By Franz Scheurer
Most houses in Scotland are drab. There is a total lack of colour, almost as if a splash of colour would be sinful and too much fun! Everything is grey and everyone loves pebblecrete. It’s the singularly most used finish on outside walls. Combine this with the dreary, grey and wet weather that so often prevails and you might begin to understand the Scottish psyche. It would drive me to drink!
Edinburgh has the advantage of many cobblestone streets, which lend a mediaeval charm to the city. In many ways Scotland is culinary-wise where Australia was about ten years ago. Serious food is being discovered and local produce, specialties and dishes are being modernised and built upon. It’s not very widespread as yet, but it is unmistakable. Speaking of mistakes, a lot of menus read like some of the worst confusion cuisine I’ve ever encountered. “Japanese Prawns” are described as “Prawns wrapped in filo pastry, deep-fried and served with a sweet and sour sauce. “Chicken breasts, stuffed with Haggis, topped with a mild Curry Sauce on Aubergine Salsa” seems to be a favourite in a few restaurants and most of them still use protein and fruit in the same dish.
Ah… it’s been a long time!
To grow, I suppose, one has to go through a phase of mistakes. Let’s hope it will be a short one!
Generous friends whisk us off for our first memorable meal is at La Garrigue L’été in Edinburgh. (La Garrigue is the name of an arid but beautiful strip of land in the Languedoc region of France, stretching from the Cevennes to the Coast and from the Camargue to the Pyrenees.) Run by Jean Michel Gauffre, a Frenchman, this tiny place, in the centre of the old town, serves up serious southwestern provincial French food, with a very well put together wine list to match. A “Tartelette de fromage de chêvre à la rubbarbe de jardin” is a refreshingly light goat’s cheese tart with added tang from the rhubarb and the “Soup de poissons comme pour Yvonne” a flavoursome bisque with lots of shellfish pieces. (Never found out who Yvonne is) The “Cassoulet aux trois viandes” is the Castelnaudarry style baked bean casserole with pork, lamb, duck and Toulouse sausage (yes, they can’t count) and is served with a walnut salad. His “La paleron de boeuf en daube au minervois” is a rustic stew, using Scottish beef and the roast turbot is served with red Camargue rice and a sorrel sauce. Desserts are rustic, elegant, wholesome and stylish, all rolled into one. The pick of the night would have to be the clafouti of fresh summer fruit, but the crème brûlée with thyme a very close second. The wine list is a treasure trove of southwestern wines. Service is good, value for money terrific… even with the bad exchange rate. I do hope I’ll make it back there before I leave.
For more information or bookings:
La Garrigue L’été
31 Jeffrey Street, Edinburgh
Tel.: 0131 567 3032
It is obvious to us that our friends spent hours doing restaurant research and next on the list of ‘must eats’ is Restaurant Martin Wishart. Their recommendation backed up by food writer Sue Lawrence as one of Edinburgh’s best restaurants, we expected a lot. Nestled amongst lots of tiny houses right at the waterfront in Leith it is sparsely furnished, stark and modern and wouldn’t look out of place in Sydney or Melbourne. Due to the lack of soft furnishings it is rather noisy, though. The menu shows four entrées, four mains, two desserts and cheese. The wine list is more extensive with many interesting wines from all corners of the Earth. The “Roulade of foie gras, compote of Agen prunes and toasted French bread’ is a simple ring of foie gras slices with prunes, but convinces in its simplicity and the quality of the foie gras. The “Tian of crab, avocado, plum tomato, apple & endive salad” has to be one of the best-plated dishes I have seen in a long time. The mains are every bit as good as the entrées, with the “Pot-Roasted Pork Cheek cooked with Spiced Aromatics, glazed vegetables and pomme purée” being the hero. Service and wine service are excellent and the bread will stay in my taste memory for a very long time. The whole table agrees that the “Warm raspberry & almond tart with vanilla Anglaise” is a fabulous dessert and if we could, we would all try and fit in another one. On a less favourable note I would suggest to whoever writes the menu to be consistent with capitalisation and I suggest you do away with the French.
