The Oak Tree Inn, Loch Lomond

Last week OH went paddling in Loch Lomond and put in at Balmaha (btw ‘paddling’ and ‘putting in’ are both kayaking terms – just so you know he wasn’t up there bare footed with his trousers rolled up) Anyhow, he loved the area so much he wanted to take me back to see the scenery – particularly in autumn. Therefore, first thing Sunday morning, we set off and headed towards Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. He wasn’t wrong. The scenery was stunning.img_20161023_175218

After a scenic walk along the shoreline just after Balmaha, we travelled back and parked across from the Oak Tree Inn. When we entered we could see straight away how busy it was. There was a large bar, restaurant and conservatory that were all bustling. However, the staff were keen to help and found us a table for two in the conservatory.

Annoyingly, we had a couple of false starts where we had to ask for menus and then find someone to take our order but as it was so busy we made allowances. Looking around though, I realised that the place would always be like this at lunch time and the initial poor service was not the norm as the staff were plentiful and pretty attentive and, with hindsight,  I couldn’t really fault them – it actually was just a false start.

What I could fault though, was that the specials were written on a board in the restaurant and I had to stand up and walk through to see them, which was annoying. Particularly becimag5191ause the blackboard was positioned above a table and I had to stand in front of a couple and squint at the hard to see options.

Turns out, I was glad I made the effort as I went for the special of Sea Bass with creamy white wine sauce served with asparagus and a savoy cabbage and onion mash. It was amazing. The construction of the dish, the way the ingredients complimented one another and the presentation were all spot on. The Sea Bass had large meaty flakes and a crispy skin, the mash had just the right amount of cabbage and spring onion mixed through it and the asparagus had a lovely fresh bite. Overall, it was a dish I’d order time and time again.

OH decided on the Traditional Steak and Mushroom Pie made with locally reared beef, topped with crunchy puff pastry served with fresh market vegetables served with chips or parsley buttered potatoes (he went for chips). imag5188His pie came in one of those tin enamel, white and blue dishes, which people in the 70s   used when camping. (probably earlier and in the war but I just remember camping with the Guides in the 70s and having to get a blue and white enamel tin mug and plate before I’d pass muster). He got rid of the dish as soon as possible as he hates steak pie being in a separate dish (I don’t think he’s alone with that). The stew part of his pie looked rich to me, the gravy was really dark brown and glossy. The vegetables were a great mix of peas, turnip, courgette, cabbage and carrots and his chips, were, well, chips.  OH says he really enjoyed his pie – he said it was rich and there were good chunks of meat that threaded up when he cut into them and the mushrooms weren’t soggy.  The added on pastry lid however, was just ok. Personally, if I ask for a pie I want a pie and not stew with a bit of pastry on top so I can see his point.img_20161023_174409

Happily, we were both sated after our main courses and we didn’t even ask to see the dessert menu – even though I’m sure they’d have been just as good as our mains.

…and just in case you read my last blog – the toilets this week were on point and I had no complaints there either 😉

2 mains, a coke, a white wine, a coffee – £37.30 (the amazing scenery was free)

 

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The Roxburghe Hotel, Edinburgh

OH and I decided to pop through to Edinburgh and enjoy an afternoon tea at the Roxburghe Hotel. I know what you’re thinking – you wait ages for a blog about afternoon tea and then suddenly two come along. Personally, I think OH was just a tiny bit jealous of Lusa and I’s fabulous afternoon at the Roman Camp so was more than happy to sip tea of an afternoon rather than our usual cocktail crawl along George Street.

When we first arrived at the Charlotte Square hotel we were ushered along to the Samovar Lounge by the efficient door man. The room was lovely and decorated to a high standard. Unfortunately, there were no window seats available so we were seated next to a thoroughfare. imag5129Yes, you read that right. It turned out that the lounge sits between the entrance and the rest of the hotel so people that were staying in the hotel walked through the lounge to get to their rooms or to go out…and it was a busy hotel.   Although it gave us something to talk about I would much have rather had a more private dining experience.  You’ll notice from the pic that the fire wasn’t lit either.

The first thing to arrive was the amuse-bouche or mouth amuser, which isn’t on the menu but a freebie from the chef to give a hint to his style. It turned out to be home made lemonade served in little screw top jars with handles. Cute. We were also asked what kind of tea we would like. I opted for traditional black breakfast tea and OH, who isn’t a fan of strong tea, decided on rosy white fig tea. There was also a little timer on the table to ensure that you don’t let your tea stew for too long.   imag5131

Then the little plates of nibbly things arrived. On the savoury plate there was a smoked salmon and cream cheese blini; coronation chicken tart; smoked ham, dill pickle and piccalilli Provençale roll and an egg mayo and cucumber brioche roll.  Another plate had plain and fruit scones with clotted cream and strawberries with little jars of strawberry jam. The middle plate held fresh strawberry tart; baklava; chocolate opera cake and mini meringue with lemon cream.

As ever, my favourites were the little rolls. I could eat several plates of them without coming up for air. OH loved the scones with clotted cream and managed to eat both of his. Incidentally, the clotted cream had grapes and strawberries in it and came in a little flower pot with a pansy on the top. Cute too. OH also rated his pot of tea highly. The baklava was quite greasy and I could feel the calories coat my lips. The strawberry tart was yum and although I left my 2nd scone I cleared up the rest quite easily. Although also quite messily. Why don’t you get tongs and little dessert forks for afternoon tea? I left my napkin in a disgusting state.

