Stair Arms review

Stewart McRobert takes a trip out to a well established country hotel.

Eleven miles south of Edinburgh, at Pathhead, the Stair Arms has long been a welcoming spot for day-trippers and travellers who have set out on the road to the Scottish Borders.

The former coaching house dates back to 1831 when it was commissioned by Lord and Lady Stair of the Oxenfoord Estate. For the past 26 years it has been run by Carol Ramsay and her family.

Recently, they decided it was time for big changes and they’ve made a major investment in the hotel, completely revamping its 12 rooms, reception area, dining room and function suite (the Stair Arms is very popular as a wedding venue and enjoys almost continuous bookings throughout the year).

The upgrade has given the hotel a distinctive air; there’s a suggestion of the traditional, with tartan touches and antler-themed lighting fixtures, but there’s no old-fashioned atmosphere. On the contrary, the Stair Arms feels decidedly modern.

One late August evening, just as the Edinburgh Festival madness was beginning to die down, we visited the hotel to check out its unique character.

The decor may have changed, but the reliance on courtesy and friendliness remain the same. We were made to feel at home the minute we walked through the door.

To some extent, today’s menu mirrors the nostalgic elements of the hotel. A good number of the choices on offer harked back to the more innocent days of the 70s and 80s, with dishes such as Prawn Marie Rose and Breaded Scampi set out to tempt diners.

Stair Arms dining room, Pathhead

To start, Mrs M opted for Cullen Skink, that good old Scottish stand by. Pretty impressed she was, too, praising its consistency and flavour. For my part I began with Battered Mushrooms which were served with salad leaves and garlic mayonnaise. 

For entree I found it difficult to resist the intriguingly titled ‘Black and blue’ burger which was one of the day’s specials. The patty came ‘cooked Cajun spice and topped with Stilton’ and was accompanied by triple cooked chips, salad and coleslaw.

Across the table, Mrs M chose Brie Wellington, which came with vegetables, cranberry sauce and mash.

Once those were despatched, we had a difficult time deciding on how we’d end our meal. Wisely, the hotel has chosen to partner with Edinburgh’s most famous ice cream maker, S Luca. As a result, the sweet trolley has a lengthy list of goodies to choose from.

Eventually, Helen settled on a Meringue Sundae, which included vanilla ice cream, butterscotch sauce and fresh cream among its ingredients. Again turning to the day’s special I chose a chocolate fudge gateau, which also came with a generous helping of Luca’s vanilla ice cream.

The news from the Ramsay family is that the revamp of the Stair Arms is not yet complete. There are plans to make even more improvements and add new facilities. 

It seems they are determined to make sure the future of the hotel is as distinguished as its past.

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