For more information or bookings:
Restaurant Martin Wishart
54 The Shore
Tel.: 0131 553 3557
Dunkeld is a small city on the river Tay in the Perthshire and, as lovers of Scottish folk music would know, is home to Dougie Maclean. One of the most successful folk musicians in the world today, Dougie sings stories of the land and about its people and shows a lot of social understanding. He puts his heart and soul into his songs and his music reaches out and touches ones emotions. We are lucky enough to be in Dunkeld on the only night he is playing for the local community in the Birnam Institute Hall.
To celebrate our luck (we do manage to get tickets) we decide to dine at the Birnam House Hotel. This grand old hotel has ceilings so high you get dizzy looking up trying to find them. The dining room is cathedral like and old-fashioned. An “Adams family look-alike” waiter ushers us in and looking at the menu we’re interested. A main course of Angus beef fillet, topped with a slice of bone marrow, cooked perfectly blue as ordered, is accompanied with a ragout of pearl onions and naped with an exceptionally fragrant beef jus. A dish of smoked haddock with goat’s cheese and fried leeks a perfect combination of flavours and textures. This is excellent fare and is greatly enhanced by a bottle of Sancerre from a good wine list. Value for money is excellent and Lurch’s service can be best described as gloomy but friendly.
For more information or bookings:
Birnam House Hotel
Tel.: 01350 727462
Driving up the scenically beautiful east coast there are precious few eating-places worth mentioning. Stony beaches with pounding waves leave little space for fishing villages perched precariously at the bottom of steep cliffs. Tourists wander aimlessly through seemingly deserted villages and bring some life into the local pubs and hotels. Confusion has a stronghold on most menus and unless you stick to an ale and beef pie you will be disappointed. A local beer they call ‘heavy’ or ‘velvet’ is particularly good though and many an extra stop should be scheduled for its consumption.
After visiting Dunnottar castle we spot a sign to Lairhillock and, for no reason at all, decide to follow it. Some eight miles inland, in the middle of farm country, we find it. An old coaching inn, situated on an old drovers road between Aberdeen and Stonehaven, Lairhillock has retained the rustic features but acquired a fine-dining restaurant called ‘The Crynoch’. (We can always trust our inbuilt restaurant homing device) Finding accommodation in nearby Netherley we eat that night in the Lairhillock conservatory. The menu lists many typically local dishes like Cullen Skink (a smoked fish soup) Gressingham Duck, local Wild Venison, Aberdeen Angus Steaks, Wild Boar Sausages and Sticky Toffee pudding. They also list a dish called “Chicken Ecossais”; chicken supreme stuffed with haggis topped with a light malt whisky sauce and served with a vegetable parcel and new potatoes. No, I didn’t try it. (We are staying most nights in local B&Bs and I religiously eat haggis every morning for breakfast… with black pudding, if it is available) The food is very well prepared, solid and wholesome. Service is frantic, as is the pace in the whole establishment. This place is jumping. Seems it’s the only decent restaurant for miles and a very popular watering hole. Don’t expect fine dining as much as solid country fare and you will enjoy it. Make sure you book ahead or you might have to spend considerable time in the bar waiting to be seated. Head chef Hermann Schmid, a German master chef, knows his craft and the palate of the locals.
For more information or bookings:
The Crynoch at Lairhillock
Netherley, South of Aberdeen, Aberdeen
Tel.: 01569 730001
Stay tuned for more!
The valley of the River Spey is where you find a great many of the famous Scottish single malt distilleries. Names like Glenlivet, Glen Grant, Glenfiddich and Aberlour adorn the street-signs as you make your way south through the pastel landscape. This is a place of indescribable beauty. Soft pastures, adorned with Highland Cows make way for bright green fields, dotted with bushes full of rosehip and dogwood in bloom, next to bright yellow fields of cut grass, alongside the dark, peaty, amber-coloured lazy River Spey.
