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Tuesday, 26 May 2015

A Taste of Scottish Hospitality at Gleneagles

Regarded by many as the top luxury resort in Scotland, if not in the whole of the UK, Gleneagles is 232-room, 5-star hotel in Perthshire, also famous for hosting the international golf tournament Ryder Cup. Owned by Diageo, the world’s largest drinks conglomerate, it is also a member of the exclusive Leading Hotels of the World, a personal favourite hotel collection I always look out for when I go travelling.

Built in 1924 in French-inspired architecture, Gleneagles is set in 850 acres of tranquil Scottish countryside. It is hard to believe that London is just a 5-hour direct train journey away, or that Edinburgh or Glasgow is only an hour’s drive.

Guests at Gleneagles come for relaxation and pampering, and there are plenty of opportunities for both. The facilities including the spa, fitness centre and golf courses are truly impressive, but it was the dining options including a 2-Michelin starred restaurant, and the anticipation of sampling some of Scotland’s finest produce that really piqued my curiosity. Followers on Twitter told me – “the Gleneagles’ breakfast is probably the best you will ever have”! I seriously doubted that at the time, but nothing really prepared me for what I experienced waking up at Gleneagles.

I was invited to Gleneagles for three days and two nights to experience Scottish hospitality and learn more about the hotel’s offerings. I met some of their local suppliers of seafood, game and ice cream, dined with a couple of the chefs and even got to blend my own-label Scotch whisky. Oh yes, and I did a bit of falconry too. There are plenty of activities guests can take up at Gleneagles so if golfing is not your thing (and it certainly isn’t mine), there is still much to discover and enjoy at the hotel.

Day One

Arriving at Edinburgh after a 1 hour 20 minute flight from London Heathrow, the drive to the hotel took just an hour. The chateau architecture and formal gardens make for a stunning entrance to the hotel. It felt as grand and elegant as I could have wished for.

View from my hotel room at Gleneagles

My room was spacious, in tones of browns and tartans, with a lit fire making it warm and elegant without being ostentatious. There were great views of the hotel grounds, and the bed was huge and comfortable.

Despite being a hotel room, it was so spacious and well appointed that I could happily have spent a few hours relaxing, writing or reading there without feeling cooped up. There was a huge bathroom, beautifully decorated.

Visit to Stewart Tower Dairy

After an hour of down-time to freshen up, we went to visit Gleneagles ice-cream supplier, Stewart Tower Dairy, home to a small herd of beautiful Holstein cows. Husband and wife team Neil and Lindsay Butler, frustrated with the wild fluctuations of the milk market, decided in 2006 to move into ice cream as a way to get a more reliable profit from milk.  It was a good move, and today they produce around 40,000 litres of ice cream per year in 200 different flavours.

These can be enjoyed at their ice cream parlour at the farm, which is open to the public, or at one of their clients scattered around the UK, including Gleneagles.

This was a fun visit, and we had the chance to meet Neil and Lindsay, see the cows being milked, and we even made our own ice cream mixture. The ice cream was light and creamy with wonderful natural flavours.

Dinner at Gleneagles The Strathearn Restaurant

With two AA Rosettes, this restaurant serves classic French and Scottish dishes in an atmosphere that recalls the glamour of the hotel’s art deco origins. The feel and service reflect this, with a grand piano being played in the corner, silver service and many items prepared or cut in front of diners before being served.

Whole sides of smoked salmon are sliced, Beef Wellingtons are carved and Crêpe Suzettes flambéed, all at the table and with great panache. The menu features the abundance of Scotland’s cold waters, including oysters from Argyll, Hebridean crab, Scottish lobster and langoustines and the of course wild Scottish smoked salmon.

Set priced menus cost £60 for three courses and £70 for four. I had a starter of seared scallop with sweet corn purée, chicory and shavings of summer truffle, that was delicious.

On our visit, the meat dish of the day was Beef Wellington, and I had this for my main. It was perfectly cooked with crisp pastry, and the beef was pink throughout – this is as good as Beef Wellington gets.

The dinner menu offers three courses including dessert for £60.00, or four courses including dessert and cheese for £70.00.

The legendary cheese trolley at Gleneagles

Day Two

The Gleneagles Breakfast

I have been lucky enough to visit many five star hotels during my travels, but nothing compared to the breakfast at Gleneagles, and this is no overstatement.

