Kincraig Castle Hotel, Tomich, Invergordon, Ross-shire

There’s a fine balance to strike within the country house hotel market; that between high-end luxury and a skilled service tempered with a relaxed ambience and casual professionalism.

Kincraig Castle Hotel sits firmly in the middle, hitting that balance with balanced measures of competent hospitality which has earned them their 4 star rating; countered with a palpable warmth – immeasurable in stars but notable and well worthy of mention.

Warm and welcoming; the first impression of the staff is that they are a team, working very much together in making each guest experience as enjoyable as possible; all friendly, all genuinely happy in the role they have been given at Kincraig.

That very relaxed charm speaks volumes for the management of the team and that comes from owners Ray and Amy Grant.

It had been a long day; many hours in the car, when we arrived at Kincraig Castle Hotel, just north of Inverness. The storybook winding driveway, however, along with the ease of check-in and warmest of welcomes, successfully dispelled the day’s stresses. I felt ‘at home’.

With only 15 bedrooms Kincraig’s team creates luxuriously homely to perfection; the wood paneled lounge room has a central log burning fire with comfortable leather armchairs and sofas. Plentiful reading material, wool throws for the colder nights, chessboards and a thoughtfully placed bar, just off to the side, for easy delivery of that warming whisky (of which there are numerous). This truly is cosy personified and a room I found it difficult to leave, even with the promise of an evening of award-winning dining.

A regional winner at the 2016 Food Awards (and 2017 finalists), a Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence for dining and AA award winners, among the collection of merits, the restaurant not only offers dining for guests but also for non-residents as a destination venue; and a very well patronized one, at that.

Chef, Stuart Thomson has an illustrious history within the industry, with time served at The Balmoral, Edinburgh, Harvey Nichols and Malmaison Aberdeen, it is no wonder that Kincraig Castle Hotel’s restaurant is well established on the ‘Foodie’s Map’ within Scotland.

Consistent with the rest of the hotel, the restaurant is formal yet relaxed; the waiting staff confident in conversing on all levels and chatting enthusiastically about the food; very obviously coming from a tried and tested knowledge of the product and not merely related information.

I took this as another good sign; as if I needed one, that the food we were about to receive, would fall nothing short of exceptional.

Our five course dining experience began with a well-advised wine selection and starter snacks incorporating homemade breads, cheese straws and probably some of the most delicious marinated olives I have tried…..ever.

The courses which followed, were no less than a lavish culinary experience, replete with surprising combinations and exquisite produce, presented to be both beautiful and impactful of taste, showcasing the most obvious talents of Kincraig’s highly acclaimed chef.

A simple pea risotto displayed the freshest tastes and chef’s own haggis, with smoked mash and pickled neep; a unique take on a traditional favourite. The roast herb polenta capitalized on the additional tastes of walnut and a delicious blue cheese with chef’s rocket pesto; again, simple yet gorgeous.

Very in-season, the grouse, served with garden bramble, golden wonder and savoy cabbage, tasted as perfect as it sounds, reflecting the extensive grounds and gardens at Kincraig within a very personal menu. A slight departure in the baked cod with coconut granola and madras was brought back home with local chard and offered a striking and inspired combination.

With time to further enjoy matched wine, a cheese course was served with oatcakes, chutney, walnuts and a recommended fruitcake – yet another simply yet hugely memorable course.

The evening continued to give and was completed with baked yoghurt served with fresh strawberries and shortbread – homemade of course and an indescribably good lemon curd with meringue, lemon sorbet and fennel.

Meticulous in taste, presentation, experience and service our evening meal was an event and one which shall be treasured in the memory banks for a long time to come.

Passing again through the lounge room, the temptation to sit and enjoy one last whisky in front of the roaring fire was countered by the knowledge that I would not move from that spot for a long time, and so to bed.

Sleep can often be a challenge in ‘strange’ beds however not so at Kincraig, where a hugely comfortable bed within a spacious, quiet room with wonderful view, provided the perfect mix for a hugely restorative good night’s sleep.

Still feeling hugely indulged after dinner, breakfast perhaps could have proved a challenge, however not so with the tempting and considered choice on another fabulous menu.

My choice of Eggs Florentine proved to be the correct one (although arguably there were many) and the most singularly divine serving of eggs I can safely say I have enjoyed….ever.

The obvious passion for food, both simple and complicated in preparation, is hugely evident at Kincraig. The chef pours the same enthusiasm into the cooking of an egg as he does a grouse; the same attention to detail and respect afforded to each.

Ray and Amy Grant have led their dream at Kincraig, by example; hands on owners and a very apparent presence in their hotel; their staff follow the lead they set as part of that team; the end result being a competent and professional service and the ultimate in a luxurious home from home.

With thanks to 24Keys for requesting a Must Visit Scotland Review…