The Craigellachie Hotel has been a landmark in the Moray village since 1893, a vast white building that dominates the surrounding Speyside landscape.
In the latter years of the 20th century the glitz and glamour of its Victorian heyday had faded, and other than the spectacular whisky bar, there was nothing left to recommend it.
"Even such an embarrassment of riches couldn’t stop us eyeing the burgers on the neighbouring table with envy. They are on our hit list for next time"
Then, in 2014, it was bought and completely refurbished by entrepreneur Piers Adams, who fell in love with it, and brought his glamorous London friends up to enjoy the opening party.
My first visit to the refurbed Craigellachie’s restaurant, Copper Dog, was after the Aviemore half-marathon, when I turned up along with my sweaty and red-faced teammates, and we were impeccably served during a busy Sunday lunch, with staff far too polite to comment on what we looked like.
This time, I went on Monday lunchtime, stealing a quiet meal with my husband ahead of the looming chaos of the summer holidays.
Both the food and bar menus mark out points of provenance, with beer from Keith Brewery, Spey Valley Brewery and Windswept, while the extensive list of cocktails and spirits (including the Lossiemouth Iced Tea, which blends whisky and legendary soft drink Moray Cup) will have to wait until next time – we still had the school run to do.
Husband tried an IPA from the Speyside Valley Brewery, served in a traditional dimpled tankard, and the subtle taste was a welcome contrast to those ales supercharged in strength and flavour that have popped up in recent years.
To start I chose the wild mushrooms and crispy hen’s egg (£7.95), which came on top of a thick toasted slice of sourdough. The mushrooms were sautéed but not soggy and the egg came wrapped in breadcrumbs with no trace of greasiness outside, while inside the yolk was still oozing. The mix of heady, woody fungi and creamy yolk proved irresistible – husband stole a bite and declared it the “best idea for breakfast ever”.
On his side of the table was Portsoy smoked salmon, served with capers and shallots (£8.95). The delicate salmon was a little overshadowed by the hunk of carraway-flecked bread that came with it, but the capers and shallots strewn over the salmon were a good foil to the oily fish.
For mains, the veggie option appealed, a roasted root veg and Black Crowdie filo basket (£12.95) which was nicely finished off with a smear of butternut squash purée and a rocket salad. The crowdie proved a delicate alternative to the feta that normally would be used in such a dish, and the filo basket provided a great crunch against the roasted root veg. The side of cumin slaw (£2.95) could have done with more punch and less creamy mayo.
Husband went for the rib eye steak (£26.95) because the fillet he would have preferred was unavailable – rib eye has a reputation for being the chef’s choice of steak, but whenever we’ve tried it previously, it’s been disappointing.
Served with thick cut chips, a flat mushroom and half a tomato, the meat was the star of the show, cooked to perfection on the grill, charred and bitter on the outside, sweet and tender inside. In the interests of research, we ordered a side of whisky mushroom sauce (£2), but to be honest, the steak itself was so good, no sauce was necessary. The chips were chunky and the vegetables well-cooked.
Even such an embarrassment of riches couldn’t stop us eyeing the burgers on the neighbouring table with envy. They are on our hit list for next time.
We take our eating responsibilities seriously, and desserts were duly ordered. Husband chose lemon meringue tart with raspberry coulis.
The filling was creamy, but could have done with a bit more zing, and the pastry was just a bit too thick. The mini meringues served on top were as light as a cloud, and the dish came with a very good cranachan ice-cream, a flavour that the husband insists we invented for our wedding.
I cannot resist a cheese board and this one was good, with a tangy blue, creamy brie and sharp cheddar all included with some dinky oatcakes and deliciously sweet onion chutney.
The cheeses weren’t named on the menu, and to be fair to the waiting staff I didn’t ask what they were, but a little unsolicited information would have been welcome at this point.
In any case, the portions were good and we left with a bag of fromage leftovers.
Copper Dog offers a sophisticated menu of carefully chosen ingredients in the heart of Moray, perfect for peaceful weekday lunches and busy Sunday dinners, with great beer and inventive cocktails. Next time, we’re calling the babysitters, booking in for the night, and ordering that Lossiemouth Iced Tea.
Victoria Street, Craigellachie,
Speyside AB38 9SR
Tel: 01340 881 204