I often find myself not really knowing if things happened in 2020 or 2021, given the covid lockdowns and restrictions that completely changed our lives.
Therefore it was with relative surprise that I felt when I saw that the Grandtully Hotel in Perthshire is now four years old.
The hotel is the second business for Chris and Rachel Rowley, who own Ballintaggart Farm - which is run as a restaurant and cook school with two rooms - and is located just a few minutes along the road.
Right next door to the Grandtully Hotel is Iain Burnett, The Highland Chocolatier, making this sleepy village an ideal pit stop for lunch and a delicious hot chocolate afterwards.
The hotel is headed up by Chris's brother, Andrew, and is upmarket and stylish but not pretentious or stuffy. It seems to attract locals and visitors alike, and offers fine dining in the form of their tasting menu along with informal dining in the Tully, the restaurant in the bar.
There’s also a small shop by reception, where visitors can buy wares from the menu such as pre-bottled cocktails (the negroni and old fashioned), Sunshine granola and sourdough bread. There’s also candles, cards and Noble Isle toiletries available.
To celebrate the hotel turning four, a series of new season menus launched and, given the setting and beauty during autumn, I travelled up for dinner one sunny October afternoon.
Diners can choose a a seasonal Market Menu with bites from £2 and mains from £12 in the bar, The Tully from 12:30 – 4pm and from 5:30pm – 8:30pm.
Then there’s a Seasonal Set Three course menu for £55/guest (6-8:30pm) or a Tasting Menu for £75 (6 – 8pm) featuring six courses designed with care by Head Chef Jordan Clark.
All menus showcase some of the finest ingredients and producers in Scotland and carefully reflect the seasons.
On our visit we started the evening with a negroni and a non-alcoholic nogroni (which is made with Feragaia, Æcorn Bitter and Æcorn aromatic) and has an earthier, more savoury taste from its well-rounded and smooth alcoholic counterpart.
We then chose from the market menu, which for autumn has a good range of meat, fish and veggie dishes, with Perthshire chanterelles, Shetland mussels and Blairgowrie strawberries just a few of the local and Scottish ingredients on offer.
For starters I went for two Loch Fyne oysters (£6) and two beef croquettes (£5) while my dining companion chose the salt and pepper squid, which is served with a hot and sour sauce (£9).
The oysters were served with buttermilk, cucumber and dill. The oyster meat was hidden in the milky pools of sauce, with its small pools of green dill oil.
A refreshing change from the more traditional shallot and vinegar addition to this shellfish. The pieces of squid were coated in spiced flecked crisp batter and were lovely and fresh (not chewy).
Paired with the hot and sour sauce - with its notes of lime, fish sauce, chilli and ginger - gave this dish a real kick of flavour that left us wanting more.
The croquettes were small, crisp bites filled with a sweet and salty mix of melt in the mouth ham, sat atop of bright yellow sauce of aioli.
For the main course, continued to sample the shellfish, by opting for the half Isle of Skye lobster (£20) while it was the Grierson’s organic pork burger that caught the eye of my other half (£14).
The lobster, whose sweet meat was easily accessible (no need for a bid and array of tools here), was baked with a seaweed and citrus butter and Isle of Mull cheddar - a savoury yet not clawing rich delight. To mop that up, my side of skinny fries were light and crisp.
Across the table the burger, which was stacked high with Applewood smoked cheddar, sriracha and tempura pickle (plus chips) - was deemed delightful, thanks to the lighter pork flavours not being masked by too many condiments.
Although we were quite full, it seemed daft to say no to dessert especially when we were heading out into the cold night to enjoy Pitlochry’s Enchanted Forest.
The fact that there were only two desserts - honey cake (£9) and vanilla cheesecake with Perthshire strawberries (£9) - made the decision even easier. Both long, rectangular wedges of sweet goodness, the cake was moist with a sprinkling of pistachios adding bite.
But it was the pistachio ice cream that was the belle of this ball. While the cheesecake was light, creamy and given a kick of extra strawberry flavour from the bright ice cream.
There’s no doubting that it has been a weird few years for everyone, with time seeming to lose all meaning over 2020 and 2021.
But both The Grandtully Hotel and Ballintaggart are back in full swing with events, new menus and (at Ballintaggart) seasonal feasts and cookery masterclasses.
While we were paying the bill before setting off for our woodland walk, I wished we’d booked to stay over, if only to try the breakfast the next day. It’s just another excuse to visit again, but with a meal this good, we don’t really need one.