never make at home, and that’s what eating out should be for.
Starters include salt and chili-pepper squid and smoked applewood croquettes with chili jam, but I’m also pleased to see haggis making the entrées.
No doubt there are some creative things that you can do with haggis - I’ve had it tucked into ravioli with a sweet neep broth and crisped up in a salad with fried apples.
Whatever you do with this sticky, savoury crumble of oats and offal, it manages to transform humble ingredients into something luscious. The Brasserie sticks with the classic accompaniments of neeps and tatties. The haggis is rich and nutty and the potatoes perfectly smooth, the whole lot decadently swathed in a whisky cream sauce.
West coast hake is served with aubergine basil puree and lemon oil. It’s a beautifully cooked piece of fish, crisp on top and opaque towards the centre. Personally I’d punch up the flavours of the puree with a more smoky, lemony kick that would really wake up the subtly of the aubergine and this meaty fish.
Poached pear, sesame seed brittle and apple sorbet is a refreshing chilled desert that’s just the thing to end on.
It’s not too sweet, but the fragrant pear is juicy and there are little dots of sweet custard to take the edge of the tangy apple.
Breakfasts are also worth a mention with an impressive spread to choose from featuring – yes, you guessed it, more haggis.
There are some lovely things to graze on and I had some very good homemade Bircher style muesli with zesty berry compote before tucking into poached smoked haddock with scrambled eggs – delicious.
The spa is housed in a separate building within an old walled section of garden; it features and intriguing sculpture that also appears to act as a steam vent for the sauna and steam rooms.
Having just undergone refurbishment, the facilities are top notch with a gym, 18m pool, and, my favourite, a hydrotherapy pool – think giant Jacuzzi with a powerful churn.
Despite being heavily booked they manage to squeeze me in for a massage and a facial, which were both deeply relaxing.
The staff go into a lot of detail about your skin and general health, so it’s best to leave a generous amount of time for treatments, which range from traditional to hi-tech.
There’s time to amble round the grounds on a gentle autumn day. The patio area is bathed in sunshine but there’s already a nip to the Scottish air.
There’s a gatehouse and the ruins of a little chapel that must have been original to the estate. The friendly staff make a great difference here, and there are nice touches such as the big baskets of apples to help yourself to as you walk around.
I order room service on my last evening, getting some strange satisfaction from lifting the silver cloche to reveal the house burger with chips.
Such is the height of the pretzel bun piled with grass-fed burger, gherkins, relish, cheddar and bacon that I’m surprised they got it under there.
Served with a heap of thick cut chips and a bottle of red, it’s my ultimate treat eaten on a plush hotel bed with Netflix for company.