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Jocktoberfest – a barrel of fun 

Ten years ago I went to my first festival. Ten whole years ago- that makes me feel so old! I remember all of the planning- buying an 85 litre rucksack and a camp stove, buying as much cheap booze as we could and getting my wellies on. Most of all, I remember the bubble that we were in when we were there. You become so immersed in your surroundings that you almost forget about the world outside for a weekend and feel totally de-stressed. Dancing and singing in a field makes you feel free, there’s no doubt about it. I love it.

Last month we nipped over to Jocktoberfest and found ourselves back in that place again – feeling free and… singing and dancing in a pile of hay. Jocktoberfest has been going on for a few years now but this was the first time I went. It runs in September every year at Black Isle Brewery and pays homage to good beer, music and food.

They sell tickets by the weekend instead of by the day but they are incredibly good value at £35pp (under 13s go free). We just went for the day but next year I think we’ll do the whole weekend, ideally in a campervan if we can get hold of one.

The first thing that struck me when we arrived was how many children were there-maybe about 15-20 or so. Very family friendly. This isn’t the kind of festival for a group of 18 year old lads to get smashed, create a mosh pit and get rowdy so if that’s you then don’t bother showing up. It’s about appreciating some fantastic live music whilst drinking a craft beer and eating an organic lamb burger. It’s a festival for grown ups, some with kids to tag along. 

We started at the bar, where there was an impressive beer selection to work our way around. My favourite was Anything Gose followed by Goldeneye ale. For non beer drinkers they had cider, wine and a few spirits.

We then lined our tummies for the night ahead by sharing some pizza and a lamb burger. Woodburns Sourdough pizzas had a little wood burning oven to freshly make pizza and you created your own toppings.

The lamb burgers were Black Isle Brewery’s own using their own lambs and we’re full of flavour and juicy. Both were perfect for a night of beer and dancing.

Then it was time for the music to start. Calum Jones, a Scottish 17 year old, put on a superb set and we were mightily impressed. Of course we got our dance on! Definitely a name to look out for in the future.

Calum Jones

It’s not a big festival, and on the Friday night there was just one stage then two on the Saturday. I liked how intimate it felt with being so small and how close everything was. There was plenty of sheltered space if it had rained too.

Weekend Set List 2017

Ho-Ro really brought it with the Jock vibe with a modern upbeat ceilidh style set. Perfect for dancing round in the hay lined barn and the atmosphere was amazing.

We even managed to get a first dance arranged for a couple that had got married that day. Everyone created a circle and it was a lovely touching moment feeling the festival love.

For Jocktoberfest there was less prep, but all of the atmosphere that we could have hoped for. We stepped into that bubble for the night and loved every minute of it. It was a whimsical and free night with some pretty damn good beer, food and music. I felt like I’d stepped back to being young again, not a bad thing once in a while. See you next year.

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Corner On The Square Beauly

Often my favourite places up here are outside of the city centre. Maybe it’s because a drive makes me hungry and it feels like a whole day out. It also stirs up memories of family days out when I was growing up. Spending proper family time together and going for adventures. I’m trying to keep up the tradition with my little squidge on the rare days that both Mr S and I are off. 

The Beauly/Muir of Ord road isn’t too far away (about half an hour from Inverness) and has a few nice places, one of them being Corner on the Square cafe in Beauly. 

  

I like Beauly as it has little shops & we can pick up dinner in the butchers and greengrocers. How I miss greengrocers from living in Glasgow – this is an unfortunate thing about living in ‘Tesco town’. 

Corner on the Square also has a fab deli counter and shop so you can get a selection of cheese, meat, olives, wine, crackers, tea/coffee, jars and so on. 

  

Greek food is my favourite so I chose the mezze platter (£7.50). It came with griddled halloumi, roasted red peppers, pitted olives, houmous of the day, dressed salad and bread. I enjoyed all of the picky bits, and it was especially easy to eat with a baby to keep still. Bread served with it is from Cromarty Bakery and delicious. It was also a bonus to get a proper salad with no iceberg & a tasty dressing. My only criticism is that I felt that the houmous was lacking in garlic. 

I’ve previously had their soup and it was excellent so I’d recommend that too. 

