First impressions of The Taybank in Dunkeld are of a pretty white-washed traditional pub with an expansive riverside garden. All very pleasing. But in the kitchens something a bit more special is going on.

New head chef Gemma Dallyn was raised on a farm in Devon, and seasonality and respect for produce is part of her DNA. Before coming to The Taybank Gemma spent 10 years cooking in Australia and stints cheffing at sea.

Luckily for us, Gemma has “fallen in love with Scotland” and arrived at The Taybank last autumn.

The National: The Taybank's head chef Gemma DallynThe Taybank's head chef Gemma Dallyn (Image: The Taybank)

She says: “I’ve seen nearly every season. It’s so exciting having all the produce straight from the garden. We’ve beautiful leaves. They’re so stunning that even just a simple salad tastes so good.”

Gemma is also loving the crunchy baby turnips and awaiting the peppers and aubergines from the polytunnels with anticipation. 

In Australia Gemma’s cooking took inspiration from South-East Asia, but now in Europe, she has “come back to traditional British fare in some ways, but very Mediterranean influenced, including Italian food and wine. That style of eating and breaking bread: turning something simple into a luxurious lunch”.

On recent menus pasta dishes have been popular “and the pigs head nuggets a staple”.

We begin with rainbow chard tempura with a leek emulsion for dipping. Who would have thought you could tempura chard leaves? The leaves keep a little bite and the batter is thin, crisp and bubbly. I’d pick these over crisps any day.

The famous pig’s head nuggets are rich and tender, and a dish of the house charcuterie is excellent:  homemade coppa and peppery venison salami, served with pickled endive and golden needle mushrooms.

Gemma is passionate about training her kitchen team and giving them skills to enjoy successful and fulfilling careers in food. She’d like to encourage more people to join the industry or consider returning, and The Taybank is already building a strong reputation as a great place to train and develop.

 “The team is so young and it’s so rewarding,” Gemma says. “They don’t know how good they are. Everyone on the team is learning to butcher, they’re getting this amazing solid skillset, learning how to use every single part of the animal. I want to pass on as many skills as possible.”

We share creamy homemade ricotta, hidden below ribbons of yellow courgette and tiny tender broad beans with a generous drizzle of nettle and caper pesto. Saffron gnocchi are light and bouncy, with sweet crab, seared scallop and fish eggs.

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It’s served with a fennel and smoked scallop butter and wispy fennel fronds, the aniseed of the fennel a perfect contrast to the smoky buttery flavours.

The Taybank rents a walled kitchen garden on the nearby Murthly estate. It was last used in 1926 before lying fallow for nearly a century. Last year writer Gabriella Bennett started growing here for The Taybank, now joined by experienced full-time gardener Donald Macrae to scale up production. Using a no-dig method and clever interplanting, the polytunnels are producing an abundance of vegetables. There’s five acres here, at least two are currently nettles (“good for pesto”, Donald says) providing plenty of room to expand. Sassy chickens are a recent addition, with hives coming soon too.

Choosing from Gemma’s menu is tough, even with only a handful of dishes per section: a testament to the creativity in this kitchen.

I’m delighted with my tender wild halibut. It’s served in a heady wild garlic broth, with braised little gem lettuce, salty samphire and plump little mussels. I can’t resist the side salad after hearing Gemma’s enthusiasm for the garden leaves. It’s a beautiful celebration of summer, with varied colours and textures, all lightly dressed in a mustard vinaigrette with baby radishes.

After an affogato we head out to the fire pit and catch the chilled end of set tunes from DJ Trendy Wendy. Throughout the summer there are events in this gorgeous garden: cinema nights, long table dinners and even discos, with wood-fired pizzas served all day.

The ground floor pub also hosts regular music nights and in the winter there’s an outdoor sauna. Despite having only five (very lovely) rooms, The Taybank is soaring above many larger, more established venues when it comes to both food and entertainment.

Lucky, lucky Dunkeld!

The Taybank, Tay Terrace, Dunkeld
PH8 0AQ. Tel: 01350 677123