Champany Inn, Linlithgow, Scotland

On a recent trip to Scotland (my second visit) I rented a car (first time driving on the left) and white-knuckled my way around Perthshire and the lower Highlands for a few days. My first stop (only 20 minutes from the rental agency at the Edinburgh airport) was the small town of Linlithgow for lunch. Perhaps you have never heard of Linlithgow before? Well, you may have heard of Mary, Queen of Scots, who was born in Linlithgow Palace in 1542 (the palace was built in the 15th century, rarely used after 1603, and gutted by fire in 1746. But the walls still stand).

 

photo by The Jab, 2014

photo by The Jab, 2014

 

photo by The Jab, 2014

photo by The Jab, 2014

 

The Champany Inn consists of a 16-room inn, the main restaurant in a pyramid-shaped building, the bar, the Chop and Ale House in the long building, and a wine shop. Some of the buildings date back to the 16th century. The restaurant and inn are younger, having opened about 30 years ago, but they feel older than they are because of the classic country inn decor.

 

photo by The Jab, 2014

photo by The Jab, 2014

 

photo by The Jab, 2014

photo by The Jab, 2014

 

The Champany Inn is a steakhouse tried-and-true. Co-owner Clive Davidson (he runs the restaurant with his wife Anne) selects Aberdeen Angus beef and ages the carcasses for three weeks before their in-house butcher hand-cuts the steaks. Mr. Davidson even designed his own charcoal grill, adding a smoker to smoke beef, salmon, and cod (all starters on the menu). Cuts offered on the menu include sirloin (aka strip loin or New York), ribeye, porterhouse, t-bone, bone-in fillet, Chateaubriand (for two), and prime rib (for two). As you can see by the menu below, there are other options besides steak.

 

photo by The Jab, 2014

photo by The Jab, 2014

 

The Champany Inn offers a two-course set lunch Mon-Fri for £25.50 and a three-course set dinner Mon-Fri for £42.50. On my visit I opted for the set lunch, which I often seek out when traveling in Europe because most restaurants have it (in some countries, like Spain, they must offer it by law) so you can eat very well in fine restaurants for a fraction of the cost of dinner. However, I have some tips for doing so.

 

Le Continental’s Set Menu (Prix Fixe) Tips

 

  • Try to look up a sample set menu online to get an idea of the prices and options (or walk by the restaurant – most have the menu on display in front). Some restaurants offer a two-course set menu of starter and entrée OR entrée and dessert, while some offer a choice of either a two-course meal or a three-course meal.
  • Look at the dessert menu before you decide. Sometimes you may not be hungry after the entrée if it’s large (often the case in most restaurants in Spain and the UK), or the dessert offered isn’t that special (such as ice cream or sorbet). But if you are in Scotland and see sticky toffee pudding on the dessert menu, get it!
  • Only order the set meal if you really want the dishes offered. Look at the regular à la carte menu, and if something there looks like a must-try, such as a famous house specialty, don’t pass it up just to save a few dollars. Sometimes you can order a starter and an entrée, or just an entrée, for not much more than the set lunch and you may be happier you did when you leave. After all, you traveled a long way, you shouldn’t miss the opportunity. In the case of the Champany Inn, I was going to consider the set lunch only if a steak was offered as an entrée, because it’s a steakhouse (it was, so I ordered from the set lunch).

 

photo by The Jab, 2014

photo by The Jab, 2014

 

I was greeted by a gracious lady who I think was Anne Davidson, the co-owner, and seated at a nice table set with a lovely old-fashioned cooper plate, silverware, and linens. The service was superb throughout my luncheon. I was offered two house made breads, a darker bread with nuts and a white bread (both excellent).

 

photo by The Jab, 2014

photo by The Jab, 2014

 

For a starter I had the Champany salad of lettuce, chicken livers, and bacon, with a simple vinaigrette dressing. (For some reason I like chicken liver, but not beef liver.)

