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Avoid The Etape and Turn Right to Killiecrankie…

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Avoid The Etape and Turn Right to Killiecrankie…

Avoid The Etape and Turn Right to Killiecrankie…
November 27
12:02 2015

About two miles into the route for the Etape Caledonia, there is a sharp left turn over a bridge towards Kinloch Rannoch. One Sunday in May – every May – for the best part of the last decade, I have taken that left turn and headed out on the punishing 80-mile ride around Highland Perthshire.

The legendary cycle sportive – famed in Scotland as ‘The One with the Carpet Tacks’ (a reference to an ultimately unsuccessful sabotage attempt in 2009) – attracts thousands of competitors and raises millions for charity each year.

Make no mistake, it’s a tough old ride, but each year I try to convince myself as we peddle out of Pitlochry that it’s going to be easier than the last time; that the rain will hold; the wind won’t blow; and that within the first 15 miles I will not be head down, back aching, legs screaming, AGAIN wondering why on earth I’m punishing myself in this way – and paying handsomely for the privilege. Alas, every year, I do.

Except, on Sunday 10th May 2015, I had something of an epiphany as I rounded the left-hand bend and prepared myself for half a day of misery; for there in front of me was a road sign which indicated that if I continued straight on for a mere two minutes, I would instead arrive at the village of Killiecrankie.

While I knew of the infamous Jacobean settlement on the banks of the River Garry, I’d heard more about the eponymous hotel which sits on its outskirts. Indeed, were it not for the barriers and the wall of grim-faced security personnel blocking my path during the race this year, I might well have taken that route instead.

And so, as I heaved my legs over the bridge, I resolved to return to the area as soon as possible, preferably in a car and with the intention of resting and relaxing for a day or two, rather than braving the horizontal rain and swearing at my cramping limbs for five hours straight.

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Fast forward to July, and my wife Lucy and I arrive at the sweeping driveway of the quiet country retreat, to be greeted outside by Henrietta Fergusson, proprietor and sole source of approximately 100 percent of the hotel’s character.

Having purchased the hotel in 2007, she set about instilling her own individual sense of pride, vision and, it has to be said, immaculate taste within its extensive, colourful grounds.

With ten well-appointed, homely bedrooms and a quiet, calming atmosphere which pervades throughout, it’s a far cry from the homogeneous city centre hotel chains or occasionally depressing opulence of the big group establishments.

Indeed, individuality is a key ingredient in the Killiecrankie recipe; as, naturally, is the food itself. Head chef Mark Easton’s menu changes regularly and offers an engaging, tempting mix of dishes and flavours, complemented by a stellar wine list which feels like it changes daily in order to match each dish.

IMG_1114-1We began our evening by indulging in a couple of aperitifs in the cosy bar area – mine made cosier still by the arrival on my right foot of Beanie, the resident Spaniel (pictured left). If you’ve heard of the hotel, you’ll have heard of Beanie. As much a part of the Killiecrankie experience as the sprawling grounds and warm Perthshire welcome, she treats each visitor as equal, at first. However, as I noted early on, once she has welcomed you at the door, this sharp-witted ol’ girl will retire to her bed in the reception area and spend the next 10-15 minutes judging anything that moves.

By the time you have unpacked, refreshed and returned downstairs, she has made her decision as to whether or not you are worthy of her company. Luckily for me, I have dogs circulating around my legs most of the day and I suspect she sensed this and concluded that I must be of average intelligence and, therefore, interest.

Even still, her affection can be fickle. After 20 minutes of warming my shoes and sporadically gazing up at me with a look which said, quite clearly, ‘You may pat me’, she shot to her feet, danced across the room and jumped into the lap of an elegantly dressed lady who had just seated herself down at the table opposite.

I could only assume she was a regular, but it still hurt.

