Great Places to Stay
- Royal Dunkeld Hotel

Born 1820 - still going strong
The lady was adamant - she wanted a room identical to the one her friend had. "We are paying the same amount, so why can't I get a room the same as hers?" Neil Menzies, the owner of the Royal Dunkeld Hotel explained that that all his rooms were different. That is the way things are in an hotel dating back to 1820. Originally a coaching inn, the Royal Dunkeld is a modernised three star hotel in the attractive small town of Dunkeld in one of the most appealing parts of Perthshire.

It is in sharp contrast to hotels that are part of large chains that trade on homogeneity. You book online, collect the loyalty points and are reassured that your room in London will be pretty similar to the one you had last year in Paris or Copenhagen. The downside is that your stay there may be a pretty impersonal experience.

The Personal Touch

The Royal Dunkeld is typical of the type of place where the owner is on site. Neil Menzies is in overall charge of the running of the hotel and available to chat to guests, collecting bouquets and fending off the occasional brickbat. It is obvious that this formula works well in the Royal Dunkeld, where a stream of repeat visitors come back to enjoy the hotel's unique blend of charm and hospitality.

My wife and I succumbed to the hotel's charm pretty quickly. Our room at the Royal Dunkeld was spacious, clean and warm and we enjoyed an excellent night's sleep during our stay in mid November. Enjoying a pleasant view onto Dunkeld's main street, traffic noise was not a problem and it was clear that the hotel's management had put a lot of thought into guests' comfort, supplying a hair dryer, trouser press and kettle along with the standard tea and coffee. We were on the second floor and the hotel and there are more rooms on the third. The hotel does not have a lift so guests who have difficulty with mobility should mention this when making a booking.

An Excellent Bistro
The accommodation was well up to scratch but the food exceeded expectations. We had both lunch and our evening meal in the Woodlands Bistro which was absolutely delightful. The bistro was opened in June 2011 and has been a hit with both local diners and hotel residents alike. It is an ideal size, small enough to provide a certain degree of intimacy but large enough to feel like a proper restaurant.

It is an interesting and eclectic menu, taking in Scottish dishes - haggis is a firm favourite - as well as ones from further afield, with nachos and fajitas featuring along with the usual range of fish, meat and vegetarian options. The fixed menu is supplemented with a range of daily specials - diners are spoiled for choice.

For lunch I opted for a classic - haddock and chips. The chef prides himself on his special batter and so he should, it made for a most enjoyable experience. Fish and chips is never high cuisine, but the variation can be huge. At worst, there is the possibility of tasteless overcooked fish and the dreaded soggy chips. No such culinary problems at the Woodlands, my fish was succulent, nestling in a crisp and delicious batter and the fries were perfect. My wife opted for the 'soup and sandwich ' deal. Her spicy pumpkin soup seemed appropriate for a late autumn day and went well with her Coronation chicken sandwiches.

I went on to have biscuits and cheese and they were particularly impressive. Served on a small wooden platter, there was an ideal selection of Scottish cheeses, I especially liked the Campbeltown smoked applewood and appreciated the accompanying slices of apple and small pot of chutney.

Good Materials, Properly Cooked
Our evening meal was also successful. Our starters were great. I found my smoked venison and beetroot salad to be delicious. I have never had this as a starter before and I was enchanted by the contrast between the succulent meat and the slightly tangy shredded beetroot. My wife opted for the haggis starter which was delicately presented in a small tower on mashed potato. It was just the right amount as a good prelude for the rest of the meal.

The main courses were also successful. My slow cooked lamb with rosemary and garlic was rich and flavoursome and complemented by perfectly cooked vegetables. My wife opted for the pan fried sea bass fillet, served with lime, garlic and caramelised lime. This was a delicate subtle dish which was succulent and full of taste.

There is an extensive and interesting wine list - we opted for red wine by the glass and both the Merlot and Shiraz were very good indeed. The evening was rounded off by a most entertaining conversation with the hotel's owner, Neil Menzies.

A Stable Team
Neil and Catriona his wife, moved to Dunkeld from Edinburgh twelve years ago and they are quietly proud of the improvements made to the hotel during their ownership. Neil is clearly a 'people person' which is a pre-requisite of a successful hotelier and his enthusiasm for the hotel business remains undimmed. We were impressed by the range of skills he brings to the task. Not only is he required to meet and greet the guests and oversee the catering side, but running a hotel which is nearly two hundred years old means that the proprietor has to be on top of a structure that is in constant need of upkeep and renovation. He is ably assisted by Janet Murray, the energetic Hotel Manager and head chef Thomas Cowan, both of whom have many years of service. It is clearly a team that works well.

A Continuing Tradition

During the reign of Queen Victoria, the hotel was owned by Daniel Fisher, a local businessman. One of Fisher's printed instructions to guests remains from these days: "The proprietor will take it as a personal affront if any guest on leaving should fail to dispute the bill, tell him he is a swindler the house is a barn, the table wretched, the wines vile and that he (the guest ) was never so imposed upon in his life will never stop there again, and means to warn his friends." The history of the Royal Dunkeld Hotel on its Web site (see link below) has a longer extract from this amusing document.

Daniel Fisher was clearly a man who was confident enough in his hotel to paint a picture which was humorous, quirky and fun. I think the contemporary Royal Dunkeld is upholding that tradition. It is an excellent example of a mid-priced hotel, set in a beautiful part of Scotland, where the best traditions of Scottish hospitality are being maintained.

More Information
For more information or to make a reservation see the Royal Dunkeld Hotel Web site or contact the hotel by Email. For more on some of the tourist attractions in the surrounding area, see:

November 2011

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