The Food of the Highlands
Saturday, August 20th , 2016
This week I visited the Isle of Skye to try Kinloch Lodge. To get to Skye you need to either take the road bridge or a ferry. Bear in mind that the latter may be picturesque but can get very busy in peak season and requires advance booking. As some diners have discovered, it is a long journey from the ferry port to the road bridge if things go awry and the ferry is full. The restaurant has a few nice rooms and is set in a pretty location on the south east of Skye. The dining room is elegant, the building originally a clan hunting lodge and in family ownership for centuries. With all this fine atmosphere I was hopeful of a meal to match, but to be honest the food was something of a let down. The chef was away doing a cookery demonstration, which may not have helped, but although there were some execution problems on the evening I was more concerned with the fundamental design of some of the dishes. A lovely scallop did not need a slice of Parma ham and an overpowering peanut sauce, and the delicate flavour of a sea bass and crab mousse was lost amongst the clanging sweetness of a butternut squash sauce, the latter a vegetable wildly out of season. There were one or two nice dishes such as a good cured salmon dish with seafood mousse, which made the overall experience rather frustrating.
The most northerly Michelin starred restaurant in the UK is Albannach in the pretty fishing village of Lochinver. To drive there you go through a national park with some stunning, rugged scenery (illustrated). The dining experience feels more like a dinner party than a restaurant in some ways, as guests are seated at the same time and are served each dish together, although tables are separate rather than communal. The owners are both self-taught chefs and share the duties in the kitchen. The food was actually pretty good, with an excellent crab fishcake with avocado for example, and tender lobster with leaves from the garden. The cooking style is very simple but none the worse for that, though the website’s emphasis on the growing of local ingredients in the croft behind the building was somewhat undermined by the use of Peruvian asparagus. The overall experience was somewhat diminished by absurdly amateurish service, but if you can put this to one side then you may enjoy the pleasant food.
Near Nairn in northern Scotland (not too far from Inverness) is The Boath House, a boutique hotel and restaurant in a Georgian mansion set in nine acres of grounds. The restaurant has had the same chef for fourteen years, and we enjoyed a very pleasant meal, with a highlight being an impressively deeply flavoured celeriac soup. Service was good and the dining room is elegant, and the overall standard of the cooking was consistent.
At the time of writing there are 13 one Michelin starred restaurants in Scotland (plus Andrew Fairlie with two), and following this trip there are just three that I have yet to try – all clustered near St Andrews, and one of these (Sangsters) appears to have just closed. Although as with any such collection some restaurants are better than others, there are certainly some gems amongst these as documented last week, and the scenery in Scotland is undeniably spectacular.