Gleneagles’ place on the global map of fine hotels has long been assured. Whether you are lucky enough to be staying in one of the grand bedrooms, using the spa or strolling around 18 of the most scenic holes in Scottish golf, it’s an establishment which prides itself on offering something special. There are a variety of levels to the luxury though and the newest string to the dining bow, the Birnam Brasserie, is a more casual, all-day dining affair. I went along to find out if it’s destined to be a relaxed alternative to fine dining when staying at the hotel – or whether this French Bistro is likely to become a destination in itself.
The grandeur and refinement are evident even on the approach to Gleneagles and as we were led past the super luxury designer clothes and jewellery outlets to reach the brasserie, the standards were raised with every step.
We stopped in at another recent addition, the American Bar, for a cocktail en-route and enjoyed service and an ambience that would make Jay Gatsby feel right at home.
The decor of the Birnam is simply stunning. The mosaic floor seems to stretch endlessly and the impressive photos on the website really don’t do it justice. There are stools set up around an elegant seafood bar, as well as tables in the brasserie room and a large conservatory styled area called the Winter Garden, where we chose to be seated among the light and airy greenery. The tables are simple yet elegant and it felt worlds away from the formality of the other restaurants within the hotel.
We started with oysters – because this was Gleneagles and why not? – and they were divine. Creamy, cool and delicious. The remainder of the menu was simple, yet refined, with a distinct French accent and deciding wasn’t easy. I would have liked to try the starter of fresh crab from the seafood bar menu but regular readers will know of my intense dislike of mayonnaise and when I asked if I could have it without I was told it was already mixed in. For a place which prides itself on service I was a little surprised but my second choicer starter of fish soup was oh so good. The consistency was thin and it didn’t have that grainy texture that afflicts some fish soups. The colour could best be described as pink-tinged mud but the flavours were deep and intense and the base ingredients had clearly gone through a long and complex process to produce such perfection.
My friend’s starter, shrimp linguine, was equally impressive. The swirl of pasta with spicy arrabbiata sauce was studded with very large king prawns – and plenty of them – and although a pasta starter can be heavy in the wrong hands, the freshness of the sauce and the juiciness of the shrimps here made it just right.
Hopes were high for the main course then but unfortunately my blackened snapper with cotton onions was pretty much inedible. I realise snapper is a denser, meatier fish than most but even with fierce sawing motions, the rubbery flesh refused to yield to my knife and I was incredibly disappointed. The flavour was good and the onions thin and crispy but the star of the show did not deserve its billing.
Happily, my friend fared better with the other main course, a monkfish tail from the “grill” section of the menu. The fish itself was simple but the dish was lifted by the sauce Choron (a tomato-spiked bernaise to you and I). Both of our plates were accompanied by a side of sweet potato fries, which packed just the right crunch.
This being Gleneagles it would have been rude not to push the boat out so desserts were definitely called and we decided to unashamedly take ourselves back to the 1970s with a rum baba and a sundae. The baba is a heavy dessert but a lovely one and this version managed to combine a pleasingly sticky, syrupy centre with a light and spongy exterior. I chose the Birnam sundae, hoping for something special, and although it arrived in the traditional glass, it was a fairly standard chocolate and vanilla affair with various textures of chocolate among the ice cream. No cherry on the top, either actual or metaphorical, with this one.
If you’re staying at the hotel, I can imagine it would be a bit much to dine at the more formal options all the time so the Birnam Brasserie provides a lighter, more simple alternative – and of course it’s a tad easier on the wallet. I keep returning to the phrase “relaxed elegance” and that’s exactly what it is. The setting was exquisite and the menu and food were uncomplicated yet refined. I did have a couple of issues with the food but for the most part we enjoyed our experience immensely.
If I am ever lucky enough to be staying at Gleneagles, I would certainly return here, maybe to sit at the bar and soak up the atmosphere while we graze on the seafood bar dishes. If I’m making a special journey just for dinner though, Andrew Fairlie and The Strathearn would still be well ahead on my wish list.
Price: Starters £9 – £15; main courses: £14 – £50; desserts: £9
Info: The Birnam Brasserie
Address: The Gleneagles Hotel, Auchterarder, Perthshire, PH3 1NF
Tel: 01764 662231