While it’s no secret that Speyside is a haven for whisky lovers - and one of the most prolific locations where the spirit is made - it’s also home to a number of excellent hotels and restaurants.
One location that combines the two is The Station in Rothes, a small town close to the Glen Grant distillery.
Originally opened more than 100 years ago, the hotel was frequented by wealthy guests who visited to fish salmon on the Spey.
After finding success in the 1950s and 1960s, it went into decline and closed in 2006.
Ten years later, after refurbishment courtesy of local couple Richard and Heather Forsyth, the hotel reopened as the luxury digs it is now.
While the hotel has always seemed to have its own distinct identity, the same couldn’t be said of its Pagodas Restaurant.
Named after the distinctive distillery roofs that can be seen dotted around the whisky trail, the wood panelled restaurant served good pub grub, but wasn’t as in-keeping with the high-end nature of the hotel as some guests might expect.
But, following Covid closures and restrictions, the team took time to re-think the offering and appointed a new head chef, Henry Lapington, in the summer of last year.
Of the new dining concept, Henry said: “We are using local produce, getting stuff in from a really small proximity, and maximising sustainability as much as possible.
"We’re also utilising garden space to grow vegetables for this year.”
We went along during the recent Spirit of Speyside Festival to try their ten (yes ten) course tasting menu, which was paired with drams from past award winners of the festival.
Our night started with an incredible chocolate stout based cocktail, created by front of house manager, and beer aficionado, Stephen Crossland.
We sipped on the drink and enjoyed a colourful selection of breads and butter including a bright pink beetroot roll and zesty green wild garlic butter.
As tasty as these were, ten courses is a lot so we sadly didn’t finish all that carbs available to us.
Before long the first course was served. This consisted of fresh smoked sea trout pate style mousse served on a delicate, crisp seaweed cracker and paired with a dram of Tamnavulin 12.
This was then swiftly followed by roe deer tartare. Another delicate dish, the meat was served in small tartlets, set atop a bowl of barley and complemented by the Glenfarclas 25 year old - the sweet sherry notes cutting through the richness of the meat.
We were then back to seafood with the ceviche of Orkney scallop served with Aberlour 12. These plump morsels were pepto bismol pink, thanks to the addition of beetroot and served with fresh sorrel, giving the dish a lift.
The beetroot theme was given centre stage in the next dish, lacto fermented beetroot. Don’t be put off by memories of cramping muscles, this dish was really interesting, with the pickled nature of the root veg giving a sweet note that was balanced by the GlenAllachie 15 dram.
Next up was a stand-out dish for me, celeriac and smoked mussels, paired with Srathisla 12. The nuttiness of the celeriac combined with the sweet smoky mussels was a joy.
We had then moved past halfway point of the meal, although at no point did this feel like too much food, to a halibut dish. A wedge of this meaty white fish was topped with thinly sliced radishes and served with rich, umami sauce - washed down with the Glen Moray Classic Chardonnay cask finish.
The next dish was a Koji aged retired dairy cow striploin. This type of beef is having a moment, there’s even a restaurant dedicated to retired dairy cow steaks that has just opened in Glasgow.
The flavour from this is different to other steaks, as is the texture that has more bite. Here an oval slice of perfectly pink steak was served with rich gravy and ‘last year’s carrots’ which has been charred and pickled and added some sweetness and more bite to the plate.
A dram of Tamdhu Dalbeallie was served alongside. This cask strength whisky was matured in sherry casks which give fruity and spicy flavours.
Then it was time for the sweet section of the meal, starting with Golspie clootie dumpling, served with Glenfiddich 15.
Served in a small kilner jar, with pieces of cake floating amid a white sea, this deconstructed take on a traditional treat had all the notes of classic dumpling but not as heavy.
This was followed by a creme brulee tart, and a dram of sweet smoky Benromach 10. Again, another dessert that could be too heavy, but in this case was just right. Half a small tart of creamy, sugar topped tart was served with cream and garnished with more sorrel.
Then petit fours of tablet, homemade nougat and douglas fir jelly were enjoyed alongside coffee (or in my case stowed away in my handbag to have with a cup of tea the next day - they were still delicious).
While our meal was an event at the festival, the ongoing Still and Stove 10 course tasting menu is very similar and available every Friday and Saturday. It’s refreshing to see such creative, delicious dishes being paired with whiskies, (in a way that wine usually is), making this a truly local experience.
You can tell the care taken with each dish’s creation and presentation and, with this menu, it won’t be a surprise to see this hotel restaurant getting the acclaim and accolades it deserves.