An honour indeed to be invited to Restaurant of the Year 2013, and even more so to attend one of the Champagne calendar’s more recognised events; I was delighted to find myself at The Champany Inn, near Linlithgow.
A bonny little building, nestled around a cosy courtyard and dating back to the 16th century, the building at Champany Corner holds an undeniable place in history and a comfortable market niche, of those appreciative of sympathetic updates and character creating original features.
Revelatory unearthing of this valuable find was heightened upon discovering Champany Cellars and on-site wine shop, where cellar tastings take place and which has become quite the Mecca for discerning wine aficionados and quite a number of famous faces who have marked their presence by signing the walls surrounding the most impressive selection of Limited Edition wines, fine champagnes and single malt whiskies. Champany isn’t a place you stumble upon but a word of mouth discovery, with which to become more acquainted.
A passion for exacting standards in meticulously sourced beef, lamb and seafood and a dedication to fine wine, draws a dedicated clientele to Champany to pay homage to the display of Sirloin, Rib Eye, Porterhouse, Prime Rib and Chateaubriand from a prime Aberdeenshire herd and brought to the table by chef/owner Clive Davidson. A personally designed and hand-built range ensures that Clive’s beef is cooked to perfection, meticulously crafting the flavours from the 3 week hung beef.
Although beef does steal the limelight at Champany, fresh langoustines, salmon and a varying selection of dishes also grace the menu; Western Isles Lobsters and Loch Gruinart Oysters abide within a stone, wishing-well pool, centre stage in the atmospheric restaurant bar, taking their place within the convivial, theatrical environment.
An evening at Champany is very much an event; an experience to revel in and no less so within the Chop House restaurant, where a less formal dining experience awaits. Scottish Lamb Chops and Champany Burgers made from the same Aberdeen Angus Beef which graces the plates in the Restaurant, accompanying wines and draught ales, conclude to present a fine evening for which regulars are prepared to wait in line.
This particular prestigious evening was to mark the union with Champagne House Pol Roger and celebrate the official opening of the first bottle of Pol Roger 2004 in Scotland.
I personally experienced the build up to the main event as we enjoyed a first glass (always the best) of Pol Roger Blanc de Blanc 2002, within the impressively stocked bar. Our extremely adept and endearing wine waiter, accompanied by resident sommelier, Mike, expertly circulated the room, offering informative narrative, with guests absorbing the tastes and new found knowledge with great enthusiasm.
A secret little integral dais, above the main bar, piqued my interest; almost like an intimate gallery library but in this case, housing racks of fine wines and a small dining table for two; a separate and private box experience within the main theatre, also known as Heaven.
A call to dinner and we proceed through to the sublimely lit, stone built dining room, where painted portraits grace the walls, and tables, set for one of the finest evenings in the Scottish Champagne calendar, provide a veritable feast for the eyes. Prior to sitting, guests line up to meet the honoured guest of the evening; two very special bottles; the teaming of Glenfarclas and Hine, each distilled in 1953 and aged for 58 and 60 years respectively and presented within two hand-made oak obelisks with their own secret drawer, faced in wood from the spirits’ casks. The much admired coupling was released in 2013 and is one of only 125 sets, which have become known as “The Auld Alliance”.
As the set presided over dinner, guests delighted in exceptional produce, fabulously executed and accompanied by a fine selection of Champagnes from the Pol Roger family. Hubert de Billy, 5th generation Pol Roger, presented each Champagne with gusto and passion; an informative introduction to each, engaging with the expectant diners, who were here, after all, as wine enthusiasts and lovers of all things Champagne.
Centre stage of course was offered to the star of the evening and the launch of the Pol Roger Brut Vintage 2004.
Aged for eight years in the cellars, this blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay is elegant and full flavoured with citrus, floral and rich character and was introduced and opened by Hubert at the commencement of the evening.
A 2010 Beaune, Clos des Mouches Rouge, Joseph Drouhin accompanied the Fillet course; a medium-full bodied 2010 Vintage from Burgundy and a perfectly matched delight; even from a relatively uninformed amateur perspective.
Each course was a seamlessly presented Act, not least of all the board of cheeses which I was particularly looking forward to sampling, given that Champany inadvertently won an award for their Stilton in a national competition. Not having entered, judges happened upon Champany and enjoyed an evening at the Inn for dinner; so impressed with the cheese, the judges immediately entered The Champany Inn to the competition and subsequently they won 1st prize.
Dinner was concluded with a 31 year old Glenfarclas and Hine Homage perfectly rounding off a fabulous evening with appropriate flair and fitting respect to The Auld Alliance, before retiring for the evening.
Although, not twenty minutes from Edinburgh, I was glad to be residing for the night in one of The Champany Inn’s sixteen, French inspired bedroom suites; comfortable and large, with a charming bow to subdued tartans, the rooms compliment The Champany’s mainstay; their restaurant, not deriving from their ethos and main focus but additionally providing the complete solution to guests.
Visitors from afar travel to Champany to experience time and again, true Scottish hospitality from a family, well versed in their trade, however I would call to the people of Scotland, who have this gem at their door, to visit, dine, dwell and enjoy Champany Inn, as it is a rare find and one we should cherish.
• Lisa Wilson is the founder of Must Visit Scotland website