The essence of life is learning through enjoyment.
No place is this more prevalent than in our pursuit of further knowlege in the fields of wines and food - so what better way to combine these two fascinating topics than by arranging a weekend of education her at Eriska. Or so we though back in 1993 when we first organised a Winter Wine Weekend. Back in those days we all had so much more time - and it could be argued a far greater thirst for knowledge that we used to run a three day weekend. Guests arrived on the Thursday in preparation for a full day in the kitchen. On the Friday our kitchen team would be joined by experts in their field to help explain and educate. One that sprung to mind was a Seafood and Chardonnay weekend when Andy Race- our fish merchant arrived- late on Thursday because in those days the market on Thursday night physically took place in Mallaig and he had to be there in person to examine, bid and purchase the fish.
On the Friday monring he simply brought in a huge box of mixed fish and with 20 guests sitting round, dressed in aprons and armed with knives he tallked through the box demonstrated how to identify, pick and select the best fish ( a lesson I still utilise) and how to prpeare it for the the kicthen with ease. This, as then, followed by working demonstrations and then the kitchen team took his work and helped show how it could be transformed. All sounded so simple but by the end of the day we had a great lunch and had some wonderful produce ready for dinner.
Then we are joined by some partners who could not escape for all three days and had a wonderful dinner focussing on the proiduce that had been prepared and with an introduction to wines of the world all featuring the Chardonnay Grape.
On Saturday we had anther practical; day with a demonstartion and talk from Inverawe Smokehouse highlighting the skill involved in curing and smoking fish- a skill we then took even further when we opened our own smoker- and then after lunch it was out on the water- some went out with a prawn creeler, some went to a local Oyster Hatchery and farm and some simply wantered on the beach as part of a guided foraging tour.
This was all simply to build up an appetite for dinner which was proceeded by a tasting of Chardonnay wines from around the world highlighting the huge range of grapes and abilities to create a diverse yet wonderful product. Then for dinner, the kitchen having been slightly freer and less invaded by fishmongers and guests- created a wonderful gastronomic dinner which was matched by a variety of wines which complemented the palate.
A greta fun weeknd and everybody learnt something- some more than others but all had left their cares of the world behind and ultimately relaxed.
However those days have slightly slipped away.
Time has become even more valuable but our thirst for knowledge has not waned so we are delighted to be able to announce that we will be joined by Mark O'Bryen, Master of Wine and Taittinger Ambassador to the Uk for our Winter Wine weekend which takes place over the weekend of the 16th November. In order to offer complete flexibility we have restricted the main event to a Champagne Masterclass on the Saturday Afternoon - for those not intersted in the rugby internationals!- and havearranged a tutored tasting to accompany Rosses wonderful dinner. It will allow Mark to Showcase the rangeform tis great champagne house and really introduce it to novices whilst evolving experts palates to appreciate the finer details. Clearly it will give teh opportunity to showcse the range but I am certain that we wil eb able to slip in a glass of still wine to help tittivate the taste buds styill further.
Join us in the 'celebration' of Scotland’s traditional national dish! Today on the 10th October it is the World Porridge Day! We spoke to Ross in the kitchen about his relationship to the simple and nutritious cereal and the will look at the use of oats in the Scottish diet!
The History of Porridge Oats
The humble oat has been a staple of the Scottish diet since medieval times. It is used to make porridge, of course, as well as such other traditional favourites as oatcakes, bannocks, skirlie, haggis, mealy pudding and for frying fish. Every croft once had its own girnel, an oatmeal barrel, as well as a porridge drawer.
A batch of porridge would be made at the beginning of the week and kept cold in the drawer so that members of the family could slice off chunks as they were needed, perhaps for a snack while working out on the fields.
Oats were always popular in Scotland as they are a hardy cereal, able to grow in harsh climates and poor soil. Scotch oats, also referred to as 'pinhead', are chopped rather than rolled into smaller pieces and therefore tend to be chewier and take longer to cook. The finer the oatmeal, the quicker it takes to prepare and the smoother the consistency.