In the heart of the Malt Whiskey Trail in Speyside, inside the Glenlivet Crown Estate, we find Minmore House, run by Victor and Lynne Janssen. A stately old stone-built country house, amid spectacular scenery, with its own fishing on the River Avon and River Livet, close to the Castle and Coastal trails, this is the ideal spot to make camp. There are over four acres of landscaped gardens with some wonderful old trees and for the sporty types there is a pool, a tennis court and facilities to play croquet. The hotel has 10 spacious rooms, all with spectacular views and very generous en-suites. An incredibly well stocked bar offers over 100 malt whiskeys and should this not take your fancy you can select from all the other drinks you would expect to find in a good bar.
Chef Victor specialises in the finest Scottish produce, using only fresh, local ingredients, including vegetables and herbs from their own, extensive kitchen garden. This really is a weary traveller’s dream.
Dinner in the extremely comfortable, dark cherry-red dining room starts with a butternut pumpkin soup with sour cream, served with homemade crusty, seeded herb bread. The next course of fresh mussels, gratinated with Café de Paris butter is sensational. Served with a mussel shaped piece of light wholemeal bread underneath each mussel, to mop up the sauce, it is both texturally and taste-wise a knockout. A main course of chicken in a mild curry sauce with roasted almonds, crystallised ginger and pilaf holds its own with an exceptional depth of flavour and the dessert, an apple tart tatin, is by far the best I have ever tasted, anywhere in the world.
An extensive wine list, heavily South African accented, complements the great food and, although not cheap, we feel this offers excellent value for money. Retiring to the bar after dinner, we are offered coffee, chocolates and a choice of liqueurs or malts. A good night’s sleep, waking up to the twittering of the birds, a hot bath and a fabulous breakfast round off the best B&B experience in Scotland, so far and we decide to stay another night.
We are inspired by Victor to go walking in Clash Woods, a local forest area and do some ‘mushrooming’ whilst we’re at it. The walk starts off brilliantly by stumbling over some perfectly ripe wild raspberries. After gorging ourselves on the succulent, sweet berries we continue, steadily up the hill and are rewarded with spectacular views over the Glenlivet Crown Estate. Purple heather fights for attention in the sea of bright greens of the many-shaped pasture patches. We return to Minmore House with a large plastic bag full of cepes and dutifully hand them to the chef. Afternoon tea beckons in the drawing room! Scones, raspberry jam, freshly whipped cream, chocolate cake, shortbread, sandwiches and savoury morsels with tea. Time for a nap before dinner.
Dinner is just as good as the night before. A hot Vichyssoise, followed by a salad of mixed greens, witlof, tiny fresh prawns, fetta and eggs, followed by grilled halibut fillet, Noilly Prat Sauce, grilled asparagus and stunning Chateau potatoes. A dessert of Apricot Semi Freddo, topped with an apricot liqueur from the Alsace, finishes the meal and a wee dram in the bar finishes us. Another great scenic and culinary day! We are indeed sad to leave this comfortable culinary haven, but the adventure must go on.
For more information or bookings:
Tel.: 01807 590378
And it takes us to Dornoch, Sutherland and a tiny establishment called The 2 Quail Restaurant. Michael and Kerensa Carr run a B&B and cook for their guests but you can also just book a table in the downstairs dining room. The colours and furnishing are bold and very warm, with a plaid carpet, comfortable furniture, lots of wood and inbuilt bookshelves and excellent tableware. The salt and peppermills are unique and the menu changes weekly.
