With it's popular neighbour, Speyside, a tourist hotspot thanks in part to the malt whisky trail, Aberdeenshire and the north east shouldn't be overlooked when it comes to a foodie trip.

With excellent produce and a thriving food and drink scene, we take a look at some of the best places to visit in Aberdeenshire.

From afternoon tea in a historic location to award-winning Cullen skink in its hometown, the area is rich in stunning experiences.

Throw in a dram or two and a newly created gin made in the first gin distillery in Aberdeen for over 100 years – all served in an award-winning cocktail bar – there’s something for all.

Glen Garioch distillery, Oldmeldrum

(Distillery Road, Oldmeldrum AB51 0ES)

Picture: Alan Jamieson\Wikimedia

Thought to be one of Scotland’s oldest whisky distilleries, Glen Garioch is located close to Aberdeen in the historic old town of Oldmeldrum.

Pronounced Geery in ancient Doric dialect, the area is famed for producing some of the finest barley in all of Scotland.

While Speyside is renowned for its distilleries (there are approx 50  in total), a visit to Glen Garioch is a must when in the area, thanks to its rich history and wonderful produce.

The distillery runs four tours – the Founders tour, Wee Tasting tour, a Rare Pair and Legends of the Garioch tour, with prices ranging from £8 through to£150 for the Legends tour.

On each, you’ll find out about the surrounding land, the distillery’s history and see how Glen Garioch is made – you’ll even get to visit the former malting floor and see the original kilns and stills.

Finally you’ll get to taste a dram or two or, if you’re driving, take them home to enjoy later.

If you’re after something to eat while enjoying your whisky then the rare pair and the legends of the Garioch tour are ideal.

The rare pair tour includes a one-hour tasting paired with Scottish cheese and chutney whereas the long, more in-depth legends tour – which lasts half a day – includes a tour of unseen parts of the distillery, an exclusive tasting of the single cask, limited release and archive portfolio and lunch and whisky pairing, served in the unique setting of the 800-year-old Whisky Cave Bar at Meldrum House Country House Hotel.

Cullen Bay Hotel, Cullen

(Cullen, Aberdeenshire AB56 4XA)

Picture: Cullen Bay Hotel Facebook

If you’re a fan of Cullen skink then this is the place for you. The historic hotel overlooks the dramatic Cullen Bay (which is in Moray Speyside right on the border of Aberdeenshire), and serves up bowls of the rib-sticking soup so warm and filling that you’ll feel cosy no matter what the weather (which on our visiting was driving rain and wind).

Made to a traditional fisherman’s recipe of smoked haddock, onion, potato and cream, the hotel’s award-winning blend is served with delicious homemade oatcakes and a mini loaf of bread.

Skink traditionally refers to a Scots word for a shin, knuckle, or hough of beef – which was used originally in the soup. But, as fish was much cheaper or even free in the northeast, it replaced beef and, over time, became the main ingredient.

As well as a great place to base yourself when visiting Aberdeenshire, or just for somewhere to pop into for lunch or dinner and a bit of dolphin spotting, the hotel is also host to the annual Cullen Skink Championships.

The competition will take place this March and pits the best Cullen Skink makers against each other for a chance to crowned the Cullen Skink World Champion.

As well as cooking up a traditional skink, the championship also looks for the best Cullen skink with a twist – which can be the addition of anything from chilli to chocolate.

Last year Ian Watson of the Cullen Bay Hotel beat all contenders to lift the Traditional Cullen Skink World Championship, adding this to his With A Twist victory in 2014.

The Cullen skink with a twist is also available on the hotel menu if you fancy a change from the traditional.

Pineapple restaurant, Meldrum House Hotel

(Oldmeldrum, Inverurie AB51 0AE)

Opened in July last year, Pineapple is located in the current 2 Red Rosette Dining Room and boasts views out across the hotel’s 240-acre estate.

The restaurant showcases the top-quality produce the region is renowned for, with menu items including; scallops and mackerel from Portsoy, wild halibut and monkfish from Peterhead, chicken and lamb from Inverurie,  as well vegetarian dishes and sides from Premnay and Montrose.

Aberdeenshire is famous for its beef, which is why there is a whole section of the menu dedicated to just that.

Grass-fed steaks from Grace Noble’s award-winning Highland Beef farm in Banchory are available alongside 28-day aged steaks from Presly of Oldmeldrum and 50-day aged sirloins from John Davidson’s Butchery in Inverurie.

As well as this there is a Donside to Deeside Board for two people – with a selection of all three butchers’ meats on one plate with an accompaniment of sauces and sides.

