East Haugh hotel
Located in the heart of Perthshire, East Haugh hotel has a lot to offer both the fieldsports enthusiast and the food lover, as Marcus Janssen discovered.
East Haugh hotel in Perthshire is the sort of place where you feel relaxed and comfortable from the minute you arrive - a quality that a lot of luxury hotels fail to achieve. Enhanced by the comforting familiarity of walls adorned with mounted salmon and sporting art, the smell of woodsmoke and crackle of open fires and the background chime of a grandfather clock, the character and atmosphere of the place is exactly as a sporting hotel should be.
I had heard of East Haugh before: my parents, who ran Minmore House Hotel in Glenlivet for ten years, considered it to be one of their main rivals at the annual Scottish Hotel Awards. Indeed, in 2005, when East Haugh won the Best Scottish Country Sports Hotel for the first time (they won it again in 2009), Minmore was the recipient of that year's Hospitality Award. But, despite travelling up and down the A9 on a regular basis whilst living in Glenlivet, I had failed to spot the turreted stone house just south of Pitlochry, clearly visible from the motorway.
East Haugh is ideally located within a stone's throw of some of Perthshire's finest sporting estates, and with well-established estate partners, there is indeed a wide range of sporting packages available to guests. These include walked-up and driven pheasant, partridge and grouse, fallow, roe and red deer stalking and salmon fishing on the River Tay. Indeed, visiting in August, my stay included a day's fishing on Dalmarnock, the hotel's own beat, no more than ten minutes away.
One of the longest beats on the entire river, there is a great range of named runs, pools, riffles and glides that offer both the spin and fly fisherman ample opportunity to ply their craft. I opted to fish the fly and, despite some very fishy looking runs and pools that filled me with confidence, I failed to connect to a fish. It wasn't just Dalmarnock that was quiet - it turned out to be an off day on the entire river system. My cousin Willie however, who had never caught a salmon before, did manage to winkle out a cracking 16lb cock fish on a Kynoch Killer.
Having worked up a good appetite, I returned to the hotel in time for dinner. Mrs J, who had checked in earlier in the day, reliably informed me that the afternoon tea was certainly worth forgoing a few hours on the river for. One thing's for certain, I am glad I passed up the opportunity to spend the evening sea trout fishing because skipping dinner would surely have been a crime.
First there was the flawlessly silky-smooth chicken liver parfait served with homemade red onion marmalade, chilli jam and warm melba toast. Sally opted for the wild mushroom, truffle and chorizo risotto, which made her very happy. The locally sourced haunch of venison with shallot pur?e, summer greens and a port reduction that I had for my main course had the same affect on me, and then to finish, Sally's wild berry parfait was the perfect end to a memorably good meal.
Since taking over the 13-bedroom hotel in 1989, chef and co-owner Neil McGown, along with his wife Leslie and daughter Sophie, have established a reputation for excellent cuisine, attention to detail and a personal touch that is missing from so many larger, less intimate establishments. It's the sort of place that you leave feeling like you've made new friends.
Indeed, East Haugh is exactly what a sporting hotel or lodge should be - traditional, slightly old-fashioned even, but with a warm welcome.