In its simplest form, oats were eaten as brose with hot water, but porridge is more popular, though how it is made differs from household to household. The traditional Scots way is to soak the oats overnight, then boil them in the morning, stirring the mixture as it thickens with a wooden spirtle to avoid lumps!
Porridge purists may reject adding any modern-day luxuries such as 'heaven forbid, sugar, milk, syrup or cream ' instead sticking to the time-honoured tradition of oats, water and salt (which was also Ross' first introduction to the cereal - see below). Yet if you don't have the time or patience to stand lovingly over the hot stove while the porridge comes to the boil, then making it in the microwave offers an easier and much quicker alternative today. You simply just have to find your favourite amongst the many ways of cooking and types of combinations, whether they are sweet or savoury! Even just as a cereal added to your yoghurt or smoothie makes your meal all that much more filling!
A bowl of hot porridge served on frosty mornings with a little milk is by all accounts extremely good for you. Oats contain more fibre than many other cereal grains and they are a good source of essential fatty acids and vitamins. Furthermore, it staves off hunger for longer as the carbohydrates in oats are absorbed by the body slowly. According to the NHS, findings support existing evidence that whole grains in the diet are important for cardiovascular health. They are recommended as part of a healthy, balanced diet and, along with recommended levels of physical activity, may help to prevent cardiovascular disease.
Ross' first introduction to porridge & his use of the hardy cereal
"My earliest memory of porridge is of my granddads serving us it cooked in water with a healthy pinch of salt! It wasn't pleasant, but the trick was to eat it as quickly as possible to avoid it setting in the bowl, which made it very child unfriendly!
I have grown to really appreciate oats and their many uses, my preferred method for porridge is to soak the oats in milk overnight (about 3 x milk to oats), then cook the porridge with this milk in the morning. Cook it slowly over low heat, stirring occasionally - this will yield a creamy finish to your breakfast.
It lends itself to savoury dishes as well! Try braising some oxtail and adding some of the stock after the meats cooked to some toasted oats - you won't need much stock. Stir in some diced butter from the fridge, some chopped chives and cooked chopped smoked bacon. Serve it underneath the oxtail for a change to mashed potato. You'll be surprised how good it is!"
Do you have any recipes for porridge you want to share? Why not put your favourite combination in a comment below? Or even better, if you are coming to stay with us in November, try out our own Eriska porridge! There is definitely something about spending a cold autumn morning in the luxurious country house style hotel with a bowl of porridge surrounded by the crisp colourful autumn forest, relaxing views over the gardens or by the roaring log fire...
Todays fads are not always tomorrows trends...
In a world of ever changing needs and skills it is often worth occasionally taking a step back and seeing what really matters - not short term trends but long term values. Eriska is now entering its fifth decade under the guise of a hotel. It was established simply back in the early seventies to offer a warmth and hospitality to those who chose to stay with us and today this core remains at our heart.
However we have over the years strived to achieve this in many ways-
Some well planned and programmed others chanced upon and cobbled together but always we have tried to blend our three ingredients- the place the people who visit and finally the team we work with- to create the best final product. We spend hours looking at the guest profiles, we spend every penny we earn to improve the place investing and finally we value our team but in this pursuit of success we sometimes both lose touch with our core and miss out on the simple fixes and most important opportunities.
So when we do gain the chance to simply walk out our back door and look around, stop and enjoy the environment, pause and soak up where we live it is not surprising that it keeps bringing us back to the basics and even more importantly the simple things upon which Eriska was established. To some when we come across these Eureka moments it seems like an obvious "No Brainer" - to others it is to simple to matter - and to others it may seem like a pointless crusade and time wasting concept- to the final category I would suggest Eriska is not for you!
When Eriska first started it was not only a country house hotel but more a working farm and its largest producer of its own raw material - we had dairy herd that produced- milk, butter cheese and cream, hens for eggs and gardens for vegetables. A very large Deep Freeze to benefit the heavy summer harvests and hold for a longer winter , and also to take account of the lack of regular summer supplies. Today we have had to give up the farm but the garden still produces herbs and salads along with the orchard looking after apples and pears for a couple of months of the year.
We can access world markets and get regular deliveries but are we really catering for our customers bringing products and ingredients from across the world - are we selling ourselves best showcasing the world to the world or would we be better showcasing Eriska and Scotland to the world.