You have a choice of three entrées, three mains, two desserts and cheese. The wine list is a good compromise of New and Old World wines and prices are very affordable. We try the ‘Goats cheese and sun-dried tomato soufflé’, twice baked, very light and excellent and the ‘Scallop risotto with broad beans and crispy bacon’, made à-la-minute, creamy, full of earthy flavours and the crispy bacon adding a great textural element. For mains we select the ‘Suprême of salmon with wild mushrooms and creamed leeks’, perfectly cooked, protein just set in the centre and ‘Roast loin of lamb with Puy lentils and a thyme gravy’, rare, as ordered, fabulous quality lamb with ‘al dente’ lentils in a very rich, complex gravy. Every drop of gravy has to be mopped up with the delicious home made bread rolls and the desserts, a ‘Raspberry crème brûlée’ and a ‘Dark chocolate mousse with Grand Marnier ice-cream’ shine. Raspberries are in season and you can tell. Mind you, I think that a crème brûlée is a classic dessert and there is no need to re invent it. I would rather see a classic crème brûlée served with the fresh raspberries on the side. The mousse is thick, rich and creamy. The only letdown, as everywhere so far in Scotland, is the coffee. I think we just have to work on acquiring a taste for tea… I’ve got to mention the toilet. It is just wonderful. Spacious, beautifully appointed, a real royal retreat. I really think that Michael and Kerensa are on the way to a Michelin star.
A long and interesting chat over a bottle of red after dinner with Michael and Kerensa reveals a deep passion for what they do so well. We also learn about John Grant’s Dornoch Black Pudding, according to Michael the best in the world, and made right here in Dornoch and they will offer it for breakfast if you stay at their B&B! If you visit these shores for its great beaches (Scottish advertising!) or play to Golf at the renowned golf course, ranked 15th out of the world’s top 100, don’t miss out on a night at the 2 Quails.
For more information and bookings:
2 Quail Restaurant
Sutherland IV25 35N
Tel.: +44 1862 811 811
Wild Weather, Deep Caves, Steep Cliffs and Islands Galore
North-West Sutherland sweeps northwards from Ullapool via numerous crofting communities and fishing ports to Cape Wrath and extends along the north coast to the village of Tongue. It’s a wild, untamed land. If it isn’t big it’s ancient, from caves big enough to house a cathedral and the UK’s highest waterfall and sea cliffs to rocks more than 3,000 million years old and animal bones dating back to the last Ice Age. In the midst of this wilderness you find the safe harbour of the fishing village of Lochinver and overlooking the loch is Albannach. This B&B and restaurant, run by Colin Craig and Lesley Crosfield in a 19th century home in a walled gardens, overlooks the picturesque village, which cowers under the majestic peaks of the Suilven and Canisp mountains. Comfortable rooms and (at last) a king-size bed welcome the visitor. Calming pastel yellows, soothing terracotta reds and lots of dark wood produce an air of peace and courteous staff make everything seem easy. Settling into our room there is even a big enough bathtub for me to soak in. Now that is one big bathtub! After beating the iron into submission, my wife, (and her, by now uncrushed blouse) and I (still wearing rather crumpled pants, but I can get away with it, I’m a bloke, right?) make our way to the conservatory to peruse the wine list and partake of some amuse gueules.
I’m sure the tiny morsels offered are very good, however I am so distracted by the excellent wine list that I hardly notice. I do remember the stunning local oysters, salty, sweet, creamy, freshly shucked and served on a bed of local seaweed. Looking at the menu, I eventually, after much deliberation, order a Nachenheimer Rothenburg Riesling, Kabinett, ‘Jean Baptiste’ 1994 and a Pommard, Clos Blanc, 1er Crus, Domaine Marchard Gramont 1988.
The emphasis in this place is firmly on food and wine and Colin and Lesley are using local lamb and beef, locally caught fish and homegrown organic vegetables from the Assynt crofters. Their selection of wild mushrooms is astonishing and if you stay the night during the mushroom season I suggest you order them for breakfast.
The Riesling works wonderfully with the ‘Pan-fried Breast of Guinea Fowl on Juniper Chard with Wild Mushroom Ravioli and Cider Sauce’ and the ‘Courgette Soufflé with Red Onion Marmalade. We switch to the pinot with the main course of ‘Lochinver-landed Halibut on Croft Greens, with Fennel Potatoes, Asparagus Spears and Tarragon Hollandaise’ and the fish is robust enough to match it admirably. We have a chance to finish the red with two Irish cheeses, a Gubbeen and a Cooleeney. (A washed rind and a white mould) A dessert plate of ‘Chocolate Tartlet with Orange Panna cotta and Pears poached in Red Wine’ finishes a delicious meal and a glass of Pouilly Fumée ‘Silex’ Didier Dagueneau 1999, contrary to what you might think, matches the dessert extremely well.
