Champany Inn is one on its own, based just outside Linlithgow across the M9, in the heart of Scotland’s industrial community. Don’t be fooled by the elemental approach of high quality Scottish Beef, Scottish Seafood, Wine and service. Champany Inn is a sophisticated, unique and top-quality experience, which the family Davidson has worked hard on over 35 years. It retains an outstanding hospitality reputation between the cosmopolitan centres of Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Jason Davidson, son of founders Clive and Anne Davidson, spent some time with me to explain how Champany Inn defines its experience.
A Champany Inn experience always begins with a glass of Champagne Père et Fils, the house Champagne and exclusive to the on-trade. What an excellent way to begin to understand how this icon of Scottish produce began.
Having arrived from South Africa in the 1970’s, Clive and Scottish-born Anne opened a shooting lodge in the Borders, which they then sold in 1978 moving on to own another hospitality venue in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket and then a Butchers shop. This last venture was by Clive’s own declaration probably one of the worst decisions he ever made. However, it was to repay further down the line.
At that point the bank manager, because they were the local business advisors in the early 1980’s, suggested a return to hospitality. The one prerequisite insisted upon by Anne, was that the young family could also live on site and in 1983 the Davidsons opened Champany Inn Restaurant under their ownership.
Silicon Glen didn’t exist at that time and nor did the intense analytical approach to opening a new business, the premises had the right aesthetic, the house attached, and it was in a nice place. That was as complicated as it needed to get.
Clive was always known for spending time in South Africa on the Braai, or Barbecue, and knew about grilling meat properly. At Champany Inn they take it to a different level, having a butcher on site. Learning from the butcher shop experience, Clive knew that Scotland had a reputation for high quality beef, and incorporating an on-site butchery was an easy decision. Billy, the resident butcher for 20 years, quality vets all meat embedding quality in the psyche of the business, hanging meat in their own chillers, producing the grill cuts that worked on the menus and developing unique reputation.
Outstanding Scottish meat lies at the centre of the Champany Inn proposition, which now includes a fine-dining restaurant, a bistro “Chop & Ale House”, sixteen rooms, a Wine Shop and specialist wine cellar. The restaurant specialises in steak, the chop house serves all its meat on the bone, burgers, and boerewors sausage – all made on site.
Today the quality of the meat is as important as it ever was and the basis of Champany Inn long term reputation.
However, forming a partnership that is made in the gastronome’s heaven with Scottish seafood is where the menus begin.
Superb oysters fresh from Loch Gruinart on the Islay shores matched with the classical Champange Lanson Pere et Fils is surely one of the greatest starters to have as a diner. Light yet rich Islay oysters fed on the warmth of the Gulf Stream, enjoyed with the subtle honeyed richness balanced by perfect freshness of the Pere et Fils is a palate tingler unlike any other.
The award winning Champagne Lanson Père et Fils is reserved exclusively for on-trade service. Its dominance of the red Champagne varieties, Pinot Noir and Meunier demonstrate the power of winemaking since 1760, in creating aromas of ripe fruits, honey and spices. On the palate the complex full and persistent honeydew flavours are underpinned by the wonderful freshness and minerality. This last virtue is the product of the house winemaking style in not practising malolactic fermentation.
And if oysters are not your thing, then hot smoked salmon and cod, on the premises along with Smoked Aberdeen Angus beef are also suggested. As a left field suggestion Smoked Angus Beef partnered with the richer vintage Clos Lanson 2006 is a decadent alternative.
As if to highlight Champagne’s unique ability to create an occasion, Champany Inn does not serve Prosecco or Cava, believing that the famous northern French region is inextricably linked to the fine dining experience. Two full-time sommeliers assist diners in finding their way around a phenomenal wine list which has value at every stage.
Whilst there is no formal food and wine matching, in keeping with the ‘organic’ approach of the restaurant, the sommeliers are there to advise, and suggest wines from the extensive and impressive 36,000 bottle cellar. This is a cellar which includes some of the greatest names from around the world of wine and is a reason to visit in itself.
In a further innovation 9 years ago Champany Inn opened up its own wine cellar on site, capitalising on Clive’s love of all vinous things South African and Burgundian. Newton Johnson, Hemel-en-Aarde Cape wine producers, have made the much loved house wine for Champany Inn over a number of years. This is sold through the Wine Shop extending and enhancing further guests’ Champany Inn experience.
Scottish fine dining and cuisine has developed much in 35 years and was virtually non-existent then.
Champany Inn and the Davidson family have done much to contribute to a vibrant scene of hospitality and Scottish excellence in food and drink. And whilst Jason confesses that the Champany Inn experience not only begins, but for him often also ends with a glass of Champagne Lanson Père et Fils, his personal favourite remains a steak and in tribute to his late father a glass of fine red Burgundy.
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Alistair Morrell, Hospitality & Catering News, Wine & Drinks Editor