I often find myself not really knowing if things happened in 2020 or 2021, given the covid lockdowns and restrictions that have completely changed our lives.
It was therefore with relative surprise that I felt when I saw that the Grandtully Hotel in Perthshire was now four years old.
The hotel is the second venture of Chris and Rachel Rowley, owners of Ballintaggart Farm – which is run as a two-bedroom restaurant and cooking school – and is located a few minutes up the road.
Right next to the Grandtully Hotel is Iain Burnett, The Highland Chocolatiermaking this sleepy village an ideal stop for lunch and a delicious hot chocolate afterwards.
The hotel is run by Chris’ brother, Andrew, and is upscale and stylish but not pretentious or stuffy. It seems to attract locals and visitors alike and offers fine dining in the form of a tasting menu as well as informal dining at Tully, the bar restaurant.
There is also a small shop near reception, where visitors can purchase items from the menu such as pre-bottled cocktails (the Negroni and old-fashioned), Sunshine granola and sourdough bread. Candles, cards and Noble Isle toiletries are also available.
To celebrate the hotel’s four-year anniversary, a series of new seasonal menus were launched, and given the setting and beauty of autumn, I went for dinner on a sunny October afternoon.
Diners can choose from a seasonal market menu with bites from £2 and mains from £12 at the bar, The Tully from 12.30pm to 4pm and 5.30pm to 8.30pm.
Then there is a three-course seasonal menu for £55/guest (6pm-8.30pm) or a tasting menu for £75 (6pm-8pm) featuring six courses carefully crafted by chef Jordan Clark.
All menus feature some of the finest ingredients and producers from Scotland and carefully reflect the seasons.
During our visit, we started the evening with an alcohol-free negroni and nogroni (which is made with Feragaia, Æcorn Bitter and Aromatic Æcorn) and tastes more earthy and savory than its well-rounded and smooth alcoholic counterpart.
We then chose the market menu, which for autumn has a good range of meat, fish and vegetable dishes, with Perthshire chanterelle mushrooms, Shetland mussels and Blairgowrie strawberries some of the ingredients local and Scottish offered.
To start, I opted for two Loch Fyne oysters (£6) and two beef croquettes (£5) while my dining companion chose the salt and pepper squid, which is served with a hot and sour sauce ( £9).
The oysters were served with buttermilk, cucumber and dill. The flesh of the oysters was hidden in the puddles of milky sauce, with its little puddles of green dill oil.
A refreshing change from the more traditional addition of shallot and vinegar to this shellfish. The squid pieces were coated in spicy speckled crispy batter and tasted delicious and fresh (not chewy).
Paired with the hot and sour sauce – with its hints of lime, fish sauce, chilli and ginger – gave this dish a real kick of flavor that left us wanting more.
The croquettes were crispy little bites filled with a sweet and savory mixture of melt-in-your-mouth ham, sitting on a bright yellow sauce of aioli.
As a main course, I continued to taste the shellfish, opting for the half Isle of Skye lobster (£20) while it was the Grierson’s organic pork burger that caught my other half’s eye. (£14).
The lobster, whose sweet meat was readily available (no tender and tools needed here), was cooked with a seaweed and citrus butter and Isle of Mull cheddar – a rich delight but not scratching. To mop up that, my side of skinny fries was light and crispy.
Across the table, the burger, which was piled high with applewood-smoked cheddar, sriracha, and tempura pickle (plus fries) — was deemed delicious, thanks to the lighter pork flavors that are not masked by too many condiments.
Even though we were pretty full, it seemed silly to say no to dessert, especially when we were heading out into the cold night to enjoy the enchanted forest of Pitlochry.
The fact that there were only two desserts – honey cake (£9) and vanilla cheesecake with Perthshire strawberries (£9) – made the decision even easier. Both long rectangular wedges of sweet goodness, the cake was moist with a sprinkle of pistachios adding bite.
But it was the pistachio ice cream that was the most beautiful of this ball. While the cheesecake was light, creamy and gave an extra kick of strawberry flavor from the brilliant ice cream.
There’s no doubt that it’s been a strange few years for everyone, with time seeming to lose all meaning in 2020 and 2021.
But the Grandtully Hotel and Ballintaggart are back in full swing with events, new menus and (in Ballintaggart) seasonal feasts and cooking classes.
While we were paying the bill before heading out for our walk in the woods, I wish I had booked to stay, if only to try breakfast the next day. It’s just another excuse to come back, but with such a good meal, we don’t really need it.