After such a good meal we even dare to order coffee and to our surprise it’s good. We decide to stay another night!
For more information or bookings:
Lochinver IV27 4LP
Tel.: 01571 844407
A drive through a truly magnificent, prehistoric landscape along the twisting single-track road that skirts Lochs Lurgainn, Bad a Ghaill and Osgaig under the eye of Stac Pollaidh, takes us to Achiltibuie on the Coigach Peninsula and as the locals say: ‘There is a marvellous amount of nothing to do in Achiltibuie’. This tiny hamlet enjoys a spectacular view over the Summer Isles and to the Hebrides beyond, and although remote, it’s well worth the drive.
Achiltibuie’s best kept secret is the Summer Isles Hotel restaurant. The few visitors who make it here usually go straight to the hotel’s popular bar and no one seems to realise that they indeed have a restaurant with the most spectacular views over the isles. Tranquil and free of cigarette smoke they offer fresh seafood. At lunch you simply can’t go past the ‘Summer Isles Seafood Platter’, but make sure you order an extra dozen oysters on the side. The oysters are just the best. Sydney rock oysters are world class, Albany rock oysters some of the sweetest and creamiest, but I hate to admit it, the local oysters here are a combination of Sydney and Albany rocks, equal in every way but winning in the size stakes. The platter is full of fresh Tanera Bay langoustines and spiny or squat lobsters, crab, cured salmon, mackerel pâté, smoked mackerel and hot smoked salmon, served with fresh, home-made bread, mayo and butter. It’s a veritable feast and the seafood is unbelievably fresh, sweet and perfectly prepared with a bottle of Muscadet the ideal companion.
The hotel offers accommodation and if you stay the night you will find that the dinner menu is quite different to the lunch menu. Now ‘Panfried Chicken Livers with Sweet Madeira and Mushrooms’ might take your fancy or maybe a ‘Fresh Grilled Fillet of Turbot with Lime, Butter and Capers’. What is refreshing to see is chef Chris Firth-Bernard’s courage to prepare the produce simply and let it speak for itself. They also serve the best coffee we have tasted so far!
For more information or bookings:
The Summer Isles Hotel
Ross-shire IV26 2YG
Tel.: 01854 622282
Between Applecross and Loch Kishorn lies the Bealach Na Ba pass. A steep, treacherous, single lane road, only passable in summer, takes you over the top and this is surely some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. Deep gorges, wild cliffs, huge crags and stony shards fight against the gale force winds, partly crumbling under the onslaught of water, snow and ice and as you drive through here, scraping the bottom of the fast moving, foreboding clouds, you realise just how untamed nature in this part of the world still is. Once over the pass and arriving at Loch Kishorn, it’s like the world suddenly stops. There is no wind, there are soft colours and still waters and your only trouble might be midges. But the best thing about arriving at Loch Kishorn is the Kishorn Seafood Bar, run by Vivienne Rollo. Vivienne specialises in fresh, locally caught seafood. Try the oysters, the squat lobster or the mussels and they’re marvellous, however it is the local scallops that really stand out. Prepared simply, just served with a little garlic butter and a hot croissant or crusty bread this is heaven on a stick. Make sure you stop here and have lunch, or an afternoon snack. Beware: they close at 5.00pm.
For more information:
Kishorn Seafood Bar
Bar Bladh Na Mara Chiseoirn
Tel.: 01520 733 240
Much has been written and said about the Three Chimneys. Supposedly one of Scotland’s best restaurants, it is located overlooking Loch Dunvegan (you can glimpse the ancestral home of the Chiefs of MacLeod, Dunvegan Castle, across the water). Seals might sun themselves on one of the small islands and it really is a very idyllic spot.
You need to book far in advance and decide what time you want to eat dinner, as they work with a staggered sitting. Once you have secured a booking you will need to find local accommodation (the accommodation at the Three Chimneys, if available, is rather pricey) and I recommend the Lochview B&B, which is within walking distance of the restaurant. John and Maureen Suckling run a clean, spacious establishment with good water pressure and a warm welcome.
