How many reasons do you need to go to the Glenturret distillery, the five-star visitor attraction in Crieff? There’s the drive there through some of Scotland’s most picturesque scenery for a start, or you might fancy checking out the country’s oldest working distillery, established in 1775. Take one of several tours and try a dram of one of the world’s most popular whiskies, the single malt Glenturret or Famous Grouse. Ailurophiles (cat lovers) might consider it worth a pilgrimage to worship at the statue of Towser, the distillery cat who held the world record for mousing, with an estimated 28,899 kills over her 24-year lifetime. And if records are your thing, there’s also the world’s largest bottle of whisky, at 228 litres, on display.
All of these are good reasons to visit Glenturret, but since January there has been another in the form of new restaurant Wilde Thyme.
Chef patron Andrew Hamer and head chef Jonathan Greer have created a menu that celebrates and incorporates the whisky distilled on the premises, while showcasing the local natural larder. Dishes include Strathearn beef (the animals being fed the malt draft from the whisky process), Arbroath smokies, Hugh Grierson Perthshire ham, fish from George Campbell and Sons, and of course Glenturret whisky.
Straightaway my daughter fell in love with the warm plait of rosemary-scented bread that came fresh from the restaurant oven. It was so good we cheekily requested another. The waitress didn’t bat an eyelid, simply approved our good taste, thereby setting the tone of relaxed yet prompt and attentive service throughout as the waiting staff dealt with everyone from pre-teens (mine) to tourists with very little English and locals dropping by for afternoon tea (yes, we were still there mid-afternoon, hic).
For my starter I liked the sound of the George Campbell and Sons’ hot smoked salmon flakes, beets and lime crème fraîche (£6.50). Purple beets, pink salmon, magenta and white striped radishes with salad leaves sprinkled all over added up to an artist’s palette of colour. Taste-wise, the hot salmon flakes were smokier than an Islay malt, the beet packed a punch and the lime crème fraîche sliced through it with a tangy tingle.
"I found her pork “meaty” too, but in a good way; soft and yielding, with fantastic creamed potatoes."
I thought I had chosen the best deal, but when I tasted my daughter’s Arbroath smokie with Strathearn potatoes and leeks with fragrant cream (£6.50) I wanted that too. No chance. Under a springy topping of salad leaves, samphire and fine sliced leeks rested two juicy pieces of haddock whose flesh was smoked with a whispering delicacy of flavour. The fish was arranged on a bed of spuds fit for a princess (which is almost the case, as the Strathearn potatoes were first created for Kate Middleton, aka the Countess of Strathearn, who visited last year), all surrounded by a lake of mustard seeds floating in a velvety cream sauce.
Clearly Wilde Thyme had me with the starters, so I was looking forward to my home-smoked cod with 10-year-old Glenturret whisky, shaved fennel and crispy Hugh Grierson bacon, Jerusalem artichokes and rocket pesto (£11.95). Imagine my fury when my daughter, who had ordered sticky Scottish pork belly, Scarlett’s heather honey, fennel seeds, burnt apple and crackling, root vegetables and creamed potatoes (£12) found it a bit too “meaty” and wanted to swap. I found her pork “meaty” too, but in a good way; soft and yielding, with fantastic creamed potatoes, all balanced by a delicious molten apple and honey flavoured sauce.
After the starter and main, we would never have managed pudding but were booked in for a tour of the distillery which allowed us to walk off the savoury courses before returning.
I chose the smoothest and prettiest lemon posset, zizzed up with a burst of candied zest and a garnish of blood orange and basil, while my companion outdid me with a slice of moist, rich Valrhona chocolate fudge cake which wasn’t actually on the menu but had managed to call to her from a groaning selection of cakes on display in the cafe.
Our lunch for two came in at under £50 excluding drinks, which seemed reasonable for the long, leisurely meal we’d enjoyed on a great day out at the distillery. If we’d stayed any longer they would probably have started serving us afternoon tea, but it was definitely time to call a taxi for Christie.
Puddings £4.50-£5.95 (selection of artisan Scottish cheese with handmade oatcakes and quince, £6.95)
ALSO ON THE MENU
The starters of crispy goat’s cheese with smoked pimentos and heritage tomato and basil salad, and slow-cooked Strathearn beef with horseradish creamed potatoes, pickled walnuts and red wine jus (£5.95) sounded tempting. And who doesn’t want to sample Glenturret whisky ice-cream smothered over an apple tarte tatin? (£5.95).
Next time, I’m going to try the Twice-baked Mull cheddar soufflé with baby onions and apple and celeriac salad (£10.50).
Afternoon tea of sandwiches, scones, cream and jam, and cakes, is served in the restaurant, while the café next door is cake heaven, with heaving slices of sponge cake, tray bakes and savoury snacks, all served in a comfortable sofa and low coffee table ambience.