The drive from The Torridon Hotel to Murrayshall Country Estate was nothing short of spectacular, if at times happily slow, for all the right reasons. Where else is your progress in the magnificent McLaren 720s hampered by a wild Stag? Having driven the McLaren for hundreds of miles already, it was still exhilarating driving this supercar. At times blended in with the far-reaching sky in tonal colour and could easily become invisible in low-lying Scottish mist and rain. Today’s rain is tomorrow’s whisky though as the old Scottish saying goes.
Making progress and exercising the car’s huge power train where possible, Yves and I passed through Inverness, wishing we had a few more days, enabling us to react to the sign indicating that the North was to our left. Had time allowed, the NC500 would have beckoned. 500 miles representing the finest roads I have driven in my own 1989 Ferrari. To have experienced it in a car with 3 or 4 times the power would have been sensational.
With Yves taking his turn to drive, my wandering eye caught sight of another sign that triggered an immediate reaction. It read Balmoral 300m. Parking outside the gates, tourist free we took a few moments to pay our respects and take a few quick photographs. It felt rather poignant with Her Majesty The Queen, having passed a few weeks earlier.
Onward to Perthshire, we arrived at the 400-year-old Murrayshall Hotel just as dusk was setting in. We approached via a county lane before turning left into the tree-lined driveway that passes through this 365-acre estate. As we progressed along the drive, glimpses of the 40-bedroom hotel were afforded to us. The warm tones of the lights inside were inviting; the thought of fine food excited me.
Entering this historic stone-built building through a centuries-old archway, dating from 1644, your eyes fixate on the grand staircase, but before any exploration could take place (one of my favourite things to do in a hotel), a warm welcome from the staff was received and check in completed briskly.
My room was located in the main building at the top of the grand staircase with views over the car park to the countryside beyond. Decorated in tones of grey and brown, broken by a pink headrest and cushions, it was elegant and refined. The bedroom bench perfect for me to place my cases. I briefly lay on the bed, but being so comfortable, and in fear of falling asleep, I opted for a shower and dressed for dinner.
During my pre-dinner exploration, I found a bustling bar and restaurant at the far end of the hotel. It was the most populated room I had seen since leaving Kent, full of locals and golfers enjoying well-deserved beer and food after their, hopefully, successful round of golf. With the choice of a championship course and a less challenging 9-hole alternative, it has become a must-visit for golfers the world over.
My tastebuds awakened by the smells emanating from the brasserie, my hunger beckoned me to find the lounge and enjoy a cocktail or two prior to dinner. Being a whisky writer and lover, it was rather obvious what I would choose - an Old Fashioned. The Lynedoch lounge is exactly what you would expect, deep comfy chairs and an open fire. I had arrived a little before Yves, so was able to enjoy a glass of wine with him also whilst perusing the menu. It is at this time, the moment you sit down, that a wave of relaxation envelops you. To do so in such a beautiful environment only makes the experience more pleasurable. And refined. It is a time to re-group, after a packed day of exhilarating driving.
The Eòlas restaurant (pronounced olass) is contemporary in design, with a mixture of teal and burgundy coloured chairs breaking the light tones as your eye meanders to the far end of the dining room. During daylight hours stunning views for 20 or so miles abound across the countryside, the local town of Perth below.
Being in Scotland, a land that offers a rugged landscape with incredible views, it is no surprise that nature's wild larder is in abundance. With the native ingredients, untouched by pollution, and benefiting from rainfall levels that make any southerner panic, Scotland in many ways offer the perfect marriage between land and animal. A marriage not only of convenience, but of depth and meaning. Kitchen and produce working in harmony.
The food here impressed me as it was designed to do. Murrayshall has been on a mission to elevate its gastronomic offering as part of its £30m redevelopment. To accomplish this, staff with extensive experience, including long spells at Gleneagles and La Manga, have been bought in to transform the offering and make it truly a destination hotel.
We opted for the tasting menu, a little to Yves annoyance, to allow me to get a true feel for the kitchen and its aspirations. At this juncture of our Scottish trip we had eaten well, and with Yves being more of a luncheon person, was more inclined to opt for a lighter, less substantial meal. Fortunately he relented, as the tasting menu was for the whole table.
