I was so famished as we approached our dining destination that even the peak of Bennachie was making my mouth water.
We had skipped breakfast, you see, to leave enough room for a nice three-course lunch at Pittodrie House hotel in Aberdeenshire.
The hill of Bennachie was hard to avoid as it began to fill our windscreen.
A dusting of snow made the top look like a sumptuous pudding sprinkled with icing sugar – and that is when I said to my wife it looked good enough to eat.
Lunch couldn’t come soon enough.
It had been a while since we had driven out from Aberdeen in this direction and, as we turned off the main road towards Chapel of Garioch, we delighted in the pleasant rolling countryside which had remained unchanged for generations.
You hear an affectionate old phrase in these parts all the time – “in the shadow of Bennachie” – to describe traditional family links and locations.
But you can’t get much closer to the famous silhouette than Pittodrie House hotel: it lies in the foothills of this famous landmark, so Bennachie virtually sits on its front lawn.
And creates breathtaking views which are hard to beat.
Its ancestry goes back to medieval times when Robert the Bruce gave lands to the Erskine family. Castles were built and rebuilt, or extended, down the years so it now serves up a fascinating architectural mixture; a coat of arms above the main entrance is dated 1605.
Around the end of the Victorian era it was acquired as a country mansion by a family of Glasgow shipping magnates.
And it later gave its name to the Aberdeen football ground.
A grainy old black and white photograph in a welcome booklet showed a social gathering for Pittodrie estate tenants in the early 1900s.
It seemed more Downton than Bridgerton, but they knew how to enjoy themselves. So did I as we grabbed the lunch menu eagerly.
We seemed to have the place to ourselves, so we felt like the lord and lady of the manor for an hour or two.
Our table was next to a window which offered more wonderful views.
The menu seemed a trifle shorter than expected, but maybe that is the way of things now as people run a tight ship.
Of the six mains dishes, we noted three were beef.
It was pleasant enough though and we both opted for soup. Tomato for my wife and vegetable for me.
You can tell a lot about a kitchen by the care and effort which goes into its soups.
And I was happy to see soup standards were high here: both were full of flavour and mine had a generous combination of delicious chopped vegetables.
Excellent brown rolls laced with nuts and honey accompanied our soups.
Off and on we chatted with our friendly Polish waitress.
The hospitality business never fails to amaze me with its versatility; for example, our waitress had only just flown in from Poland, and this was her first day.
But we wouldn’t have noticed, such was the aplomb with which she carried out her duties.
We later discovered part of the reason was that she had previously worked for the hotel’s parent company in the Lake District and was returning after a long break in Poland.
The contrast between tranquil Bennachie and eastern Europe after Putin’s appalling aggression must have been stark: under our prompting she described how her family home was not far from the Ukrainian border.
Refugees were everywhere – she helped by donating things for them – and the roar of patrolling fighter jets filled the sky day and night.
How scary, but how lucky we were, I thought; all we had to worry about was choosing our mains next.
For my wife, it was a minute steak with garlic and pepper sauce, while I chose good old beer-battered haddock and chips.
My fish was a beauty: not particularly big, but nice and plump – and coated in a thin delicate batter which was a joy as it melted in the mouth.
My wife’s steak was tender and moist; the slender fillet was a perfect lighter lunchtime option and easier to digest than one of its heavyweight steak cousins.
Maybe it was a combination of the soporific effects of a full stomach and the warmth of the sun streaming in, but we felt a bit hot. So we asked if we could move somewhere cooler.
No problem was the reply, so off we trooped to the delightful snug bar at the front of the building.
It was very nice of them and it was in this atmospheric little bar where we enjoyed our puddings: sticky toffee pudding with ice cream, and creamy panna cotta with coconut flakes and fruit.
I would have loved to stretch out and take a nap in one of Pittodrie House’s glorious rooms, but had to pay the lunch bill instead.
At a shade under £100 it seemed a bit steep, especially without alcohol. But maybe it’s a sign of the times: inflation, Putin and all that. Or I’m a miserable old miser. You decide.
Address: Pittodrie House, Chapel of Garioch, Inverurie AB51 5HS
T: 0344 879 9066
Price: £96 for three courses for two, plus coffees
- Food: 4/5
- Service: 4/5
- Surroundings: 4/5
David Knight is the former deputy editor of The Press and Journal and he has been reviewing restaurant’s for The Menu for many years.