Travel: Greywalls, a five-star hotel with a new-found personality

Twerking at Greywalls? The grand East Lothian hotel has loosened up a bit, finds Gaby Soutar

Greywalls, East Lothian
Greywalls, East Lothian

It’s Saturday evening and resident pianist Tony is playing Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball, while humming along.

We’re in the library, on a squishy sofa by the fire, waiting to be taken through for dinner, and the music choice is making me think I was wrong about five star hotel Greywalls. Last time I visited was in 2011, when their restaurant Chez Roux opened, and I loved the food, but found the place a little buttoned-up.

Something has happened since then – or, maybe I got the wrong impression last time.

The walled garden at Greywalls

Of course, it’s extremely smart, but also way more relaxed than I remember. Miley is evidence of that.

This Edwardian country house, designed by Edwin Lutyens, was built in 1901 and has been owned by the Weaver family since 1926. It’s a gently curved building, which cups a section of the soft and symmetrical six acres of Gertrude Jekyll garden.

Indoors, and there are seemingly uncontrived clues, all over the property – photographs, framed letters and typed notes. These have been written by its current owner, Giles Weaver, with, among other things, reference the building’s rich private life and the stream of esteemed visitors that have stayed over, from Hugh Grant to heads of state and endless pro golfers.

Although hotel company Inverlochy Castle Management International (ICMI) have run the place since 2011, they’ve carried out some upgrades yet left the former home’s personality intact. Every space and object has a story (though we never did get to the bottom of the three legged sculpture of a dog in the hallway).

A hotel room in Greywalls

On the carpeted staircase, there are antlers hung with colourful school caps – expertly flung so that they dangle on each spike.

There are also portraits of ancestors: “MACAO RELATIONS (1830s) Dr Colledge, his wife and daughter (originals painted by Chinnery) were my maternal grandmother’s grandparents. They are buried in the English graveyard in Macao. Giles Weaver”

Our room, no 18, featured another missive. “...Nick Faldo slept here when he won the 1992 Open Championship. I hope that will help your golf but sadly it did not improve mine even after I slept in the bed!”

Lucky Sir Nick. It is a lovely room, with a newly fitted en-suite, framed chinoiserie panels on the walls and a giant bed that was so soft, testing it out felt a bit like falling into a freshly raked bunker.

The walled garden at Greywalls

Oh yeah, that reminds me – golf. Many of the guests at Greywalls are here for Muirfield Golf Course and, indeed, we spotted plenty of the prerequisite Lyle & Scott.

As a non-golfer, I was happy to watch them career off in their buggies while I spent my time eating and staring out of the window. There’s lots to look at inside too, as Chez Roux’s cosy dining room, where they also serve breakfast and afternoon tea, features framed menus from the Rouxs’ London restaurant Le Gavroche, and there’s an old-ish photograph of chef Albert with his equally cheffy family – brother Michel and their sons, Michel Jr of MasterChef fame, and Alain.

The food is their upmarket brand of French goodness and local produce.

“I’m going to have to go on a diet after this holiday,” I said to a waiter.

A hotel room in Greywalls

“No you won’t,” he said. “It’s all pretty healthy.”

Ha ha, you can’t fool me. At dinnertime, I went for the halibut option, trying to be relatively virtuous, but didn’t read the menu properly. I soon discovered that the fish was topped with a layer of pork rillettes. Of course it was. There were also charred scallops on the plate, trompette mushrooms, and a watercress purée, but it was worth every single calorie.

Other standouts included a zingy Japanese influenced starter of light Loch Duart smoked salmon mi-cuit with pickled mooli, beetroot, nori and dashi. For pudding there was a kirsch parfait with roasted hazelnuts and chocolate soil, chocolate jelly and cherry soup; and another night, a starter that consisted of the soft cloud that is Albert’s signature Souffle Suissesse, which was like inhaling a cheesy fog, in a nice way.

At breakfast, the menu of hot food is your best bet. Their jammily red smoked salmon is amazing, and the haddock-laced omelette Arnold Bennett is compulsory.

All great fuel for a round of golf, or you could leave the hotel and take a jaunt along to North Berwick. We did, and did our usual round of Steampunk coffees and carrot cake, walked along the battlements at Tantallon Castle, took a beach stroll and popped into a few charity shops (ah, the irony, when you’re staying at Greywalls). There’s also Archerfield nearby, where you could have a spa treatment at Fletcher’s Cottage Spa or go for lunch at the Walled Garden.

Otherwise, stay at the hotel, and save your energy for discreetly twerking along to Miley Cyrus come dinner-time. Take it away Tony.