  

They have a large cake and pudding selection so it’s a good choice if you have a sweet tooth. We had a chocolate brownie (taste-wise delicious but could have been softer and more brownie gooey) and a cake (yummy), and I’ve also tried their traybakes and they get the thumbs up. 

  

So if the sun is shining in that direction get in the car and go! 

And don’t forget the butcher and greengrocer on the way back.

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Service with a smile at La Taverna Aviemore 


It makes such a difference to me what the staff are like in a restaurant. It can be the difference of going somewhere because of convenience or making a trip especially. I understand that you can get a sudden rush or be understaffed, and I make allowances for it, but it’s the friendliness that changes everything. Waiting in a busy place is not an easy job but some people are just naturally good at it and put you at ease. Luckily, I’ve found some gems in this category recently. 

Friends of mine kept recommending La Taverna restaurant on the edge of Aviemore but it has such tough competition nearby that I never seemed to get there until last year. Now it’s our favourite place in Aviemore! 


Decor is old school traditional Italian even although the outside looks like a big ski lodge. It has an informal feel, which is probably to do with many of their clientele coming straight off the slopes or from doing watersports. Until March this year we had only visited in the daytime but I can now attest that the nighttime clientele were mainly sporty ones or tourists looking to rest those weary feet. 

Keeping on the informal lines, they do a buffet both at lunchtime and at night, as well as their a la carte menu. I’ve had an a la carte meal once because I wanted to try the seafood spaghetti (delicious) but the buffet is so convenient for us with a toddler. 

They serve a selection of pizza, pasta and salad, and in the evening it includes dessert. We generally visit right at the start of lunch and they always ask what pizzas we like and make things that we want on there – gold star for customer service. 

Then there’s the pastas, at least four on at a time. Little L favours the creamy pesto one and macaroni cheese while my go to is the tomato and chicken. 

Salad isn’t just the normal buffet affair. The orzo salad is my favourite and they have plenty of olives to keep L happy. There’s a few pasta salads, beetroot salad, the normal leaves, a tomato salad, bean salad, coleslaw and more. 

Sometimes we’ll order ice-cream to share afterwards under the pretence that we’re doing it for the child. Think what you will but it’s nice ice-cream. 

La Taverna should be eternally grateful to their staff because, ultimately, that’s why we keep going back and I’m sure we’re not the only ones. I’d describe the service as relaxed, genuine and cheerful. They always greet us with a smile, even the chefs if they are about. The fact that the chefs say bye if they are out front tending to the buffet says it all. How many places does that happen in? 

Thai Dining Flies The Flag In Inverness 

After finding two Thai restaurants that we loved in Glasgow (Thai Siam & Thai Lemongrass), I was really rooting for Thai Dining to fly the flag for Inverness. Conveniently located on Academy Street in the centre, it is handy for an after work meal or parking at Rose Street at night. Not to mention it’s less than five minutes to Black Isle Bar for a pre-dinner drink. And it’s near Miele’s for a sneaky ice-cream after. 
We decided to ask our favourite Thai experts, my folks, to come with us to see if it was going to live up to our expectations. 

The starters arrived, with prawn Chub Pang Tod (£6.95) kicking us off. That’s king prawn tempura to me and you. Firstly, the presentation of the plate was superb – so pretty and appetising. Mr S was a bit unsure of them being breadcrumbed instead of in a usual tempura batter but I quite liked the change. Maybe a detail to put on the menu though. The sweet chilli dip provided some welcome sweetness and zing. 

My Satay Gai (£5.95) was another beautifully presented starter. Succulent, marinated chicken with a rich peanut dip and refreshing cucumber relish- an accomplished attempt at satay that I’ll order again. 

My veg loving mum chose the Por Pia Tod (vegetable spring rolls), which came with a sweet chilli dip (£5.95). They were crispy on the outside and the veg was soft enough inside without becoming mushy. 


The first of the main courses was Pad Khing (£12.95). This was a stir-fry dish full of ginger, spring onions, mushrooms and other veg. It was really tasty, so tasty that I didn’t get to try too much because it wasn’t my dish! I also liked that with this dish, as well as many others, you can choose whether you wanted it with chicken, duck, pork, veg, prawn or beef depending what would go with the sauce. 


