Tom Cannavan visits one of Scotland's most exclusive country house hotels to find a very warm welcome and some terrific food and wine at their gourmet dinner.
Kinnaird Hotel, Perthshireby Tom Cannavan, 10/07
The onset of winter's shorter days does bring some compensations, not least the food and wine season of game, slow-cooked roasts, casseroles and heart-warming red wines. For me personally, another great treat over autumn and winter, is to book a couple of nights in one of Scotland's many fine country house hotels: those places with comfortable, cosseting rooms and excellent kitchens, where you relax the moment you cross the threshold, and begin to enjoy a sybaritic few days of self indulgence.
Yet, not all country house hotels are created equal, and I have had some disappointments in my time. It is good to hear of places that really deliver on quality, and one name that had been suggested to me many times, is Kinnaird in Perthshire, a Relais & Châteaux hotel set within a private 7,000 acre sporting estate. I recently attended one of their regular food and wine gourmet evenings, and finally discovered for myself what a magical place it is.
The house is still crammed with evidence that this was, until recently, a warm and welcoming family home. There are photographs of family members through the years, a library of well-thumbed books and, mounted on the walls of the Billiard Room, a collection of massive salmon caught by the Ward's and their guests on their private five and a half mile stretch of the River Tay.
Kinnaird instantly feels like home; like one is guest at a rather upmarket house party. It is not at all fusty or strait-laced, and there's a genuine warmth to the welcome as you arrive and take tea or coffee in one of the several lounges that range from the cosy and bookish, to the grand and formal.
Though Kinnaird is one of Scotland's finest private sporting Estates - with some of the best salmon fishing and game shooting in the country - I was here for the food in Kinnaird's three AA rosette restaurant, prepared by chef Jean-Baptiste Bady. Bady has been behind the stoves at Kinnaird for over three years, having previously worked in top kitchens around the world, including the three Michelin-starred Bernard Loiseau in Burgundy.
My stay coincided with a gourmet evening, where a six-course menu was matched to the wines of Esk Valley Estate in New Zealand. I have to say this was a terrific evening. We assembled in the Cedar Room for pre-dinner drinks and canapés, before dining en famille round a large oval table in a private dining room. The party ranged in age from their 20s to their 60s, some travelling from as far away as the north of England for a foodie break, whilst others were local gourmands who had popped round for dinner.
After an appetising cup of Cep cappuccino, my meal started with a ballotine of pigeon and foie gras, served with a beetroot carpaccio. This was an extraordinary, meaty dish, consisting of a tranche of foie gras inserted between the halves of an entire pigeon breast. Textural and dense, it worked beautifully with Esk Valley's Pinot Gris, which was just off-dry but rich and powerful. A second course of red mullet, crisply fried and served with an aubergine caviar was sophisticated and beautifully cooked, before Esk Valley's
As I sipped my after-dinner coffee with some petit-fours, I took time to sum up what I'd made of my first 'Kinnaird experience'. Though Kinnaird is 'grand' and relatively expensive, it is a singularly comfortable and relaxing place, that gets the balance between discreet efficiency and friendly approachability just right. Given the standard of both accommodation and food, I look forward to my next visit, whether summer or winter.
The next two "gourmet experiences" at Kinnaird are on November 19th (Inverarity One to One) priced at £320 per couple for a one night stay with dinner, wines and breakfast. Then on February 4th Bill Baker of Reid Wines presents a Burgundy Masterclass, priced at £325 per couple.
Tel: +44 (0) 1796 482440