Vegan. A word that’s been hash-tagged in tens of millions of Instagram posts, showcasing everything from clean white bowls laden with fresh vegetables, to ethical beauty products and glossy haired people with enviably glowing skin.
Social media has undoubtedly been the driver that has filtered veganism into our health-conscious lives, and vegan meals are now just about as common on restaurant menus as gluten free and vegetarian. However, it’s worth noting that this is not a new ‘fad’ diet. Similar to the resurgence of gin, veganism has been around for years; it’s just that it now has the swagger of the coolest kid on the block.
As a keen foodie, I’ve been feeling the need to educate myself on all things veganism – you cannot dismiss a trend this big! This resulted in stalking the vegans of Insta, reading up on the ‘rise of the rainbow bowl’ and Googling ‘vegan food in Perthshire’ with the same enthusiasm I usually reserve for French bulldogs and pugs. I wanted to join in, but I was also concerned that I’d have no clue what was what.
Always on the pulse of what’s hot, Nicki appeared at my desk one day raving about the Atholl Arms which apparently had a great vegan menu and was receiving rave reviews. One email to Zsolt, their manager, later and I discovered a truly authentic passion for 'nutritious power food' and veganism.
The Atholl Arms is the large white building standing pride of place just as you come over the bridge into Dunkeld. I was accompanied by Hannah who has been vegetarian for most of her life and is the office expert on what makes for good veggie food. As we walked in we were greeted warmly at the reception and led through to the bar area for lunch; even after all my research I have to confess that my deep-rooted – and possibly a bit negative - attitude towards veganism hadn’t prepared me for the cosy atmosphere of the country pub that welcomed us.
The bar was full of locals enjoying a few drinks and watching sports on the TV, with the busy eating area (always a good sign!) set slightly aside, up a short set of stairs. From the bright reception area with plumped chairs and shiny framed awards, to this homely wee bar and eating area, the Atholl Inn had felt wonderfully relaxed and informal.
We had both already looked at the menu online (does anyone do otherwise these days?!)
We had both already looked at the menu online (does anyone do otherwise these days?!) and had been blown away by the choice of vegan and vegetarian options. Forget a token gesture squeezed in below the burgers and spare ribs, here at the Atholl Arms there is an entire section for each, featuring everything from light salads to comforting macaroni cheese.
Miles away from the restrictive realm of veganism I had first imagined, Hannah and I were truly stuck for choice. Now completely carried away, we did consider ordering lots of different dishes to sample in a tapas style frenzy, but realised we’d probably leave more than we ate, which didn’t feel very ‘eating mindfully’! Instead, we opted for chilli nachos, pizza and the daily special of risotto which we agreed to share.
As I mentioned earlier, owner Zsolt is passionate about veganism, and in particular whole food, plant based diets. This belief that you can eat well and still enjoy tasty, delicious food shone through on the menu with well-balanced dishes made in-house, from scratch, and using local produce whenever they can. Alongside the main veggie / vegan sections they also offer vegan alternatives on the menu due to an increasing demand.
I suspect my previous views on vegan food might be similar to a lot of people’s and yet they have been formed without any real experience. I had been willing myself to resist simply opting for vegan ‘alternatives’ to my usual diet but when the pizza arrived at our table I was glad I had gone for a balance! Looking like it had just been taken from the street of New York, with a thin crispy base, bubbling cheese and topped with olives, onions, pesto and peppers Hannah and I were tucking in before the risotto had even arrived!
The risotto was an absolute dream.
Ahhhh, the risotto! The risotto was an absolute dream. It was thick, creamy, perfectly cooked and with that wonderful nutty flavoured rice. It was so moreish; the flavour was intensified with sundried tomatoes and it was presented beautifully with shaved beetroot, carrots and peppery rocket sitting atop the rice. In fact, I’m currently writing this considering when I can find time to go back - proper food heaven! The nachos were also delicious; a nice hit of spicy flavour with tomatoes and kidney beans heaped on top of the crispy nacho chips.
For dessert, I went for the vegan sticky toffee pudding and ice cream – truly delicious but not at all friend-like as poor Hannah was on a sugar free diet whilst raising money for Macmillan! Andrew, our observant waiter, did offer her soya milk for her cup of tea though which impressed us no end! It had completely slipped my mind that for the full vegan experience we would need a milk alternative.
The dessert was just the amount of sweet for me, with a real cakey consistency and if you didn’t know it was vegan, you would never guess. The ice cream added a nice balance to the thick, sugar hit from the toffee sauce. It just wasn’t as creamy as its non-vegan counterpart – obviously! - but it tasted delicious.
As an extra wee note, the diners next to us had a well behaved and super cute dog chilling out with them. As massive doggie lovers Hannah and I had spent most of the meal cooing and smiling adoringly over at it. If only we’d realised we could have brought Louie and Papa Joe with us! Turns out, The Atholl Arms were the National Winner of Pet Friendly Hotel at the Scottish Hotel Awards 2019!
Fresh, locally sourced food, inclusive options for all diets, family friendly AND dog friendly - The Atholl Arms hotel is full of surprises and I loved it. We both left full bellied and with a better understanding into what veganism has to offer when done well, and with thought and care. I’ve not crossed over fully, but I have changed my mindset and I’m now happily embracing vegan meals into my mid-week dinners. That risotto has a lot to answer for!
Find out more about the Atholl Arms on their Website.
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