We enjoyed a starter of Shetland scallops served with smoked cauliflower puree, pork belly and braising jus and a main of the 50-day aged sirloin steak followed by a decadent dessert of Bueno – Arauca 70% delice, hazelnut and sea salt wafer.

Named for the fruit that historically symbolises welcome, friendship and great hospitality, the team at Oldmeldrum are keen to offer something a little different to the stuffy atmospheres that can often be found at some more traditional hotels – and that can be seen in the friendly service within the cosy dining room.

After such a meal, a digestif is welcome so a trip to the atmospheric Cave Bar is the perfect way to end the evening.

The cosy and welcoming bar is home to around 120 whiskies including one of the largest collections of Glen Garioch in the country.

Aberdeenshire Highland Beef, Banchory

(Lochton of Leys, Farmhouse, Banchory AB31 5QB)

If you’ve tried the Aberdeenshire Highland beef served on the menu at Pineapple and want to get up close and personal to the farm and herd which supply the restaurant then you’re in luck as farmer Grace Noble has set up a ‘farm to fork’ experience.

After a career in Environmental Health, Grace wanted to get back to her farming roots so took on a farm and bought a herd of Highland cattle in 2012.

Speaking of her herd and farm, Grace says: “All my beef cattle are born here. I also source locally from the Balmoral fold (the Queen’s own Scottish fold) just 28 miles away from the farm.

“Aberdeenshire Highland Cattle offer complete transparency throughout the farming process; rearing the cattle and producing the beef to the highest ethical and environmental standards.

“With a butchery and maturation facility on-site at my farm, I can retain complete control over both the quality and provenance.

“So come and ‘join the herd’ at my farm! Come and meet our cattle, see how they are raised and learn all about my farming methods and taste for yourself what I consider to be the most delicious Premium Quality Beef available.”

A trip to experience the farm to fork experience includes meeting some of the herd (most will be on the hills of the Cairn O’ Mount during the winter as their thick coats offer excellent protection against the elements), a chance to chat to Grace about her farming methods and take a picture with one of the famed Highland cows before heading inside for refreshments and to taste the beef.

The Carriage, Ballater

(Station Square, Ballater AB35 5RB)

Aberdeenshire

Picture: The Carriage Facebook

Not everyone can have tea with the Queen, so why not book the next best thing?

The Carriage in Ballater is located on the site of the former royal railway station in the picturesque town, which was built in 1866 to ensure that Queen Victoria and the royal family could travel by train to nearby Balmoral Castle.

It became an office for Aberdeenshire council before being turned into a popular restaurant, exhibition and visitor centre.

But a fire in 2015, which gutted the building leaving only the replica of the carriage used by Queen Victoria, and part of the royal waiting room, meant a complete re-build.

The Prince’s Foundation initiated an extensive restoration plan to reinstate the station to its former glory, and the current tearoom, cafe and bistro was opened in 2018.

Serving seasonal, classic dishes, it’s a lovely spot for lunch or, if you’re in the mood for something sweet, afternoon tea.

The afternoon tea menu changes with the seasons but will always include the staples – tea, finger sandwiches, a selection of cakes and scones with cream and jam.

It is served in the tea room (pictured) which was the wooden-panelled station building and it is like stepping back in time.

Porter’s Gin Distillery at Orchid, Aberdeen

(51 Langstane Pl, Aberdeen AB11 6EN)

Aberdeenshire

Picture: Porter’s Gin Facebook

Aberdeen’s first gin distillery in over 100 years may not be what you’d expect. Instead of a warehouse with traditional copper stills, Porter’s gin distillery is found in the basement of a contemporary cocktail bar in the city centre.

The location lends itself to the modern techniques used to make Porter’s – with machines that’d look more at home in a chemistry lab than what you’d imagine a distillery to house.

These rotary evaporators or ‘rotavaps’ were acquired by Orchid in order to experiment with different distillates for use in cocktails, land resulted in distillates such as deep-friend Mars Bar.

Porter’s gin was also created in these machines, and is basically cold-distilled. Named in honour of Andrew Porter, the biology professor who helped them out from the beginning, Porter’s gin was a collaboration with G&J distillers.

Along with the original gin, the team and now also making a tropical Old Tom style gin with passion fruit, white tea and guava being added to the traditional gin botanicals.

Gin fans can visit the micro-distillery for a tour and tasting, with online bookings available here. After the tour, head up to the award-winning bar to sample the gin in various cocktails.

