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Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Review - Taynuilt Hotel & Restaurant, Taynuilt, Argyll

Myself and Nicola were recently offered an overnight stay at The Taynuilt Hotel, a classic coaching inn with a modern gastropub, rustic lounge and casual pub, which is located just 12 miles from Oban. It's been a long time since we had made a trip up the A85 to the Highlands so we were more than happy to accept the invitation and after checking our diary, we arranged to visit the Taynuilt Hotel on the first Saturday of July.
The Taynuilt Hotel has been owned by chef John McNulty since 2012 and since then, the young chef has worked tirelessly to provide a top quality level of service for his guest whilst putting a huge focus on delivering honest simple food, bursting with flavour. In fact, the dedication of John and his sous chef, Ross Harris (Scottish Hotel Awards Sous Chef of the Year) has seen the hotel recently being awarded 2 AA Rosettes for Culinary Excellence.
We had hoped for a little summer weather that day but the drive from Glasgow was rain soaked for almost all of the journey. The drive took a little over two hours and when we arrived just before lunch, we were warmly greeted by General Manager, David Lapsley, who advised that our room wasn't quite ready but allowed us leave our overnight bags with him for safekeeping. David has worked within the hospitality industry since 2009 and has a wealth of experience from previous positions that allows him to deliver the service as required, regardless of who the guest is. We seen this first hand at dinner when he seemed to have an uncanny knack of knowing when to chat and give advice or opinion and when to leave guests to enjoy their food and wine.
Having set off early in the morning, we knew that we would have plenty of time to spare though the day so took a drive to Fort William for some lunch. It was too wet to walk about town so we made our way back to the hotel through a very bleak and rainy Glencoe, getting back to Taynuilt with plenty of time for pre-dinner drinks.
The hotel is an old coach house and as such, we weren't expecting the Ritz but we were very pleasantly surprised when we were shown up the small flight of stairs from the main reception to the recently renovated Loch Etive Suite. All ten rooms are named after some of the magnificent Scottish Lochs that are within a short drive of the hotel. We didn't see inside any of the other rooms so I can't comment on the decor but the Loch Etive Suite has a distinct nautical theme throughout with various references to the sea dotted around the room. Coal buckets, sailors knots in picture frames, a ships wheel, and a lot of rich blue colours on the wall contrasting with dark mahogany furniture. If I had tried to put this collection of knick-knacks together, it would have looked scruffy and disorganised but it all seemed to work and made the room feel cosy and warm.
The room was a perfect oasis of calm with plenty of home comforts for the weary travel. There was a huge 42" wall-mounted TV with DVD player and a good collection of comedy movies (for those that fancy a night in after wandering the beautiful local countryside), a digital radio with iPhone connection, kettle with plenty of tea and coffee (although I would have preferred something other than Nescafé Original) and a little fridge complete with a cute miniature bottle of fresh milk. The ensuite bathroom was compact but well fitted out with a powerful electric shower and a nice collection of Mason & Miller toiletries. The bedroom was dominated by a huge wooden framed bed that despite the medium soft mattress, both myself and Nicola managed to get a great sleep - although that might have been something to do with all the walking that we did during the day. Perhaps one of the coolest features of the Loch Etive Suite was the outside decking area complete with picnic bench and parasol. I can imagine that on a nice sunny day, this would be a great place to enjoy a chilled glass of wine or maybe a morning coffee, however the only thing that managed to get some enjoyment that weekend was the owners friendly cat who paid us a visit on the Sunday morning.
After a quick shower to freshen up, we made our way downstairs to the bar for a relaxing drink before dinner. There were a few regulars drinking at the bar but we still managed to find a comfy leather sofa to settle down whilst Reception/Hotel Admin Lauren Findlay treated us to a tasty glass of homemade Gose, a top-fermented wine made from locally foraged herbs which had a sharp tartness and salty finish. The public bar might be small but it has a surprising amount of premium drinks to choose from, including almost fifty gins, a fantastic array of quality whiskies as well as a healthy selection of beers from some of Scotland's best craft brewers.
Dinner wasn't far away but before we were shown through to our table we were presented with one of the fanciest appetisers that we have ever seen. Like a scene from the Mad Hatters tea party, our little garden on a tray came complete with chargrilled mushroom and leek with a delicious pea purée. If the fresh flavours weren't exciting enough, the teapot overflowing with dry ice added a touch of drama and set the bar high for our impending meal.
The wine list at Taynuilt Hotel is impressive with a great selection to suit all budgets. David has his own wine expert business which allows him to have a great deal of influence with the wines on offer. We ordered Chalkers Crossing, a bold Shiraz from Australia which had lots of deep cherry flavour and a peppery scice finish that was a great match for both of our mains.
Whilst we waited on our starters, we were served some home baked sourdough with butter, smoked sea salt, and seaweed salt. With such a huge focus on sourcing local produce, I was surprised that chef John wasn't using local butter, however i was advised that they used the butter from Netherend Farm in Gloucestershire because it is very good butter. I can't disagree with that, the butter was creamy, salty and very moreish!
The menu at Taynuilt looked like it had been written especially for myself and Nicola with practically every starter and main course being something that we would have no problem in ordering. In the end, Nicola went for the classic combination of Hand Dived Isle of Mull King Scallops, cauliflower purée, Simon Howie Black Pudding and truffle oil. This was the perfect balance of taste and texture - sweet scallops, crumbly spicy black pudding and a smooth purée that was packed with cauliflower flavour. As if this balance wasn't enough, throw in drizzle of truffle oil and the dish was elevated to another level. What a great way to start a meal!
