<1 Hour Drive

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.

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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. 

 
   

 

Saffron Brings Flavour To Cradlehall

I’d been hearing positive reviews from the Miller clan about an Indian restaurant in Cradlehall called Saffron so decided to try it for myself. First of all, Cradlehall is a residential area of Inverness in the East of the city that takes about ten minutes to drive to from the centre. Saffron has opened up next to Cradlehall shop in a tiny unit that has 7 or 8 tables and a takeaway area. There are no other restaurants in Cradlehall so it’s great for those who live there now that the drink drive limit has been reduced. It’s also currently bring your own bottle so you won’t spend a fortune. 

I had tried to book on another night but they were full, so booked a few days in advance this time – something to remember if you’re planning a visit. 
I have been twice now and both times had poppadoms and dips to start so I didn’t fill myself up before the main course. Mr S was eyeing up the Saffron Thali so that he could sample a bit of everything so we shared that and my choice of curry. I usually picked a Chasni in Glasgow but apparently this is a Glasgow curry & you don’t usually see it in other places. Undeterred, I asked about it anyway thinking that the staff might have heard of it and recommend something similar. The waiter asked me to wait a second and returned saying the chef would be happy to make me a chasni – happy days! 

 

The Saffron thali has tandoori chicken, seek kebab, chicken tikka mossallah, lamb bhuna, chicken dansak, lamb samosa, basmati rice and naan bread. The tandoori chicken was still moist and well marinated – great dunked in the sauces. Chicken tikka mossallah (spelt different on the menu from the chicken tikka massala so don’t know if it is different) could have done with some oomph whilst the Dansak was both of our favourites and new to us. The sweet and sour element gives a flavoursome curry and we’ve ordered it since. I’m glad to have started with the thali on our first visit – it’s a bit like samples at launches in the sense that you can find your favourites without having to order whole dishes.
 My chasni was exactly as I remember it – sweet and sour with a hint of mango chutney. It is a good sauce for mopping up with naan and often the whole table end up using my sauce for this towards the end of the mains. It’s my guilty pleasure and any time I order anything else in an Indian restaurant I just don’t enjoy it as much. 

 

  

I’ve spoken to several other people about Saffron and it seems to be a hit all round. They score points with me for having an up to date website with a menu to browse – it is so important for restaurants to build their business up. The idea of more local restaurants around the residential areas of Inverness appeals to me as buses up here aren’t very reliable and taxis are expensive. I don’t think it takes much business from the city centre because both times we went we would have ordered a takeaway or eaten in if we couldn’t get a table. Walking ten minutes to a restaurant for dinner & a glass of vino is something that I’d spend my money on regularly, as long as the food is of a high standard.  Now if someone can open a good restaurant in Inshes please…

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.