Some people travel to get away, some to see the sights, and others to be exposed to the culture. I would expect it's a combination for most people with an emphasis on seeing the sights. I'm all about immersing myself as much as possible in the culture. For me, that means the food. While there are many aspects to culture, food tends to be the most readily and universally shared.
While Scotland has been a country I've wanted to visit for a long time, the food was never the driving force. Maybe that's why it took me so long to go there. Since our trip focused on the Highlands and the Isle of Skye, I was hoping for some good seafood and felt I needed to at least try some haggis. But, overall, I wasn't expecting this to be a culinary adventure. That'll teach me.
Part of that impression was thanks to a pre-travel internet search. I couldn't find much information about dining on Skye. The most info I found was on the Lonely Planet site. It listed three restaurants. Once we got there, we discovered their top pick was under new management and not what it used to be. Their second pick had shut down. There was no mention of The Old School Restaurant or Three Chimneys. Fortunately for us, Neil, our new friend and proprietor of the Greshornish House Hotel, recommended both of those restaurants. After a little checking, we discovered that Three Chimneys was a Michelin-starred restaurant. How did that not show up on any of our internet searches?
We were able to get a lunch reservation only, but after lunch we talked to chef/director Michael Smith and were able to capitalize on a dinner cancellation a few days later. Three Chimneys focuses on very local ingredients. Most of what they serve is either fished, grown or foraged on the Isle of Skye or the surrounding Highlands. The Taste of Skye tasting menu featured the seafood appetizer pictured at the top of local seafood that was so fresh and simply prepared, it felt like the perfect representation of the region. They had 'wee bites' between courses and our favorite was a delicately grilled piece of haddock and a scoup of smoked trout salad that melted deliciously in our mouth. I don't get the opportunity to eat venison very often so I was happy to see it on the menu here. I won't go into course-by-course detail here, but if you want to see more of the food and the restaurant, check out my Storehouse story at the link below.
Suffice to say, after thoroughly enjoying our lunch there, we were excited to return for dinner.
After a week on Skye, it was time to make our way back to England. We decided to take a more northernly route to drive past Loch Ness and Inverness and then down to Edinburgh for a few days. After being so impressed with Three Chimneys. Erin bypassed Yelp and went straight to looking for a Michelin-starred restaurant in Edinburgh. There are five of them. We chose Castle Terrace because of it's proximity to us and, more importantly, their focus on using local ingredients.
The philosophy of Castle Terrace seems to be 'surprise and delight' because they did at every turn. Shortly after we sat down, as were were perusing the menu, they brought us each a small plate with three small items on it. There was a biscuit of smoked haddock, a tiny burger of fish pâté, complete with sesame seeds on the bun and spherefied caesar salad on a creation wafer and a tiny square of parmesan on top. Each course had an interesting and unexpected dish preceding it.
Everything was impeccably presented. Erin's asparagus appetizer looked like it had been painstakingly constructed and embellished with dots of cheese and balsamic. I had an appetizer that looked like a boiled egg on a large wafer of toast but was actually panna cota with a mango purée 'yolk'.
The desserts were absolute works of art. It was almost difficult to ruin them with our forks but they were so delicious we were quickly concentrating on how they tasted more than how they looked. As with the Three Chimneys, for more images and a play-by-play, check out my Storehouse story for Castle Terrace in the link below.
It was easy to see why Castle Terrace and Three Chimneys were both awarded a Michelin star, but everything about these two restaurants was completely different. They were both perfect in the context of their setting, one in a rugged, austere town and the other in, arguably, the most cosmopolitan city in Scotland. Three Chimneys had more of a rustic feel, with more focus on letting the ingredients shine through while Castle Terrace had a very modern, refined feel with a focus on presentation and a molecular-gastronomy slant. The food was fantastic at both and, if I had to choose only one to return to, I'd have to go with Three Chimneys.
In my last post about the Isle of Skye, I touched a little on some of the great meals we had at the Greshornish House Hotel, Old School Restaurant and the amazing pot of mussels we had at Sea Breezes in the port town of Portree. Erin and I thought we might have had the best mussels ever, until we got to Edinburgh. After a long day of sight-seeing, while on our way to a dinner spot we found online, we passed by a restaurant simply called Mussel & Steak Bar. We took a quick look at the menu board and saw the featured entree was, in fact, a half kilogram of mussels and a ribeye streak. Now Erin enjoys mussels but she absolutely loves a good ribeye. And I'm vice versa. We ditched our previous plans and were lucky enough to arrive before the dinner rush so we were able to get a table. It seems the restaurant is pretty popular so reservations are a good idea.
Erin already knew what she was ordering but I was tempted by a seafood platter. Erin's go-to is a elect rosé while I'm on a gin kick. I think the best place to be into gin is in Scotland. I discovered my new favorite gin while on Skye, and they had a cocktail called the Islay 75 featuring The Botanist gin with Prosecco, lemon juice and gomme. I was delicious. I decided to go with the mussels and steak dinner, well... because we were in Mussel & Steak Bar. The mussels arrived in a huge steaming pot with squid rings and crevettes (large prawns). We both opted for the traditional shallots, garlic, wine & creme sauce but they also had chili, ginger, cumin & lime and whiskey, bacon & creme which were also tempting. It was one of the best meals we had on our entire trip. The mussels were huge, tender and flavorful. The sauce was perfectly balanced for all three of the seafood elements. The ribeye, although a thinner cut than we're used to in the US, was nicely seasoned and a perfect medium-rare. Erin and I agreed that this was one of the best meals we ate on our entire trip. Considering the previous two restaurants I've described, that's saying a lot.
If you looked at the pictures and read my Storehouse stories from the last post, you'll get an idea of how amazing the Scottish Highlands are, in and of themselves. Add to that, the great company I had on this trip in Erin and the absolutely amazing food we ate, and it's not hard to understand when I state: this was one of the best travel experiences I've ever had. The food, at least, was delightfully unexpected.