 

photo by The Jab, 2014

photo by The Jab, 2014

 

Of course, I had a steak for my main course. It was a sirloin on the bone, perfectly done, and served with the best, crispy French fries (oh, sorry, chips in the UK), a mushroom cap, and very fresh cherry tomatoes. Usually horseradish is offered with beef in the UK, and I love it with beef (preferably not creamed style).

 

photo by The Jab, 2014

photo by The Jab, 2014

 

If you are ever in Scotland, Edinburgh is a must-visit city, and if you go there you should take a train or a taxi out to the Champany Inn for the best steak in Scotland. Actually, I found the restaurant by searching online for “best Aberdeen steak in Scotland”!

 

Champany Inn
Linlithgow, UK EH49 7LU,
United Kingdom

Phone: +44 1506 834532
Restaurant open Mon-Fri, lunch 12:30pm-2:00pm, dinner 7:00pm-10:00pm, Sat dinner 7:00pm-10:00pm, closed Sunday, reservations required
Chop & Ale House open Mon-Thu, lunch 12:00pm-2:00pm, dinner 6:30pm-10:00pm, Fri-Sat 12:00pm-10:00pm, Sun 12:30pm-10:00pm, no reservations accepted

 

UPDATE – Big 4 in San Francisco reopened today!

Earlier this year the Big 4 restaurant, open since 1967 at the historic Huntington Hotel, was closed by the new owners for a refurbishment. Today the restaurant reopened and judging by the report and pictures in the San Francisco Chronicle it has not changed much in appearance (mainly the chef and menu have changed). Kudos to the Puccini Group for doing a sensitive refurbishment to the beloved San Francisco classic!

 

photo by nightout.com

 

Big 4
1075 California St, San Francisco, CA
(415) 771-1140
Open daily 5:30pm-11:00pm, Mon-Sat 6:30am-10:30am, Sun 6:30am-2:00pm

Grand Canyon Cafe, Flagstaff, Arizona

If you’re heading for the Grand Canyon or just passing through on Route 66, Flagstaff is worth an overnight stop. There are plenty of motels along the old highway passing through town, some with great neon, but for my money I’m staying at the historic Monte Vista Hotel one block north of Route 66 downtown.

 

photo by The Jab, 2008

photo by The Jab, 2008

 

The hotel opened in 1927 by the City of Flagstaff and was community owned until the 1960s, when it became privately owned.

 

lobby - photo by The Jab, 2008

lobby – photo by The Jab, 2008

 

The Monte Vista Lounge opened with the hotel, reportedly as a speakeasy until Prohibition ended. Both entrances to the bar, from the hotel and from the street, are fabulous!

 

photo by The Jab, 2008

photo by The Jab, 2008

photo by The Jab, 2008

photo by The Jab, 2008

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being a historic hotel, some of the less expensive rooms have baths down the hall, but many rooms are larger with baths and they also have suites. I stayed in a small single with bath across the hall. The room was basic, but clean (as was the bathroom) and had a historic feel. Some rooms are named after famous guests from the past.

 

photo by The Jab, 2008

photo by The Jab, 2008

 

Besides the cocktail lounge, the hotel also has a cafe/bar called The Rendezvous, which serves as a coffee bar all day from 6:30 am (serving Intelligentsia coffee and tea) but also is a cocktail bar offering classic and craft cocktails until 2:00 am every night. Splendid! Two bars in one classic hotel; now you know why I like to stay here!

 

photo by The Jab, 2008

photo by The Jab, 2008

 

Within a short walk from the hotel there are several good restaurants (I particularly liked Swadee Thai restaurant) but a walk down Route 66 also takes you to the neon splendor of the Grand Canyon Cafe, which opened in 1942. In 1945 three brothers, Alfred, Edward, and Albert Wong bought the restaurant with a partner Bill Yee. Amazingly, it is still owned by the Wong family almost 70 years later. Albert’s son Freddy Wong now runs the restaurant with his wife Tina. The menu is a combination of classic American cafe fare (Freddy’s specialty) and Chinese food (Tina’s expertise). So it’s a great place to come both for breakfast or for some Chinese food for lunch or dinner. The chicken fried steak with green chili sauce comes highly recommended. And you can the see by my photo below that it hasn’t changed much in 70 years. I love the original vinyl booths and the lunch counter with jaunty red, white, and black stripes and a green Formica top to match the tables.

