Venachar Lochside café/restaurant situated in the Trossachs won the best casual dining award in this year’s Scottish Thistle Awards so last weekend we decided to go on a wee tour and sample their lunch menu.
As its name suggests, the restaurant sits on the banks of Loch Venacher, just a few miles from Callander in the heart of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. We decided to take the cross-country route via Aberfoyle and up over the Duke’s Pass, regarded as one of the most scenic roads in Scotland.
As we were in no rush, we decided to take a detour via the Three Lochs Forest Drive. The trees were looking a wee bit bare without their summer coat but the drive took us past three picturesque lochs – Lohan Reoidhte, Loch Drunkie and Loch Achray. The forest drive is the ideal place to spot osprey fishing in the loch, deer, woodland birds and red squirrels in amongst the trees. Sadly they were all in hiding when we drove by although we did spot lots of walkers enjoying the stunning views.
We soon arrived at Venachar Lochside which has been owned by husband and wife team, Andrew and Carolyn, since September 2011. As we drove into the car-park, the restaurant appeared to be floating on the shimmering loch with beautiful views all around.
Inside, the restaurant has two eating areas, each with a completely different feel. Downstairs offers floor to ceiling windows and every seat has a view of the loch, while upstairs only the gable-end glass wall offers the loch-side view. Downstairs was full when we arrived but luckily there was space upstairs. The upstairs area looks like it’s used for private functions and weddings and it was absolutely fine – but the best views are downstairs so book ahead if you can.
The menu sounds deliciously Scottish with the choices split between smaller bites and bigger bites. Casting an eye over the bigger bites of Balquhidder venison burger with beetroot pickle, celeriac slaw, toasted bun and hand-cut chips (£13); baked Venachar trout with sautéed potatoes, roast chorizo, young spinach, watercress, rocket and walnut pesto (£13.50) and Confit Ayrshire pork belly with Stornoway black pudding, creamed potato, young leeks, crisp sage and cider reduction (£14), we decided that we could probably only manage a smaller bite after our hearty breakfast.
I was initially attracted by Venachar Cullen Skink with peat smoked haddock, fish stock, white wine, potatoes, cream, parsley and homemade granary bread with Scottish butter (£8) but the whisky lover in me shone through and I went for Glengoyne whisky chicken liver pate with pear and shallot chutney, watercress, confit tomato and Scottish oatcakes (£7.50).
Raymond wanted to try the goats cheese crème brûlée with beetroot pickle, watercress and Perthshire rapeseed croutes (£7.50) as he was intrigued by the crème brûlée part of the description. Was it going to be two courses in one?
My paté was served in a little cup and came sprinkled with a mix of breadcrumbs and what looked like coconut and tiny little shavings of bacon; whatever the combination it proved to be a lovely textured addition to the dish. Chicken liver paté appears on most menus and I suppose it’s not that adventurous, but it was the Glengoyne whisky that attracted me to this one. While I would have liked a bit more of the whisky flavours, the pear and shallot chutney made this one of the nicest paté dishes I have tasted on our travels. There were plenty of oatcakes to scoop up all the paté and chutney but I don’t think they were homemade – perhaps they came from Mr Nairn along the road? I must also mention the salad dressing. The one thing that puts me off eating the side salad is when it comes out of the kitchen drenched in a heavy creamy dressing. Not here! The watercress had the lightest, tastiest salad dressing that really enhanced the whole dish.
Raymond’s crème brûlée arrived in a cup similar to mine but was adorned with a massive cheese crisp rather than burnt sugar topping. It was a nice twist on the traditional French dessert and worked really well. The goat’s cheese was creamy and tangy and the sweet beetroot pickle went well with the dish. The cups are quite deceptive as while they didn’t look very big portions there turned out to be more than enough paté and goats cheese in them.
As we opted for a small bite from the menu we still had a bit of space left for coffee and cake. There’s a magnificent display of tray-bakes, loaves and sponges just as you walk into the restaurant downstairs so there was method in our madness not choosing a big bite!
I chose the apple and sultana fruit loaf and the biggest slice you have ever seen arrived. Andrew and Carolyn look away now or you will be having sleepless nights about portion control! Raymond had the chocolate tiffin which arrived adorned with mixed nuts. We decided to go halfers and both cakes were so delicious. The addition of the apple resulted in a very moist loaf with just the right amount of spice, while the tiffin was luxuriously chocolatey, a little squidgy and absolutely divine.
It’s easy to see why Venachar Lochside won best informal dining at the Thistle Awards as they get a lot right including the excellent, friendly service. We will definitely stop by again for lunch when we are out and about and will include the restaurant as a lunch option on our bespoke tours of Scotland.
Tel: 01877 330011