Breakfast #1 - just warming up...

Served in the splendour of the Strathearn restaurant, breakfast at Gleneagles is a sumptuous affair. There is station after station of specialties including Scottish smoked salmon, traditional hot dishes including kedgeree, scrambled eggs, the full Scottish breakfast, waffles in maple syrup, French pastries, a cheese station, whole legs of ham carved on silver platters, juices and the list goes on.

Breakfast #2 - how could I resist a Full Scottish Breakkie?!....

I discovered that in addition to my dessert stomach, I have a secret breakfast stomach that saw me through two or even three helpings, so irresistible was the spread at Gleneagles.  As if all this were not enough, Gleneagles also offers breakfast cooked to order, which I felt I had to sample. My favourite was the grilled fillet steak, with a fried egg and chips, served with a glass of Champagne. Heaven!

Breakfast #3 - Beef fillet, chips and Champagne, my kind of breakfast heaven!

Make sure to put aside time for this spectacular, and get up early enough to spend one or two hours on your breakfast – you will not regret it. After breakfast, we headed out to visit Gleneagles suppliers of fish and seafood.

My favourite breakfast station at Gleneagles - Bloody Mary & Bucks Fizz Station!

Visit to George Campbell & Sons Fishmongers

George Campbell & Sons have been trading since 1872, and have supplied seafood to Gleneagles since the hotel opened in 1924. The current owner, Iain Campbell, has worked at the business since 1977.

Staff work through the night to prepare the day’s catch, ready for delivery in the morning. All the preparation, skinning, filleting and pin-boning is done by hand, with their vans leaving at dawn to deliver all over the country.

On the morning we were there, Colin Bussey, former Executive Chef at Gleneagles, joined us at the fishmongers along with Alan Gibb (Executive Chef at Gleneagles), as well as Iain and Rachel Campbell, to prepare a wonderful lunch and show the fantastic quality of the local Scottish seafood. We ate in the experimental kitchen at the fishmongers, open for presentations, food clubs and restaurant demonstrations.

First, we watched one of the fishmongers, Gus McKenzie, skillfully prepare an array of the freshest fish and scallops ready for the chef. We had the most delicious potted brown shrimps, hot smoked salmon paté on oatmeal biscuits, and a salmon and leek tart.

The star of the lunch for me though was a stupendous dish of seared scallops served on Stornoway black pudding from Macleod & Macleod with a beurre blanc sauce.  This was spectacularly delicious – the scallops were huge and meaty, and among the best I have eaten anywhere, and the combination with black pudding was classic surf and turf.

Falconry and Gun Dog Lessons

Back at the hotel, with a full stomach and very happy, we were keen to learn more about the activities available at Gleneagles.

The hotel provides a range of activities for their guests beyond golfing. We spent an hour at the British School of Falconry at Gleneagles, learning some of the skills involved in this sport, and also learning that a number of common expressions in English are derived from this ancient sport – “under the thumb” and “tight-fisted” being just two. We had the opportunity to work with Victor the falcon.

The gun dogs, Sweep, Wexie, Tar and Debbie were three lovely black Labradors and a black Spaniel at Gleneagles Gun Dog School, and we spent some time learning how to handle them, including obedience and agility training.

As a dog owner, I was pleased to learn that guests’ dogs up to the size of a Labrador are welcome in the hotel for an additional fee, either staying in their owners bedroom, or in a special guests’ kennels on site where owners can visit them freely. 

Andrew Fairlie Kitchen

Sadly we didn’t get to eat at this 2 Michelin starred restaurant in Gleneagles, but we did get to have a look around the kitchen with Head Chef Stevie McLaughlin. Andrew Fairlie is independent from the hotel, and serves 6 and 8 course menus at £95 and £125 respectively, or 3 courses à la carte from £125, with wine flights available. It’s quite an intimate venue, with just 17 tables.

Andrew Fairlie is only open for dinner, and serves produce from a nearby kitchen garden tended by three full-time gardeners. One of the signature dishes is lobster smoked over whisky barrels, which I would love to have sampled – a treat for next time I guess.

I can’t vouch for the food as we didn’t eat there, but I think the accolades speak for themselves – the restaurant has been awarded 2 Michelin stars since 2006, and in 2011 Andrew Fairlie was named a Relais & Chateaux Grand Chef. In 2012, Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles was named Best Restaurant in the UK in the Sunday Times Food List. 

