Under The Grill: Chef Iain Gourlay from Cringletie House

Catriona Thomson chats to head chef Iain Gourlay at Cringletie House Hotel about gaining 2 AA rosettes, reopening following lockdown, developing his summer menu and introducing a new luxury hamper service.

Published 22nd Jul 2020
Updated 21 st Sep 2023

Scotsman food and drink grabbed a quick chat with head chef Iain Gourlay as he geared up for the reopening Cringletie House hotel near Peebles.

Talking of the reopening Iain said: "it is almost like getting ready to open an entirely new restaurant because the kitchen that was made bare at the start of lockdown"

However, he is excited to be back in the kitchen and trying out new summer menu dishes again.

These include a tasty green and yellow courgette-wrapped loin of cod served with giant couscous, sprouting broccoli, dashi broth and a Scottish salad which features freshly picked lettuce, herbs, and vegetables from the walled garden, in a delicious dressing.

He said: "where possible we try to utilise items from our own 350- year-old walled garden and from across our 28-acre estate. We believe the combination of local and international ingredients creates dishes that not only look good and taste delicious but will also satisfy the most discerning palate" and we agree you can't get more local than that.

The garden is tended by lead gardener Mark Bain and his partner Alex, who worked throughout the lockdown period grooming the grounds, hopefully with bright summer weather around the corner, visitors will be able to see the estate at its best.

The green-fingered pair work closely with Iain to grown particular varieties of salad and vegetables directly for the kitchen.

Iain is particularly proud of the summer Pimm’s jelly which features some of the garden's bounty, cucumber sorbet, mint syrup, strawberry, orange, raspberry.

The whole team are very excited to see the public response to their new luxury hamper service, which is a result of a lockdown brainstorming session.

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Iain said "All businesses have to adapt to the new normal. We are lucky to have massive grounds that are perfect for al fresco dining, people can sit outside on the lawns, enjoy nice food and drink, and relax."

The Luxury Picnic Hamper Menu £49 for two (drinks excluded) must be prebooked but is available for non-residents.

The Cringletie Luxury Picnic Hamper

It contains: gazpacho, foie gras and chicken liver parfait, Pedro Ximénez jelly, and redcurrants, home-made sausage, black pudding and apple roll, tomato relish, hot-smoked salmon and sun-blush tomato tart, finger sandwiches, Green salad and potato salad from our walled garden, scones with jam and clotted cream, fresh berries, chocolates, bread rolls and crackers.

Eyes on the prize

In October 2019, Cringletie House was awarded Hotel Dining Experience of the Year at the Hotel Awards Scotland, also achieving 2 AA rosette in November, one of only two restaurants in the Scottish Borders with this accolade.

The AA Rosette scheme recognises excellence within the restaurant industry and Iain explains the process.

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"We are reviewed anonymously and the reviewer will then announce themselves the next day and quiz both front of house and chef about their experience."

Iain said, “I was absolutely delighted with the award of 2 AA Rosettes. It's an achievement for the whole team, both the kitchen and front of house and a testament to their hard work."

Iain explains he has free reign in the kitchen and his ethos is in tune with the owners, who want the best.

The 3-courses, dinner service in the restaurant at Cringletie including dessert and tea/coffee with petit fours costs £55. The 3-course Sunday Lunch menu includes beef from the Tweed Valley served with honey-roasted root vegetables, crispy goose fat potatoes and summer greens. Priced at £35 per person with a £7.50 supplement for cheese.

Border Sirloin of roast Beef and roast corn-fed chicken.

Iain has experience working in 2 and 3 rosettes establishments like Rowhill Grange Hotel and Spa  Isle of Eriska Hotel, Torridon Hotel and Ardeonaig, so he knows the high standard that is expected.

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He explains that his cooking style is "constantly evolving and includes influences from France, North Africa, and Thailand."

However, his main inspiration is showcasing the excellent produce from Scotland, and being based in the Scottish Borders means that he is spoiled by the Wild game on offer.

Scottish Borders

Cringletie uses local company Tweed valley game, which is owned by Dougie McKenna to supply their wild food, with venison and mallard, partridge all making an appearance on the menu when in season.

Local business and suppliers are key for Iain and he is keen to support local businesses rather than large conglomerates, he said "we buy as locally, as we can; dairy produce from Graham's dairy in Stirling, mainly using Scottish cheese from Mellis in Edinburgh, and our Borders meat is sourced from John Gilmour the Butcher.

Iain explains where his love of cooking comes from, " I grew up in Erskine in a family of five, with 3 boys in the house, my mum always cooked for us. It wasn't adventurous stuff, but it was good " he also fondly recalls his granny making cakes and homemade soup.

Although Iain comes from an academic family, his father is a professor in Bioengineering at Strathclyde and his mum is a teacher, one of his brothers is an archaeologist, he explains it was always food for him, studying anything else "was too much school for me."

