The Port of Menteith has become one of my favourite escapes. Just an hour from Glasgow, this tiny Trossachs village has the sum total of less than a thousand habitants. The houses (and lone school) follow the A81 east, and face southwards onto the lake itself as the land dips. In the hollow, anglers stand still as toy soldiers as they peer into the rippled water, waiting for a catch.
So it was that in May, I jumped at the Amazon Local offer at the Lake of Menteith hotel: a one-night stay for two with afternoon tea (£79). I’m usually wary of a bargain — especially when it comes to food and hospitality — but knowing what I could expect on my plate, having eaten here several times before, I took the plunge.
On arrival, we were greeted by a very proficient receptionist who showed us our room (definitely not the biggest in the hotel, but sympathetically decorated) and then into the bar. There was a small table with mini apple and cinnamon scones, tea and coffee plus bowls of clotted cream and jam. For me (Little Miss Gluten Free) two dry shop-bought lemon tartlets were put on a plate. Although I’d emailed several days before to avoid this scenario, the setting soon dulled my disappointment. The two of us sat by the stone surrounds of the Port Bar, gazing onto the lake as the clouds crawled in and furled the water’s surface.
The hotel makes up a cluster of buildings that perch on the eastern shores of the lake. There’s a small but perfectly formed church, an anglers’ club, and a sturdy shed where those that wish to make the pilgrimage to Inchmahome Priory take cover from the elements. In the remainder of the day’s sunshine, we took a wander down the quiet country roads — the waving grass on one side, the waves on the other — and stood on the jetty watching the tiny ferry come back from Inchmahome island. Much of the priory’s 13th century remains are still standing; this is a place which boasts Robert the Bruce and Mary Queen of Scots on the pages of its metaphorical visitors’ book. Sadly we were too late for a crossing — but there’s always next time!
And so we strolled back to the hotel for our evening meal. Although we’d booked to sit in the restaurant (an airy conservatory that looks onto the lake) we instead opted for the bar, which was less stuffy and more animated. Moules frites were the order of the day, and the chef was very generous in creating a larger portion of fig, goats’ cheese and grilled asparagus salad for my main course (the asparagus was amazing: gigantic stalks and as British as could be, according to the menu).
After a quiet snooze (one of the best I’ve ever had in a hotel) we were back in the restaurant for more grub. The breakfast was nigh-on perfect: amazing poached eggs, tender smoked salmon and a ‘bloody good’ full Scottish. Honestly, the Lake of Menteith’s morning meal beat its supposedly five-star rival Cameron House hands down. Yet where the former triumphed with its food, it tripped up with its service. The continental breakfast ‘buffet’ had been reduced to three dry croissants, some Weetabix and a quarter of a jug of orange juice well before we got there. Fellow breakfasters sat on their seats like track athletes in their blocks, primed for the appearance of that elusive pitcher. We ordered toast twice, but during the hour we were in the restaurant, none appeared. The two young staff completed each task with lacklustre boredom. Let’s get this straight: I’m young myself, I too work in a shop and therefore have the utmost respect for waiters and customer assistants — it’s a hard job to make people happy! But if I’d known where the hotel had stashed the orange juice cartons, I would have filled the diners’ glasses myself, just to give everybody a helping hand… and alleviate my growing thirst.
It was a shame because — apart from the breakfast hiccup — the staff had been efficient and the food pretty fantastic, we thought as we drove towards Callander with contented stomachs. By the end of this month, I may well be back at the Lake of Menteith hotel if it rains on graduation day (I can’t imagine anywhere cosier than the Port Bar). But — and I do feel mean for saying it — I probably won’t be staying for a hungover brunch the following morning.
have you been to the Lake of Menteith? tweet me your thoughts @laretour