With log fires, fresh flowers and discreet and
attentive staff Kinnaird Hotel hit all the right notes
A recent experience at Kinnaird, which nestles in the heart of beautiful Perthshire near Dunkeld, served as a reminder that a memorable meal is not just about food. The ambience, the service and the company in which you have it are also key ingredients. No problem with the first of these: Kinnaird is a member of the Relais & Châteaux network and its young house manager, the elegant and charming Anne Schaeflein, runs the place with a sure and pleasingly feminine touch. Thick carpets, log fires, fresh flowers and discreet and attentive staff were everywhere.
We were lucky enough to share our evening with Scottish members of the Châine des Rôtisseurs, the international gastronomic society – or dining club – that originated with the guild system in 13th century France under King Louis IX (later Saint Louis) and which is this year celebrating 50 years in the UK. After a somewhat extended interval, starting with the French Revolution and lasting until 1950, the Châine continues to this day with the aim of bringing together professional and amateur fans of fine dining, good cooking and the pleasures of the table. The fledgling Scottish bailliage, or branch, of the UK Châine has only 20 members at the moment and it needs between 80 to 100 to be independent. No doubt the warmth and determination of its bailli, the redoubtable Sheila Douglas of Montrose, will help attract more like-minded members to the club. Small, of course, can be beautiful, and our evening was cosy and convivial.
From drinks in the cedar-wood drawing room we were greeted in the dining room overlooking the river Tay by a highly impressive tasting menu prepared by French head chef Jean-Baptiste Bady, who has worked in France with many Michelin starred chefs and has gained Kinnaird three AA rosettes as well as four AA red stars.
A hot pre-starter of butternut squash cappuccino was delicious, and was swiftly followed by a chilled starter of smoked ham hock and foie gras terrine with parsnip and brioche, helped along by a neat serving of 2000 Riesling from Alsace. Three big fat sweet Oban scallops followed, served on tangy shellfish ragout that seemed expertly constructed to allow all the flavours to speak for themselves.
This time a Viognier Chardonnay Sauvignon Blanc from the South of France was served, chosen to add a bit of acidity alongside the scallops. The skilful collaboration between sommelier and chef throughout the meal was quite remarkable. A main of roast new season Perthshire lamb was, for me, pretty perfect: not too pink, hot from the kitchen, and simply cooked to allow the flavours to speak for themselves. A Bordeaux Medoc Chateau Tour St Bonnet 2003 met these head-on. Unusually, a platter of farmhouse cheeses was served before rather than after dessert, and with a Mas Amiel, a 100% Grenache dessert wine from close to the Spanish border. A ‘rhubarb presentation’ of three ways with new season fruit from the kitchen garden really did have the wow factor and elicited spontaneous applause: an incredibly wobbly wee jelly, a sorbet with ginger served in a spoon, and a tiny crumble served in a dinky little pan.
The other uncontested star was sommelier Max Schaeflein, Anne’s husband and Kinnaird’s food and beverage manager, whose witty and considered presentations were perfectly pitched. With hospitality being such a hot potato in this year of Homecoming Scotland, Kinnaird Hotel rightly takes the biscuit.
Price: £65 for tasting menu with wine rating: Cate's star rating - 4.5 stars. Kinnaird Hotel, by Dunkeld, Perthshire PH8 OLB. Tel 01796 482440. www.kinnairestate. com www.chainedecosse. co.uk The one-off joining fee is £75 and the annual subscription is £95 (£65 for a spouse or partner).