NORMALLY I’m sceptical of any hotel that markets itself as ‘different’ but the Malmaison Boutique Hotel in Aberdeen manages exactly that.
Situated on Queen’s Road, and boasting 80 luxurious rooms including 13 suites, the Malmaison Aberdeen manages to combine class with comfort. Part-new build and part-original building, the hotel includes spa facilities; a brasserie-cum-restaurant with private dining room for intimate parties; a whisky snug and a bar area.
Resisting the temptation to explore the bar first, we headed up to our room, the Malt Whisky Suite; a relatively spacious room with a luxurious and vast bed with Egyptian cotton sheets and duck feather pillows, which made getting up the following morning somewhat difficult. The ‘moody’ lighting served to relax us and was a welcome alternative to the harsh fluorescent lights in some hotels. Although we didn’t make use of the bath in the room, it was a nice touch, as was the free - and fast - internet access, presumably a necessity due to the fact the hotel mainly caters for business guests during the week.
Although we didn’t spend all that much time in the room itself, we were struck by the relative peace and quiet. Despite being on a fairly major road, the hotel is set far enough back from the road that very little noise penetrates the walls, allowing for a good night’s sleep without feeling like you’re in the crowd at Silverstone.
The marbled and spacious bathroom contained not one, but two power showers, and a extensive range of toiletries that went far beyond the single-serving dollops on offer in most hotels. Most hotels try to dissuade you from pinching the bathrobe and the funny slippers, but the ‘take me home, we dare you’ scrawled on the side of the toiletries was a nice touch and we were only too happy to oblige.
The Malmaison bar attracts both residents and locals, and there was a nice mix in clientele on the Saturday night, ranging from couples on weekend breaks, a ‘hen’ party enjoying a spa weekend and locals who had stopped for a quick drink before heading into town. The bar staff, led by manager Bernd Staber, manage to combine friendliness with efficiency, so we didn’t feel like we were being hurried or ignored, before heading through to the hotel’s brasserie.
Along with huge slabs of beef hanging in full view of the diners, and a private and intimate dining room for parties of up to 12, there was also the chance to watch the chefs at work, either on the open grill, or via a videolink. Far from the voyeuristic feel I was expecting, it was fascinating to watch the hotel’s restaurant staff at work in the kitchen. Masterchef without the fluff, if you will, and another feather in the Malmaison’s cap.
The dinner itself was excellent. A varied menu, with a couple of fixed-price options offered a reasonable choice, drawing heavily on locally-sourced items. We started off with the cheese and ham croquettes; and the quail and smoked haddock scotch eggs. Although the croquettes were a little on the lukewarm side, this didn’t detract from the overall taste.
Having been seduced by the steaks hanging for all to see, we went for the 28-day aged rib eye steak (weighing in at a belt-loosening 225g), with pepper sauce and french fries. Whilst the prices are above the £20 mark, you really are paying for what you get. It was certainly one of the best steaks I’ve had in Scotland. Finishing up with the creme brulee - as recommended by our waiter - was the perfect end to the meal. One of the problems I’ve encountered in some hotel restaurants is feeling rushed by the waiting staff, without having the time to enjoy the food. Thankfully that wasn’t a problem here, as the staff perfected something of a ‘seen and not heard’ style: available when needed but not intrusive.
We’d passed the whisky snug on the way to dinner - row upon row of whisky, from Japan, Ireland, Scotland and beyond. Bar manager and whisky expert Bernd offers a variety of tastings to suit all needs and we were perfectly happy for him to pick and choose various rare and unusual whiskies, and tell us a bit about each one.
We sampled around eight or nine malts, along with a couple of blended whiskies, with Bernd reeling off facts and figures and tasting notes with consumate ease - but it didn’t feel like we were being lectured, which is to his credit. It felt rather like a relaxed chat with an old friend, and the snug itself is a brilliant idea, especially with the hotel’s location taking in both the Highland and Speyside regions. More interesting was Bernd’s comment that many people use the whisky tasting as a present of some kind - anniversaries, birthdays etc. which made perfect sense. It felt almost like the Malmaison Aberdeen weren’t putting enough emphasis on the whisky snug, which really was the crowning glory.
Somehow, we managed to make room for breakfast the following morning, which promised to be cooked-to-order. As someone who is (sadly) used to lukewarm fryups, this was a pleasant change. Unfortunately - and maybe because it was a Sunday - the service left a little to be desired, with the staff, although not unpleasant, verging on the cold side. Thankfully the full Scottish breakfast itself wasn’t, and the extensive buffet with a range of cereals, fruit juices and pastries was a nice alternative.
Whilst we didn’t have time to sample the spa treatments, including the standard steam room and sauna, as well as drench showers, a relaxation room, nail bar, spray tanning and an impressive gym, the setup was very impressive, in keeping with every other facility we’d used. Whilst Aberdeen isn’t known as much as some other European cities for its attraction for stag and hen nights, the Malmaison Aberdeen would be a perfect location for anyone considering the Granite City for a girls’ night out, or a lads’ weekend away.
There is also an extensive wine cellar situated under the walkway to the brasserie. After our bar visit and whisky tasting we thought it best to avoid it, but once again the Malmaison showed that a little innovation and deviation from the norm can really help a hotel stand out. The walkway to the brasserie offers a view straight down to the cellar, but we’d recommend not looking too closely after a boozy dinner for fear of collapsing.
Malmaison Aberdeen is set in a wonderful location, with friendly, helpful staff who are always on hand without being intrusive. From the moment we arrived to the moment we left, we never felt hurried or neglected, which helped us enjoy our stay. One of the nicest things was feeling like VIPs in a normal setting.
Although the hotel is situated a brisk 20-minute walk from the centre of the Granite City, its location adds to the relaxed and quiet atmosphere. Although we had a car, those without may find the walk into town a bit much, but really, it’s a small price to pay overall for what is a wonderfully relaxing and tranquil experience.
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