There can be few more spectacular dining settings than here at the Lake of Menteith Hotel, perched, as it is, on the shores of its namesake. The hotel itself is styled in the design of a New England waterfront inn and sits perfectly in this landscape.
Located in central Scotland some 14 miles from Stirling, and even from Glasgow or Edinburgh, can be reached within an hours drive.
The lake is Scotland’s only natural one. It contains Inchmahome Priory, a now abandoned Augustinian priory formed by Walter Comyn, Earl of Menteith in 1238. The Island of Inchmahome is where Mary Queen of Scots spent three weeks hidden following Somerset’s defeat of the Scots army at Pinky Cleugh. The Priory can be visited by boat from Port of Menteith during the months of March to September.
If you’re lucky you just might see an osprey feeding on the trout in this stocked fishery. Herons patrol the shallows and reed beds and in the evening, as darkness falls, you could be in for a treat if the otters that inhabit this area make an appearance.
The Port of Menteith area is located within the Trossachs National Park, formed 17 years ago, and now a much-used area for many film and TV companies including Game of Thrones, Outlander and many more.
In 2017 the hotel won the award for Romantic Hotel of the Year at the Scottish Hotel Awards. The hotel itself dates from 1854 and was the original manse for the Port of Menteith.
There’s plenty of car parking available on site and disabled access from the car park to the dining room is all on one level. The dining room is partly formed by a conservatory and is of an open-plan design with a mix of tables, some with window locations which provide for some remarkable view across the lake. Even although at the time of my visit it was raining and the cloud cover was low with mist hugging the lake, there was a very mystical feel to the place.
The hotel design is very much a New England Colonial style with whitewashed wood panelling on the walls and roof, along with white cotton sail material pinned to the roof, and on walking in immediately reminded me of my visit to Maine many years ago. The main dining area is located in a conservatory, but despite the cold weather was comfortably warm inside.
There is also a smaller dining area in the original part of the hotel which has a wood burning stove. This gives a lovely cosy feel to this section of the hotel.
We were there for lunch and on arrival were met by the Maitre d’ who handed us over to our waitress who escorted us to our table. We were shown to the previously requested window table without delay.
Two menus were presented, the daily specials and the standard lunch menu. We were then provided with time to view these and told we could simply mix and match dishes from either menu. A drinks order was taken while we studied what the kitchen had on offer.
Something far too many reviews neglect to touch on unless it’s particularly bad is the staff. Our two waitresses, both of Eastern European descent were extremely friendly, helpful and knowledgeable and very happy to engage with the customers. It all makes for a much more enjoyable experience overall.
One of our party ordered the red lentil soup starter which was served with wholemeal artisan bread and butter. It was a good size portion and not too spicy with just enough of a kick from the red pepper blended throughout. It had the right consistency for a lentil soup, neither too thin or so thick you could stand a spoon up in it. In fact, the portion size was so large my dining companion was unable to finish it.
I had opted for Morangie Brie, deep-fried and served with a cranberry jam which was also listed on the menu as a vegetarian option. Although not mentioned on the menu specifically, it also came with a rather nicely dressed side salad. Two large triangles of award-winning cheese, handmade by Scottish producer, Ruraidh Stone of Highland Fine Cheeses in Tain. The cheese had melted inside the crumbed coating and simply poured out when cut as it should have done. It was deliciously smooth and creamy with slight earthy tones and is all that a good brie should be. Married to the cranberry jam gave a sweet and savoury mouthful. However, I’m not convinced that the cranberry jam was anything other than straight out of a jar!
One of the other diners opted for the lake-style Cullen Skink. For those unsure what this is, its American equivalent would be a chowder. This is a very traditional Scottish soup. Traditionally it consists of leek, potato, and smoked haddock cooked in a butter, cream and milk stock. The difference between this version and the traditional version is that it used trout from the Lake of Menteith, salmon and smoked haddock. Whilst the flavour was spot on, there was a preponderance of potato and leek and a very noticeable lack of fish elements. Served with two chunks of that home-made wholemeal bread, the bowlful was an excellent portion. Sadly though, while the taste was great, the fish was noticeable by its absence and this rather let the whole dish down.
For the mains selection, we opted for the fish and chips and a Perthshire steak pie with chips and veg.
I sometimes think that opting to choose fish and chips at any location other than a seaport which lands fresh fish is something of an unusual choice. However, in my case, it was an excellent decision. My fish was as good as any I’ve eaten in many other highly regarded seafood restaurants across Scotland. The presentation was good on a nice clean white piece of tableware. (I detest lumps of wood, slate or other ridiculous methods of serving food). The fish was enrobed in a lovely golden brown batter which was delightfully light and crispy, almost tempura-like. There’s nothing worse than a soggy batter! The fillet of fish was a good portion size, held its shape well and flaked just as a nice fresh piece of haddock should. It’s worth pointing out that the hotel only uses sustainably sourced haddock for this dish. Served with a portion of garden peas, skinny fries and tartare sauce along with a lemon wedge. What a shame the hotel used frozen fries and a generic shop-bought tartare sauce rather than making a home-made version of both. To do so would have lifted this dish from good to excellent.
My other half opted to have the Perthshire steak pie with chips and vegetables. It was presented in its own dish with a puff pastry topping and all served on that clean white tableware, which contained separate bowls of chips and veg. The latter contained carrot batons, cauliflower florets and broccoli. Once the pastry top was removed from the pie the filling was revealed. Packed full of meat in a lovely thick gravy. The meat itself was a good quality highland beef, well cooked and was extremely tender with no gristle. Melt-in-the-mouth comes rapidly to mind. The gravy was sufficiently thick and provided a perfect coating for those chips. It had an unctuous meaty base note to it with a sweet aftertaste – delicious. The veg was cooked perfectly with just the slightest hint of a bite remaining. However, again, this dish was let down by the use of frozen chips. I never understand why a kitchen who could provide food of the quality it did on my visit, would then resort to a pre-packed frozen product.
And to finish, we, well actually just me, (that tells you about the portion sizes that we were served) chose the chocolate fondant with Amareno cherries and a vanilla mascarpone cream. It was a showstopper of a dish. I broke it open and the soft liquid centre oozed out. You’ll never go wrong as a chef adding cherries to anything containing chocolate and this dessert was no exception. The addition of the vanilla mascarpone helped offset the richness of the fondant and the sweetness of the cherries. All in all, it was an excellent finish to a nice lunch.
The whole bill, including drinks, teas and coffees was a very reasonable £112 for four people.
The hotel offers both gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian options, although I would suggest phoning in advance if you have specific dietary requirements.
If you want a window table you’d better pre-book rather than just simply turning up on spec. For a small restaurant in the middle of nowhere, it was remarkably busy at the time of our visit and the staff had dealt with around 50 covers between 1 and 3pm.
For further information on the hotel, visit: Lake of Menteith Hotel website here