Highland Food

Culloden House Afternoon Tea

 


Back at the end of February, we went to Culloden House Hotel for afternoon tea as part of a girly day ahead of my sister having her baby. We had been to see Laura Sim at The Gallery for pedicures beforehand so were feeling all relaxed & ready for food. 

I’m not doing a lengthy review on our afternoon tea at Culloden House Hotel but couldn’t not do a quick post with some photos as it is my favourite place in the Highlands for it. 
 

 

Hats off to their patisserie chef – what a talented individual. They always present us with the freshest, tastiest dainty treats that look so pretty. 

We started with the traditional sandwiches (no crusts here!), which were a selection of roast beef, ham & egg if my memory serves me correctly. This was swiftly followed by a scone that is served with jam and cream. The homemade cream-filled meringues were delicious and set us up nicely for the work of art that was a chocolate caramel slice. It was delicious. 

By that point we were onto the gluttony stage but the top layer was still to be tackled and we weren’t leaving without a fight. Tea was refilled & toilet trips taken – you could easily get lost in the wonder of the venue with its grand decor when returning. It is a beautiful place to visit & they encourage you to walk round the gardens when the weather is nice. They have even shown us some rooms before so don’t hesitate to ask. 

Back to the matter in hand, their little flapjack style nibbles are tremendous & have the perfect gooey but still holding together balance. Finally, a raspberry mousse was sweet yet tangy and the perfect finish. 
 

 

If you are doing the tourist trail, you’ll find the hotel near to Culloden Battlefield & Clava on the east of Inverness. It also can be reached by bus or ten minutes in a taxi. Afternoon tea must always be booked ahead so that they can make the delicious cakes. 

I sound like I’m doing advertising for them but I can assure you that I’m not affiliated with the company or have received anything for this! I want the place to do well because I’d be very sad if it was no longer there to visit & because it’s often overlooked due to being further out of the centre. 

Not long before my pre-baby afternoon tea will be due and I’ll be enjoying every minute of the peace and relaxing while I can. 

You can read about a previous visit to Culloden House Hotel for afternoon tea here on my other blog, Girl Around Glasgow. 

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The Classroom Bistro In Nairn 

For me, moving back to Inverness had some clear positives. One of these is that there are some beautiful beaches within half an hours drive to spend days off at and Nairn fits this bill perfectly. From the *squeaky voice* cute fishermans house with tiny doors to the play parks along the front, Nairn is somewhere I’ve spent many a day running around sand dunes, braving the chilled Scottish water, trying not to drop my ice-cream on the zip line, browsing little shops and finishing the day with a beachfront chippy from Friar Tucks. I’m not sure if my sister has yet realised that they have knocked the arcade down because there could be tears when she shows up with her supply of two & five pences to no slots. 

Since my old Nairn days, the Classroom Bistro has opened and I’d heard good things so we were off to try it out en-route to the beach.

 

The visit started with a low point – two female front of house team members walked right past us at the door without acknowledging us. A simple ‘hello, be with you in a second’ would have made us feel welcome & know that someone would be over. People seating themselves in restaurants is my bugbear, but if I didn’t work in a restaurant to know it is not acceptable practice, I would have done it on this occasion. Thankfully, a polite young man was more customer focused and took us in. 

The decor inside is modern (there were too many other diners in to take photos) and you’d be mistaken for forgetting that you’re in Nairn. Luckily, I could still order fish and chips to remind me. We both ordered off the lunch menu (I don’t think that the full menu runs at lunchtime) and shared our dishes. The lunch menu is not too big but this is generally a good sign to me because lots of dishes generally mean that they aren’t made in-house. There was a pasta, baguette, steak, burger, soup and a couple of salad options so nothing too crazy but using some imagination in the toppings. If it had been a colder day then I’d have been straight for the Cullen Skink but I was far too hot for a soup on this occasion. As well as the aforementioned fish and chips, the Cajun chicken burger was selected.