Moonfish Cafe, Aberdeen

(9 Correction Wynd, Aberdeen AB10 1HP)

Aberdeenshire

Picture: Moonfish Cafe

An absolute must-visit for any foodie visiting the granite city, Moonfish is neither a dedicated seafood restaurant or a cafe but instead a cosy restaurant, recognised in the Michelin Guide, located in Aberdeen’s merchant quarter with views of the 12th century Kirk of St Nicholas.

Its paired back interior gives the restaurant a contemporary vibe and the intriguing menus of locally sourced produce are devised and cooked by Masterchef’s Brian McLeish.

Established in 2004, Moonfish Cafe has a changing lunch, dinner and tasting menu that feature local, seasonal produce. There is also a good wine list and extensive gin selection.

Small and large plates are available on the dinner menu, but if you want a real gastronomic journey then the tasting menu is a must.

Served with or without wine pairings, which, in our case also included a delicious dessert cocktail, the seven-course tasting menu with optional cheese course (which may not be what you might expect but totally delicious and in no way too heavy) is served Tuesday to Saturday nights at 7pm.

As with the other menus, the tasting courses will change often but previous dishes have included: smoked haddock with egg fudge; Jerusalem artichoke, shallot, fermented mushroom and bitter chocolate, mango and coriander.

If you’re not keen on several glasses of wine but want to try a couple, the friendly and knowledgeable staff are on hand to make recommendations for pairings with dishes.

Booking is essential as Moonfish is a small affair and continually popular, especially on weekends.

BrewDog Dog Tap, Ellon

(Unit Balmacassie Industrial Estate, Ellon AB41 8BX)

Picture: BrewDog Dog Tap

Now a mainstay on the craft beer scene (and on big supermarket shelves), it wasn’t always this way for BrewDog founders James Watt and Martin Dickie.

Find out about the origins of brewery and how it has now ventured into spirits at a tour of its home in Ellon, which is also home to Overworks Brewery – dedicated to sour beer – and the DogTap taproom, which serves up fresh beer straight from the brewery.

Tours of the brewery and distillery are available to book online and cost £15 for an hour and 30 minutes.

The tour includes a guided walk through BrewDog’s HQ, brewhouse, BrewDog Distilling Co, the packing lines and (on weekends) finishes at OverWorks. After all the walking, four beer tastings await you at the end.

Equity Punks can take a tour for free on arrival with your card.

Pub grub food of burgers, pizza and wings is available at Dog Tap, which also does a weekend brunch. And, as you’d imagine, the bar is home to wide range of beers on draught, bottled and cans – some of which you won’t find in any other BrewDog bar.

Where to stay

If you’re looking for a good city centre or countryside base with a good restaurant then these two hotels are ideal for experiencing different sides to Aberdeenshire.

Meldrum House Hotel, Oldmeldrum

(Oldmeldrum, Inverurie AB51 0AE)

Picture: Meldrum House Hotel Facebook

The stately Meldrum House Hotel provides an ideal base for the golf and food and drink scene in Aberdeenshire.

In 2016 the hotel underwent a multi-million pound renovation and added on a glass extension, known as the new wing. This increased the number of rooms to and these bedrooms and offers guests panoramic views of the golf course.

As well as the new rooms there are suites located in the original part of the house, including the Laird’s Suite which is decorated like a room you might find in Hogwarts – with library wallpaper, a leather sofa and headboard and touches of plaid and velvet.

The hotel is set on its own 240-acre estate, complete with Highland cattle and swans, and, of course, a golf course, it can be easy to spend time in the grounds.

But Meldrum House is ideally located for a visit to the Glen Garioch Distillery, which is only a mile away, Fyvie Castle – one of Aberdeenshire’s most haunted, Pitmedden Gardens, and Grace’s farm.

The Chester Hotel, Aberdeen

(59-63 Queen’s Rd, Aberdeen AB15 4YP)

Aberdeenshire

Picture: The Chester Hotel

Sitting on the site of the long-standing Simpson’s Hotel in Aberdeen’s upmarket west end, the Chester Hotel underwent a £5 million renovation, which was completed in 2014.

Offering a luxurious four-star retreat in the granite city, the hotel – which is made up of three chic granite villas that have been converted and linked together – provides guests with spacious rooms, a small bar area and an award-winning restaurant.

Newly opened bar The Gallery is a bright, palatial space in which ti enjoy cocktails and snacks.

About The Author

Rosalind Erskine

Known for cake making, experimental jam recipes, Champagne and gin drinking (and the inability to cook Gnocchi), Rosalind writes for The Scotsman on all things food and drink related.

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