The last time I was in Dunkeld or Birnam – the two villages right next to Erigmore Leisure Park – was over 30 years ago, when I was in my early teens. The only thing I remember about Dunkeld from then is how picturesque it was. I certainly don’t remember a thriving food scene.
It’s still as picturesque now – this part of Perthshire will always be one of the most scenic regions of Britain, and the village’s whitewashed buildings are elegant enough to enhance their environment. What has changed, for the better, is the surprisingly wide – for such a small place – range of quality cafes, bakeries and restaurants.
On our first morning at Erigmore, we ambled along the Tay river path into Dunkeld: an enjoyable 20-minute stroll straight past the famous Birnam Oak and the equally impressive Birnam Sycamore. We wanted to check out the village and sort ourselves out some lunch, but we hadn’t given our plans much more thought than that.
At about eleven o’clock, there was already a queue outside the stylish-looking Aran Bakery. And then we spotted, slightly further up the main drag, on the other side, Nova Botanics, a combined café and florist. We had happy memories of another florist-come-café from a holiday to Lisbon, but we – unfairly, as it soon turned out – weren’t anticipating such on-trend sophistication in sleepy Perthshire.
The interior was Scandi stylish, while the coffee, the tea, our daughter’s hot chocolate, the pastries and the Portuguese custard tarts were excellent. Our dog was made very welcome – a recurrent theme of the weekend. And it turned out that the Portuguese connections were no coincidence, as they continue into Nova’s creative director’s cultural heritage.
The sandwiches on the bar looked amazing. I – only half-jokingly – suggested staying after our coffee and cake and going straight into lunch. But we resisted that particular temptation.
After checking out the flowers and gift shop area, we had an enjoyable stroll around the town – past other tempting-looking establishments, like the Scottish Deli, and the Clootie Dumpling, which my mother speaks very highly of – and then grabbed takeaway lunch from Aran Bakery. It was clear why those queues had been there earlier. We had delicious sausage rolls and also a tenderstem broccoli, feta and harissa sandwich on sourdough, which was as tasty as it is unconventional-sounding.
In the evening, our whole family group – seven of us; eight including the dog – went to Z’s Bistro, at the Atholl Arms hotel. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the interior was attractive and comfortable, our service was very good and the food – we each had different dishes, from the extensive menu – was all high quality. Such an extensive menu can sometimes be a bad omen, but that certainly wasn’t the case for us here.
I thoroughly enjoyed my tuna steak Niçoise salad – there were plenty of seafood options on the menu – and then my apple crumble. Susi’s venison sausages with puy lentils, broccoli and sliced potatoes was rich, gamey and delicious.
And then, on our final morning, something a bit different, less trendy than Nova and less fancy than Z’s, and extremely close to Erigmore: breakfast at Birnam Post Office. Or, to be more specific, Chattan Tea Room, in Birnam’s combined post office, shop and café. The café serves traditional Scottish cooked breakfasts, as well as lunches, cakes and, to take away, excellent Giacopazzi’s ice cream.
Back to breakfast though: our daughter couldn’t quite finish her black pudding and square sausage in a lovely soft breakfast roll; she had, after all, had chicken skewers, rice AND halloumi fries at Z’s the night before. The dog and I were quite happy to help with her leftovers. And we adults had full cooked breakfasts, which were delicious and all very reasonably priced.
It was the perfect way to round off our weekend, in a hidden gem that’s typical of this part of the country, which is full of quality but often quite modest about it.
To experience the delicious food in Dunkeld and Birnam, you can book the perfect base to explore at Erigmore Leisure Park.