When we stayed in Inverness, if we wanted a destination that was in easy reach (less than an hour’s drive), had a combination of beautiful beach, cute cafes and a plethora of shops to potter around, we would always head up the east coast to Dornoch in Sutherland. However, we hadn’t been there for a couple of years, so when I was invited to head to the Dornoch Castle Hotel to sample their new afternoon tea menu, I knew it would be a good opportunity to explore the town (coming up in a future post).
The drive from Wick to Dornoch takes just under 1hr 15 mins, so it is ideally placed for a day trip; not quite as far as Inverness but definitely a destination with to keep visitors occupied. As you drive along the main road into Dornoch, it is literally impossible to miss the Dornoch Castle Hotel, with turrets and tall brickwork, complete with birds nesting in the greenery winding up the wall.
This 15th century castle is a family run hotel, and is very popular with golfers visiting the Royal Dornoch course, and whisky enthusiasts perusing the local distilleries along the east coast of the A9. The hotel is also home to a cosy whisky bar, relaxed restaurant and even an on-site distillery (more on that later!) which only a few hotels in the UK can claim!
First, we were shown through to the restaurant, and our tea and coffee order taken.
The first thing I did on reaching the table was to get a good sniff of the botanicals of the Thompson Brothers Organic Highland Gin, which is distilled onsite. The bottle shape is totally unique!
We were partaking in the standard afternoon tea priced at £18 per head, but you can also try a Gentleman’s Afternoon Tea (which is more of a meat-filled version of afternoon tea, and comes complete with a half-pint and a dram), or a Cocktail Lovers Afternoon tea with which you can enjoy two cocktails.
In advance I had advised the Dornoch Castle Hotel about Mr B’s nut allergy, and this was obvious that this was taken very seriously by the kitchen staff, as our afternoon tea came out on seperate stands.
On the bottom tier were delicate finger sandwiches (with white bread for Mr B, as the brown bread has traces of nuts), with four filings, and a chunky slice of pork sausage roll.
The middle tier of my stand had a plain scone accompanied with strawberry jam and clotted cream, and two mini tarts – lemon meringue and a dainty cherry bakewell.
With Mr B’s plain scone came a hefty iced gingerbread muffin.
Then on the top tier, we both received a Chocolate delice. Mr B got two bite-size pieces of millionaire shortbread, and I had a chocolate macaron (though disappointly, we didn’t have room for the macaron and shortbread, and these were boxed up for us to take away at the end of our visit… but we forgot – major blogger fail on that front!!)
Our sandwiches were smoked salmon and cream cheese, cucumber and creme fraiche,
the classic egg mayonnaise (free-range of course), and a roast chicken and rosemary mayonnaise sandwich. All the fillings were excellent – dainty enough to pick up, but with a decent amount of filling to give you enough of a savoury base before hitting the middle and top tiers! The chicken was particularly good, as it had obviously been roasted in a herb rub, so was really flavoursome against the rosemary mayo.
We were both excited to get an savoury treat additional to the sandwiches. The sausage roll was outstanding, with a some flecks of aniseed to give it a more interesting flavour. Top marks also for perfectly cooked flaky pastry!
Next up were scones. I would always take a fruit scone over a plain one, but we could not fault these – just perfectly baked and so light and fluffy. We top ours with jam and then cream (the Cornish way) – what do you do?
I think the stars of my stand were the mini tarts.
The most perfectly soft meringue cutting though sharp lemon curd.
And, thin layers of jam and icing sandwiching a frangipane filling.
Lastly, we made it to the top of our stands to try the chocolate delice. The thin bottom layer was a light sponge, the chocolate mousse was even lighter and the ganache held it all together making it a truly delicate bite!
Topped with a perfectly rolled chocolate straw, this was the icing on the cake.
For those interested, this was the macaron that got away… !
We were offered refills of tea, coffee and water throughout, and we were left to relax and enjoy in the restaurant. All elements were exceptional, making this an outstandingly good value afternoon tea. Booking for the Dornoch Castle Hotel afternoon packages is essential, and we would not hesitate in recommending this offering to you as one of the best we ever had!
After we had eaten and sipped to our limit, we walked the short distance through the hotel garden to the distillery – housed in a old fire station.
It was a busy day in the distillery – as you can see it’s a compact affair, with all the distilling of gin and whisky being done behind the red doors, with seperate portacabins in the castle grounds for storage and bottling.
Dornoch Distillery was established after a very successful crowdfunding campaign (and watch out for another campaign coming as they look to extend their premises).
As the distillery is so small, tours cannot be offered, but if the doors are open, the owners and distillers are happy to answer questions!
After our tour, we headed for another walk around the shops in Dornoch before the inevitable April showers hit -a perfect incentive to settle in at the Dornoch Castle Hotel whisky bar and enjoy my first try of the Thompson Brothers gin. I chose a serve of Fevertree tonic, lime and raspberry (the other was orange and rosemary) and I really enjoyed the flavour pairings.
In all it was a very enjoyable time at the Dornoch Castle Hotel. We felt very welcome and were attended to very well, particular thanks go to GM Matt Logie who gave us lots of space and time to thoroughly relax, and of course the kitchen staff who prepared an excellent afternoon tea. We’ll be keeping an eye on their social media for their special accommodation and dining deals towards the end of the season!
We received afternoon tea at the Dornoch Castle Hotel in exchange for a impartial review post. All opinions are our own.