THE only reason to mourn a visit to Balquhidder is if you go and stand at the side of Rob Roy’s grave.
This blink-and-you’ll-miss-it village houses culinary class acts that serve up some of the best dining experiences in Scotland.
The Monachyle Mhor has long been established a top class restaurant, part of a fabulous boutique hotel and the Mhor Farm hosts a festival of fresh produce, music and drink every summer.
Anyone fancy Foodstock or Pea in the Park next year?
There’s Mhor Fish and Mhor Bread along the road in Callander, as well as sister restaurants Delizique and Cafezique in Glasgow. On the basis of our visit? Give us Mhor, Mhor, Mhor.
The snow was beginning to sit heavily on the shoulders of the Balquhidder Braes when we turned off the A84 recently for an eagerly anticipated lunch.
It might tag itself a motel but my mucker Stuart promised this was as far removed from Crossroads as Benny’s tammy from a 10-gallon Stetson.
Ladies, you can also set aside those Norman Bates nightmares – the first sight that greeted us was two yummy mummys, their Hunter wellies kicked off by the door, enjoying a leisurely coffee as they logged on to their laptops.
It’s safe to say they weren’t checking out the price of new shower curtains.
It was a scene of glorious, cosy decadence against the deepening winter freeze outside – the couple of comfy sofas gave way to the restaurant itself, lit and fragranced by a wood-burning stove.
The look is stylishly shabby, the centrepiece a long, communal workbench salvaged from a garage in Comrie and surrounded by a colourful mix of second-hand tables and chairs. On the walls, three tartan ducks were trying to make good their escape towards the window, past a row of stag antlers but caught in the spotlight of the antique chandeliers.
It was 50-50 if the next person through the door would be a member of the service team or Anita Manning with £300 and two contestants filming an episode of Bargain Hunt.
Thankfully, the smile that appeared belonged to Kim, who handed over a simple lunch menu that reflected Mhor’s ethos – wholesome Scottish produce, keen to pack as much flavour as the integrity of its ingredients allow, which was plenty.
There was a particular emphasis on fish and beef – seafood, steaks and burgers dominated the menu but didn’t overpower it. A couple of game pie options would have added to the hearty food vibe, especially as the snow danced against the feature window looking down the glen towards Loch Voil.
However, there was enough in the soup and bread options – especially the rarebit
sandwiches – to grab our interest, supplemented by a couple of daily specials, which always reflect well on a kitchen’s commitment.
Stuart went for a starter of seafood chowder and spent the next 20 minutes diving for so much fish he was in danger of breaching EU quotas. His spoon pulled up beefy chunks of salmon, prawn and mussels time and again from such a thick and creamy broth he barely needed the home-made sourdough toast at the side of his plate.
His verdict? “Outstanding. Packed with fish and flavour and almost a meal in itself.”
It would have to have gone some to beat my curried parsnip soup, which came with a sprinkling of pine nuts and a generous drizzle of chilli oil and a serving of soft, white bread.
It was wonderful, the smooth texture of the parsnip giving way to the heat from the chilli and curry, which in itself was augmented by the crunch of the toasted pine nuts.
The starters set a standard that were maintained through the main courses and my slice of Argyll trout on a bed of chorizo risotto, tomatoes, baby peppers, rocket and black olive dressing was as colourful as its taste was vibrant.
The fish was exceptional as its crispy skin gave way to soft, fleshy pink flakes, with the risotto and vegetables forming a hearty stew that warmed against the chills outside.
Stuart, mindful of his starter, went lighter with his rarebit of mature Scottish cheddar, mustard and leek on two thick slices of toasted sourdough.
Plain and simple, but bursting with flavour, his failure to finish was no reflection on the quality of the dish as he confessed the chowder – which was also on offer as a main course – had been so filling.
We reluctantly passed on an eye-catching array of home baking for dessert – the raspberry meringues looked particularly mouthwatering – as we settled for coffee and tea in front of the gently burning stove.
A mile down the road, old Rob Roy still sleeps easy. As the flames danced and winter piled up outside, we almost joined him for 40 winks in a doze of culinary contentment.
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