The fish batter had a satisfying crunch when you bit into it and the fish was nice & soft inside without being overcooked, and didn’t go soggy after I squeezed the lemon wedge on top. I don’t think the chips were homemade but they had a good balance between being soft inside with crisp shells. The tartare sauce was effective in its grease-cutting job but I wanted more sour notes from it for my palate – more gherkin perhaps. I particularly liked that it was served with a dressed side salad to freshen the whole dish up – in winter, peas are always my preferred choice but as a daytime summer dish the salad was ideal.

 

 

The Cajun chicken burger was served with the same chips and dressed salad as the fish was, as well as a mayo. The chicken itself was nicely blackened and had a spiced flavour but wasn’t especially spicy – a pleasing all rounder that people of different spice abilities could choose. Maybe they could serve it with a spicier Cajun style dip on the side for those who like the cayenne and peppery notes that Cajun offers. My only real criticism is that the bun wasn’t toasted so went a bit soggy halfway through but we both like the dish nevertheless.
 

  
No desserts were ordered as we had our sights set on beachside 99 cones so we paid up & the lovely young man serving us made a genuine effort to chat and check that we had a positive experience. The extensive cocktail menu on the table makes me want to return at night so take note Nans… a Nairn girly festive night out may be on the cards.

Carrbridge Revival At The Kitchen 

 

Credit: Fergus Thom Photography (www.fergusthom.com)

 

At times I forget that Carrbridge is so close to Inverness & end up going to Beauly or suchlike for jaunts. Some of my favourite places in the Inverness area can be found hidden in the little villages, which makes it perfect for days out and post lunch walks. Carrbridge holds fond memories for me as this is where Landmark Forest Adventure Park is. Landmark is where highland kids spend birthdays or school holiday treat days – there was always such excitement in the car if that’s where we were headed (my poor parents!). There’s water slides, nature trails, play parks, towers to climb, puzzle areas, diggers and so on…lots to keep kids, and adults, entertained & we loved it. I can’t wait to take my kids to Landmark, although remembering that we’re there for them and not me might be a challenge. 
 

The FB photos that compelled me to visit

 
I found out about a new cafe opening in Carrbridge a few months ago called Carrbridge Kitchen. Their Facebook page reeled me in – the first food photo was of a massive rare piece of roast beef, they got my weakness and off I trotted. We were taking the next generation for her first girly lunch so it was an important occasion, and one that I plan to do many times more with my little niece. 
 

proud auntie

 

The plain eater cousin chose a ham sandwich (requested no salad,no condiments, no frills for her) alongside a vegetable soup. The food was presented on attractive mottled crockery instead of the standard white catering stuff you see so often now. Obviously that doesn’t matter if the food isn’t up to standard but I can tell you now that it was delicious. The vegetable soup that can so often lack taste was flavoursome and had more than just a few root veg chucked in. I’m sure I could taste broccoli which is something I’d never think to put in but it probably helped to lift it.

soup & sandwich £6.95

Wanting something different from a sandwich, the specials board caught my eye. Lamb koftas arrived with flatbread, yoghurty-mint dip and a good sized fresh salad on the side of the plate. Just enough spices & seasoning were used in the koftas to be aromatic but not spicy and the lamb still had a hint of pink (punches air). The mint dip provided a lovely fresh taste and the flatbread was nice and soft. I particularly enjoyed the salad because it was dressed properly and it hardly had any leaves – I’d take cucumber, pepper and tomato over boring leaves any day. It added interest to the plate and wasn’t just an afterthought. If this dish is on the specials again, I wouldn’t hesitate about picking it. 

lamb koftas, flatbread, mint dip & salad £8.95

The niece’s mummy was hankering after prawns so was delighted to see prawn marie rose as a sandwich option and she had it alongside the spicy parsnip soup. As soon as I tried her sandwich I wanted the whole thing (I too am a fan of prawn marie rose from time to time & right now have the appetite of a pig) but I wanted my koftas more. The spicy parsnip soup wasn’t too nippy but rather had a warming spiciness throughout so you could still taste the sweetness of the parsnips. Perfect for a cold day. 

