While it’s no secret that Speyside is a whiskey lover’s paradise – and one of the most prolific places where the spirit is made – it’s also home to a number of excellent hotels and restaurants.
One place that combines the two is The Station in Rothes, a small town close to the Glen Grant distillery.
Originally opened over 100 years ago, the hotel was frequented by wealthy guests who came to fish for salmon on the Spey.
After experiencing success in the 1950s and 1960s, it declined and closed in 2006.
Ten years later, after a refurbishment courtesy of local couple Richard and Heather Forsyth, the hotel has reopened to the luxury it is today.
While the hotel has always seemed to have its own distinct identity, the same couldn’t be said for its Pagodas restaurant.
Named after the distinctive distillery rooftops that can be seen around the Whiskey Route, the wood-panelled restaurant served good pub grub, but wasn’t as befitting of the hotel’s upscale nature as some customers might expect that.
But, following the Covid closures and restrictions, the team took the time to rethink the offering and appointed a new chef, Henry Lapington, in the summer of last year.
Of the new restaurant concept, Henry said: “We use local produce, source produce from a very small proximity and maximize sustainability as much as possible.
“We are also using the garden space to grow vegetables this year.”
Went during the recent Spirit of Speyside festival to try their ten (yes ten) course tasting menu, which was paired with drams from past festival winners.
Our evening started with an amazing chocolate stout cocktail, created by front desk manager and beer lover, Stephen Crossland.
We sipped the drink and enjoyed a colorful selection of breads and butter, including a hot pink beet roll and tangy green bear garlic butter.
As tasty as they are, ten dishes is a lot, so unfortunately we didn’t finish all the carbs at our disposal.
Shortly after, the first course was served. It was a freshly smoked sea trout pâté-style mousse served on a delicate and crispy seaweed cracker and accompanied by a glass of Tamnavulin 12.
Venison tartare quickly followed. Another delicate dish, the meat was served in small tartlets, set on a bowl of barley and topped off with the Glenfarclas 25 Year Old – the sweet sherry notes running through the richness of the meat.
We then returned to seafood with the Orkney scallop ceviche served with Aberlour 12. These meaty bites were pepto bismol pink, thanks to the addition of beetroot and served with fresh sorrel, giving the dish a boost.
The beet theme was central to the next dish, lacto-fermented beetroot. Don’t be put off by memories of muscle cramps, this dish was definitely interesting, with the pickled nature of the root vegetable giving a sweet note that was balanced by the 15 dram GlenAllachie.
Then a standout dish for me, celeriac and smoked mussels, paired with Srathisla 12. The nuttyness of the celeriac combined with the mild smoked mussels was a joy.
We were then past halfway through the meal, although at no point did it seem like too much food, to a dish of halibut. A piece of this meaty white fish was garnished with thinly sliced radishes and served with a rich umami sauce – washed down with a barrel finish of classic Glen Moray chardonnay.
The next dish was Koji’s aged retired dairy cow striploin. This type of beef is on the rise, there is even a restaurant dedicated to retired dairy cow steaks which has just opened in Glasgow.
The flavor of this one is different from other steaks, as is the texture which has more bite. Here, an oval slice of perfectly pink steak was served with a rich gravy and ‘last year’s carrots’ which were charred and marinated and added some sweetness and more bite to the plate.
A glass of Tamdhu Dalbeallie was served alongside. This cask strength whiskey has been aged in sherry casks which give it fruity and spicy flavours.
Then it was time for the sweet part of the meal, starting with the Golspie clootie dumpling, served with Glenfiddich 15.
Served in a small kilner jar, with pieces of cake floating amidst a white sea, this deconstructed version of a traditional treat had all the notes of a classic dumpling but not quite as heavy.
This was followed by a creme brulee tart and a glass of sweet and smoky Benromach 10. Again, another dessert that might be too heavy, but in this case it was perfect. Half a small creamy sugar tart pie was served with cream and topped with more sorrel.
Afterwards, petit fours de tablet, homemade nougat and Douglas fir jelly were enjoyed with coffee (or in my case stored in my purse to accompany a cup of tea the next day – they were always delicious) .
While our meal was a festival event, the Still and Stove 10-course tasting menu is very similar and available every Friday and Saturday. It’s refreshing to see such creative and delicious dishes paired with whiskeys (as wine usually is), making for a truly local experience.
You can tell the care taken in the creation and presentation of each dish and with this menu it will come as no surprise to see this hotel restaurant get the accolades and accolades it deserves.