When you hear somewhere described as a ‘motel’, you undoubtedly have images of a seedy rundown joint somewhere in the desert, tumbleweed rolling past, rooms the scene of either graphic sex scenes or gruesome murders. No? Maybe that’s just me.
Needless to say, Mhor 84 is about as far from that as you can get. Right on the edge of the A84 at the north end of the Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park in Scotland and just a stone’s throw from Rob Roy’s grave, apparently it’s been a safe haven for travellers for more than 300 years.
Haven is certainly the right word. We arrived from the Cairngorms during our Scottish road trip. Me full of cold, Jamie knackered after a long drive in less-than-ideal conditions – you know, the ones where the satnav chooses to send you over a tiny mountain road they NEVER grit the day after a big dump of snow. We were due to head up to Mhor 84’s sister hotel, Monachyle Mhor, to interview owner Tom the next day so they’d kindly said we could park up in Mhor 84’s car park and spend the evening.
Fairy lights, roaring fires, a healthy bustle of walkers, cyclists, locals and passers-by and a load of fresh cakes on show as you walk in. It certainly feels like coming home. I’ve been to a fair few coaching inns in my time, but Mhor 84 really does feel like what I imagine they were like back in pre-railway days. Welcome rest, food, drink and sleep – a refuelling stop ready for the next day. Of course, Mhor 84 has rooms too – not to mention a lovely new shop selling all sorts of fabulous things including owners Tom and Lisa’s own bespoke gins – but we were loyally sticking to the van, so it was just food for us, but I’m assured by some guests that we met that they’re great.
The menu is simple, fairly casual and supplemented with a blackboard of tempting specials. There are also plenty of dog-friendly tables in the bar area, so we could snuggle ourselves into a corner next to the fire and tuck in. As Mr M tucked into a pint of the house beer and me to a much-needed soft drink, we decided to share a West Coast crab salad with avocado, pancetta, tomato salsa and a sourdough crisp to start.
After days of warming winter food, the light crabmeat and its crisp garnish was a welcome break. The tomato and avocado added sweet, the pancetta salt, and there was a hint of citrus that is to crab salad what ketchup is to chips.
Appetites whetted and palates cleansed, we went our own separate ways for the main course. Me right back to hearty winter fare with a venison stroganoff that was exactly what a slightly under-the-weather Ellen needed. Chunks of tender, slow-cooked venison swimming in a thick, rich gravy with the telltale smokiness of paprika lurking in the background, not forgetting the trademark dollop of sour cream. It came with rice that didn’t blow me away but did the job and broccoli which added colour to the plate and a welcome crunch to a dish that was otherwise perfectly designed to be shovelled in with only a spoon.
Despite his love of steak, after four nights of beef – including that epic fillet he had the previous night at the Old Bridge Inn in Aviemore – Mr M decided to stick on the fishy theme started with our crab salad and opt for battered haddock and chips with crushed peas and tartare sauce. While I think he was slightly jealous at the handsome hunk of meat that was served up to the table next to us, he gave the fish a good review – fine flakes inside, crispy batter outside, and perfectly acceptable chips, all washed down with a few more pints of Mhor’s own beer. Casual, comfort food.
Lucky for us we’d arrive on a night that Mhor 84 puts on live folk music, so we wiled away the rest of the evening snuggled on a sofa in the corner chatting to fellow guests and locals and enjoying the cosy ambience before retiring to our little bedroom on wheels for the night.
The next day we had a chance to compare Mhor 84 to its older sibling, Monahyle Mhor – started by Tom’s mum Jean and hidden in what must be one of the most idyllic locations going. Up a drive that feels like an intrepid journey into the wilds of Scotland lies another haven, this one slightly more luxurious, where regulars return year after year to escape from everything.
I can see why. From the bijou little bar to the breakfast room-cum-restaurant looking out over the grounds, to some of the rooms that I was lucky enough to have a snoop in, I can thoroughly imagine holing up here for a few days and doing nothing but eating, reading, walking and sleeping. They’ve even got their own little 1950s Pilot Panther showman’s wagon that you can stay in
While I waited to interview Tom (actually the busiest man in the world), we enjoyed breakfast in a little nook in the dining room. The house porridge for me – all research for a piece I was writing for the day job – while Mr M went traditional and had a fry up. A quick glance at the award-winning restaurant’s menu, which includes delights like Scrabster monkfish and Aberfeldy wood pigeon, and we decided we’ll definitely come back one day to both Monachyle and Mhor 84.
If our road trip taught me one thing (other than loving it), it’s that Scotland really can feel ‘away from it all’. Of course, that’s really not such a bad thing, but that’s thanks to places like this – the beacons of light in the dark, the roaring log fire on a cold night, and fresh, top-notch food to fill a hungry belly.
We were invited to dine at Mhor 84 and our meals were complimentary. I wasn’t asked to write a review and we paid for all our drinks.