Argyll is a gem when it comes to escaping the Central Belt for a weekend break. The drive through the Trossachs, along the edge of Loch Lubnaig and past the dramatic Glen Ogle viaduct is spectacular, as are the hills that surround the village of Taynuilt, where chef-patron John McNulty has transformed what was the Taynuilt Hotel into the ultimate foodie destination under a new name, the Taynuilt: Etive Restaurant with Rooms.
In the colder months, it’s the ideal place to batten down the hatches and enjoy a cosy weekend by the fire – perhaps with a spot of hiking to burn off the indulgent meals that are the Taynuilt’s speciality.
By the time summer comes, the former coaching inn will fill up with McNulty’s loyal foodie following and savvy guests looking for a comfortable base to explore the West Coast.
Budget or boutique?
As a restaurant with rooms, it was the dining and bar areas which took priority when McNulty and general manager and sommelier David Lapsley took on the renovation project last year. The accommodation is still a work in progress – it has only been open in its current form since January – but from what we could see from the first suite to undergo work, the Taynuilt is a boutique destination in the making.
Wining and dining
There are two options for dinner – the dining room with bare stone walls and wood-burning stove, and the more relaxed bar area which has an extensive gin list. Fresh fish, caught locally, is always on the menu, and there’s beef from Balindore, four miles down the road, which crops up in various forms including McNulty’s home-cured bresaola.
We ate in the restaurant with just a handful of other couples – it’s intended to be an intimate fine dining experience with a maximum of 20 covers. The whole menu changes regularly depending on what’s in season but what doesn’t vary is the touch of theatre that’s dished up with each meal thanks to a Heston-style teapot of dry ice.
The hand-dived scallop starter was cooked to perfection, while the halibut that followed – served with red emmalie potato, samphire, seaweed and Loch Fyne oysters – captured all the flavours of the sea. For the full sensory experience, there’s the option to add wine pairings and Lapsley clearly knows his stuff.
Breakfast is a treat – there’s a continental buffet and a selection of morning favourites cooked to order including a creamy porridge served with heather honey, and eggs Benedict made with smoked Loch Fyne salmon.
The rooms are comfortable and come with all mod cons including a mini fridge, iPod dock and flat-screen TV. Our suite came with its own private terrace with outdoor seating – perfect for enjoying the tranquil surroundings when the midges allow. The in-room DVD library went down a treat as we visited in the wake of storm Doris and long walks were off the cards, while the framed knots on the wall and propeller in the traditional fireplace gave our room a nautical feel.
Worth getting out of bed for
Oban is just a 20-minute drive from Taynuilt and is great for a wander round the shops and a climb up to McCaig’s Tower for views across the bay to Kerrera and the tip of Lismore.
In Taynuilt, there’s the Bonawe iron furnace which holds the title of most complete charcoal-fuelled ironworks in Britain. For sunnier days, there’s the scenic nine-hole Taynuilt Golf Club.
We stopped at the Real Food Cafe in Tyndrum en route back to Edinburgh for fish and chips. Even on a rainy Sunday it’s packed with walkers fuelling up and passing parents with children who, one by one, stop to marvel at the display of home-baking by the entrance. By my guess, it was either the rainbow cake with sprinkles or the Creme Egg scotch egg invention that won the most “wows”.
The dinner, bed and breakfast package covers all bases for a peaceful weekend away. It might be the relative new kid on the block but with an experienced team at the helm, it’s one to watch.
Prices for DBB start from £179 per night based on two people sharing a room. Note, it’s only open Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The Taynuilt: Etive Restaurant with Rooms, Taynuilt, Argyll, PA35 1JN, 01866 822437, www.taynuilthotel.co.uk