My own starter of the Chef's Home Smoked Loch Duart Salmon with homemade oatcakes, Verjus dressing and edible flowers from the herb garden was fantastic. Talk about flavour! First of all, there were three huge chunks of moist flaky fish which carried an immense smoky hit. I often feel that shop bought smoked salmon can be overpowered by an almost fake smokiness but the hot smoked salmon at Taynuilt was packed with a rich smoky flavour that worked incredibly well with the oily fish. In contrast, the light Verjus dressing had the right amount of tartness to cut through the rich salmon. I'm not usually a fan of oatcakes and could easily have managed my starter with just salmon and sauce but the hand rolled oatcakes at Taynuilt were salty, crumbly and worked well with the starter.
After a short break, our main courses arrived. Nicola had ordered the slow cooked leg of Aberdeenshire Lamb with petit pois a la Francaise and home smoked pancetta. You couldn't accuse Chef John of scrimping on portion sizes, this was a colossal plate of food. The well seasoned lamb, cooked to perfection was served on top of a mountain of delicious petit pois a la Francaise. The pancetta had the same huge smokiness that my earlier salmon and cut through the sweetness from the peas and shallots. This was a fantastic dish to showcase the best of Scottish lamb and I have to admit to being a little jealous that it wasn't my dinner.
My jealousy didn't last long because once my Saddle of Perthshire Roe Deer with smoked carrot purée, spring greens, heritage carrots and game jus arrived, I was more than happy with my own choice. Again, this was a huge portion of food but I was determined to do my best to finish it. The Roe Deer is about a quarter of the size of the Red Deer and has a more delicate flavour than the venison that I've had in the past. My saddle was cooked to perfection, seared on the outside and juicy pink on the inside. (It might have been cooked sous vide but I'm not sure) the accompanying greens, baby leeks, cabbage and heritage carrots were all cooked well but the star of the show and the thing that pulled this dish together was the smoked carrot purée. Sweet Roe Deer, irony greens, rich game jus and smoky carrot purée - what a great combination! This was a truly accomplished dish and one of the best plates of food that I've had the pleasure of eating.
After such a feast you would think that we wouldn't have room for pudding but when Nicola spotted soufflé on the menu, she figured that she would manage ok. The Taynuilt Hotel's Strawberry Soufflé with crème Anglais and strawberry ice cream was a great way to wrap up a gone meal. The soufflé was light and fluffy, perfectly cooked with a good two inch rise above the ramekin. The strawberry ice cream was more like a sorbet, rich with fruity flavour but also slightly sharp, making it the perfect foil for the sweet soufflé and silky smooth crème Anglais.
If Nicola's dessert was the perfect light way to end a meal, my own pudding was the complete opposite. In all fairness, I didn't need dessert but David talked me into the White Chocolate & Vanilla Crème Brûlée with chocolate soil, chocolate rocks, popping candy, honeycomb, caramel and passion fruit & clotted cream, and I'm glad that he did. If you don't have a sweet tooth, this dessert isn't for you. The crème brûlée was super sweet from the white chocolate, sweeter still thanks to the burnt sugar. The chocolate soil, popping candy, honeycomb etc, was a nice addition, adding varying textures to the smoothly cream brûlée. I'm thankful for the sharp passion fruit & clotted cream ice cream which was a much needed break to the sweetness of the brûlée and helped give an element of balance to my pudding.
Our dinner had been spread out over a three hour period and after a long day, it was almost time for bed....but not before we had a nightcap through in the bar. With so many gins to choose from, Nicola was a little overwhelmed but settled on one final G&T with one of her favourite gins, Gin Mare, whilst I relaxed with a glass of Dark Matter rum before heading to bed.
After a pretty decent sleep we woke early, feeling refreshed and ready for a day of sightseeing in Oban but before we checked out we made our way back downstairs for a hearty home cooked breakfast. We hadn't had the chance to thank John for our dinner the night before but did manage to catch up with him for a brief chat whilst he worked the breakfast service. John explained that he and his team were determined that The Taynuilt Hotel becomes a destination for good food and drink, rather than just a stopping point on the way to Ben Nevis and based upon our own experience, I think it's safe to say that they are doing a great job.
As I mentioned earlier, The Taynuilt Hotel is roughly two hours drive from Glasgow although you can get a direct route train to Taynuilt from Glasgow Queen Street Station too. You can find information on train services to Taynuilt on the Scotrail website. With Oban only 12 miles away and ferry links to Mull, Barra and Tiree, as well as Fort William within an hours drive from the hotel, there's plenty to see and do should you decide to take the trip north. Check out the Visit Scotland website for more information on sightseeing activities in the area.
We were invited to stay at The Taynuilt Hotel and Restaurant in return for a review of our experiences. Regardless of the fact that our accommodation, food and drink were complimentary the review above is an honest account of our stay and definitely somewhere that I would have no hesitate in recommending to anyone who enjoys good food and drink.
If you're keen to experience the food, drink and service at The Taynuilt for yourself, check out the website for more information and special offers.
Finally, we would like to thank John and his staff for their hospitality and wish them all the best for the future.

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