It seems a simple and logical step in our pursuit to be unique and individual that we take what we believe is best and showcase this, and even more logical would be that the best fresh produce would be that which has come out of the ground most recently and traveled fewest miles. So under the guidance of our New Head Chef Ross Stovold and his team we have set about changing our view from the kitchen. Luckily this is supported by a resurgence in foraging - although in our view forgaing is not only about trapsing round the island looking for produce but also about working with local businesses to help and encourge them to deliver products we want and where necessary it is up to us to support them as we persuade them to go do a different route to market.
So it is probably no surprise to hear that Eriska was yesterday Awarded its latest award by Visit Scotland of "Taste our Best". This is a new scheme both supported and backed by the Scottish Government which highlights properties which showcase more than 40% of their menu from the locality. Although apparently the locality to the customer ranges greatly but for ease in this excersise- and I am sure nothing to do with the push for independence- Local means Scottish.!
However the scheme does not stop a simply awarding a plaque but also offers feedback to business about where they could make a difference and has been linked to the Food and Drink suppliers with a website to help identify other potential producers which may currently be anonymous and unknown. We were delighted to not only be one of the first to be recognised but more imporantly that this recognition aligns so clearly with our principles. Hopefully the scheme will take off and be a great success and that will require the customers to grasp and support it too.
In the meantime it is out on the island between showers, to pick more Brambles and Chantarelle otherwise we will have some hungry guests tonight!
Recently mushrooms have been popping up everywhere at Isle of Eriska! Although the pictures are not of edible mushrooms, I thought I would share them with you as well as giving you some fun facts and guidelines!
Fungi or mushrooms have been around for millions of years and are not plants or animals so have a kingdom of their own! Fungi come in all shapes, sizes and colours (and smells!) and can be found all over the world throughout the year living on wood, roots, soil, leaves and many more places. Scotland's woodland, grassland, mountains and coasts provide special habitats for over 12,000 species. Scotland is internationally important for the brightly coloured waxcap species which live on undisturbed grassland. Scottish woodland provide homes for fungi protected by UK biodiversity action plans, including the Hazel Glove Fungus and a group of tooth fungi, while some species of puffball have only been recorded in Scotland. More information on Scottish Fungi can be found here
As well as collecting fungi to eat, many species can only be named by detailed inspection, supplemented by microscopic examination. Collecting is thus essential for identification. The first step is to determine the spore colour by placing the mushroom on paper or glass and waiting a few hours. Beautiful shapes are formed as the ‘rain’ of spores reflects the patterns of the gills or pores. As the spores accumulate, their colour can be seen.
Most naturalists begin foraying with the main flush of fruit bodies in August and carry on until mid-October. Several fungi continue to fruit into November or even December, unaffected by frost, and possibly have a second fruiting. Fungi growing on wood may be at their best in winter, even when there have been flurries of snow. Many fungi start fruiting before August, e.g. May for chanterelles in the Borders. Other species are found only in the spring, e.g. lorel. If one really wishes to get to know more fungi, collecting all year round is necessary. The Scottish Wild Mushroom Code can be found here.
Ten things you didn't know about mushrooms
- The ancient Egyptians saw mushrooms as a plant of immortality and a food that was only fit for Royalty
- Roman soldiers ate them before going into battle because they believed mushrooms would increase their strength
- A portabella mushroom usually contains more potassium than a banana
- The ancient Greeks believed that mushrooms had magical healing powers
- Mushrooms are 90% water
- They were first cultivated commercially in France in the late 19th century
- Some scientists believe that mushrooms spores, which are made of chitin, the hardest naturally-made substance on Earth, could be capable of space travel
- The largest living organism found was a honey mushroom, which covered 3.4 square miles of land in the Blue Mountains in eastern Oregon
- People in mid 15th century Europe believed mushrooms were grown by evil spirits
- The fairy rings at Stonehenge are some of the world’s oldest living mushroom colonies and can be seen from the air.