  

The homemade cake photos on Facebook had made me excited about trying one so, even although we were pretty full, we were not leaving without some cake-age. Cousin decided straight away on the chocolate cake, which I then stole a spoon of, probably without even asking. Lucky she has a good nature and, it seems, good cake choosing abilities. Rich but moist and delightfully choclately. 

  

The big sister was trying to be good so went for a smaller cake (we have pretty good logic on ‘being good’) in the form of a lemon drizzle slice. As always, she chose something that I almost chose so I sat eyeing it up. Sweet and tangy at the same time, the cake had a good balance and wasn’t too heavy. 

 

Greed took over and I took the cookie dough cheesecake. In my defence, I didn’t realise that it was going to be such a large slice and I couldn’t finish it in the end. A mammoth dessert, it was full of sweet cookie, marshmallowy tasting bits, creamy soft cheese with a hearty biscuit base. There are so many adjectives that I could use but the best way I could describe it is unashamedly indulgent. Not for those on a diet! 

  
As I write this from my bed, I’m wondering if I could convince sleeping husband into a drive through to Carrbridge today for a return visit before work. Then my brain has a little debate about what to eat because I have confidence that I’d like anything on their menu. That’s when I know a place’s worth in my eyes – it could tick all the boxes and on paper be a 10/10 but it has to catch me and pull me in as well. 

 

Dores Inn – On The Shores Of Loch Ness

We’ve been lucky to have the sun out recently and it spurs me on to ignore the hoovering & get out of the house – not that it takes much. Dores beach is only a 15-20 minute drive from our house, the lucky sods that we are, and I intend to visit as much as I can this summer. If you’re a tourist then Dores is the place to start your Loch Ness adventure and if you’re a local it’s where you go for a wander along the beach and a pint. The crazy winds this year have left debris all along the beach & it would be a shame if this isn’t cleared for summer days. 

 

Dores Inn has been here for longer than I can remember and is popular with the locals. If the sun is out or it’s the weekend then you really want to book in advance. Their website doesn’t have a menu on it but Dores community website has one. 

The owners have retained the inn look and feel, and I love the old church chairs with the inscriptions. It feels cosy and comfortable and there’s a fire lit on cold days. 

 

 

There’s something about being next to water that makes me order fish and chips – call it the sea air or what you like. The confit duck leg and macaroni cheese were also tempting, and I would have ordered the mussels had I been allowed them right now. On this occasion we both ordered the fish and chips (£10.95) and I asked for bread & butter to really make it feel like high tea. We were presented with a big portion that was served with peas, tartare sauce and a lemon wedge. It was sustainable haddock (extra brownie points for that) and had that lightly flaked texture without being overcooked. The chips didn’t seem homemade but were tasty and the fish itself was lovely. The batter needed seasoning and/or something to inject some flavour into it. Adding it at the table never quite does the same thing. Never be shy with the salt & pepper in the kitchen! 

 

 

The bread was crusty, flavourful and came with plenty of butter – great alongside the fish. 

 

 

We shared a rocky road with a cuppa afterwards and I thought the cake was delicious. Too much dried fruit for Mr S but I liked the fruit, and the fact it didn’t contain nuts was a bonus because we couldn’t have ordered it otherwise. So many cakes & desserts are now made with nuts even although around half a million people in the UK are allergic to them and it really limits what Mr S can have. So thanks to whoever didn’t put nuts in that one! 

 

 

A long beach walk helped to burn off some calories and I’m not ashamed to say that I even stopped by the play park on the way to the car for a shot on the swings. Surely that’s a perk of having days off whilst kids are all in school. 

 
   

 

Logie Steading 

My mum is a keen walker and, when out on her walks, finds hidden gems tucked away where you wouldn’t expect. A recent find that she took me back to for lunch is Logie Steading. One of those places that you need google maps for (or a good map navigator), Logie is 50 minutes drive from Inverness on the road to Aberdeen. More accurately it is between Nairn & Forres but further away from the coast in the Findhorn Valley, almost on the way to Grantown-on-Spey. 

