Kinloch House Hotel
From one extreme to another (Part 1).
As soon as the fork touches my mouth I'm smitten. It is quite simply the very best vanilla panna cotta to have ever been made. Ever. My Shetland crab starter was exquisite. The roast breast and confit leg of mallard main course worthy of an award - with presentation that verified the permeable line between artists and chefs. But this panna cotta is most definitely the stuff of my dreams.
When living at home some years ago, I used to ?compliment' my mother's finest cooking efforts by licking the plate clean - almost to the point where I eroded the glaze. Damned if I was letting the terrier jump into the dishwasher and have it.
Here, sitting in the dining room of one of Scotland's most supreme sporting hotels, I have the urge to 'compliment' owner Graeme Allen and his team in a similar fashion. I weigh up my predicament. Yes, I am unlikely to eat another panna cotta this good again - it honestly tastes like angels dancing on my tongue - but Kinloch House is five-star in every sense of the word, and it just doesn't seem the time or place for such ingenuous antics.
Etiquette prevails, unfortunately, and I tear myself away from the table to sit down for a peaty dram in front of a crackling inglenook fireplace.
The reason for my visit to Perthshire is to fuel a curiosity of 4x4s, by tackling the only Land Rover Experience setup in all of Scotland. Based at Butterstone, only five miles from Kinloch House, the recent alliance between the hotel and driving centre makes for an exciting package. Two nights of out-and-out luxury with a day's off-roading sandwiched in-between. Yes please.
Entering the ivy-clad building, I took some 15 minutes to cover the 15 metres to the reception desk. I had taxidermy - capers, pine martens and a black bear - and various skull mounts from Scotland and Africa to admire. Later, I set about temporarily halting the hotel's flawless service as the friendly team gathered around one set of antlers in the oak-panelled hall that had me scratching my head as to a feasible host. We eventually settled on a Siberian roe.
The Brian Rawlings, Stanley Todds and Archibald Thorburns adorning the walls meant it was at least another half-hour before I made it to my room. Had I known the room in question, Marlee, was as elegant as it was, I would have driven my car straight through the doors and up the stairs to save time. The mix of traditional character and comfort has clearly been given a huge amount of meticulous thought, as is patently apparent in all of the 15 bedrooms and ground floor communal spaces.
The Allen family have owned Kinloch House for 12 years, and with 25 years at Airds Hotel prior to the move, first-class hotel management is a trait they have well and truly mastered. Both are part of Relais & Chateaux, a global fellowship of individually owned and operated luxury hotels and restaurants.
When it comes to sporting hotels, Scotland is the envy of the world. If ever you need reassuring of this fact, look no further than Kinloch House.
Of the guests staying, one party had enjoyed a day's partridge shooting (the hotel has a number of the country's finest shoots on its doorstep), two couples had been trying their luck on the mighty Tay, which is only a mile away, while others were merely here to enjoy a break within Perthshire's stunning landscape. Whether sporting or not, you need no reason to make a reservation.
I fall asleep beyond content.