Voted the Most Romantic Restaurant in Scotland, Ardanaiseig on Loch Awe can also boast a Scottish Chef of the Year, in Gary Goldie. Goldie has been at the historic country house hotel for 14 years, and has been head chef for 13 years, during which time he and his kitchen team have picked up a host of awards. So too has the hotel. It’s been chosen as the Intimate Wedding Hotel of the Year four times now, and after our recent visit there it’s easy to see why.
Most guests stay at Ardanaiseig on a full-board basis. Given that it’s a 4-mile drive down a single-track road even to the nearest village pub, this is probably wise. In fact, given the food and the setting, it would be foolish to go anywhere else. The menu changes daily, and Gary is a truly creative chef, inspired by what’s in season, and forever coming up with new dishes, or new takes on familiar ones. We didn’t expect the first course to be prawn cocktail, for example.
The menu is a set menu of 5-courses, but the kitchen will happily tailor it to accommodate special diets or requirements. We first savoured the list of dishes in the cosy bar, over a pre-dinner drink and some superb amuse bouches: huge and deliciously tasty green Spanish olives, a scallop tartare and a mouthwatering clam purée.
In the restaurant itself the tables were well-spaced, there was some very gentle mood music in the background, and we were lucky enough to get a window table, looking out at the early evening light on Loch Awe. You can request a window table when booking, though the hotel does like to give all their guests a chance to admire the view on different nights.
On the menu proper we began with that prawn cocktail, which was fresh-tasting and light, like no prawn cocktail you’ve ever eaten before. This was followed by a tomato consommé, which was outstanding. That afternoon we’d been out with the chef, Gary, on one of the foraging forays he offers to hotel guests. All the fresh herbs he’d gathered just a few hours earlier really made the consommé zing with flavours. We could taste the wood sorrel that we’d sampled while foraging, and the hairy bittercress.
The view from our window table out to Loch Awe was as special as the food. At one point in-between courses an osprey flew by, and later as it started to grow dark we could see bats careering through the dusk, doing a little foraging of their own. Our main course was a tender beef stew that was beautifully meaty and enhanced by the mushrooms we’d all picked earlier. Our foraging session with Gary definitely made the meal even more special than it was already, knowing how fresh many of the ingredients were.
Then to cleanse the palate came an extra dish that proved to be the star of the night for both of us – a Talisker whisky sour. It blended the slightly smoky taste of Talisker whisky with an unlikely partner: passion fruit. The result was an unforgettable smoothie-like concoction. When we commented on it to one of the staff the next day (who turned out to be the chef’s wife), she said Gary had been reading the El Bulli recipe book and had created his own local version of one of their dishes. It was sensational.
So too was the dessert, a plate of five different strawberry dishes: a soufflé, a soup, a sorbet, a jelly, and strawberry turned into a chewy strip, like a child’s sweet. It was fun – and fantastic. As we lingered over the coffee and petits fours we talked about every course, and gave thanks for the best thing of all – we were booked in for two nights and would have a totally different but equally wonderful menu the next night too.
The people at Ardanaiseig and the team in the kitchen would be far too modest to claim that they serve the best hotel food in Scotland, but the awards speak for themselves – 3 AA Rosettes and twice winner of the Chef Medaille D'Or for Dinner Excellence. Scotland has more than its fair share of superb award-winning hotel restaurants, and it’s impossible to single one out as the best, but Ardanaiseig is definitely up there among the top choices, year after year. And it has that awesome Loch Awe view too.
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