 

 There is plenty of free parking at Logie Estate, which is surrounded by countryside perfect for a pre-lunch walk. Each place at the steadings is individually owned and each owner seemed passionate in what they do. As well as the cafe, there is a farm & garden shop, Heritage centre, bookshop, art gallery, whisky & wine shop, Cloudhowe gift shop, Diva design studio and Cairngorn Leaf & Bean coffee bean shop. You can rent out the long room for events and they also run courses in embroidery and gardening among other things.

 

Olive Tree Cafe is open from 10am to 5pm and serve lunch from 11.30am. They even take bookings, which could come in handy because it was busy the day we visited. Mum & I both had soup with mum choosing broccoli with a cheese scone. I tasted both & they were delicious. I particularly liked that the scone was hot because many places don’t heat scones up to go with soup or they are too dry but this was lovely.

My soup was equally as nice and proper comfort food with my cheese and pickle sandwich. I wouldn’t hesitate to order this again. 

I wanted a cake but couldn’t manage one so had a coffee instead. The cappuccino was strong enough but could do with a bit more foam because I like the traditional 1/3 foam. 

 

 The cafe has outside seating for days when the weather is better and mum vouched that they were dog friendly on a previous walking outing coffee stop. 

 

 

Our favourite shop was the wine & whisky shop (no surprise there!) because it had lots of local beer and fantastic gifts. The gentleman who was behind the counter was friendly and helpful even although he was covering for the owners that day. 

 

  I can’t help compare Logie Steading to Brodie Country Fair because they are both rural hubs with a cafe and shops. I preferred the cafe in Logie Steading tenfold and found it much more relaxing. The whole place has a more laid back and less commercial feel to it. The farm & garden shop should be open next time to pick up some treats too so food for the day will be sorted. A nice little day out. 

Cafe 1 Take 1 

Cafe 1 piqued my curiosity after several recommendations and being told that it’s owned by a chef. Then I looked at their website & I saw that they rear their own Hebridean sheep & Highland cows to use in some of the dishes *swoons*. Is this the place I’ve been looking for up here? We ended up going in for an impromptu midweek meal to see. 

First impressions were positive – coming in to the restaurant facing the bar was a great element of design as it allows staff to instantly greet customers in the ‘hive’ of the restaurant. Decor is simple and we were sat at the back in a romantic little corner. Low lighting added to the effect but meant that my photos came out rubbish, can’t have it all!

After deciding on red meat for mains, the wine list was studied. They do reds ranging from £15 to £175 so it’s fair to say there’s a good selection. 

Quite boring but we chose the same starter, it sounded too good a special to miss. Roast partridge, chicken liver pâté, crouton, Marsala sauce and watercress – reads epically but could they pull it off? In short, yes. 

The partridge was flavourful, not dry and boosted by the rich pate whilst the watercress gave a freshness to cut through this. Most importantly for me, (personal bugbear time) the Marsala sauce was both savoury and sweet. It was a sauce for a dish like this and not a dessert. 

This is my favourite Inverness starter so far. I would happily order two of these with potatoes next time I go and that would be me content. 

  

In a strange turn of events at main course ordering time, I had singled out the fillet steak & Mr S had elected the lamb to fill his tummy. 

The garlic and thyme rump of lamb (£16) was nice & pink so we were off to a pleasing start. It came with rosemary sautéed potatoes but there was not enough for the amount of lamb so Mr S ordered a portion of chips that arrived just as he was finishing them. The haggis bon-bons were lovely with the lamb and some of the red wine jus. Carrot ribbons, sun-blushed tomatoes and spinach lent a hand but it was the meat that stole the show.

 

I had heard glowing reports on their steaks and their description and accompaniments sold it to me. I can’t lie, it was the duxelle (Or duxelles) that reeled me in. A duxelle is a fancy word for very finely chopped mushroom, onion, shallot and herbs that are slowly cooked in butter until they are soft and intense. Mushroom duxelle immediately leaped out of the menu and I wanted the steak. 