(Tel.: 01470 511 325)
We had a choice of a 6.30pm or 9.30pm sitting, and we chose the earlier one. We walked down the hill from the B&B, freshly showered, hungry and full of expectations at 6.25pm and guess what: the door was locked. We had to wait outside, like two shags on a rock until 6.30pm (precisely). If you ask me to eat as early as this, please be prepared to open your bar once guests arrive!
Once ushered in, we ordered an aperitif (no, they didn’t have Ricard) and we were given the menu and the wine list. Price is set at £44.00 per head for a four-course meal and you have a choice with each course from a short menu. The wine list, although quite extensive, didn’t seem to offer many wines to match the food, and the few that did were way out of our price range. I felt it was compiled without consideration to the food, simply as a collection of ‘big names’.
We ordered our first three courses and our wines, and were shown to our table shortly afterwards. The interior of the restaurant is very Spanish or Moorish; it’s low ceilings and white washed walls with lots of wood, romantic and comfortable. Funky chairs, lots of spotlighting and eye-catching wall decorations put you in the right frame of mind for fine dining. No tablecloths, good serviettes and good cutlery and glassware.
Once at the table a waiter brought in a great big breadbasket with four kinds of homemade bread. We made our selection and to my horror, I found it inedible. I am a bread-junkie and for the first time in my life I had been served bread that I simply couldn’t stomach. A stale, weevilly wet-flour flavour permeated the bread, (yes all the ones I tried) and I resigned myself to the fact that this would be a meal without mopping up of sauces. Not a good start!
Our entrées were ‘Stornoway Black Pudding & Mushrooms on Toast, Apple & Horseradish Sauce’ and ‘Hot Red Onion Tart with Melting Howgate Camembert, Salad Leaves & Balsamic Vinaigrette’. The pudding stack looked good with the caramelised apple on top, but the sauce was a citrus butter emulsion with no horseradish that I could taste. This wreaked havoc with my wine selection. The black pudding itself boring and dry and the mushrooms almost dehydrated. The onion tart however was good, as was its presentation. For our next course we both ordered the local oysters (having had such fabulous oysters in Lochinver). Though very fresh, they tasted strongly of iodine with no sweetness at all, and we didn’t enjoy them as much as their wonderful Lochinver cousins.
By this stage another couple were seated at the table next to us, and promptly offered an amuse gueule. Now I have no idea if these morsels tasted any good or not, as we weren’t offered any!
Main course consisted of ‘Roast Crown of Highland Grouse, Crispy Potato Stack, Skirlie & Braised Cabbage, Beetroot and Bramble Gravy’ and ‘Filet of Turbot Grilled with fresh Herb Butter with Skye Lobster Ravioli, Fine Beans & Shellfish Velouté’.
This is when I noticed that the grouse had a £7.50 and the turbot £5.00 supplement for ‘special ingredients’! Now when I pay £44.00 per head I expect the produce to be special to start with! Whilst I am at it, I also expect the coffee to be included in a degustation menu, not charged separately, at £3.25 each. (Especially with our exchange rate!)
Back to the main course: The turbot was excellent. Well presented and well prepared. Hardly mind-blowing, though. The grouse itself was full of gamey flesh and perfectly cooked. The flavouring and the accompaniments didn’t work. The sauce far too sweet, too much fruit (the brambles), too many cloves in the red cabbage and skirlie is surely meant to be stock feed. It was also interesting to notice that there was no attempt at continuing wine service once the bottle was presented and the wine was tasted.
‘Hot Marmalade Pudding with Drambuie Custard’ and ‘Dark Chocolate Tart with White Chocolate Sauce and Fresh Scottish Raspberries’ were competent and well presented.
As a total experience this just isn’t worth the money. Service is barely adequate, food is at best competent, and I would neither recommend it to my friends, nor go back again. If you want to play in the big league you have to get it right!