Overall, the food was great, the service good and if I hadn’t of had an exceptional afternoon tea experience a couple of weeks ago it would get a high rating. However, a visit to the toilet brought the afternoon tea to a disappointing end. The 4 star hotel had 1 star loos. First of all it was a trek to get to them, down stairs along a corridor and then into another one. Then the smell hit me. When I went in I found there was only two toilets and one was out of the order (hence the smell?). The other had no lock on it and it was a busy place. One lady was already waiting and having to stand guard for her mum. The décor wasn’t great either and considering how lovely the rest of the hotel is I was surprised at the lack of the attention there was to the Ladies.

Afternoon tea for 2 – £38.

 

The Roman Camp, Callander

If you’re a regular reader you will have already heard of Lusa, my Scottish born cousin who now resides in L.A. She is visiting again so, leaving OH behind, we decided to take off for a couple of days to spend time together and catch up.

In the 50s our grandfather used to be a gardener at The Roman Camp in Callander so we decided to have our short break in The Trossachs and make Callander our base so we could check out the places our mums talk about and see where they stayed when they were wee.

Having already stayed at The Old Rectory and knowing it was a great B+B, Lusa and I decided to stay there rather than paying double the money to stay in the 4 star Roman Camp. However, we did book an afternoon tea there so we could visit the hotel and walk around the gardens our grandfather used to tend.

When we arrived we were offered numerous places to sit for our afternoon tea. The drawing room, the library…it was a bit like a game of Cluedo. 2016-10-04-16-30-22Eventually we settled on the Library where we sat in front of a log fire on a large comfortable couch. We were the only ones in the library so we were able  to imagine we stayed in the big house and taking afternoon tea was a regular occurrence.

Our white gloved waiter soon arrived with tea and coffee, milk and cream and bizarrely a 2016-10-04-16-41-46-1small haggis bon bon with mashed potato and whisky sauce. After he had gone Lusa and I immediately wondered if we were on the right menu. Maybe we were getting a high tea instead…oh well we thought,  ‘We’re in now’ (obviously being British we would just accept what we’re given and not question it).

Even though it was an odd starter the haggis was lovely and we cleared the small dish. By the way, the waiter wasn’t wearing a name badge but I’m going to call him Stefan.

Stefan then arrived with round 1. A 3 tiered cake stand with lots of savouries on it, which quickly calmed our worries around what menu we were getting. There were 2 of each – Falafel Fritter, Gougere stuffed with Liver Parfait, strong Cheddar 2016-10-04-16-50-18and Chive Quiche, home made Pork and Prune Sausage Roll, Egg Cress and Mayonnaise White Finger Sandwich, Salmon, Cream Cheese and Cucumber Brown Bread Finger Sandwich and finally, Ham and Grain Mustard and Little Gem Bridge Roll. I’m far more into savoury food than sweet so this was just yum for me. The top tier and the falafel were all warm, which was great. The liver parfait was a bit  strong and the sausage rolls tasted christmassy. I’d say the finger sandwiches were actually double fingers as they could easily have been halved again and as Lusa isn’t a ham fan I got two of my favourite, ham bridge rolls.

After executing a different kind of Scottish Clearance the empty plates were removed, fresh tea poured and round 2 brought in for inspection. 2016-10-04-17-21-32This time the tiers were all sweet. Freshly Baked Plain and Fruit Scones with Clotted Cream and Homemade Strawberry Jam, Tropical Fruit Panna Cotta, Lemon Drizzle Cake, Dark Sponge Gateaux, Chocolate Tiffin, Macarons with Vanilla Butter Icing and some Shortbread.

We started with the plain scones and they were amazing. As they were still warm the cream melted slightly making the overall taste sensational. The panna cotta didn’t taste of of tropical fruit so I’m guessing it was just vanilla and the chocolate tiffin seemed to have some citrus zest in it, which I’m not a fan of but they were my only small grievances. Lusa raved about the lemon drizzle cake which was easily her favourite.

I noticed that on the menu there was mention of a double chocolate and cherry cookie but nothing resembling it on the plates so, forgetting I was British, I just happened to mention it to Stefan when he next popped his head in to see if we were okay. 2016-10-04-18-14-21He looked perplexed, disappeared and then returned with yet another plate. This time there were 2 truffles and 2 squares of something wrapped in white chocolate – my guess was dark cherry. Stefan explained there were in lieu of the cookies. I wasn’t complaining the white chocolate square was divine and quickly became my favourite (after the scone).

As we were already sloshing with tea and coffee but had sweet things still to try (and because we didn’t want to leave), we just had to order a bottle of Prosecco.

So as dusk turned to night and the fire crackled and popped, we nibbled and sipped pretending we were to the manor born. It was the perfect way to end a perfect afternoon tea. 2016-10-04-18-22-54-2

The only downside is now Lusa and I believe we have ruined afternoon tea for ourselves as we’re not sure where or what could compete with the ambience, service and food at The Roman Camp – it really was a fantastic experience. 2016-10-04-18-59-43

2 Afternoon teas at £21 and a bottle of Prosecco at £27 = £69 plus tip.