Mushrooms on the menu - Choosing the right wine
Mushrooms don't have a singular flavour profile. They range from the mildest of button mushrooms to flavoursome porcini. Each which suggests a different wine pairing, from lighter-bodied and more delicate for the former to fuller-bodied and more powerful for the latter. The following might help you make the right choice when dining;
Earthy mushrooms, such as black trumpets, chanterelles and shiitakes go best with earthy reds such as Burgundy, nebbiolo and pinot noir.
Meaty mushrooms, such as morels, cremini, porchini and portobello's go better with meaty wines such as pinot noir (sometimes), syrah/shiraz and sagniovese.
We asked our somelier to recommend some of our wines to go with mushrooms. We chose to give you a value for money option and 'the special treat' option, and we came up with the following;
For the light and more delicate flavours, a Burgundy, a more matuderd and aged wine;
1. ALOXE-CORTON “LES CHAILLOTS”1er CRU Domaine Louis Latour 2005 (£50.00)
2. CHÂTEAU CORTON GRANCEY Domaine Louis Latour 2002 (£90.00)
For the more meaty mushrooms, a Barolo, the older the better;
1. BAROLO PIEMONTE Massolino, Piemonte 2008 (£120.00)
2. BARBARESCO Gaja Piemonte 2007 (£140.00)
Barolo is one of the most complex, aromatic and delicious red wines in the world, and they are something different, you would be treating yourself buying both these bottles!
Somelier's dream wine;
CHAPELLE CHAMBERTIN GRAND CRU Domaine Trapet 2000 - a wine to come in very small batches, in other words not the everyday wine, and a bottle to be enjoyed!
P.S. when you encounter milder mushrooms in butter or cream sauces, a full-bodied white can be the way to go!
Eriska's entire wine list offers outstanding value for money to diners, particularly when you compare our wine pricing with other top restaurants. Our comprehensive wine list runs to 40 pages and provides extensive options both geographically and in terms of price. You can click on the button below check availability in the restaurant or on the Eriska Wine Weekend to experience a matched wine and dine event with our Head Chef Ross Stovold and Master of Wine, Mark O'Bryen in November!
We are very excited to welcome Ross Stovold to Isle of Eriska this week!
Ross Stovold previously held the position as head chef at Alimentum in Cambridge. Alimentum is a 50 cover restaurant which currently holds 3 AA Rosettes and a Michelin Star. He also has a range of good quality businesses on his list of achievements, most recently Sat Bains in Nottingham and the New Angel in Devon. Ross' focus is on bringing a training and development ethos to the kitchen at Eriska.
Part of Ross' concept is to employ four apprentices in his team alongside a strong top level, leaving him time to train and work with the juniors in an endeavour to grow our own chefs of the future.
Our kitchen team focuses on the use of the freshest, local produce in a way which develops and enhances the flavours and taste of our through manipulating as little as possible. Ross will continue to work closely with local suppliers to ensure the best of Scottish produce is presented on our Menu.
Our dinner menu changes on a daily basis and offers a choice of starters and a choice of main courses, one a fish from the surrounding waters another a meat dish from the hills surrounding the island and a final vegetarian alternative inspired by one of the gardens or larders close at hand. But what is excellent food without wine...
Our comprehensive wine list accompanies the best of Scottish produce and offers outstanding value for money to diners, particularly when you compare our wine pricing with other top restaurants. Our comprehensive wine list runs to 40 pages and provides extensive options both geographically and in terms of price. Our wine list provides personal recommendations that are favourites of Eriska's Owner, Senior Hotel Manager and Sommelier, and we believe that you are likely to find some interesting options here that may even become one of your own favourites!
This week, we have experinced much of what Eriska and the surrounding area has to offer, but also a lot of the things guests can enjoy while staying with us at the hotel!
On wednesday, the weather allowed for some of our guests with the more atristic nerve to spend time outside capuring the main house.
Did you know, that our hotel was built in 1884 by a branch of stewarts of Appin and the architect Hippolyte Blanc? He was known for his attention to details and for the Scottish Baronial Style. Blanc's work can also be seen in Edinbugh today, where the St Cutberth's Church and the Argyll Tower are amongst some of his works.
