The Lovat Hotel Loch Ness has been creating a buzz in the Highlands with a tasting menu at its Station Road restaurant. Jacqueline Wake Young visited Fort Augustus with her family to see what all the fuss was about.
I have a confession to make – I’m not a foodie.
I wouldn’t know a fat scallop if it hit me over the head with a matsutake mushroom.
And so it was with some trepidation that I sat down to what would turn out to be the most astonishing meal of my life.
I’m talking tomatoes that weren’t tomatoes but butter, twigs that weren’t twigs but pate, and tiny flowers that you could munch on, not merely admire.
At one point there was an onion, a rotund, ordinary-looking onion, that when cut into turned out to be housing slivers of tender beef.
It wasn’t so much a meal as a work of magic.
But then, The Lovat is a magical place, nestled between snow-capped mountains and overlooking Loch Ness, it was constructed as a station hotel in 1869.
Standing on the steps at twilight and looking across the gated lawn down to the loch, it’s hard to think of a more romantic spot.
Our “garden room” was like a mini apartment in the grounds, with bed, sofa bed and sitting area as well as treats, water bowl and cosy blanket for the dog.
She was even allowed to accompany us to dinner as dogs are allowed in the areas of the hotel where there is wooden flooring.
The other dining room, lounge and lobby are carpeted which means that anyone who isn’t a dog lover – if there is such a person – doesn’t have to meet one.
We started with drinks and mine included foraged brambles and nasturtiums from the extensive kitchen garden.
It became clear that The Lovat has taken the term “fresh local produce” to a new level with many food and drink ingredients sourced within 100 yards of where we were sitting.
The main event was the tasting menu that is securing The Lovat’s place as a dining destination in its own right, in a similar way to The Three Chimneys in Skye or the Peat Inn at Cupar.
Head chef Sean Kelly, who is co-owner with his wife Caroline Gregory, has been creating culinary masterpieces to “tell stories through food” as “each dish has its own unique story”.
Betty’s Bread, for example, is made using a recipe given to Caroline from her grandmother, while the Treacle Bannock uses Isle of Skye Sea Salt and Beremeal flour made from barley grown and milled in Orkney for 300 years.
Both are utterly divine and worth the 292-mile round trip from our house alone.
I marvelled at a “pie tea”, a sort of tiny crispy basket housing Loch Etive sea trout, apple, dill and an edible flower.
I asked our server Josh how long it takes to create the works of art we were eating and he said a team of chefs start work at 8am on the dishes for that evening.
The Lovat Loch Ness does have a secret ingredient – its staff.
I’ve never met a more engaged and invested hospitality team who enrich the guest experience with their friendliness and professionalism.
Josh, Antonio, Lucy and Tiff understood the stories behind each dish and drink and imparted this knowledge in a cheerful and relaxed way.
Next we were treated to Pink Fir potato, ox tongue and cheese followed by one ‘main’ of Highland beef, celeriac and onion and another of Gigha halibut, Shetland mussels, crab and courgettes.
We put everything in the middle and shared, in awe at the complexity and beauty of it all.
Our guess was that we tasted 40 different flavours, from meat and seafood to herbs to spices.
But the best was yet to come – a dessert of heather honey, honey cake, brambles and ginger beer housed under a delicate dome which cracked pleasingly when tapped with a spoon.
It was like suddenly falling into a dream. I was transported to a summer’s evening in the garden, with bees hovering lightly above the flowers and the sun lighting up motes of pollen like so much glitter.
The only thing left to do was walk the spaniel around the grounds in the crisp night air under a canopy of stars and then head for bed and dream some more.
The next morning we enjoyed a delicious breakfast and then headed off to explore the sights of Fort Augustus.
We decided against walking up to the nearby falls as the ground seemed muddy and instead strolled around the canal.
A cruise on Loch Ness was a must-do and while dad and daughter took to the waves I walked the dog around the edge of the loch and the abbey.
I bought a satchel from That Cute Little Highland Shop, one of several attractive specialist shops, and at Iceberg Glass we watched a glass blower make a tiny Nessie, which now sits in our china cabinet – a reminder to return again soon.
Enjoy an overnight stay at The Lovat and sample the exquisite seasonal seven-course Mor tasting menu at the three-rosette restaurant Station Road. Room rates begin at £300 as a DBB package.
Hungry for more? Indulge in a two-night stay for a gastronomic experience like no other.
On the first night, enjoy the Beag three-course tasting menu and on the second, enjoy the seven-course Mor tasting menu at Station Road.
Room rates begin at £580 for two nights under a DBB package. Prices and availability are subject to change.
For full T&Cs, and more information or to book, contact the reservations team on firstname.lastname@example.org, visit www.thelovat.com or call 01456 459250.