For more information or bookings:
The Three Chimneys
Isle of Skye
Tel.: 01470 511 258
By Franz Scheurer
The Outer Hebrides is real frontier territory. They say that Scotland is the last remaining wilderness in Europe and if this is true, then the Western Islands are its remotest part. Harsh conditions shape the people, and although polite enough, they are aloof and make it clear that they do not really welcome foreigners, and a person from Glasgow is just as much a foreigner here, as someone from Australia.
History here is a largely oral tradition, passed on through generations, relying on memory, hearsay and imagination. This makes for a very colourful history. The church imposes strict rules and although the kid’s swings in public parks are no longer padlocked on Sundays, working is frowned upon and you are not allowed to fish. Alcohol is generally unwelcome and you do not see many pubs outside of Stornoway, the main city on Lewis. Lewis and Harris are two joined islands, and on Harris, on a narrow, tortured track out to Husinish you will find Amhuinnsuidhe Castle.
Amhuinnsuidhe Castle has been in the news a bit lately, as it is for sale and reputedly being eyed by celebrities from Madonna to Sting. The locals, too, are looking for a way to buy the castle and keep it from falling into foreign hands.
The castle itself is a magnificent structure dating back to 1864. Charles Adolphus, the seventh Earl of Dunmore, a keen fisherman, had it build by architect David Bryce, right beside his favourite, salmon-rich river, overlooking the Sound of Taransay. (Amhuinnsuidhe, pronounced “Avonsuey”, as in Chop Suey, means ‘sitting on the river” in Gaelic) Built from specially cut Ayrshire stones, shipped in all the way from Glasgow at an enormous expense, it was never liked by the Earl’s English bride and his endeavours to make it bigger and better eventually forced him to sell the estate.
The castle is currently privately owned and photography, painting, stalking and cooking holidays are offered, with expert tuition, absolute pampering, glorious views, great accommodation and guest facilities. The staff is absolutely marvellous and will cater to your every whim. We decided to take part in the cooking course, run by Rosemary Shrager. Rosemary is well known in the UK as she is often seen on television brandishing her own kind of magic. She is a larger than life woman in every sense and to use an Australian idiom: She’s a hoot!
Rosemary teaches traditional cooking with flair. Far be it for her to teach you to follow a recipe she concentrates on cooking techniques and understanding of food, believing that through understanding comes proficiency, and she is extremely good at it. A mixture of sergeant major, slave-driver, confidante, comedian and bon-vivant she convinces with her passion and spurs the pupils on to excel themselves. She might be loud and sometimes even intimidating, but she also listens and is eager to learn. Rosemary and the current owner Jonathan Bulmer started the school in May 1999, with the purpose of showing off the local produce, provided in abundance by the island and its surrounding waters.
Rosemary Shrager worked for Pierre Kofffmann and Jean-Christophe Novelli and developed her unique style largely through self-education, an insatiable appetite for knowledge and a deep commitment to do her best using nothing but the best at all times. She will teach you that you can fillet a fish, de-bone a rabbit, take the breast of a duck, and prepare a sea urchin or a lobster. She will make you poach and fry her ‘Walnut Gnocchi’ even if it does take three hours and show you how to make a fabulous Gravadlax. Local baking hero, Effie Morrison, will teach you the art of making Clootie dumplings, oatcakes and scones.
Rosemary’s first book, “Rosemary, Castle Cook” is entertaining and educational and a joy to read. The photography by Christopher Simon Sykes is excellent and does the food, the island, and its people justice. (Published by Everyman Publishers Pic, London ISBN 1 84159 049 5)
Should you feel the need to explore Scotland, (and I reckon you should!) you could not do better than finishing with Amhuinnsuidhe Castle and Rosemary Shrager. You will have braised, steamed, fried, kneaded, stirred, ladled, sifted, strained, grilled, poached, sautéed, boiled, clarified, conched, mixed, sweated and been dead on your feet, you might even need another holiday, after Rosemary finishes with you, but you will be a better cook!
For more information or bookings:
Isle of Harris
Western Isles HS3 3AS
Tel.: 01859 560 262