Natalie Walker and her family enjoy five-star Michelin dining in picturesque surroundings at this Scottish Baronial style mansion
Tensions were high before we arrived at picturesque and peaceful Isle of Eriska Hotel.
We were told our two-and-a-half year-old was not permitted to dine with us at the Michelin restaurant we were excited to try out. Rules are rules, so we decided we would all eat early – but feared a soulless and empty dining room experience.
We crossed the rickety bridge which separates the 300-acre private island from the Scottish mainland in plenty of time to make our 5pm dinner date.
Driving up to the hotel you feel like a specially-invited guest at this well-hidden, five star Scottish Baronial style mansion.
After our scenic drive north west from Edinburgh, we were keen to explore a wee bit of the beautiful 300-acre island.
We had a quick bite to eat at the more informal, but still classy, Deck Restaurant. It has incredible views of Loch Creran and a nine hole golf course (which sadly had three water logged holes due unseasonably wet weather). The minute Aberdeen Angus steak and caramelised onion sandwich and battered fish finger sandwich we wolfed down were tasty and fresh.
Despite the drizzle – and wearing wellies the hotel has lined up for guests at its plush entrance – we headed out to explore the island. The pebbled beaches were fun to walk over and in the distance we saw seals on a tiny island.
We weaved our way back through the flowered areas and the hotel’s kitchen garden with an array of fruit, veggies and herbs. We wondered which of the delights we would see later on our plates.
And talk about lucky – when we arrived at the hotel, the staff told us our wee one was already such a hit with staff and guests she would be welcome to dine in the restaurant later – fully booked with guests from around the world all gathered for a top dining experience. No pressure then!
This gave us some time to use the swimming pool, steam room, sauna and jacuzzi – all modern and spotlessly clean – then to relax in our palatial ground floor room, Skye. Overlooking the front lawn and croquet lawn we felt like royalty as we enjoyed a couple of pre-dinner drinks while the wee one put her dollies in and out of the various seats and sofas. We had pre-drinks in the hotel bar, which is homely and well stocked. We were served nibbles of home made blue cheese dip and breadstick to munch while we perused the menu. Wow.
Diners can indulge their tastebuds with a five or seven course Taste of Eriska menu or a three course menu (with three options for each). We were told the latter had larger portions so my partner suggested we try that. We were not disappointed.
The Isle of Mull scallop served with sticky pig cheek and leek was sweet and lovely, and my turnip salad – basically the veggie three ways: salt baked, pickled and carpaccio – was utterly wonderful. Tasty, tangy and pretty, I was stunned the humble neep could taste so different depending how it was served.
Next up, we devoured loin of Highland venison with girolles and onion and a pan roast turbot which was cooked to perfection but a tad too salty for me with its beurre blanc and pancetta pieces.
I am not a lover of desserts, cheese is my thing. But I was blown away by my deconstructed peach and rosemary crumble with vanilla and almond crumb. I may have only had about six small spoonfuls in total – but each was a total joy.
The chocolate delice my partner honoured, served with brambles from the garden, caramel sauce and pistachio crumb lasted just three mouthfuls and was just as well appreciated. The portions are small and beautifully presented and, surprisingly, really rather filling. And to top it off, our daughter behaved impeccably. With the right balance of smiles, please and thank yous and funny chat she wowed her crowd – our fellow diners and waiters. Phew.
The next evening’s offerings were equally as tasty, fresh and, with some taste combos, mind boggling and intoxicating. My summer tomato salad with elderflower jelly and sheep’s cheese was so fresh I could smell the outdoors on my plate. My next course of wild sea trout with watercress, Ersika potato (which was just like a crisp, but a lovely one) and crushed smoked eel salad was lovely. My partner’s Rib of Veal came as rare as he likes and he enjoyed a new taste sensation with alliums (aka ornamental onions) from the garden just yards from our table.
Best course of all for me was my coffee parfait and mild ice cream. It was like eating a Flat White, a sweet, soft, deliciously decadent and addictive one at that.
We arrived just weeks after South African Conor Toomey took up the role of Head Chef.
Having previously worked as Michael Wignalls’ Sous Chef at the Latymer Restaurant – which held two Michelin Stars – and as Head Chef at Storrs Hall in Windermere and Amberley Castle in Sussex, where he achieved 3 AA Rosettes, he obviously knows his stuff. Conor said foraging and using the kitchen gardens and greenhouses to create seasonal dishes will “play a big part of what we do”. It showed.
We will have to go some way to eat the quality and freshness of food we enjoyed at Eriska.
The staff were great too, never in your face but always there if you needed them – perfect.
Rooms cost from £387 per night. Dinner is £60 for a three-course dinner £75 for a five-course and £90 for a deluxe seven-course. Wine pairing is £42. It is available to non residents. There are seasonal package deals avaialble throughtout the year. Contact: www.eriska-hotel.co.uk or 01631 720371.