Built in the 1800s, Achray House in St Fillans has long been
a popular stop for people keen to drink in the magnificent views of Loch Earn
and the mountains beyond.
As Chef Ryan beds into his new role, the hotel's owners, Laura Muirhead and Panu Lehti, are keen to see the nine room, pet-friendly hotel build a glowing reputation for its seasonal cooking.
'We took it over on Burns Day in 2019,' says Laura. 'Since then we have put in place lots of renovations and improvements to upgrade the premises and make it more comfortable. Now, with Ryan in the kitchen, we are ready to move forward with the food offer.'
We will run a separate blog on Ryan next Monday but what we will say at this point is that his career to date has been impressive.
Having started working in a hotel in Portpatrick at the age of 14, Ryan has done stints in Gleneagles, Cromlix, Knockinaam Lodge and Chez Roux at Greywalls Hotel. He was head chef for three years at Greywalls in Gullane before coming to work at Achray House Hotel. Ryan was instrumental in taking the restaurant at Greywalls to two AA Rosettes and aims to do the same and more at Achray.
'Ryan has flourished in these environments like Greywalls or Gleneagles where there are lots of resources behind you,' says Laura. 'Now he wants to prove that he can do it himself. The places with big names on the door have their signature dishes which have to be on the menu. Ryan has a lot more flexibility here to be as creative as he likes.'
5pm spent an afternoon at the hotel recently and we sampled several of Ryan's dishes. From deconstructed Cullen skink to a beautiful, glossy piece of marinaded pork belly, his cooking is precise and innovative.
While confident with a complex dish - the pork dish takes several hours and numerous culinary processes - he is also happy rattle up a top notch portion of fish and chips with crisp, golden batter covering flaky haddock.
Something for everyone
And that mix of fine dining and classic bar dishes is just what Laura wants to attract a diverse customer base. As well as local people living in and around St Fillans, there are families staying in holiday homes; couples celebrating special occasions and passing trade.
The families may have just done a long walk and want a warming bowl of soup or some comforting cottage pie. A local resident might pop in for a lunchtime ciabatta or an evening steak and chips while a couple celebrating an anniversary might book in for the tasting menu filled with dishes such as mountain hare, fig and tarragon terrine with a kale and sunflower seed pesto.
Scottish produce such as Shetland mussels and North Atlantic cod features prominently. When we visited, we ate some of the most tender venison imaginable. It had been shot a few miles from the restaurant and hung to order before the carcass was broken down into its constituent parts by Ryan. Other ingredients are foraged and there are plans for a kitchen garden which will provide herbs, leaves and vegetables.
'We are aiming to be all things to everybody on one medium size menu,' explains Laura. 'We have a five course tasting menu. There is a bar classics section and then there are the chef's specials which are fine dining dishes which are available singly rather than as a tasting menu.
'It is all about having a range of dining options and price points. We want something that fits with the local community, passing trade and guests.'
As well as a versatile menu, Achray will run monthly event nights. In the past, game dinners, curry nights, an Eighties dinner and steak nights have all attracted customers. Two special Mother's Day menus are already garnering bookings.
Recently, Achray held a mini-farmers' market in the conservatory. Including a butcher, two bakeries and a wine importer, there were around 14 local suppliers and producers taking part. All being well, Laura hopes that it will become a quarterly event which will help burnish Achray House Hotel's gastronomic credentials.
'There are lots of places that have very similar menus. I don't want Achray to be run-of-the-mill. We want it to be known as a food-led destination. The views of the loch and mountains from the dining room and conservatory are incredible. With Ryan in the kitchen, we want to offer food to match.'
Check our 5pm Big Deals with Achray House Hotel.