The Trossachs rarely appear at the start of the conversation. When considering the natural riches of Scotland and glorious views, this beautiful series of lochs and wooded hills is consistently upstaged by its showy, tourist trap brethren, Loch Lomond. The pair should really share top billing in the name of the national park which encompasses both. Sat between Stirling and Glasgow, it is worth remembering that The Trossachs includes Ben A’an, Ben Venue and Loch Katrine amongst its greatest hits. Loch Ard is its smaller, more enigmatic destination.

You can hear the stillness. Approached from the village of Aberfoyle, the body of water lies moody and restful beside a narrow road. A majestic sweep of hills and mountains separates your thoughts from what lies beyond. Sunshine and shadow bounces around the heather. This is the setting for the four-star Macdonald Forest Hills Hotel.

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The garden has plenty of vantage points to take in the full extent of your surroundings. There’s a small pond and stream on the grounds but essentially the loch itself is the resort’s water-feature.

You catch sight of it from the lounge and the restaurant dining room is shaped to offer the best possible view. What was the site of an outside pool in the garden is currently being reworked and landscaped to become an outdoor wedding venue with an impressive backdrop.

Inside there’s a grand countryside look with a modern finish and some Caledonian flourishes. The type of public spaces that are cosy through winter and inviting in summer.

The National:

The resort has a leisure centre with an 18-metre pool, gym and steam room. There’s football pitches and outdoor tennis courts. If you are looking for more activities during your stay, Forest Hills can connect you with the local sailing club, arrange an afternoon of kayaking or send you off cycling, horse riding or hiking for the day.

On this trip, we are more interested in the hotel’s Garden Restaurant where head chef Aaron Sobey has got off to an impressive start creating a dining destination. Before this, he worked under the Roux family at Crossbasket Castle, cooking in the French tradition.

He shares that he enjoys the idea of bringing new ideas to classic cooking. The kitchen is deeply influenced by Scottish produce and this already shows in the menu, that Aaron says he will progressively refine.

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The menu brings together the best of land and sea. We start with an expertly presented oyster from Cumbrae, bathed in a dash of raspberry vinegar, shallot and lemon.

There’s little that Scotland produces that could top the combination of wild halibut and langoustine. Here they combine in a crispy parcel with truffle emulsion and quail’s egg, surrounded by a Jerusalem artichoke velouté.

On the other side of the table, smoked salmon tartare from celebrated supplier John Ross Jnr, served with egg, capers, gherkin, shallot and coriander crisp.  

Before dinner, Aaron noted that although dishes come and go from the menu, his deconstructed take on rump of Scotch beef bourguignon with creamed potatoes and red wine sauce is a favourite among his chefs.

It’s a dish that’s better than its constituent parts, a chorus of rich, bright flavours. You should order this for yourself.  

The National:

Second prize goes to a layered, balanced plate of Asian pork loin and belly, ratte potatoes, mussels, chorizo and coconut broth.  

For dessert, stollen panna cotta, biscotti biscuit, rose and cardamom or a passion fruit pavlova with white chocolate crémeux.

The remarkable natural setting of Forest Hills deserves a restaurant that hits the culinary heights.

This feature first appeared in the March edition of Best of Scotland magazine, published with The Herald on Sunday and Sunday National newspapers. 

Macdonald Forest Hills Hotel & Spa

Kinlochard, The Trossachs, Aberfoyle, Stirlingshire, FK8 3TL