Gingerly looking down as the chocolate coloured river aggressively cascades under our feet as we stood on William Minto’s segmental granite arched bridge, The Forbes Arms Hotel was a welcome shelter from what was a weekend of record-breaking rainfall.
The weather was in fact so bad that my partner Andy and I wondered whether we would’ve been better kayaking to the 19th century, C-listed venue in Bridge of Alford after a two-day deluge saw the Don and Dee rivers both burst their banks.
Luckily for us, the weather warnings — and the torrential rain — had abated by the time we made the 50-minute drive from Aberdeen to Alford on a very dark and dreich Sunday night.
The Forbes Arms Hotel
Like a shining beacon of hope in the misty darkness, the beautiful granite hotel suddenly appeared, as if out of nowhere, from the brow of the historic arched bridge.
After a careful peek over the bridge to assess the rising river level, we made our way inside where we were greeted warmly by the friendly receptionist Simone who directed us through to the restaurant.
A tad early for our table, we decided to grab a quick drink in the lounge bar.
Contemporary yet cosy, the bar was awash with forest green walls, old black and white photos of Alford and subtle touches of tartan.
It’s clear that Morrison Campbell Estates, the family-run local business which runs the hotel, has invested heavily as the hotel has undergone an extensive refurbishment.
Relaxed and refreshed, we made our way through to the modern bistro-style restaurant brimming with fresh green hues, wood panel flooring and stunning landscape paintings by the local artist Howard Butterworth.
Situated in a cosy little alcove overlooking the rest of the restaurant, we instantly felt at home as our affable server Joe took our drinks order, an Argentinian Malbec for Andy and a sparkling water for me, the designated driver.
After working up a sweat in the gym earlier in the day, we were both slightly ravenous, scarfing the complimentary bread and butter in the blink of an eye.
With the weather being so dismal, I was at first drawn to the Cullen skink with crusty bread or the garlic and truffle mushrooms.
But after much deliberation, I finally settled on the Stornoway trio, tempura battered Stornoway black pudding, Stornoway white pudding and Stornoway haggis in a whisky and chive sauce.
Plump and golden on the outside, the three tempura balls were alluringly presented in the middle of the shiny and creamy whisky sauce while the green chives added a pop of colour to the plate.
Deliciously light and crispy on the outside and rich and velvety on the inside, the Stornoway black pudding was a ball of flavoursome joy with the creamy whisky and chive sauce perfectly balancing out the saltiness.
Lighter in texture and colour, the white pudding was more subtle in flavour than the black pudding but equally as moreish while the haggis was marvellously meaty.
Across the table, Andy was more than happy with his Highland venison Kyiv.
Tickled pink and tender, the venison’s rich and earthy flavour worked beautifully with the sweet mulled red cabbage and the creamy cauliflower puree.
As the rain continued to team down outside, we felt cosy and satisfied as we waited for our mains.
In the mood for some more meat, I opted for the braised slow cooked beef cheeks.
The epitome of melt in the mouth, the beef cheeks were simply sensational and paired with the wild mushrooms, pancetta, a shiny dark red wine jus and mashed potatoes, I was in heaven.
Meanwhile Andy was also in his happy place with the roasted rump of Scottish Lamb.
Succulent and soft, the lamb was taken to the next level thanks to colcannon – a traditional Irish dish of mashed potatoes with cabbage – together with deliciously glazed seasonal vegetables with a mustard and thyme sauce.
As for the sides, wow.
The onion rings were not only huge but also light with no sign of grease in sight while the sweet potato fries were salty and crispy on the outside and soft on the inside – bliss.
Despite feeling full, us gannets couldn’t resist a dessert.
Like a work of dessert art, my summer berry pavlova was presented on the plate like a beautiful meringue boat topped with fresh whipped cream, vibrant red strawberries and raspberries plus a pistachio crumb.
Sweet and slightly chewy, I would’ve been happy to eat the meringue on its own but combined with the cream and the fruit, it was the dessert of dreams.
As a cheesecake aficionado, Andy only had eyes for the Terry’s Chocolate Orange cheesecake.
Pinching a small spoonful, I can honestly say the cheesecake was that distinctive orange ball in cheesecake form.
Bringing our excellent culinary experience to an end, we both ordered an espresso each which came with a lovely piece of tablet.
With stunning Scottish food, staff who go above and beyond to make you feel welcome and stunning surroundings, The Forbes Arms Hotel really is a historic Aberdeenshire venue to be proud of.
It’s clear that the staff genuinely enjoy working at the venue which shines through in their impeccable service and the delectable cuisine.
With it being so stormy on the night we visited, we’re keen to return on a brighter day so we can fully enjoy the amazing scenery.
Address: Forbes Arms Hotel, Bridge of Alford, Alford AB33 8QJ
T: 01975 562800
Price: £105.95 for two starters, two mains, two sides, two desserts, a bottle of Malbec, a coke, a lager, two espressos and a bottle of sparkling water.
- Food: 5/5
- Service: 5/5
- Surroundings: 5/5