For a decade Ardeon­aig Coach­ing Inn on Loch Tay has been one of Scot­land's best fine-din­ing des­ti­na­tion ho­tels but, yet again, it has re­cently changed hands


Con­stantly chang­ing own­er­ship has taken its toll at Ardeon­aig

There was a stage when the food at Ardeon­aig was up there with the very best Scot­land has to of­fer. It was ten years ago and the place had been bought, ex­panded and ren­o­vated from top to bot­tom by Pete Gottgens, an am­bi­tious, ebul­lient and al­most man­i­cally driven chef from South Africa.

Not only was the food of Miche­lin-star qual­ity, so was the ser­vice and the ac­com­mo­da­tion, es­pe­cially t he eight lux­u­ri­ous new thatched huts in the grounds which had been con­structed to look like the tra­di­tional South African na­tive dwelling called 'ron­dav­els'.

De­spite the place be­ing stowed out vir­tu­ally every night of the year, Gottgens came a crop­per in the fi­nan­cial crash when the bank called in the rather large loan he had amassed as a re­sult of a £1.8m ex­pan­sion plan. Since then the place has passed through the hands of Stir­ling­shire en­tre­pre­neur Euan Snowie and was re­cently bought by Ian Hitchins, who also owns the nearby Killin Ho­tel and Ben Law­ers Ho­tel, which is across Loch Tay in the shadow of the epony­mous Munro.

On ar­rival, lit­tle ap­pears to have changed at Ardeon­aig. The place still looks like the pic­ture-per­fect lit­tle tardis of a coun­try inn, and the wel­come area is still the same, while the ron­dav­els are still there (though re­branded as 'both­ies'). The first change you no­tice, how­ever,

is that the ever-mov­ing din­ing room has now mi­grated from a big, light and high-ceilinged space at the back of the build­ing to a cosy and low-ceilinged spot at the front.

Nor is that the only change on the food front. In the most im­por­tant place of all, there is a new face in the form of head chef David McCul­loch, who for­merly plied his trade in the kitchens at Kin­craig Cas­tle and Fonab Cas­tle. Hav­ing eaten at the lat­ter while McCul­loch was work­ing there, and hav­ing a def­i­nite soft spot for Ardeon­aig, we looked for­ward to see­ing whether the new chef could live up to the pre­vi­ous stel­lar stan­dards un­der both the ir­re­press­ible Gottgens and t hen David Maskell, the im­pres­sive head chef who ran the kitchen un­der Snowie's Adamo Group along­side former Gen­eral Man­ager and French wine ex­pert James Payne.

The au­guries looked good as we sat down at the ta­ble, with a spring din­ner menu mix­ing clas­sic French op­tions with coun­try house ho­tel sta­ples. The ef­fect was rather spoilt, how­ever, by an an­gry north­erner grum­bling loudly about the qual­ity of his beef while his wife tried des­per­ately to stop him tak­ing the kitchen to task.

Our meal started well enough with a well-con­structed se­lec­tion of amuse-bouches, which was fol­lowed by our two starters – chicken ter­rine with wasabi, broad beans and cele­riac, and beef ril­lette with car­rots, horse­rad­ish and pea purée. Sadly these were not the starters of our dreams. The ter­rine, en­livened by some com­mend­ably sparky wasabi, just about passed muster, but the ril­lette was sur­pris­ingly heavy, bland and al­to­gether dull.

Given the beef-based stra­mash break­ing out on the next-door ta­ble, we gave that dish a sideswerve and in­stead chose two al­ter­na­tive main cour­ses. The first to ar­rive was the slow-cooked duck with a leg meat cro­quette, wild mush­rooms and cab­bage, fol­lowed within sec­onds by a duo of lamb with rösti, car­rots, beet­root and mush­rooms. Both were solid, with the cro­quette the un­doubted high­light.

Pud­ding, though, was nowhere near the re­quired stan­dard for a ho­tel whose fu­ture de­pends on main­tain­ing its sta­tus as a gas­tro­nomic des­ti­na­tion for peo­ple who know their food. The dark choco­late delice with peanut but­ter and cherry was so heavy that it re­mained mostly un­eaten; which is al­most un­prece­dented. The cheeses were small but fine, yet the plate was plonked in front of us with­out any ex­pla­na­tion of what we were look­ing at. In­deed, the ser­vice, while friendly, was not what you'd ex­pect to find at a fine-din­ing restau­rant – which, when you're pay­ing £42 for three cour­ses, is ex­actly where Ardeon­aig is pric­ing it­self.

‘ Could the new head chef live up to the pre­vi­ously stel­lar stan­dards?’

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