Today we went out with a client of ours who will be coming back to stay with us later in the summer to look at all that the West Coast of Scotland can offer! We were picked up by Struan from Costal Connection who took us over by boat to Kingairloch - only a 25 minute journey accross from Eriska. Kingairloch is a 14,000 acre highland estate and is home to a wide range of animals, birds and flora throughout the year and also feature the Boat House restaurant, serving exquisit seasonal cuisine - all grown or captured on the estate.
But what is exquisite cuisine withouth Scotlands national beverage?
We got back onto the boat and set our course towards Oban to visit the Oban Distillery. Oban Distillery is one of Scotland's oldest sources of single malt scotch whisky and are proud of their Oban 14 year old Single Malt with its hints of honey,smoke, citrus orange and sea salt. Well worth a visit if you are staying with us.
What are you doing for the World Whisky Day this weekend on Saturday 18th?
Are you one of the lucky ones coming to our tutored whisky tasting session on Saturday at the Isle of Eriska Hotel, Spa & Golf? It is open to residents of the Hotel and any residents dining with us in the evening.
The session will allow our guests and diners to nose their way through the range of exclusive bottles of Eriska malt we have had especially made for our residents - From the ten year old malt of Islay to the 10 year old Speyside, we will highlight the characteristics of each bottle and the complete trilogy with the Sherry Wood Cask of 14 year old Speyside.
Come stay with us this weekend for an exciting evening, or book a table in the restaurant. we need a 24h notice for bookings with our restaurant.You can book with us by pressing the button below.
No visit ot Scotland is quite complete without a wee dram just to keep us all in touch with the "Spirit of Scotland" - in more ways than one!
Anyway we have a huge range of guests who stay with us at Eriska and their knowledge and experiences with Malt Whisky always varies but whether they be afficiandos or simply beginners- crossing the threshold of our Library Bar for the first time- it is certainly a topic which causes great discussion - always raises the passions and never curbs the enthusiasm.
Malt whisky at Eriska is an intricate part of our life
and whether guests are simply looking for a favourite or wanting to try a wee dram for the first time we try to help them understand a bit about this essential part of Scottish life and allow them the opportunity to immerse themselves in the history and culture if they so wish. This ranges from allowing them to sit quietly and enjoy the dram by the fire or pontificate at the bar and compare notes with others but in the middle of the range is the vast majority who simply are intrigued by the history, enjoy the product and use their experiences to enhance their stays in this wonderful part of the world.
Many simply enjoy what they consume and, as they are not regular malt masters, are looking for ways to compare and contrast their experiences. So we always believe the best starting point is to try and form a base line so all malts get a "fair" chance to show! Therefore we thought it might be helpful to put down some simple guidelines as to how we recommend guests taste whisky in order to get the most out of the experiecne and enjoy the "water of life" to its best.
How to taste whisky
- Start with a tulip shaded glass (never a whisky tumble- unless that is all you have access to). This will concentrate the aroma of the spirit.
- Serve the the sample at room temperature, as this will allow the liquor to expend the maximum aroma and flavor.
- Observe the colour by holding the glass up to the light and note the hue of the liquid inside. It varies from a pale straw color to a deep mahogany all the way to a heavy treacle in older whiskeys.Nose the whisky two to three times- ie pass it in front of you nose iniatally and
- Swirl the glass in order to release some of the aroma. Not only will this prepare the whisky for your nose, but it will also provide much insight about the sample. The Legs on the glass are indicative of the potency of the whisky.
- Take a nose into the glass but do not be tempted to inhale too deeply, or you may risk becoming temporarily “odor blind.”
- Take a small sip and let the whisky coat your mouth and note what flavors you pick up
- Add water to the spirit to open it up and to release the oils in the dram (I add just a splash)
- Take a big sip and note the overall body of the spirit
- Move the whisky around in your mouth to pick up additional flavors
- Swallow and note how long the finish is
- Take your time and try only a few at a time and drink plenty of water between sips.
- Discussion time!!
In addition to these simple steps we also have a tasting sheet and this allows guests who are intersted over their stay to sample a few malts and keep a record in order to allow them to compare and contrast over a few hours, days or even weeks. By structuring the tasting each time it helps formulate the reasons behind malt choices