Throughout the various lockdowns, my son and I met his friend and dad for a football game every Saturday morning, rain, hail or shine.
On our way home, we pass the Atholl Hotel. Already starved from our athletic endeavors, the smells emanating from the kitchen make us groan in equal measure of pleasure and frustration as we wish we could walk in and enjoy a feast, rather than returning home, cold and damp, for a Bowl of soup.
So it was decided one week that rather than take a nostalgic look at the Atholl, we would treat ourselves to a Saturday lunch, and a table was duly reserved at the end of last year.
The Atholl is an Aberdeen institution. It has proudly overlooked King’s Gate for as long as anyone can remember and is renowned for its quality, traditional cuisine and excellent service.
It had been a few years since I had eaten there, but everything was exactly as one would expect. The setting had been refreshed but not altered, and the menu still contained the same must-haves, because changing a winning bid is risky business.
However, to my delight, fresh new dishes had appeared alongside old favorites of fish and chips, hash and skirlie and chicken curry.
Ordering from the lunch menu, I chose sticky BBQ pork skewers with
Salad From Red Cabbage.
I loved the flavor of the pork and the sweet sticky sauce was fantastic. The meat was very well cooked, really tender without fat. Only complaint is that I wanted more. The purple slaw and salad were colorful additions to the plate.
My wife opted for the bruschetta with candied tomatoes and rockette. The fresh, juicy tomatoes and crisp green leaves were drizzled with a mild balsamic vinegar, and I was rather taken aback when she finished them without the hint of an offer to try them – always a good sign.
After the starter menu, a light lunch section features ciabattas and baked potatoes with various tempting toppings, including avocado, tomato, and black pepper; brie, grape and mint; and piri piri chicken. Below is a selection of main dishes, one of which really caught my eye – the beef bourguignon.
It had been many years since I had enjoyed this dish and my mind was set on it, but I was unsure if it was only available in a small portion. And having worked up an appetite that morning, I was certainly in the mood to reward myself with a hearty dish.
When ordering, I asked if it was in fact only available in a small portion and the waiter confirmed it.
I was disappointed that I couldn’t have it as a full size portion, but like I said, my heart was set for it, so I ordered and hoped it would satisfy my hunger.
When it arrived it was admittedly a little small, but the beef was absolutely sensational, so tender it could only have been prepared over time in a slow cooker. Its rich sauce was bold and full of flavor, and the mashed tatties served alongside did a good job of soaking it up.
My vegetarian wife had a few dishes to choose from and chose the halloumi, beet and chilli jam brioche, which was well presented. There was so much halloumi that I could taste, and the flavors and texture were perfect.
After sharing cheesy garlic bread with his sister, my son had the full adult dish of fried North Sea haddock served with chips, tartar sauce, peas and lemon.
I’m glad he was hungry as it looked like the chef had caught and beaten a whale. The meat was beautifully white and flaky and I enjoyed helping him finish it.
He surprised us all by saying the peas were the best he had ever tasted – veggie praise from a 12 year old. For me, the tartar sauce also gets a special mention.
Having eaten half a whale as well as my delicious beef, I was too full for dessert, as was my wife, but the kids were enthusiastic.
Unfortunately our table seemed to be in a bit of a blind spot when we visited and we sat for a while with our dirty dishes before anyone’s attention came to order dessert.
This was after having to ask a waitress to provide a bottle opener so we could refill our glasses with the lovely bottle of red from the wine list.
As if to make up for previous indiscretions, my daughter’s ice cream came out almost immediately and my son’s sticky caramel pudding wasn’t too far behind.
However, our coffee didn’t arrive until after I left the table to settle the bill, as we thought it had been forgotten.
The Atholl Hotel remains a much loved institution and will remain so for many years. Customers know what to expect and the Atholl always delivers.
Although the service doesn’t quite reach the usual standards, the staff were polite and friendly and the food was fantastic.
No matter how long you leave it between visits, you always feel the same when you return to the Atholl – warm, welcoming and almost like coming home.
Now, when we pass after the game on Saturday morning, we can put good memories in those wonderful smells that tickle our nostrils all the way home.
Address: Atholl Hotel, 54 King’s Gate, Aberdeen AB15 4YN
P: 01224 323505
Price: £100.50 for three starters, three main courses, one children’s main course, two children’s desserts, a bottle of wine, a soft drink and a coffee
- Food: 4/5
- Performance: 3/5
- Surroundings: 4/5
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[Try out the scran from Aberdeen institution Atholl Hotel]