Goats Cheese Arancini. This was served with a nod to Scotland in the form of Stornaway black pudding. Both of these ingredients can be quite demanding in terms of richness, so I was pleased to have an apricot and pistachio bon bon on the plate. The apricot had enough acidity to add balance the dish and ensure it was not too cloying.
Isle of Skye Crab. Served with a sourdough crumpet and spiced butter, this was a great take on potted crab and worked perfectly well.
Miso and Sesame Crusted Partridge. As a fan of oriental food, this was a firm favourite and came with a Kombu Dashi (a stock made from dried kelp) that provided the umami taste so sought after. It was accompanied by a slice of lotus root adding texture and nashi pear.
Mushroom Tea. I couldn’t get enough of this tasty little dish. It came with a truffle and parmesan ravioli that was delightful. I am passionate about truffles so every time I see them on a menu my taste buds salivate.
Scotch Beef Sirloin. This had been slow-roasted and served with a braised cheek ragout. As a nose-to-tail eater, I relish every chance to enjoy the more interesting cuts. This was a rich dish, but the confit onion mediated this perfectly. If not having the wine-tasting flight, I suggest choosing something from the Rhone Valley like a Gigondas or a Rioja Crianza from Spain for a lighter option, that will still complement the dish.
White Chocolate Torte. I am not ordinarily a fan of white chocolate, I find it too sweet. Served with the mango cremaux and sorbet to balance the sweetness, I found this to be excellent and an ideal end to the meal.
As I climbed the grand staircase to retire for the night, I felt content, happy and satisfied. I eat out a lot and this meal was memorable for all the right reasons. I had planned to catch up on a novel, but must have fallen asleep in the supremely comfortable bed immediately. I awoke to find my book on my chest, my place lost. It was a sacrifice I was willing to make, given the quality of the pillows, something I am particularly fussy about. They offered just the right amount of body-to-softness ratio that I find perfect. Your head sinks in, but you don’t feel your arm underneath.
I have often felt that alongside your welcome, breakfast defines a hotel. Is it an afterthought, or taken seriously with just as much attention to detail as their flagship restaurant? They most definitely take it seriously here. It was a supremely fine breakfast consisting of everything you expect in a full Scottish including haggis, black pudding and a potato scone that didn’t have the texture of cardboard which they so often have.
I was very tempted to have the Eggs Benedict Royale, as I had enjoyed them so much at the Machrie Hotel on Islay. But the lure of all those delicious ingredients was too much of a temptation. It rightly set me up for the day ahead, just a relatively short drive in the McLaren 720s to Edinburgh.
There were no wild stags impeding our journey (that we saw anyway) so to offer our eyes some excitement, we took the opportunity to visit St Andrews, famous for its golf course and University. I had never visited the town before and fell in love immediately. Although I haven’t picked up a golf club in earnest in quite sometime, I could help but feel it was, in someway, a pilgrimage to be here. Whilst walking along the large expanse of beach, I felt a desire to stay again at Murrayshall, play the course and then venture back here.
This would need 2 or 3 nights, to enable me to visit one my favourite whisky distilleries - Glenturret (you can read my article on them here) that is fortuitously close to the hotel. Know I would be eating exceptionally well, and conscience of the resultant weight gain, I would book a kayaking along the river Tay, the longest river in Scotland. For the keen fisherman amongst you, the Cargill Beat, also found on the Tay is easily accessible, and offers some of the finest salmon fishing in the world.
Murrayshall Country Estate did not disappoint. The staff where very pleasant, friendly and attentive, the location easily accessible from Edinburgh in just over an hour, or if flying in by private jet, Perth airport is just a few minutes away. The food was on point, offering fantastic Scottish ingredients, and the bedrooms well appointed, comfortable and quiet. In summary, a hotel that deserves your attention and should be on any shortlist when visiting Scotland. The rain that came down before our arrival, may well form part of the whisky you enjoy there in years to come.