Deseo Restaurant

Deseo is an informal restaurant intended to represent a Mediterranean food market, allowing guests to enjoy a wide variety of appetizing dishes. The restaurant has a ‘breed book’ aimed at giving diners the chance to choose beef in the same way they might select fine wines or whiskies, and was created in conjunction with local butcher Simon Howie. Every week sees a different guest breed on offer.

One option at Deseo is to reserve the chef’s table for 8 people, and this was what we did on our second evening. We were joined by Gleneagles Director of Food and Drink, Alan Hill, and the hotel’s game supplier, Neil Dixon from Ochil Foods.

A keen shot for decades, Neil explained a great deal about game, the leanness of venison (only 4% fat) and the difficulty of persuading supermarkets to overcome their worries and stock more game.

Paul Devonshire, Gleneagles Executive Sous Chef, prepared our game dinner that evening. We started with a lovely partridge carpaccio with a herb-encrusted and deep fried quail’s egg and three types of beetroot – candy, red and yellow. The partridge had been cooked sous vide at 40 degrees for 50 minutes, and was served with a glass of delicious Bonarda 2011 from Mendoza, Argentina.

Next came pheasant in a rich and gently spiced broth, served with a glass of Marchesi di Gresy 2009, made from Chardonnay grapes in Langhe, Piemonte, Italy.

Before the main course, we had marinated grouse breast with double cream and thyme, topped with fried julienned leeks, served with a glass of Cepas Viejas 2009, from Dominio de Tares, Bierzo, Spain.

The main event was a sumptuous and hearty dish of Sutherland venison with a hare joint, purple Heritage potato rosti, and Stornoway black pudding.  This was a magnificent dish, full of flavour and complexity, well balanced with a glass of 2009 Rioja from Cecias, Paisajes, Spain.

For pre-dessert, we had a little ice cream with frozen Gold Reserve whisky. Dessert proper was a lovely apple bavarois with cinnamon meringue, expertly partnered with a glass of Moscato Passito 2007 from L’Altro, Marchesi di Gresy, Piemonte, Italy.

The Chef's Table Experience costs £720 for a table of eight and includes your own chef, waiter and menu offering.

Whisky Tasting in the Blue Bar

The Blue Bar is located in a courtyard accessed through the hotel’s Dormy Clubhouse, and is a heated outdoor bar for the appreciation of fine Cuban cigars and Johnnie Walker Blue Label whisky, as well as a range of “molecular” whisky cocktails.

Here we were treated to a fantastic tasting, and also had the opportunity with one of the whisky sommeliers to learn how to  blend our own whiskies.  I also learned about the popular misconception that all the best whiskies are single malt. In fact, there are some wonderful blends, which we sampled at the bar, and this is an area about which I now want to learn much more.

Day 3

Sadly our last day at Gleneagles. After another monumental breakfast at the Strathearn Restaurant, and a long walk through the golf courses and grounds, what else to do but head back to Deseo Restaurant for a truffle lunch before our departure?

Cooked by Gleneagles Executive Chef Alan Gibb, we were treated to a medley of wonderful truffle dishes. We started with black truffle pizza with parmesan and basil, moving on through scrambled eggs with white truffle, to a truffled mac’n’cheese.

The piece de resistance was a magnificent dish of roast chicken with winter truffles, chicken liver, creamy mashed potatoes, carrot and cauliflower.  This was a great lunch that really brought to life some top quality produce from Scotland and beyond, prepared with the unique touch of Gleneagles, Scotland’s finest resort.

I would like to thank Gleneagles Hotel for hosting me and showing me some of the fantastic hospitality and produce of Scotland. These were unforgettable days, and I cannot wait to return one day.

The Gleneagles Hotel, Auchterarder, Perthshire, Scotland PH3 1NF
T: 0800 704 705 (UK Freephone) or 1 866 881 9525 (US Freephone)

1 comment:

  1. I just happened to find your site as I myself am working on a post about my afternoon tea experience at Gleneagles in September. I'm so happy to find you since we have quite a lot in common.

    I loved your post on Gleneagles and actually met Chef Colin Bussey last year when he was a judge at the Golden Spurtle competition where I competed. Looking forward to following along and hope you check out my site too, at Christina's Cucina.


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