My Aberdeen Angus fillet steak (£24) was massive, not that I’m complaining. Mr S was gleeful when it arrived, knowing that I’d never finish that much so he could have some. Steak and duxelle are a delicious and long-term marriage that should never split up & I loved it. The crisp fried potatoes also went well, as did the spinach and shallots. Pepper sauce wasn’t too overpowering and was perfect for my taste but, as a personal preference, I like my steak sauce in a jug so I can decide when & where to put it. 

 

 

I was stuffed and now regretting telling Mr S about how the Cafe 1 Malteser crepes are famous in the Highlands. He was ordering one and I knew a spoon was coming my way. I wanted something sweet to accompany it, so we ordered a couple of glasses of Sauternes dessert wine. 

The crepe (£6.50) arrived and we took our time starting so that we could wait for the dessert wine. I couldn’t see any staff nearby to ask so it must have been busy. After a while the ice-cream was melting so we had to eat the gooey, sweet dessert that is worth its fame. I nipped down to the bar & cancelled the dessert wines and this was the only time during the meal that I felt a bit disappointed. The service besides that was attentive and friendly, with the dessert wine thing probably being more of an organisational error. 

 

We left Cafe 1 delighted that we’d found another go to place and have since been back. Definitely one to recommend. 

How Contrasting Was Contrast?

Let me set the scene; it was lashing down with rain, stormy and cold, the streets were pretty empty. We practically ran from the High Street along the river to Contrast Brasserie in the upscale Glenmoriston Hotel. A friendly man greeted us at reception and took our coats before whisking us off to the warm, inviting & cosy restaurant. There’s nothing better than escaping a cold, wet night. It was an encouraging start to our meal at Contrast.

The dining room is beautiful – rich, warm tones made us feel relaxed in our surroundings.

The pre-theatre menu had four starter choices but we both opted for pate based on the fact that we’d never make it at home. It was served with granary bread (only one slice but the staff were pro-active in offering more), apricot chutney and dressed leaves. I like a bit of salad with my pate so I was happy. The pate itself needed seasoning and perhaps some herbs or something to lift it.

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Loin of pork, caramelised watermelon, pont neuf potatoes & mustard sauce was overcooked for our taste. The watermelon didn’t blend with the dish & the caramelisation was lost on us but the potatoes were lovely. A mixed bag really.

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My seabream fillet with green olive & herb potato cake, saffron espana and chorizo oil sounded amazing. The fish was cooked well – the skin wasn’t crispy but I never eat the skin anyway. I just wanted more flavour – seasoning on the fish before cooking, more olives & herbs in the potato, more chorizo oil (or the fish cooked in it) and more saffron espana. The espana was like a foam so melted as I was eating.

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There were two waitresses on and they seemed to be helping each other to ensure a successful service. We couldn’t help but listen in as the table next to us wanted to taste the steak sauce before ordering it. She explained that they use the meat juices during cooking to make it but he wasn’t happy. They had already been difficult with her & I really wanted to step in. Never off duty!

The sticky toffee sundae with meringue, caramel sauce and chantilly cream was nice.

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My chocolate fondant (not on the pre-theatre menu) had the richness that it should and I enjoyed it.

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The dining room decor and the service were both spot on but the flavours were too delicate for our palates. Their website states that they use simple flavours – it is on brief in a way but I wanted the simple flavours to sing.

Have you been to Contrast? What did you think? Comment below…

Sundaes On Monday In Rocpool

If I was choosing one restaurant in Inverness that people speak most highly about, it would have to be Rocpool on Ness Walk. It has gone from strength to strength since the Pieraccini’s opened it in 2002, had an owner change and has now cemented its status as one of the city’s finest. We went a little over a year ago & were served the best mussels in chorizo I’ve had so we were confident in our choice.

Eating early, we took advantage of the pre-theatre menu. 2 courses for £16.95 is more than I’m used to for a pre-theatre menu so they were setting the bar high from the start.

On entry were greeted by who I would say is probably the owner and were made to feel comfortable. He stopped for a chat then got the night kicked off with a Caorunn.

