This week our restaurant reviewer ventured to one of the most picturesque places you can possibly have an afternoon tea – The Torridon Hotel.
I’m not afraid to admit it. There have been times over the past 15 months when I have been climbing the walls. I know I have been so much luckier than many others during lockdown – we have a garden, enough space to work at home, family who are regularly in touch and, yes, even my husband hasn’t been too much of a pain in the neck!
But, I have been going stir crazy. Anyone who knows me will tell you that getting out for a decent meal with friends or family is one of the greatest joys in my life.
So when we had our brief lifting of lockdown last year I was one of the first to book a table at some of my favourite haunts.
In March, when we got another respite, I decided I had to spread my wings and head further afield for a fix of genial conviviality. It still had to be within our households so it had to be just me and hubby but we were determined to make a day of it and get as far from home as possible.
Being restricted to our local authority area has never been too much of a problem for those of us in Highland, so we opted to spoil ourselves with a fabulous drive, a beautiful walk and a decadent afternoon tea in one of Scotland’s most celebrated hotels. And so – to Torridon.
Afternoon tea has become fashionable again, not before time in my opinion.
The drive was simply stunning. Although the weather had been unseasonably cold and wet it did mean the hills and mountains had a gorgeous dusting of snow on the tops and the rivers were in spectacular spate. Set against the clear blue sky, it was picture postcard perfect.
I am not surprised The Torridon gets mentioned in the top travel guides. It must be one of the most enchanting settings for a hotel anywhere in the world. On the shores of Loch Torridon with the mountains stretching to the heavens all around it is magnificent. And the hotel itself with its turrets and towers is like something from a movie. A gem.
We arrived in time to take a short walk around the grounds. There were Highland cattle grazing by the burn with one calf having the time of its life racing around the paddock. The walk took us through the hotel’s kitchen gardens where, even this early in the season, there was a hive of activity getting all of the beds ready for the spring planting. But time was marching on and I heard a scone (or whatever) calling me so we made our way inside the baronial mansion to find the dining room.
The staff were immaculately turned out in tweeds and tartan and the hotel itself is magnificent – all wood panelling and sumptuous soft furnishings.
We arrived at the allotted hour but nobody was there so we stood for quite some time at the door of the dining room where the sign explained we had to wait until a member of staff came to seat us.
Not the perfect start, particularly as we had a booking, but a fairly small gripe. If you have rules like this, you need to have sufficient staff to ensure it works properly. But all irritation was soon forgotten once we were seated, looking out of the large windows on to the loch – breathtaking.
Our afternoon tea was all you would expect in such a prestigious establishment. The most delicious, mouthwatering savouries including a sausage roll which had perfect flakey, buttery pastry and succulent sausage meat.
The sandwiches were so fresh I think the bread must have been baked that day. The fillings of smoked salmon, roast beef from the Torridon home farm with horseradish and free range egg mayonnaise were perfect. The scones and jam were all you could hope for.
Both fruit and plain scones served with jam and clotted cream. Hubby is a bit of a traditionalist on that front, believing clotted cream is an affectation to be eaten only in Devon or Cornwall, but I am happy with butter or clotted cream.
And, as in any afternoon tea, this was simply the prelude to the main event – the cakes.
That was what we were here for and they didn’t disappoint. The strawberry tart was crammed full of fruit sitting on a light, yet creamy filling. The macaron (white chocolate and sea salt) and the tiny raspberry eclair were beautiful. How chefs get such a glossy finish on their chocolate toppings I don’t know but this éclair positively sparkled.
The star was the opera cake. I don’t think I had even heard of opera cake before it was a challenge on an episode of “Bake Off”. The multiple layers of sponge oozing with coffee and topped with yet more chocolate was to die for.
We had asked our waitress for a box to take some of the goodies home. No one, surely, could eat everything they served. I am ashamed to confess the solitary sandwich and half a scone we managed to take away were simply there to avoid the embarrassment of handing it back empty.
Address: The Torridon, Annat by Achnasheen, Wester Ross IV22 2EY