Note: though under the same ownership, as of 2012 Kinnaird no longer operates as a full-scale hotel and nor is it a member of Relais & Châteaux. It now operates as an upmarket bed & breakfast with dinner only by arrangement. I will leave this review in place as I believe the description of the setting, rooms and public spaces still to be accurate and useful.
The onset of winter’s shorter days does bring some compensations, not least the food and wine season of game, casseroles and heart-warming red wines. For me personally, another great treat over autumn and winter is to book a couple of nights in one of the UK’s many fine country house hotels: those places with comfortable, cosseting rooms and excellent kitchens, where you relax the moment you cross the threshold, and begin to enjoy a sybaritic few days of self indulgence. Kinnaird in Perthshire is the subject of the latest in our occasional series on these special places.
Yet, not all country house hotels are created equal, and I have had some disappointments in my time. It is good to hear of places that really deliver on quality, and one name that had been suggested to me many times, is Kinnaird in Perthshire, a Relais & Châteaux hotel set within a private 7,000 acre sporting estate. I recently attended one of their regular food and wine gourmet evenings, and finally discovered for myself what a magical place it is.
Kinnaird is the real deal: a Scottish mansion and formerly home of Sir John and Lady Ward. The current owner, Mrs Constance Ward, still lives in a house on the estate. It was she who converted Kinnaird into a luxury hotel in 1990, and the house is still crammed with evidence that this was a warm and welcoming family home. There are photographs of family members, a library of well-thumbed books and, mounted on the walls of the Billiard Room, a collection of massive salmon caught by the Ward’s and guests on their private five and a half mile stretch of the River Tay.
It instantly feels like home; like one is guest at a rather upmarket house party. It is not at all fusty or strait-laced, and there’s a genuine warmth to the welcome as you arrive and take tea or coffee in one of the several lounges that range from the cosy and bookish, to the grand and formal.
The nine bedrooms are sumptuous, each with its own remote- controlled living-flame gas fire, huge bed and traditional furnishings. Bathrooms are kitted out with robes, slippers and an extensive collection of toiletries from L’Occitane, and the sideboard sports mineral waters, shortbread and a small decanter of a ginger-infused whisky liqueur created by Mrs Ward.
Though Kinnaird is one of Scotland’s finest private sporting Estates – with some of the best fishing and game shooting in the country – I was here for the food in Kinnaird’s three AA rosette restaurant, prepared by chef Jean-Baptiste Bady. Bady has been behind the stoves at Kinnaird for over three years, having previously worked in top kitchens around the world, including the three Michelin-starred Bernard Loiseau in Burgundy.
My stay coincided with a gourmet evening, where a six-course menu was matched to the wines of Esk Valley Estate in New Zealand. I have to say this was a terrific evening. We assembled in the Cedar Room for pre-dinner drinks and canapés, before dining en famille round a large oval table in a private dining room. The party ranged in age from their 20s to their 60s, some travelling from as far away as the north of England for a foodie break, whilst others were local gourmands who had popped round for dinner.
After an appetising cup of Cep cappuccino, my meal started with a ballotine of pigeon and foie gras, served with a beetroot carpaccio. This was an extraordinary, meaty dish, consisting of a tranche of foie gras inserted between the halves of an entire pigeon breast. Textural and dense, it worked beautifully with Esk Valley’s Pinot Gris, which was just off-dry but rich and powerful.
A second course of red mullet, crisply fried and served with an aubergine caviar was sophisticated and beautifully cooked, before Esk Valley’s Reserve Merlot Malbec Cabernet Sauvignon was poured to accompany a cutlet & leg of lamb, that was moist and juicy, served with a pungent little stew of confit garlic, coco de Paimpol (white Haricot beans) and Piquillo peppers. After a selection of excellent Scottish, English and French cheeses, the dinner concluded with an airy and sharp raspberry soufflé. (Right: the main dining room)
As I sipped my after-dinner coffee with some petit-fours, I took time to sum up what I’d made of my first ‘Kinnaird experience’.
Though Kinnaird is ‘grand’ and relatively expensive, it is a singularly comfortable and relaxing place, that gets the balance between discreet efficiency and friendly approachability just right. Given the standard of both accommodation and food, I look forward to my next visit, whether summer or winter.