Enjoying a varied career, he has also worked at  Sodexo catering for the army in Aldershot, where " we would cater for 400 people every day, and you learned to do, a bit of everything including butchery.

So here when we are a little short-staffed but we all pitch in, not a type of chef that has to be on the sauce section."

As a Rangers fan, he managed to land his dream job working as Head Chef (Ettrick Bar and Restaurant, Old Kilpatrick) which was jointly owned by Walter Smith.

Iain explains, "I would attend company meetings and be starstruck." he worked alongside his hero's son Steven Smith, in the kitchen who was his commis chef.

Dinner at the pass Cringletie House hotel.

At the moment, Iain understands that people are wary of coming out and visiting places and knows it will take time.

He said "people are wary, we have done a lot of training. We are doing our best to keep people safe, and ensure they enjoy their stay here."

"In the kitchen, we have adopted extra cleaning, we are moving in a clockwise direction to keep away from each other and wearing masks and there are hand sanitizer stations we use after every process."

The front of house team are delivering food to the tables via trolley to ensure they are distanced from guests and encouraging them to take things off the trolley that we serve from where possible.

Iain said, "The key is to make the whole experience enjoyable rather than clinical."

Under the grill Q&A

Iain Gourlay Cringletie House hotel

Describe your cooking style? and why are you passionate about it? Traditional, French-inspired fusion etc.

“My cooking style is modern Scottish but working as a fine-dining chef means that it is difficult to get away from the classic French techniques.

"I feel using modern techniques and equipment allows you to gain a great sense of pride when you put something truly beautiful on the plate and the customer reacts positively to it”

What was your first job in the industry? Plus where were you before?

“My first job was a commis chef at the Erskine bridge hotel and since then, I have also worked at the Isle of Eriska, Rowhill Grange in Kent, Livingston's in Linlithgow and Ardeonaig in South Loch Tay to name a few”

Favourite spice? And what dish/recipe would you suggest using it in? 

“I really love to experiment with flavours from all round the world. I like to use harissa in my signature dish of smoked venison with spiced Israeli couscous and pickled bramble”

Are you sweet or sour? So is it all peace and harmony in your kitchen or do the pots and pans fly? 

“I like to think that we all get along in my kitchen and I don't feel that raised voices are going to get you anywhere with regards to getting the best out of your staff but in saying that it is still a high-pressure environment and sometimes things do get said but it is soon forgotten”

Following on from the last question...What little things annoy you?

“The thing that annoys me the most, and I'm glad to say it doesn't happen in my kitchen now, is when chefs either leave empty containers in the fridge or when they leave spoons in tubs of mise en place”

What is popular in your kitchen right now? 

“Being from the Scottish borders whenever we have game on the menu it flies out the door and we often have the chance to put it on the menu for what we call Tasty Sundays ( a 7-course tasting menu with matching drinks) but I am hoping that the latest creation, our hamper picnic menu goes down well”

Tea or Coffee? Is it Darjeeling darling or bitter Colombian? What’s your brew and how you like to drink it? Camomile, Milky brew or builders elaborate, please?

“I am 100% a coffee man for a hot drink, I love the Colombian coffee we get from Brodies and I drink it black with one sugar. Although I have to say at home round a barbeque I don't mind an iced tea with a shot of bourbon in it”

Everyone has one at least one guilty food pleasure, so what do you love but are too embarrassed to admit?

“When at home I love to eat as much home-cooked fresh food as I can but once in a while I do love to indulge in giant mixed kebab with all the trimmings”

Who is your favourite chef? Plus everyone has a food hero/ local supplier, who is yours and why?? 

“There are so many chefs that I admire and so it makes it very difficult to choose just one, so in the UK I would say either Simon Rogan or Satwant Singh "Sat" Bains but I also hugely admire Grant Achatz and Thomas Keller in the States... for their fantastic produce, my local food heroes would be Dougie and Chris owners of our local game supplier, Tweed Valley Venison. ”

Fantasy dinner party guests? and what would you cook for them?

“As a massive fan of music I would probably say the likes of Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam or the late Jim Morrison from the Doors but also I would love for any of my favorite chefs to come over and I would showcase the fantastic game and steaks from the Scottish Borders.”

I don’t like…or I’d rather not eat……

“To be honest there is really not much I would not try but the one thing from being a child I try to avoid when possible is beans of any kind ( baked, kidney, borlotti...)

"I do understand however that this is my personal taste so I am not shy of putting them on a menu and do understand how they should taste and of course I try them when needed.”


Cringletie House Hotel

Edinburgh  Road, near Peebles

EH45 8PL

(01721 725 750)



Catriona is a freelance writer based in the Scottish Borders, and a nominee for Food and Drink writer at this year's Scottish Press Awards.
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