Once home to mainly traditional hotels, today there’s a new energy in the food scene in Highland Perthshire. Local produce is centre stage, discovers Ailsa Sheldon, with increased creativity, innovation and fun in the kitchens across Big Tree Country.

IS THE Taybank Scotland’s most beautiful dining room? Wooden furniture, swathes of dried flowers and cosy sheepskin rugs give a relaxed elegance without a hint of stuffiness, and the views over Dunkeld Bridge and the River Tay are unbeatable.

Tuck into a food tour of Highland Perthshire

With a field-to-fork ethos, The Taybank is a food lovers’ dream. Follow the menu logically or pick and choose dishes to share – the staff couldn’t be more helpful and encouraging of our greedy excesses, even when we have to move tables in order to accommodate all of our plates.

The wine menu is exciting with plenty by the glass. We choose a delicious bottle of crisp Catarato, which matches our seafood-heavy choices perfectly.

We dig into sweet langoustines from Skye with plenty of garlic butter, delicate local salad leaves with beetroot, goats cheese and edible flowers, and beautifully crisp chunky monkfish scampi with lemon aioli.

Tuck into a food tour of Highland Perthshire

 A salmon ceviche with strawberries, cucumber and sesame is unexpected and delightful, and probably wins dish of the night, although there’s stiff competition.

A whole lemon sole on the bone is cooked simply with lemon and capers, allowing the quality of the fish to shine through. We devour it with a side of hasselback potatoes and confit beetroot.

A big bowl of Perthshire berries completes the feast. The berries by themselves would be a joy, but here they are dressed in lime, Pimm’s and basil, adding interesting complexity and a balance of sour and sweet, helped by a generous dollop of creme fraiche. 

After dinner, we stroll by the riverside in the last of the summer light. Sadly, we’ve lingered too long over our meal to catch the music in the lively pub downstairs. However, it looked like a lot of fun.

Tuck into a food tour of Highland Perthshire

For the full Taybank experience, book into one of the gorgeous rooms upstairs. The same design ethos continues, simple and elegant, calming and tactile – with handmade ceramics, sheepskins and a stack of books to read. You can also wallow in a circular tub with views of the tall trees on the hillside.

Tuck into a food tour of Highland Perthshire

There’s a late checkout as standard and breakfast is a basket of delicious local treats: fresh flaky croissants, berries, muesli, yogurt, and juice.

Whether you enjoy it in the dining room, outside on the picnic tables, or in bed is up to you.

THE GRANDTULLY HOTEL

A FEW miles from Aberfeldy, The Grandtully Hotel is sister venue to Ballintaggart Farm. Both of these venues have been instrumental in raising the bar for hospitality in Perthshire in recent years.

Tuck into a food tour of Highland Perthshire

The Grandtully is also open to non-residents and is a popular spot, particularly when the sun is shining on its more-than-ample outdoor seating area.

The Tully bar serves a mean Negroni, and a “Nogroni” for the road is a pleasingly punchy non-alcoholic alternative.

Starting at the snacking end of the menu, a pair of outstanding oysters are plump and perfect with creamy buttermilk, cucumber and dill. A peppery salmon pastrami is a tasty little snack too.

Many dishes are good for sharing and on a sunny afternoon we do just that.

Tuck into a food tour of Highland Perthshire

An Isle of Wight tomato salad with burrata, sherry and honey is perfect summer eating – the tomato juices and creamy cheese ideal for dunking generous slices of the house sourdough. Eassie Farm asparagus is suitably revered, served with orange and a deep pool of hollandaise.

Tuck into a food tour of Highland Perthshire

Salt and pepper squid is tender and tasty, with a piquant Vietnamese-style hot and sour sauce providing a bright contrast.

I had ordering envy of the next table’s lobster with garlic butter and a steaming bowl of Shetland mussels. But, no fear, this won’t be my last visit this summer… as long as I can get a table.

SAORSA 1875

NESTLED in the woods on the edge of Pitlochry, Saorsa 1875 could be a traditional Perthshire hunting or fishing lodge at first glance.

Instead it is the UK’s first entirely vegan hotel – 1875 is the year the hotel was built and Saorsa is Gaelic for freedom.

Tuck into a food tour of Highland Perthshire

Traditional features have been kept, but the design has a fresh and bold feel with pops of neon and eclectic modern art.

Scented candles and willow swinging chairs are reminiscent of a spa, made more relaxed and homely by the dog snoozing in the corner, and the bright and cheery welcome.

In the extensive gardens there is a yoga yurt, sitooteries for a sundowner, and a communal fire pit for talking until the stars come out.  

The dining room is pretty zen, full of art and plants with big windows to the pretty gardens. With Diana Ross on the record player and flickering candles on tables, there’s nothing preachy about this vegan vibe.

Tuck into a food tour of Highland Perthshire

Choose a cocktail or mocktail from the interesting list. Mine is zingy and aromatic, based on Three Spirits Livener, with pink grapefruit and kombucha.

It’s a set Sunday lunch when I visit, starting with a mezze board.

There are fat spicy olives, good bread, and rosemary and garlic panisses like pleasing chickpea chips, crisp and moreish, dunked into sweet and earthy beetroot hummus.

Tuck into a food tour of Highland Perthshire

 I’m surprised to see a nut roast on the menu. I thought that was old vegan, not new vegan?

Who cares? It’s delicious, spiked with apricots, pine nuts and almonds, worlds away from the earnest loaves in student cafes.

It comes with a pleasing puddle of rich gravy and topped with a tangle of crispy oyster mushrooms. On the side are green beans, baby potatoes with an almond and mint pesto, and plenty of root vegetables. For dessert, it’s a chocolate surprise – the surprise is there’s four puddings and they’re all a delight.

Tuck into a food tour of Highland Perthshire

Saorsa 1875 feels like a haven. Whatever your dietary choices, it’s a wonderful new addition to the Perthshire dining scene.

 

Other foodie hotspots in Perthshire 

Aran Bakery
Aran Bakery in pretty Dunkeld combines artisan breads with fancy cakes, and a simple cafe menu. Pop in for a bacon roll with rhubarb ketchup, a cheese and kimchi toastie, or a pork, sage and apple sausage roll. The menu changes regularly with the seasons but the strawberry danish will make you wish it was always summer. 

The Watermill
A bookshop, art gallery and a great cafe, surely the perfect combination? The Watermill in Aberfeldy gets it just right – it’s a community-minded haven in a converted oatmeal mill. In the cafe expect soup, good salads, sandwiches, and a selection of temping baked goods, all made with the best local produce. 

The Falls of Dochart Inn
This traditional local pub in Killin was a blacksmiths in the 1700s, and with the low ceilings and traditional features it’s easy to imagine. Today it’s a great place for a pub meal, a pint by the fire, or a perch outside overlooking the river. Try the Falls Of Dochart Smokehouse Salmon or the ale-battered fish and chips. 

Picnic with a difference
On the Straloch estate, 20 minutes from Pitlochry, a very special new foodie experience is being offered this year. Get your boots on and hike for an hour through the hills to a remote lunch hut with a woodburning stove, plenty of blankets and candles (Land Rover rides are possible too). Here the resident chef will set up a gourmet picnic for an unforgettable al-fresco meal.