the isle of skye

so, skye and the three chimneys. this was, after all, the main reason for our recent scottish jaunt and yet it’s taken me over a month to write something about it which is very poor. a simple summary is that it was wonderful. but of course there is much more to it than that!

after getting off the ferry at armadale we drove straight to kinloch lodge who kindly allowed us to arrive a bit later than their usual lunch serving. kinloch lodge is the home of claire macdonald, a well-known food writer and cook, who is married to lord macdonald, godfrey macdonald of macdonald, high chief of clan donald. it is set on the shoreline of loch na dal, run as a hotel and we loved the comfortable lounge, complete with open fire and tartan sofas, where we had our pre and post-lunch drinks.

the lunch menu is fantastic value at £27.95 for five courses.  it is an interesting mix of very traditional dishes and flavours and the more unusual. my starter of warm crab mousse with mussels and a rich seafood sauce was a classic dish whereas the beef fillet salad with sesame seed, coriander, mint and a sweet chilli sauce was not something i expected given the emphasis on locally-sourced seasonal food. both were delicious though and the kitchen is obviously as comfortable with one approach as t’other.

our main course options had the same contrasts – david’s duck with wilted spinach, sautéed leeks and kinloch croquettes had rich french flavours and would have satisfied the most traditional eater. in contrast my mallaig haddock with leek rosti and julienne vegetables was served with a coriander and vanilla sauce.

the puddings were particularly delicious – a light carrot and orange sponge served with carrot and vanilla mousse and pistachio marshmallows was david’s choice whereas i had a lemon and vanilla chiboust (a frozen cream pudding containing crushed meringue, in case you were unsure) with grape and strawberry jelly and crème anglaise.  we agreed unanimously that the jelly was the absolute star of the various pudding components.

the setting beautiful and the service was very welcoming which, coupled with the delicious food and excellent value lunch menu would keep this on my list of places to eat. i’m not sure i’d upgrade to supper though – although it was nice i wasn’t thrilled by anything i ate, apart from that jelly.

supper on day two of our visit was at the infamous three chimneys. this is where i have to confess that our scottish holiday was all planned around my desire to eat at this restaurant and i was thrilled when our friends john and hutch, who live near aberdeen, were persuaded to join us as well, not least given hutch’s excellent knowledge of skye.

we chose the seven course "tasting of skye" menu (which costs £70) and were absolutely thrilled by the food we ate. the quality of the ingredients was superb, they were fresh, local (everything is sourced in skye and lochalsh), seasonal and treated with the utmost care and respect.

having kicked off with a glass of bubbles and some goats cheese gougeres, while we waited for our table, we started the meal with a wonderful mackerel amuse bouche. i love this fish and it was absolute perfection here – the crispy skin contrasting with tender flesh which had a smokey bbq flavour and which was served on a  bed of apple and cinnamon puree crisp skin with apple matchsticks. the meal proper then began:

  • loch dunvegan langoustines with tattie scones & glendale organic mesclunwere styled to resemble nessie, with a mango and melon salsa hidden away in the langoustine head.
  • an insanely rich colbost crab risotto with shellfish essence & truckle wafer (mull truckle is a strongly flavoured cheese) was hutch’s favourite dish. the risotto was served in a tiny copper pan which was presented on a piece of slate, and was unlike any risotto i’ve eaten before – lots of crab, very little rice and, for me, almost too rich to finish.
  • the selection of broadford cold & hot-smoked fish with brungill farm quail eggs was the least exciting dish for me but, if i remember correctly, was a favourite of john’s. the fish was beautiful, very simply prepared and served with beet and horseradish purees to cut through the richness of the oily salmon.
  • the sconser king scallop with hazelnut crust, pickled winkles, split pea & ham hough purry and claret juswas to blame for me licking my plate clean. wow, this was amazing - the clean, fresh sweet scallop flavours contrasted wonderfully with the rich savouriness (it reminded me of asian soy and fish sauces with the depth of flavours) of the accompaniments.
  • a course of three loch harport oysters with cucumber & mint jelly, homemade crème fraîche and smoked herring roe rang warning bells for me. cucumber is my bête noire and i’ve never been thrilled by oysters. however, as we’d warned them about the cucumber issue i was informed my oysters would be served au naturale. i have to confess that i was disappointed that i wasn’t going to be able to get an alternative and psyched myself up to “get through” the dish. but! wow! the oysters were amazing and it was an epiphanic moment for me and for this alone, i will always be grateful to the three chimneys. the boys told me that the cucumber jelly was a bit overpowering.
  • the meat course was roast glenhinnisdal lamb loin with kidney, heart, sweetbread & hairst bree (aka harvest broth) and, all i have written down about this is one word – “delicious” so i guess that’s that.
  • a pre-dessert of tangy and palate-cleansing homemade yoghurt topped with brambles prepared us well for the infamous three chimneys hot marmalade pudding soufflé with drambuie syrup & mealie (oatmeal) ice cream. by this time i was feeling quite full but it did an excellent job of drawing the meal to a very satisfying close.

the wine we drank was absolutely wonderful as well and we had excellent help from the sommelier – clos berenguer del molar priorat 2001 and a 2005 larrieu jurancon.

the restaurant itself is an interesting experience – it is obvious that many people are there as a result of a pilgrimage similar to that which we made. thankfully, however, the warm and friendly staff team keep the air of reverence at an acceptable level. we were lucky that, as a four, we had the best table in the place – a booth to one side. the other tables are very ordinary (in terms of layout and size) and i hope the planned refurbishment will address this as it’s always nice to feel a little bit special. the area where we waited for our table could do with a little love as well, resembling a waiting room in a train station rather than somewhere to start a special evening.

our final meal was at loch bay seafood which was unexpected as the place we had booked cancelled us (hopefully they’ll make it up to hutch next time he is local!) but i don’t mind as we had fabulous food. we started with a dozen oysters – six plain and six sprinkled with parmesan and then toasted - to celebrate my new-found passion. thankfully i still thought they were wonderful but it was interesting to hear the staff explain that they were irish oysters as they didn’t rate the natives highly enough.  i couldn’t spot any difference between them and what we’d eaten at the three chimneys but am obviously not a connoisseur.

i followed this with scallops with lime and coriander and a platter of loch bay king prawns dressed in garlic butter. both were wonderful and the high quality of fresh fish and seafood was blatantly obvious throughout the meal. 

i don’t have any more notes on what we ate but do know that the supper at loch bay is something i’d like to repeat and that it pushed kinloch lodge into third place on my ranking of our skye meals.

and, if you’re thinking of doing a similar trip, please consider getting the train from kyle of lochalsh to inverness, it hugs the coastline for the first hour or so, and the scenery is stunningly beautiful. much better than the west highland line in my opinion, although travelling on the jacobite steam train over the harry potter bridge is something worth doing too!