Called in to dinner, we were shown to our table. Despite the hotel’s apparent popularity it was noticeably not ‘busy’ or, indeed, distracting. There was a gentle hum of conversation and, I seem to recall, background music, but none of it detracted from the fact that Lucy and I had a lot of conversation to catch up on after six years of bringing up children and failing to get a word in edgeways.IMG_1106-12

At this stage, I have to admit that my lifelong affliction of Chronic Menu Envy tends to arrest our progress through a dinner like OCD stops a sufferer from flicking on a light switch. With that in (Lucy’s) mind, I asked the obliging waiter if I could enjoy half a portion each of two of my favourite starters, to allow me to sample both simultaneously and, by extension, allow us to eat before midnight.

And so, while Lucy enjoyed the broccoli and carrot soup, I combined the beetroot tortellini with crumbled goats’ cheese and roasted garlic-and-parsley sauce, with the griddled asparagus, poached egg and hollandaise sauce. Strange, but true; and so, so good.

Lucy’s bowl of creamy homemade heaven ticked all her boxes, while I – for once – managed to nail it in the decision stakes. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that my two starters should be combined more often, and by design.

For our main course, Lucy opted for the pan-fried fillet of Aberdeen Angus steak (tender, juicy and noticeably all locally sourced), while I had the grilled fillet of sea bream with breaded crab cake and assorted accompaniments.

Thankfully – for Mark and his team in the kitchen, at least – this was enough of a star attraction for me to select on its own, such was the diversity of tastes, textures an quantities of the fresh fish and trimmings.

By dessert we were both beginning to feel the pinch – on waistlines if not the wallet – but as ever we managed to find sufficient space to taste a couple of the most tempting options on offer. A lifelong, almost hilariously hopeless chocaholic, Lucy went for the dark chocolate and caramel flan. (I didn’t get a look in, which can only mean one thing).

Meanwhile, I resisted my increasingly desperate panna cotta addiction by plumping for the Scottish cheese and oatcake selection. Good decision.

And the wines? I’d be lying if I told you I could remember individual labels. There is, of course, plentiful choice at Killiecrankie, and I think you can tell by the way Ms Fergusson oversees every minute detail of the running of the hotel that they are more than up to scratch.

Weighed down and weary, we eventually retired to the sitting room – a sumptuously subtle blend of reupholstered antique furniture and thick, warm, detail-laden drapes – to sit with our El Salvador coffees and leaf through the local guidebooks and coffee table classics, before crawling upstairs to bed.

All in all, a truly unique experience, from the initial welcome and friendly atmosphere to the exquisite food, extensive bar and affectionate, if unfairly judgmental, pet spaniel.

And needless to say, I won’t be cycling the Etape Caledonia in 2016; I shall be heading straight on to…
The Killiecrankie Hotel
Pitlochry
Perthshire
PH16 5LG
www.killiecrankiehotel.co.uk

Christmas at Killiecrankie

Christmas Swarovski Tree low resHenrietta and her staff have put together a unique and very special three-night Killiecrankie package for food lovers and fans of a warm winter’s welcome.

Here’s what’s on offer:

Christmas Eve

  • Afternoon tea with a selection of home-made scones and shortbread
  • Champagne reception with a specially prepared four-course dinner
  • Optional transport link to the Watchnight service in Blair Atholl at 11.30pm

Christmas Day

A chilled glass of sherry around 12.30 will set the tone for a sumptuous lunch

Optional scavenger hunt through the Pass of Killiecrankie

A casual Christmas buffet supper, followed by some specially devised games in the bar for those who want to take part.

Boxing Day

Archery tuition for the novice and a competition for experienced archers

Mulled Wine

Light lunch of soup and sandwiches

Optional walk with hotel staff to the Moulin Inn, Pitlochry, for refreshments, before heading back to the hotel for an evening with Scottish musicians Pete Clark and Gregor Lowrey

27th December

Check out and synchronise diaries for return visits!

Killiecrankie Christmas package: 24-27th December, from £630 per person for three nights. Call 01796 473220 or visit www.killiecrankiehotel.co.uk to book. Limited availability.

 

 

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Catering Scotland

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