The Gleneagles Hotel, Perth and Kinross, PH3 1NF
Tel: 01764 662231
GPS: 56.283211, -3.751468
Given the international renown enjoyed by The Gleneagles Hotel and its three championship golf courses it is tempting to imagine it has a long and illustrious history. I was therefore surprised to see, on weaving my way through the corridors en route to one of the hotel’s restaurants, that it is a much more recent creation.
The idea that gave birth to The Gleneagles Hotel popped into the head of railway magnate Donald Matheson, General Manager of the Caledonian Railway Company, one day in 1910. Entranced by the beauty of Strathearn (one of the original provinces of the Kingdom of Alba) he envisaged a palatial holiday residence, complete with a golf course or two (or three, or four) in order to keep his guests entertained. Construction began in 1913, but as work was halted during World War I the hotel was not opened to the public until 1924. By this time its golfing reputation was already firmly cemented in place; the associated King’s and Queen’s courses had been completed in 1919, and had hosted their first US-British competition in 1921.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Matheson’s vision was said to be palatial, and if judged purely on scale and extent then I think you could say his vision was made real, even if the rendering of the walls give this ‘palace’ a somewhat drab facade. The interior decor, however, is a complete delight, remaining true to its art deco origins, with fluted columns, decorative geometric designs and rich use of stained glass, gilt and mirrors.
While the hotel has naturally been expanded over the years, adding many new and modern facilities, the beating heart of The Gleneagles Hotel remains the grandiose central dining room, which is home to The Strathearn Restaurant. For many years the association between Gleneagles and fine dining was rooted upon the residency of the late Andrew Fairlie (1963 – 2019), a renowned and much admired chef. He made his name at One Devonshire Garden in Glasgow where he picked up his first Michelin star, before moving to Gleneagles in 2001, where he reclaimed that star within the year. His second star came in 2006 and he held onto it until he stepped down in 2018. Today his name lives on at Gleneagles with the Restaurant Andrew Fairlie, which operates alongside The Strathearn Restaurant. In charge of the restaurants today are head chef Stephen McLaughlin at Andrew Fairlie, which has retained its two Michelin stars in 2023, and executive chef Simon Attridge at The Strathearn.
The setting in The Strathearn plays on its art deco origins, diners being entertained by a pianist who whiles away his evening tinkling the ivories, and by the antics of the waiters who, with their stiff black jackets and crisp white gloves look as though they have been teleported in from Bouillon Chartier in Paris. Only even more formally attired, yet with a better sense of humour.
The menu at The Strathearn is old-school, featuring many classic combinations (duck with orange, Dover sole and brown butter, you get the idea), the kitchen fusing French methods with Scottish ingredients. This is a cliché for which I humbly apologise, but there really is no other way to succinctly describe the style. Starters include Scottish lobster, seafood towers, oysters or onion tart tatin (I simply had to mention this, given the recent not tarte tatin theme which ran through my recent repasts at the Hotel du Vin in St Andrews and The Pierhouse in Port Appin), or you could opt for a snifter of caviar, with Oscietra, Golden Oscietra or Beluga options. The main courses showcase venison en croute, beef Wellington and the aforementioned Dover sole, all served from the trolley, alongside other classically styled dishes from the kitchen.
I decided to kick things off with scallops, served with cauliflower, nuts, seeds and port, principally because I was intrigued to see how scallops and port might work together. Half-expecting a reduction of white port, which I had decided might work quite well, I was slightly taken aback to see a fine drizzle of a red port reduction around some generously proportioned and heavily seared scallops. I was even more surprised to find that as a frisson of flavour on the plate, adding a rich and savoury edge to the dish, this concentrated and glazed reduction worked very well indeed. The next time I am served seafood alongside a robust young vintage in Bordeaux (a combination the Bordelais seem addicted to) I will insist on a fine drizzle of reduced port to marry the two together.
The scallops, by the way, despite looking as if the chef might have taken their eye off the pan, were perfectly cooked, and yielded to the knife with a buttery ease. In short, this was a fine, precisely executed starter.
For my main course I eschewed the trolley options and plumped for duck, which arrived resting on a bed of spinach with a potato terrine. It was not possible to fault this very traditional combination, the sliced breast of duck perfectly cooked, the accompanying orange sauce, masquerading as the most golden egg yolk imaginable, gave lift and freshness to the dish. A little visual frisson came in the shape of crosnes, which I thought bore some resemblance to Studio Ghibli’s kodama (what can I say, I have a vivid imagination) but are in reality Chinese artichokes; these added a touch of Oriental intrigue but did not otherwise really contribute anything essential to the dish, and I note that more recent incarnations of the menu see them replaced with turnip. Well, a government minister did recently instruct residents of the post-Brexit United Kingdom that we should eat more turnips, so this seems like a fair way to contribute.
Leafing through the wine list I was open-minded as to my choice on this evening. I found myself skimming the Bordeaux section, skipping quickly passed half a dozen lesser vintages of Petrus on offer (memory fails me as to the exact vintages, but think 1992, 1997, 2002 and the like, and you are on the right track), past the Burgundy section which served to remind me that this region is no less extortionately priced than Bordeaux these days, to eventually land (surprise, surprise) on the Loire Valley. I was pleasantly surprised to find some old friends here, including Philippe Alliet, Philippe Vatan, Paul-Henry Pellé and Eric Nicolas, among others, but for me the obvious choice in terms of quality and price was the 2017 Montlouis-sur-Loire Remus from Jacky Blot at Domaine de la Taille aux Loups.
This caught the sommelier somewhat off-guard; “this is not a wine guests usually choose from the list”, he whispered as he pulled the cork, “it’s one I usually have to sell”. The clientele here presumably eschew Jacky’s substantial yet beautifully acid-fresh and tense 2017 Remus, choosing instead to wash down their caviar and Dover sole with 1992 Petrus, at a mere 62-times the price.
I finished up with a delightful apple tart (not sold as tarte tatin – hurrah! – full marks) served with a richly reduced caramel sauce, which brought the meal to a suitably sweet conclusion. Before long I found myself ambling from the restaurant, past the impressive display of Champagnes, past the many other dining rooms filled with tartan-clad and bejewelled diners paying homage to the great Scottish poet (not an essential year-round practice – I was dining here in the run up to Burns night), past the display cabinets filled with golfing memorabilia and detail on the hotel’s history, past the shops selling luxury watches, designer hats and scarves, exclusive bottlings of Scotch whisky with similarly exclusive price tags and any other frippery the hotel’s well-heeled residents might desire, to my room, where I lay my head for one very expensive night’s sleep.
Prices: I took a dinner, bed and breakfast deal which was priced at £605 for two guests, not including extras, which in the main means drinks. Non-residents can dine in the restaurant though, at a very reasonable price of £95 for three courses including dessert, which effectively means the room and breakfast is sold to those taking the deal at £415 per night. There are supplements aplenty, including the beef Wellington (£30 extra), the Dover sole (£45, market availability), accompanying vegetables (£8), the shellfish and seafood towers (£90 and £150 respectively) and the three caviar options (30g for £140, £180 or £325 respectively). The 2017 Remus was a very reasonable £80, possibly the best value on the list (even the entry-level 2015 Les Rosiers from Domaine de Bellivière was listed at £120). As for the various vintages of Petrus, if you need to ask the price, you can’t afford it. (7/4/23)