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Luxury hotel Isle of Eriska owes a lot to asparagus.
When its executive chef Graeme Cheevers was a schoolboy growing up near Glasgow the tender green spears caught his passing eye and started a lifelong passion in the kitchen.
‘I was on my way home from school and saw it in a shop. I didn’t know what it was so took it home and cooked it myself. My mum was a terrible cook,’ said Graham who came to the Isle of Eriska last summer from a head chef role at the Michelin-starred Martin Wishart kitchens of Loch Lomond’s five-star Cameron House.
Best of British ingredients from local suppliers, the nearby loch and sea coupled with the freshest of vegetables and herbs straight from the resort’s own gardens means Graeme and his team are well placed to put taste and beauty on guests’ plates.
Asparagus is on the Easter lunch menu this Sunday along with such other dishes as Veloute of Forest Mushrooms, saltbaked beetroots, Inverurie lamb, sea bass with gnocchi and caviar sauce, warm dark chocolate mousse and salted caramel and almond tart.
We arrived on a Saturday afternoon in time for loose leaf tea and shortbread before being shown to our room – a former billiard room in the big house.
In keeping with a house from 1884, all 16 rooms are different shapes and sizes. Ours, with its high timbered ceiling, grand fireplace and four-poster bed is one of the most recently refurbished in muted highland tones with character furniture.
A plate of indulgent hand-made chocolate and bowl of fruit greeted us as we kicked off our shoes and unwound, a swim at the resort’s spa would have to wait another day.
Peeling ourselves out of our fluffy-white robes for dinner was a wrench but the effort was well worth the gourmet experience. Drinks and oysters as part of a decorative canape offering came first in the cosy bar came first then a window table in the restaurant, too bad it was dark outside (We caught up with the daylight view across the immaculate lawns at breakfast)
Scallops, salmon, the most tender and succulent beef slowcooked for 48 hours, a cheeky mille-feuille and decadently-delightful chocolate delice, we were happy diners, compliments to the creative chef.
A night-cap in the lounge with the cutest of tiny chocolate eclairs and fudge petit-fours brought a perfect end to our evening, topped off by a deep, restful sleep.
Sun-streamed into the restaurant at breakfast the next day, heralding time to get out and explore the island.
Now managed by Inverlochy Castle Limited international, whose collection include two select hotels in the Caribbean, the grounds that are home to roaming deer, badgers, otters and birdlife are also dotted with accommodation for self-catering types who can choose from secluded hilltop reserves, a three-bedroom house named after a former butler Arnott or small cottages a stone’s throw from the spa and The Deck restaurant.
Isle of Eriska is about to take on an activities co-ordinator to help guests get even more out of their surroundings. As well as a gym at the spa, there is a sports hall, a five-a-side club and a squash court being built. New pontoons are in the pipe-line so more guests can arrive by boat, the resort has a busy year ahead.
It may spank of luxury but it is not exclusive to staying guests, it is open arms to day visitors and the community wanting to come and enjoy all that it offers from the natural world to afternoon treats, pampering at the Stables Spa and heated pool or taking a swing on its golf course.
We took a plunge in the spa’s heated pool, relaxed in the jacuzzi and let go in the steam room and sauna before having lunch at The Deck, a more informal setting than the hotel with impressive views over the loch and mountains. The chef’s on view and the table service was personal, my partner went for the battered Atlantic fish with handcut chips and Tartare sauce to die for. For me it could have been the deck burger with smoked relish sauce or the seared halloumi with roasted peppers but instead I plumped for the potato gnocchi – little dumplings of pure comfort – with wild mushrooms and tarragon glaze.
Now word is out, the invite is to come and see for yourself.