The record-breaking heatwave of summer 2022 has been notable for many reasons. However, for Darin Campbell, executive head chef at Cromlix, Andy Murray’s gourmet five-star hotel near Dunblane, it has heralded a new chapter in his long career.

For the first time since the country house hotel was acquired by the tennis star in 2014, Cromlix has launched an exclusive private dining BBQ by the Loch menu in the grounds of the hotel. It’s unique in that bookings are for private parties who have their own chef at the grill for the duration of the event, and each bespoke menu uses locally sourced produce and fresh vegetables, fruit and herbs from the hotel’s kitchen garden and polytunnel.

This isn’t your usual burgers and sausages domestic fayre, although there is a choice of upscale Wagyu burgers, Cumberland and Bockwurst sausages. BBQ by the Loch hosts can choose other chef-designed dishes for their party from an extensive range, including honey and sesame chicken, miso glazed duck breast, whole sea bream with fennel, grilled peppers, charred radicchio with balsamic vinegar, chilli potato skins with Mull cheddar, and fresh fruit tartlettes. A drinks package is included in the price.

“This is something we haven’t done before and we’re picking up on what we see from our customers at the hotel, who increasingly choose to eat and drink outside,” says chef Darin as we stroll through the stunning hotel grounds to the secluded lochan, the new barbecue site where mallards and moorhens dabble in the water.

Andy Murray’s gourmet five-star hotel near Dunblane

Darin has taken a quick break from serving hotel lunch guests on their way to the Open at St Andrews and is preparing for an influx of those attending the British Open at Gleneagles. There’s also been a private business group of 30 in for lunch. Andy Murray and his family, and his mother Judy, are regular diners.

“Judy is a fantastic ambassador for Cromlix,” says Darin. “When she is here, she will always chat with guests. The whole family is very down-to-earth and a pleasure to work with.”

Darin oversees five different hotel menus every day and the BBQ by the Loch is a new addition.

“More people experienced al fresco dining during lockdown and bought their own barbecues and pizza ovens to use at home because they couldn’t eat out. We want to pick on that and develop it.”

He says that certain ingredients cook better on the barbecue grill than they do on a conventional kitchen stove.

“Griotte onions become sweet when lightly charred, marinated courgettes cook well, and it’s interesting to cook sea bream en papillotte marinated with fennel, read onion, chilli and white wine. It steams in a bag on the grill and is quite delicious cooked this way. I like to hit the herbs fresh too. A bunch of rosemary dipped in olive oil can be used to brush a lamb cutlet, giving it a delicious flavour.

“As a barbecue chef you can be more creative, having fun using the same skills in a different way.”

Andy Murray’s gourmet five-star hotel near Dunblane

Barbecuing enables a different style of presentation too.

“People get close up to the food, eat with their hands, kick off their shoes, relax. It’s not contrived or pressured. I find that some hosts choose to be totally involved with the chef and the cooking, while others prefer to leave it to us and chat to their guests.”

The social aspect is one of the most enjoyable parts of being a chef, Darin says. “You’re constantly speaking with guests and suppliers, and barbecuing fits my enjoyment of being sociable.

“I’m constantly inspired by changing seasons, new ingredients, and different trends. Every year it’s something new. Now it’s Persian flavours.”

Date labneh, rose harissa and ras el hanout spices have entered the main menus.

In the kitchen garden next to the tennis courts, where Judy Murray coaches local schoolchildren, there are heritage broad beans and peas, a range of lettuces, purple mangetout, kale, apples and figs, a hen run and beehives. In the polytunnel there are three varieties of heritage tomatoes, a range of herbs, sweet marjoram, purple basil, carrots and more. 

“We keep the bees for pollination,” says Darin. “Our produce doubled in volume in the first year of having the beehives. Soft fruits and beans were particularly abundant.

“We’ve always been Scottish with a French twist but we’re moving away from heavy classical French cuisine, making it lighter, using less butter and cream,” he says. “It’s good to modernise and embrace new trends, but always using classical French techniques and Scottish produce, and using the whole animal or fish or plant. Increasingly we’re adding vegetables and herbs to the mix.”

He has noticed a huge increase of Scottish producers over the course of his career, which began at a hotel in his hometown of Largs and developed early at the Sheraton Grand hotel in Edinburgh. He became sous-chef to the late Andrew Fairlie at One Devonshire Gardens in Glasgow, continued in London under Marcus Wareing and Eric Chavot, and returned to Scotland as head chef at the two-Michelin star Restaurant Andrew Fairlie at Gleaneagles Hotel. He was a finalist in the prestigious Roux Scholarship before becoming head chef at the Chez Roux restaurant at Cromlix. He is enthused by the Scottish cheeses coming onto the market and loves Highland Fine Cheese’s Minger, which he compares to a French Munster.

Fishmongery has also moved on, he says, citing Arctic char from deep freshwater Scottish lochs. “They have amazing livers. And Norwegian red snapper is coming from Scottish waters as a byproduct of squid fishing. They are like rouget.”

Cromlix Hotel is part of the luxury hotel group ICMI and the Chez Roux restaurant was founded by the late chef Albert Roux. It’s now overseen by his son, Michel Roux Jr.

“Chef Michel is a lovely guy and he never dictates what I do,” says Darin. Chef Albert was always looking for new Scottish producers and would ask for chef Darin’s recommendations. “He was like a grandfather to me and he was just genius.”

So enthused is Darin by BBQ by the Loch that it is to continue throughout the winter, with a range of different seasonal menus.

“Sometimes the most memorable meal is not just about the food,” he says. “The ambience, the company and the setting also play a huge part. My own favourite meal was on my honeymoon in Tuscany where we ate in a Michelin-starred restaurant in a Twelfth Century monastery on top of a hill. The food was nice  but I remember the occasion because of the person I was with and the setting. The whole atmosphere was fantastic.

“I hope BBQ by the Loch will offer a similar memorable experience for our guests – even when the sunshine eventually goes.”

www.cromlix.com