Not wanting to fill myself up, I chose the salad option for starter. The menu described it as ‘fresh pear and pecorino cheese salad with minted broad beans and lemon’. Mint in a salad used to scare me but Jamie Oliver has recently sorted that out, phew. The salad was well balanced with the right ratio of leaves to the creamy cheese, sweet pear and fresh broad beans. I could have eaten a whole plate of those broad beans.

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Mr S tried the scrambled egg and crab on toast with cress and spring onion creme fraiche on a recommendation from his dad. He was very happy. It’s such a simple but great idea & they executed it pretty perfectly.

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For main course I was between the seabream and steak tagliata but eventually chose steak because Mr S was having it and I thought I’d get jealous. The description of ‘Scotch rump steak ‘tagliata’ style carved pink over fresh rocket leaves, fine beans and butter roasted new potatoes with salsa rosso and lime’ definitely sounded worth the two pound supplement, we thought we were getting a bargain. The potatoes were delicious – well cooked, seasoned and flavoursome. The rocket could have done with lots of salsa rosso through it to add zing. The meat was too chewy for me and I left more than half of it. I was surprised that Mr S found it chewy because he likes tasty cuts of fibrous beef like hanger. The meat portion size was far too big for either of us and we’d have preferred more quality over quantity in this case. Not one to order again but I saw other tables with the seabream and haddock and it looked nice.

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Since the main was a flop, I was having a dessert (like I need an excuse). We decided on the homemade honeycomb ice-cream with popcorn and hot chocolate sauce. Let’s just say that this was a star indulgent dish from Rocpool. It was like an elegant version of an American style sundae. I wanted to lick the glass.

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I have to mention the toilets! Very plush looking sink area, clean toilets and they are unisex. Was very strange going into the toilet at the same time a man did, and doing my lipstick next to a gent washing his hands but I got used to it.

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The service, wine, atmosphere, starters and dessert were all getting top marks so, although neither of us liked the main course, we still want to come back soon. We’ll maybe do one more pre-theatre before parting with our a la carte pounds but we’re sure we’ll be won over by it.

Life Begins At 30

A couple of months ago I posted on Girl Around Glasgow that I was moving back up to Inverness – that was an emotional day!

I’m now in Inverness, very behind on Glasgow blog posts with all the craziness of moving and trying to get Highland Foodie started.

You can find the latest mention for Girl Around Glasgow here.

I thought that I’d start Highland Foodie with a wee introduction and thank you to everyone who has followed my blogging journey so far. I enjoy it and it is a bit of escapism for me so I hope that you like it too. Girl Around Glasgow is still staying for now but I also need your support for this site so enter your e-mail on the right and get an e-mail every time I post on here. You won’t get spam and I don’t post that often so it is not a big commitment.

For those who don’t know me, I grew up in Inverness and moved away to Glasgow to study at 18 years old. I’m now 30, and ready to come home and settle. Many things about Inverness remain the same (my parents still live in the same house) but the restaurants & cafes have changed a lot so there’s plenty to explore. The social media presence is less vocal in the Highlands & it’s much more difficult to find the good ones so tell me your favourites.

This week our Glasgow flat is officially sold and no longer ours. I feel teary every time I think about it even though I know it is the right long-term decision. We have offered on a house up here so fingers crossed that everything goes smoothly or my folks are stuck with us forever. It’s tempting because we are being very well looked after! Work has taken up more hours than I care to mention since the move but we’ve fitted in a few treats including drinks and tapas at La Tortilla Asesina & dinner at Rocpool. I also have lunch at Little Italy to write about as well as my girly weekend in Aberdeen.

 

My current ‘to go to’ list in the Highlands includes Cafe 1, The Mustard Seed, River House, River Cafe and McGonagall’s as well as a few coffee and cake cafes. If you know of any others that you think I’d like then please comment below or email thehighlandfoodie@gmail.com – I want to find all of the best places. I’m also looking for the best food suppliers… who sells the freshest fish, the meatiest charcuterie, where can I buy fresh farm eggs and where do I find special occasion meat?

 

Laura