By Matthew Lynas
A RESTAURANT and hotel business in Argyll has been given a new lease of life, snapping up numerous accolades since reopening in 2013 thanks to a young chef proprietor and his team.
Sitting by the side of the A85 between Tyndrum and Oban, the Taynuilt Hotel is nothing if not a destination venue.
For chef proprietor John McNulty, taking on a hotel and restaurant business in such a rural location was an ambitious move.
While the young chef had racked up experience through a career that started in the kitchen at Loch Gair Hotel in Argyll at the age of 13 and included stints at the George Hotel in Inveraray, Deans at Let’s Eat in Perth and the Kilberry Inn, there’s no doubt that opening a rural on-trade venture was a bit of a risky proposition.
But with some family backing, the then 22 year old chef grabbed the bull by the horns and purchased the hotel in 2012 and, with the support of a solid team, he now appears to be reaping the rewards.
The Taynuilt Hotel team is gaining recognition for its efforts, having secured a second AA rosette earlier this year – shortly after achieving one rosette status in 2015 – as well as earning a spot in the Michelin Guide.
McNulty’s sous chef and protégé Ross Harris pulled in further prizes for the venue this year, picking up the Sous Chef award at the 2016 Scottish Hotel Awards, where the venue also picked up the Argyll and Lomond Regional Winners prize for informal dining.
The key to the venue’s early success?
McNulty reckons it’s as simple as doing things the right way, even if that isn’t always easy.
“Doing everything properly is the only thing I can think of, but it’s not easy doing it this way,” said McNulty.
A commitment to high standards is a clear prerequisite to pulling off the kind of seasonal menu that McNulty offers at the Taynuilt Hotel.
While the venue isn’t shy of the kind of seafood dishes visitors to the west coast may have come to expect, the hotel’s restaurant has a broad menu which includes the likes of duck liver parfait with Cointreau jelly, saddle of Perthshire roe deer served with a smoked butternut squash puree and pan roasted Goosnargh duck breast.
The menu changes regularly, which has contributed to the restaurant attracting exactly the kind of ‘foodie’ clientele that McNulty said he is after.
“Every two weeks we take a starter or a main off and put on a new dish, and we do a lot of specials,” he said.
“A two [starters], two [mains], two [desserts] specials menu.
“Whatever’s in season we go for it.”
Food may be the focus, but wine is also taken seriously at the Taynuilt Hotel, with general manager and sommelier David Lapsley taking charge of the list – as well as the front of house team.
Lapsley, who has previous management experience working with Crerar Hotels, said the ‘hands-on’ nature of the role attracted him to the Taynuilt Hotel.
“I don’t like the office-based side of things,” he said.
“I like to be out front.”
When Lapsley joined McNulty’s team in 2014, he brought both high-end hotel experience and a wine education with him, but the GM reckons staff enthusiasm is at the heart of Taynuilt’s success.
“It’s just a young passionate team,” he said.
Not about to rest on their laurels, Lapsley said the next focus for the Taynuilt team is to renovate the rooms.
It’s a step forward from the early days of the business when the food and drinks offer was the focus, with the goal of “bringing in the coin” – an approach which Lapsley said has “definitely paid off”.
But complacency isn’t setting in.
“We’ve still got a very long way to go,” said Lapsley.