Food and Drink on Skye
‘Where can we eat’ is right up there with ‘Do you have WiFi?’ as the first question guests ask when they arrive at Otter Lodge Bed & Breakfast. As our name suggests, breakfast is a given but where can the Skye visitor find lunch and dinner? No problem. 2015 has been officially designated as Scotland’s year of food and drink so we thought we should take a look at what’s on offer.
Living on the Isle of Skye we’re really lucky to have a great natural larder on our doorstep. Scotland provides what is arguably some of the best seafood on the planet and, according to Martin, definitely the best whisky. Here’s a bit of food history to put things in context.
The basic building blocks of the Highland diet were traditionally oats and barley; hardy vegetables such as kale, turnips and potatoes; dairy products; all kinds of seafood and occasionally lamb or mutton. These might be supplemented by wild plants such as nettles, sorrel, seaweed and berries. And did we mention whisky? Oh, we did. These ingredients were often prepared on a hearth fire and consequently Hebridean cooking used to rely heavily on boiling. This gave us delicacies such as ‘crappit heid’, boiled fish head stuffed with liver and, of course, the much more savoury haggis (although some people struggle with the sheep’s stomach part). You can still find places where traditional staples such as gannet chicks and salt cod are popular with the locals, but you generally won’t find them on the local restaurant menus. Luckily you will find other traditional foods that might be more familiar such as smoked salmon and black pudding. These days, nobody has to eat limpets to survive, even Bear Grylls.
Skye has a wealth of restaurant and cafes and fortunately a good number of them offer local and traditional Scottish foods. You can pick up fish and chips; or perhaps you might fancy making a picnic of locally farmed oysters and scallops, washed down with that wee bottle of Talisker whisky you just bought at the distillery down the road. You name it, we have it. If you make a pit stop for lunch you’re never too far from a café. They are dotted all over the island, offering a diverse selection of homebaking and snacks. Many of them also showcase local art and crafts.
It’s fair to say many public bars in Scotland don’t major on gastronomy, but sometimes you can find local stuff on their menus. On Skye this will often mean seafood. Two of the most rustic pubs in the north of the island are the Stein Inn and the Old Inn at Carbost; the latter has regular music sessions. Heading up-market, there are two remarkable Michelin-starred restaurants on Skye: the Three Chimneys and Kinloch Lodge. Both have been created by equally remarkable women. Shirley Spear is a Dundonian that came to North Skye in the early 1980s and bought the Three Chimneys as a dream business. At that point she didn’t know one end of a langoustine from the other, but she knew that serving them to visitors was the way forward. Thirty years later and she runs a world-famous restaurant. Down here in South Skye is the romantically-located Kinloch Lodge, owned and run by the family of Lady Claire Macdonald. She’s well-known for writing cookery books and gave Skye its first Michelin star. Portree also seems to be upping its game in terms of restaurants; notably Scorrybreac, run by Calum Monro, son of Runrig singer Donnie.
We couldn’t write a blog about food without mentioning bread. When they opened a wood-fired pizza restaurant in Broadford we were in there like a shot, drooling over their fancy oven. Having moved to Skye we quickly discovered the Isle of Skye Baking Company, which has grown before our very eyes and now has a wee shop and café in Broadford (tucked down by the old pier). They do proper bread. If you skip over the Skye Bridge and head for Eilean Donan Castle you’ll pass Manuela’s Wee Bakery. This is probably the most professional lifestyle business you’ll ever see: a German bakery in the heart of the Highlands. It even has a funny wee cottage next to the house straight out of Grimm’s fairy tales. At this point we should also mention Buth Bheag in Kyle of Lochalsh as a favourite lunchtime stop for seafood sandwiches and heart-warming Cullen Skink.
Here in Broadford you can count the number of restaurants and cafes on at least two hands. Like many Highland communities, the village is essentially a very long string of crofting townships, a few kilometres from one end to the other but all along the same road. This makes navigating the local eateries very easy. If you turn right out of Otter Lodge you immediately arrive at our local, the Hebridean Hotel. They do brilliant fish and chips and ale from the Skye brewery. Head towards the Skye Bridge and you pass Red Skye, a restaurant in a converted Victorian schoolhouse with a modern spin on fresh local ingredients.
Turn left out of our gate and you can walk along the pavement into downtown Broadford. After about ten minutes you come to another bar, the Claymore, with its recently opened seafood takeaway, and Creelers. The latter is one of the few places on the island that we’ve found spoots, or Scottish razor clams. Fifteen minutes’ walk takes you past the Watermill café (good cakes) the Skye Bakery (good bread) and on to the Harbour Restaurant; or ‘El Puerto’. It’s run by a Scots-Spanish couple; two nations that know a thing or two about seafood! Keep walking and by this point you might be thinking you wish you’d brought the car, but persevere. At the west end of the village you’ll find the Broadford Hotel, thought to be where Bonnie Prince Charlie revealed to local clansman how to mix Drambuie (that Prince must have been a whiz at making cocktails). Keep going over the Broadford River, past the fragrant Skye Candles workshop, and you’ll hit Cafésia. It has interesting name, taken from the Gaelic word for ‘six’ (pronounced shee-uh). It’s hard just to describe this place as just pizza joint as it usually has other stuff on the specials board and probably the best coffee on Skye.
What more can we say? If you want to find out what the food is like here, you’ll just have to come to Skye.