 

photo by The Jab

photo by The Jab

 

Of course if you’re going to the Grand Canyon, and can afford it, you should stay in one of the historic lodges for a few nights. But you may also enjoy saving a bit of money by staying a night or two in the charming, historic Monte Vista Hotel in happening downtown Flagstaff. And don’t miss the animated neon signs on Route 66 and around town!

 

 

 

Grand Canyon Cafe
110 E Santa Fe Ave, Flagstaff, AZ 86001
(928) 774-2252
Open Mon-Sat 7:00am-9:00pm

 

NEWS FLASH! – The Huntington Hotel’s Big 4 Restaurant to close in January – GO SOON!

UPDATE – It was reported in EaterSF on December 5th, 2013, that the Big 4 will reopen with some changes, the extent of which are not clear.

This just in – The Big 4 Restaurant in San Francisco’s historic Huntington Hotel, open since 1967, is closing on January 4th, when the entire hotel is being closed for renovation. The current owners, who took over in 2011 have not announced if the Victorian-era-San Francisco themed restaurant will reopen as The Big 4 when the hotel reopens in the spring.

Inside Scoop SF » The Huntington Hotel’s Big 4 Restaurant to close in January; return uncertain.

The bar

The bar. Image by The Jab.

The Big 4, Huntington Hotel, San Francisco

I used to avoid hotel restaurants. In the past I have found many to be overpriced and not that great. There are exceptions, like here and here and here…and HERE! OK, I’ve been all wrong about hotel restaurants. Many great historic restaurants still exist in hotels and some are well-preserved.

I’ve heard about The Big 4 restaurant in the Huntington Hotel for years, usually described as very expensive and stuffy. It was a regular restaurant on the annual Dine About Town prix fixe menu event in San Francisco. But I never made it there. Well, I finally went because a friend informed me that it is threatened since new owners took over the Huntington.

The Big 4

The Big 4 Restaurant opened in 1967 in the Huntington Hotel on Nob Hill, which started as a luxury apartment building in the 1920s but was converted to a hotel in 1945. The restaurant is named after the Big Four entrepeneurs from Sacramento (Leland Stanford, Collis P. Huntington, Mark Hopkins, and Charles Crocker) who started the California Republican party (strongly anti-slavery, they were instrumental in getting Lincoln elected) and later started the Central Pacific Railroad (part of the first transcontinental railroad), which greatly expanded into the Southern Pacific Railroad conglomerate. Eventually the Big Four moved to San Francisco, where the railroad’s headquarters were, many or all of them living in mansions on Nob Hill. Though the Huntington Apartment building probably was named after Collis P. Huntington, he didn’t own it as he died in 1900.

 

Big 4 creature

The restaurant is very dark and opulently furnished in dark woods and medium green leather upholstery and is filled with 19th Century antiques and artifacts from early California history, collected by Newton Cope. It was difficult getting good photos in such a dimly lit restaurant, but I didn’t mind as I love dark restaurants. The atmosphere is very cozy, not at all stuffy, and it truly seems like a restaurant that is older than it is.

The bar

The bar

 

The food I would describe as classic American food with gourmet touches, and usually there is a wild game dish on the menu. I had the smoked wild boar chop with corn-cheddar spoon bread and roasted apple. The chop was superb – lightly smokey and pork-like but more tender than most pork chops that I’ve had before. Not at all gamey (if you worry about such things). I had excellent shoestring fries as well.

Big 4 dish

 

The service was impeccable – friendly, helpful, and attentive. They have live piano entertainment every night as well. California and railroad history buffs will love this restaurant! I am definitely going to return to the Big 4!

 

The Big 4
1075 California St, San Francisco, CA 94108
Phone: (415) 474-5400
Open for Breakfast: Mon – Fri 7am – 10am, Sat – Sun 7am – 11am
Dinner: 5:30pm – 10pm daily; Bar: 4pm – 12am, daily