I recently discovered that the magical town of Dunkeld is rather sleepy.
Nightlife doesn’t really exist here, and if you want a drink later in the evening, I’ve found being a resident at a local hotel really helps.
While recently staying at the Atholl Arms Hotel, I found myself one of the lucky few who was able to get a drink after 10pm.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some weird places that stay open later, but they are rare.
While staying at the hotel, I decided to sample the food, making a reservation for both evenings.
The first evening taught me a lot about the place. For starters, there are two dining areas, one being the trendy RiverView Restaurant and the other, more casual, dog-friendly Z’s Bar and Bistro. There is also the possibility of dining outside during the day on the terrace.
My boyfriend and I booked into the RiverView Restaurant both nights to enjoy the view from the Tay’s window. The menus for both spaces are the same, so no one misses the pub-inspired dishes or the more refined ones either.
The second thing I realized was that portion sizes really should come with a warning. Every dish I had was very, very generous. The chef obviously likes to make sure the customers are well fed.
And the third? The team can’t do more for you.
The first night we were craving something heavy as we were quite hungry so the pub food was the most appealing. I was won over by my starter of chilli cheese nachos (£11.50) which came with wasabi creme fraiche and guacamole, and Calum just managed to finish his duo of salmon (£11.50) made up hot and cold smoked fish, oatcakes, parmesan and arugula.
It was a struggle to the finish line from there. My main course of Thai red curry with prawns (£20.50) was utterly delicious, but again a huge portion. And the creamy mac and cheese with bacon (£17.50) looked monstrous next to mine.
The following night however was a slightly different story as we knew what we were walking into.
Hotel Athol Arms
The RiverView Restaurant is stylish and decorated in subtle pink and gray hues. Seating is mostly finished with velvet and along with the few individual tables scattered around the room, the rest of the seating is made up of half booths that hug the walls.
We were seated within sight of the Tay and it was a glorious night with the sun dazzling.
David the head chef had introduced himself and suggested we try the chicken skewers, but we were more intrigued by the duck and steak main courses.
I found myself humming along to the background acoustic music as some of my favorite pop songs played, observing how busy it was at 7:45pm with every table occupied.
We each ordered a Diet Coke and revisited the menu, just to confirm our choices. Our server was back in a jiffy and placed our drinks on the marble table.
I ordered the Shetland mussel marinière with white wine, garlic and cream (£11.50) and duck breast (£22.95) while Calum opted for the haggis bon bons (£9.95) and the ribeye (£29.95) cooked rare with pepper sauce.
The first thing indicating the food was on its way was a large red pot. “It’s for your mussels,” said the waiter.
Shortly after, a large bowl and thin plate adorned the table, the bowl with mussels standing in it and the plate with handmade fried balls.
I should have known there would have been over 40 mussels considering the size of the nachos the night before, but I managed them all. The sauce pooled at the bottom so the ones closer to the end definitely had a lot more flavor.
I used half a slice of bread to dip and soak up all the sauce which was amazing. There was lots of garlic with small pieces of chopped white onion. Each mussel had opened too, which told me they were fresh and well cooked.
Across the table, Calum was silent. The lightly smoky whiskey creme fraiche served with the peppery haggis was delicious, and the addition of vegetable crisps on the salad leaves was appreciated. Not something you usually find on a dish like this.
The good good ones were rustic and not even, a little rough around the edges you might say. But they were well fried, crispy on the outside and the soft meat inside was excellent with the pepper spice that really stood out.
The main courses were equally enjoyable, Calum raving about how well the steak was cooked.
Both plates again had a substantial portion and piled on top of the meat was a grilled tomato, Portobello mushroom, three large onion rings and micro herbs. On the side was pepper sauce and skinny fries.
Each element worked together and although the juicy mushroom was highly praised, it could not see past the tenderness of the meat and the sweet but peppery sauce, which was plentiful.
My duck came with bok choi and thin vermicelli noodles in a honey ginger sauce.
The bird was luscious and slightly pink in the middle, just the way I like it. The Asian flavors worked well and the dish was beautifully plated with the noodles hidden underneath and the vegetables on top.
Calum managed to finish his while I left a small pool of noodles for dessert.
We came prepared this time and skipped lunch to make sure something sweet was on the cards.
After clearing our table our waiter didn’t need to bring us the menu as I had been looking at the sticky toffee pudding (£8.50) with ice cream and the Atholl crumble with hot custard ( £8.50) had Calum’s name on it.
We entered more confident and quickly realized that maybe the dessert was too difficult after all. Each on their own was superb and we certainly enjoyed trying to devour them, but the amount of food we consumed was just too much.
The quality is certainly there for the food but it’s a challenge to get to the third course.
I would also say that while some of the prices for a few dishes were expensive, due to the amount of food you get, I actually think they are pretty fair. I thought the steak was well priced for the quality and portion.
We ended the evening with a last drink in the lounge where residents are invited to drink after 10 p.m. Non-residents cannot afford this luxury though, so it pays to stay in Dunkeld.
Nothing was too much trouble at the Atholl Arms Hotel and the portions are very generous.
It’s hard to finish three courses (even with a big appetite) due to the amount of food on each plate, so choose wisely, or sharing appetizers or desserts can be a great option.
The RiverView Restaurant is designed for the most stunning setting and although it looks grand it can only seat around 26-30 people at one sitting so be sure to book ahead if you want to try it.
There is, for those with dogs, the separate bistro area where you will find many other four-legged friends in this dog-friendly hotel.
All in all it was a very hospitable dining experience and I hope to enjoy it again soon.
Address: Bridgehead, Tay Terrace, Dunkeld PH8 0AQ
Such. : 01350 727219
Price: £98.15 for three courses each for two and two Diet Cokes
- Food: 4/5
- Performance: 5/5
- Surroundings: 4/5
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[The luxurious Atholl Arms Hotel in Dunkeld]