Ah, February… The month where love is commercialised, Arizona celebrates its statehood anniversary, and various loved ones around the world (including myself) celebrate their birthdays. Earlier this month, one of my best friends Erin celebrated her birthday in San Francisco, meanwhile another best friend Kelly gave birth to her first child Sophia Marie in Denver. Huge congratulations to Kelly and Ryan on their beautiful and healthy baby girl, who now shares the same birthday as Erin! Also, a very Happy Birthday to my mother, who happens to be a Valentine’s Day baby and will be celebrating today in Phoenix with my father.

The birthday celebrations didn’t stop there; this past weekend was Kris’s birthday. For those who know me, they understand birthdays are a pretty big deal. Whether it’s a bespoke cake, or planning a party, I go the extra mile to ensure the birthday girl or boy feels extra special, whenever I have the opportunity. Kris’s birthday was no exception. For the last few weeks, I rarely saw Kris due to his insane work schedule during the Celtic Connections Winter Music Festival in Glasgow. His typical hours were from noon to 2am, working on various gigs for days on end. I knew he was going to be knackered by the end of the festival, and that his birthday surprise (I’m big on surprises!) would have to incorporate some form of relaxation and being spoiled to the max.

Cue: Mar Hall Golf & Spa Resort. Situated along the picturesque banks of the River Clyde, just outside Glasgow, Mar Hall is one of the top five-star hotels in Scotland. Some people know it as a super posh wedding venue, and others delight in the fact countless celebrities have stayed at Mar Hall, including Take That when they performed in Glasgow. Being the wee organiser that I am (with slight OCD tendencies), I put in a considerable amount of effort planning Kris’s birthday to the very minute detail. The Mar Hall staff (especially Andy in Reservations) were more than accommodating when it came to my list of requests. From the details of the room, dinner, turndown service, lunch, and the Aveda Spa treatment, my vision became a reality and then some. The day before we arrived, Andy informed me that we had been upgraded to an exquisite (and cavernous) Junior Suite with a sumptuous four-poster bed, and views of the golf course and river.

Leading up to our stay at Mar Hall, Kris had absolutely no idea what I had planned for him. I gave him a list of what to pack, which included his suit, swim shorts, etc. Followed by, “Oh you’ll need this when we’re on the boat… When we go ice fishing… When we go parasailing… Scuba diving… Bungee jumping…” The list of bizarre activities was endless, so he was still absolutely clueless. It was hilarious how riled up he got, and it wasn’t until we approached Mar Hall Drive in the outskirts of Glasgow that he put two and two together.

After getting settled in our room, we got ready for our romantic dinner for two in the Cristal Restaurant on the ground level of Mar Hall, where Chef Jim Kerr works his magic in the kitchen. With the likes of Glasgow’s legendary Rogano and One Devonshire Gardens in under his belt, Kerr dazzles the palate with the best of Scottish produce. Prior to dinner, Kris and I enjoyed drinks in the Taittinger Bar, where we looked over the menu and had our orders taken prior to being seated in The Cristal.

As the time of our booking at 7:30pm approached, we were shown to our table in an intimate corner of one of the more dramatic rooms I have ever step foot in. With luxurious wood-panels surrounding the room, decadent moulding, grand vaulted ceilings, and vast windows, The Cristal is definitely one of the finer dining establishments within the Glasgow area. Shortly after being seated, we ordered bottles of red and white wine to enjoy while we waited for our starters to arrive.

Duck Terrine on Toast with Shallot Chutney (Left): Divinely smooth and savoury, juxtaposed with crisp toast and a dash of sweetness from the chutney. I refrained from licking my plate clean due to the posh setting we were in…

Seared Scallops & Seasonal Leaves (Right): The birthday boy devoured these perfectly tender and slightly sweet bite-sized pillows. I managed to steal a scallop off his plate before they vanished into his belly.

Char-grilled Rib Eye of Scotch Beef served with Chunky Chips and Peppercorn Sauce: Since it had been a fishy week for us (having trout at home and eating out at one of our favourites - Crabshakk), we both opted for meat of the scarlet variety. The mark of a truly great restaurant is when they can execute a simple dish flawlessly. We ordered our steaks rare, and what we received was rare indeed. For some unknown reason, many “rare” steaks I have ordered in Glasgow have always been overcooked and served to me well done. Inexcusable! However, The Cristal’s rib eye was a delightful surprise considering my track record. It was perfectly paired with a nicely spiced creamy peppercorn sauce, and wonderfully cooked chips that were crisp on the outside and fluffy inside. This dish was faultless.

After dinner, the plan was for the kitchen to present Kris with a birthday treat when we ordered dessert, but we were both so full of delectable food and wine, that we couldn’t stomach any more. We retreated back to our suite upstairs, and within minutes the restaurant phoned me confused about the birthday dessert, since we didn’t order anything. The staff didn’t want to say anything at the table, since it was a surprise. I love this attention to detail! Instead, they offered to put a simple wee platter of fruit and hand-dipped chocolates together with “Happy Birthday Kris” written in chocolate, and promptly brought it up to our suite.

The following morning, we made our way back downstairs for a full Scottish breakfast (pictured above) in The Cristal. Since I indulged myself with quite a bit of vino and gin the night before, a traditional Scottish fry up was the perfect fix. Breakfast is included with the rate of the room, and is self-service. However, you can also order off the menu. I filled my plate with potato scones, heavenly Stornoway black pudding, sausage, grilled mushrooms, and a poached egg (Tip: Order a freshly poached egg, since those sitting in the buffet tend to be overcooked, especially if you like your yolk runny). Again, the quality of ingredients shines, and it truly hits the spot after a night of celebrating. Once we filled up on breakfast, the birthday boy and I made our way back up to the room for a wee catnap before checking out the Aveda Spa for the remainder of the day.

Kris’s surprise birthday weekend at Mar Hall Golf & Spa Resort was perfect, in every sense of the word. Despite being a five-star resort and that we were probably the youngest guests present, there was not an air of pretension or snobbery that you would expect from other hotels of a similar calibre. The service every step of the way was so friendly and accommodating, from reservations (Andy!), reception, the Taittinger Bar, Cristal Restaurant, and the Aveda Spa. The price of staying, wining and dining at Mar Hall is pretty standard for a five-star resort. However, the exceptional level of service we received throughout our stay was well worth the money spent.

Despite having read mixed reviews online, I can say without hesitation that our stay was truly phenomenal, and the attentiveness of the Mar Hall staff made this special occasion even more memorable. I look forward to another excuse to escape the busy pace of Glasgow life, and head out towards the tranquillity of the Kilpatrick Hills to retreat in the intimate surroundings and splendour of Mar Hall.

The Cristal Restaurant @ Mar Hall Golf & Spa Resort
Earl of Mar Estate
Mar Hall Drive
Nr. Glasgow
Phone | 0141 812 9999
Click | http://www.marhall.com