I didn’t know that Dunfermline was the capital of Scotland until 1452 or that the city — as it became in 2022 (part of the late Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations) — has so much to offer locals and visitors, alike.
During my recent visit I visited Dunfermline Abbey, which was built on the site of a Benedictine Priory in the 11th-century; the Abbot House, overlooking the grounds of the abbey is well worth a visit and the birthplace of Andrew Carnegie — the city’s most famous son — is a popular museum.
When people south of the border think about places to visit in Scotland they will go for the obvious choices: Glasgow and Edinburgh, the lochs and the numerous castles that stand proud to this day.
But, with so much history and culture on offer, tourists should add Dunfermline to their itinerary and if they do venture over the Firth of the Forth they will need a place to stay and there really is only one choice: Garvock House Hotel.
Located in a quiet suburb to the west of central Dunfermline, you reach Garvock House Hotel — an imposing Victorian mansion, which has been sympathetically extended — along an impressive driveway, from which you reach the large car park beyond.
The hotel is set in well-maintained grounds, which include outdoor seating areas and a nine-hole putting circuit set within the manicured lawns.
Having entered the hotel, which is accessed via a short flight of stone steps, you find yourself in an impressive vestibule, featuring the main staircase off to the left, and the reception desk.
The person on reception was friendly and very welcoming, and within a few minutes we had checked in. We were shown to our room and asked if we needed help with our bags. We didn’t, but the offer was appreciated.
We were welcomed in to a large en suite, dual aspect room, and a large lounge area positioned to the centre of the room — featuring a two-seat settee and two armchairs set either side of a coffee table. A large flat-screen TV was positioned adjacent to the lounge area on a period-style chest of drawers.
The four large windows brought in plenty of light and the high ceilings added to the sense of space; the spacious en suite bathroom included a large bath and walk-in shower. Whilst the room enjoyed plenty of natural light, the curtains did a great job of keeping the room dark in the morning.
We arrived around 5pm, so by the time we had unpacked and surveyed our surroundings, it was time for pre-dinner drinks, which we enjoyed in our room.
We had booked in for dinner at 7.30pm and went down to reception where we were greeted and asked if we would like drinks in the bar where we could also have a look over the menu; we did and after making our choices our drinks and food order was taken.
After about 15 minutes we were taken to our table in the main dining room, a formal half-panelled room with an imposing marble fireplace and a large intricately carved oak mantelpiece and surround.
For our starters we had both ordered sautéed king prawns — generously proportioned and succulent — served in a garlic and lime butter, with charred lemon and kachumber salad (comprising diamond spring onion, julienne cucumber, cherry tomato, finished with cumin oil).
The waiting-on staff were always professional and friendly, but never came over to bombard us with the irritatingly over-used question: ‘is everything alright?’. Perhaps being asked that question once is acceptable, but too many places seem to think that good customer service is based on continually bothering the customers with inane questions.
Our main courses arrived and we were not disappointed. My wife had ordered the steak — cooked medium-rare — and I opted for the venison. The very generous portion of venison was cooked to melt-in-the-mouth perfection and my wife’s steak was similarly satisfying.
Set on a bed on mash, with carrots and kale, and an intoxicating jus, the venison was a meal and a half.
Given the health benefits of venison and the need to keep the numbers of deer manageable in the wild, I don’t know why this meat isn’t more widely available in restaurants around the United Kingdom.
It is extremely versatile, as if beef, but as it is game you get a much greater depth of flavour and a unique texture that you can only get from animals that aren’t farmed.
My wife’s steak, which she thoroughly enjoyed, was served with chips, mushrooms, fried onions and cabbage, with a separate small jug of gravy.
As for dessert, we opted to share as we could not have done justice to having one each. The choice was cheesecake, served with ice cream, berries and a caramel sauce, which was rich, creamy and simply delicious, with a very good biscuit base.
During the evening we enjoyed wine by the glass. My wife enjoyed the Chilean chardonnay and I opted for the Coreto from Portugal — chosen by the hotel’s Portuguese owners — a smooth, full-bodied red wine, which imparted soft fruit flavours of raspberries and redcurrants.
For coffee it was back to the bar, where we also ordered a brandy nightcap before retiring for the evening.
The following morning we went down for breakfast, which following on the from previous evening’s experience, we were looking forward to.
We were invited to visit the self-service breakfast table that included pastries, fresh fruit, cereals and fruit juices, before choosing from the cooked breakfast menu.
I had no option but to try the full Scottish breakfast and my wife opted for the avocados on toast, with bacon. My breakfast didn’t disappoint; in addition to bacon, sausage, egg, mushrooms, beans and a tomato, there was haggis and black pudding, with a piece of oatcake.
My wife enjoyed a very generous portion of avocados on toast with bacon and we both enjoyed their freshly brewed coffee.
After heading back to our room to prepare for the day ahead we went out to explore the city, which took in the aforementioned attractions as well as Pittencrieff Park — the 76-acre landscaped parkland, locally referred to as “The Glen” — that was purchased for the people of Dunfermline by Andrew Carnegie.
For our second evening in Dunfermline we had dinner at a local restaurant, but for our second morning we both had the smoked salmon and scrambled eggs — so much salmon, in fact, that my wife couldn’t manage it all — but every morsel was delicious.
After breakfast on the second morning we packed and started our journey south, but as we drove we reflected on a very relaxing stay, in a very smart hotel, which served excellent food by a team of friendly staff.
Everyone made you feel very welcome, which should be a given when you stay in hotels — it is the hospitality industry, after all — but some places sadly fall short.
In the case of Garvock House Hotel, it would make the journey to Dunfermline worth it, even if you never ventured any further. That the hotel is a short walk to the centre of the city where you can take in all its history, only adds to its appeal.
For more information visit Garvock House Hotel’s website
All photographs copyright Simon Turton 2023