Les 5 du Vin

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Scotland’s larder fills up as does its drinks cabinet

View from the Badachro Inn looking towards Gairloch  

Ever since 2011 we have been spending all or a substantial part of August in Scotland. Mainly in Newtonmore in the Cairngorms but always with a week away on the road every year. This has taken us to the Outer Hebrides, Orkney, John O’Groats and the islands of Skye, Mull and Islay.

The scenery, of course, particularly on the West Coast, is very often spectacularly breathtaking. The weather can either be wonderfully magical lighting up the landscape, in particular long views over ranges of mountains or chains of islands stretching out into the far distance. It can also be spectacularly wild and foul – high winds and long periods of rain. The 60 hours of rain on Islay last year will remain etched on my memory for many years to come.

I have posted on a number of occasions about the renaissance of Scottish food. It is now possible to eat well widely in Scotland with the country’s produce celebrated whether it is from the sea or the land. It is not just at luxury establishments like Fonab Castle, where we were for a couple of nights last week and where you would expect to eat well, but in many other more modest establishments that serve excellent food.

On a day trip to Orkney last Friday we each enjoyed a very tasty bowl of seafood chowder  at the Ferry Inn at Stromness that included a very generous portion of smoked haddock. This chowder was a creamier version Cullen Skink, a traditional hearty Scottish soup, made with smoked haddock and potato. It is almost a meal in itself and certainly ideal for a light lunch.

Lentil soup is another popular and traditional dish and again a good lunchtime option. We stopped for a Sunday lunchtime snack at Balnakeil near Durness, the small town on Scotland’s north west coast and closest to Cape Wrath. Balnakeil was once a military establishment but has now become a craft village. We had an excellent lentil soup at The Whale Tale, a new and very welcoming café that only opened in April of this year. This came with good bread, which is another sign of the change. Increasingly cafés and restaurants either make their own bread or source good locally made bread. Cheese scones, which can be delicious, are also often served with soup.

Fish and chips remains a popular option – either cod or haddock. We have had some delicious examples on our current tour around the north of Scotland following the North 500, the now popular 500 mile round trip around the northern mainland of Scotland that starts and finishes in Inverness. Most visitors go clockwise round the circuit, while we opted to go round anti-clockwise so didn’t have to follow too many camper vans. Examples include a very fresh fish fried while we waited in a friendly chippy in Thurso and very good haddock at the Seaview Hotel at John O’Groats.

Most of our 2017 stay was at in one of the well-equipped cabins at Natural Retreats at John O’Groats. Our friend and frequent commentator, Luc Charlier, will be interested to know that there is good cycling to be had up here on mainly very quiet roads. On Sunday, however, we moved on westwards to Gairloch going along the stunning north and then down the north west coast.

Easan Beag

Here we stayed at Easan Beag, an excellent bed and breakfast run by Louise and George Mackenzie. They were very welcoming, the accommodation very comfortable and reasonably priced. Easan Beag is very certainly recommended if staying at this attractive bay resort.

That night we ate well at the Badachro Inn, just across the bay from our accommodation but a nine-mile drive around the bay to get to the inn. However, It was worth the journey – yet another example of the plenitude of good places to eat now in Scotland.  

Starter: Loch Fyne smoked mussels 

Starter: duo of salmon – hot smoked and smoked

 Fillets of sea bass

Roasted cod

List of special dishes

Wine list with a selection from around the world 

It is interesting to see that this renaissance of Scottish food not only celebrates the wonderful seafood from around the Scottish coast as well as the fine beef and lamb but traditional dishes such as haggis and black pudding are treated with respect and often given a new treatment. Deep fried Mars Bars, however, remains out in the cold.

As well as its interesting wine list Badachro distills its own artisan gin, which is sold in the inn. This is another facet of the revival of interest food and drink in Scotland with gin and beer leading the charge.  Distilling gin and brewing beer is increasingly common Scotland as it is the rest of the UK. At the Seaview Hotel in John O’Groats CRM took the Rock Rose, which is distilled at Dunnet Bay Distillery  a little further west down the coast. This distillery was commissioned on 21st August 2014. It also distils vodka and for both uses locally sourced botanticals.

Staying at John O’Groats the old fire station has been turned into a brewery – John O’Groats Brewery. I enjoyed a couple of pints of their Duncansby, an attractively hoppy amber beer named after nearby Duncansby Head, the most north-eastern point of mainland Scotland.   

It is no wonder Scotland is attracting many visitors this year – those from mainland Europe benefitting from a very favourable exchange rate due to the idiocies of Brexit.







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Scotland’s revolting food!!


View across from Applecross to Skye and the Cuillins

Before I get run through by a dirk by an irate Highlander, I’m talking about Scotland’s food revolution that has transformed eating out here. It is, of course, still possible to find disgusting food but then so it is in all countries. Now, for instance, you can eat as well on the West Coast as you can in London.

 Although there have long been a few scattered pockets of excellence like the long running Peat Inn thirty years ago the general offer was pretty dire despite Scotland having some marvellous raw ingredients. There’s Scottish beef and venison and wonderful fish and shellfish on the West Coast. This is a marine treasure trove for scallops (Coquilles Saint- Jacques), langoutine, crab and other shellfish also plenty of fish. In the past much of this was exported to the Continent as there was little local demand. Now that has changed and many small restaurants on the West Coast offer wonderfully fresh hand-dived scallops

 I remember being on the Isle of Skye over 30 years ago and being astonished that it was impossible to find a place to eat in the early evening because everywhere was closed by 5.30pm.

Over the last three years we have gone on a week’s tour in picturesque parts of Scotland with Carole’s mum. In 2011 we explored the Outer Hebrides – eating well as we made our way north through the islands. Last year we went to Orkney where the food overall was competent rather than exciting as it had been in the Hebrides. This year we are exploring the west coast as well as spending four nights at John O’Groats. We set off on Saturday and have had some great food.


Applecross Inn

Saturday lunchtime we had a great lunch at the Applecross Inn after an amazing drive over the hills up a tiny narrow road. From Applecross there is a stunning view across to the island of Skye and the Cuillin mountain range. We had some excellent and wonderfully fresh scallops and local crab.

After Applecross we headed up along the coast – again with stunning views – to Gairloch. On Sunday we discovered the surprising and funky Melvaig Inn, which has many associations with the music of the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Featuring various album covers plus an Elvis Presley clock along with many hundreds of LPs all carefully filed. I’m sure the Melvaig Café is a place that the majority of Les 5 would love. My only doubt is whether it would have enough resonance for young Lalau.


Elvis: Separate Ways


The exhausted pianist attempting to read the music!!


The Stones first album and Ricky Nelson

On Sunday night we were surprised and delighted by a brilliant meal at Na Mara in Gairloch. This restaurant has been open for four years. The cooking is wonderful assured and precise. I started with a very generous portion of Skye mussels perfectly cooked in a very flavoursome tomato and chilli flavoured broth. My main course was venison cooked decidedly pink accompanied by a lovely slice of black pudding. Scottish black pudding is can be excellent but quite different from the French as it includes oatmeal.  I bowed out here but Carole and her mum then shared a perfect stickly toffee pudding. With it we drank a bottle of Nico, a simple but good value Portuguese red from Setúbal.

Notbeen eatenFirst

Practical warning in the WC@Melvaig