My pick was the chicken Pad Thai (£11.95) because pre-made sauces always taste rubbish so I don’t bother buying them & my one at home is not a patch on restaurant quality. I also got to have peanuts, which is a rarity when you live with a nut allergy sufferer. My dish was packed to the brim with flavour as I was hoping it would be. With an almost caramelised taste from wok cooking, the marinated chicken contrasted well with the crunchy beansprouts and spring onions. The peanuts gave a lovely crunch too. 

We’d been having an excellent run of it so something had to go wrong and unfortunately it was Mr S & his pork laab (£11.95). The dish had two chillies next to it on the menu to indicate its spice level but I think it should have at least three. Either that or the chef accidentally got chilli happy. With less chilli it could be a delicious dish but our taste buds were numb after a mouthful. 

Rice

The Gaeng Penang curry (£11.95) on the other hand was gorgeous. Also with a two chillies spice level, the dish was expertly balanced between being spicy, tasty and creamy. Creamy coconut milk with a tangy thai sauce coated the chicken and the veg still had a nice bite to it. Kaffir lime leaves completed the dish. 

The staff at Thai Dining were incredible with our daughter, who loved them, and helped us to feel relaxed and enjoy our meal. What fantastic service. 

Seven out of eight dishes were lovely, and the meal was reasonably priced too. 

I’m happy to say that Thai Dining was every bit as good as the aforementioned Glasgow Thai restaurants. And 170 miles closer! 

Miele’s Gelateria Continue Church Streets’ Reign 

Many years ago, about two-thirds of the way down Church Street, was the Stratton dairy shop that satisfied all my ice-cream whims. Sadly it closed down years ago, before Stratton dairy itself did- how I miss glass bottles of milk being delivered to the door. Anyway, I’m not sure if another shop was in the unit from then until now. Then, in December, Miele’s Gelateria opened. This excited me for a few reasons- my love of gelato, they are an independent business & the fact they open until 9pm. 


Naturally I’ve been in a few times since then so I thought I’d better write about it. Their active Facebook and Instagram accounts tempt me regularly and pretty much push me back in the door. It’s not only gelato, there’s the coffee, cannoli, sandwiches, milkshakes…I could go on. 


The gelato is homemade and so delicious. For those of you who are confused about the difference between gelato & ice-cream this is my understanding. Gelato is churned at a slower rate so takes in less air and is therefore more dense and it is stored at a slightly higher temperature so it’s softer. It has a lower fat content as they generally use more milk than cream so the flavour shines through. My favourites so far are the pink grapefruit and the vanilla but I’m sure I will be adding to that list. 


It must be tough opening a Gelateria in chilly December when it’s not tourist season but these guys seem to be doing well- a testament to the terrific products they are selling. Suddenly I’m finding more reasons to venture into town… 

Cafe Eighty 2 livens up an A82 run

Drumnadrochit is a village on the western side of Loch Ness. Some would say it’s the home of Nessie, with the exhibition centre & tourists flocking there. To me, Drumnadrochit is somewhere for a day out without veering too far from Inversneckie. It’s also not far from where we were on the boat in my last post at the Loch Ness Gin launch. 

I don’t expect visitors to get the pronounciation correct, but just don’t let that put you off going. Especially when you can find gems like Cafe Eighty 2. 

Cafe Eighty 2 is situated on the main road running through Drumnadrochit (A82) on the Lewiston side but it can still be easy to miss. From the outside it almost looks like a house. It has a rural feeling with a muddy car park so bring your wellies on wet days.

 

 

Once inside, we were greeted with a smile & chose a table. There is no paper menu, because it changes so regularly, so they use blackboards on the wall to display that days choices.

I’d heard about their fresh juices so we had a pineapple and sweet potato number and they were lovely. My only criticism would be that they weren’t very cold so I’d rather ingredients to be kept in the fridge where possible. The combinations were good matches and you could tell they were made to order without any prebought purées and such.

 

I thought I’d try the all day breakfast after being intrigued by their homemade beans. Said beans were smoky and tomatoey, and matched the rich black pudding well. The homemade bread was fantastic too and the egg perfectly soft. My only criticism with the dish was that it was slightly dry as a whole since the beans weren’t saucey and the meats weren’t cheap and bulked up with fat. I asked for butter for the bread but in hindsight should have asked if they had any extra sauce for the beans or something. You could tell that the plate was brimming with quality ingredients.

 

My pal decided on the soup and toasted sandwich option to share with her bambino. The sweet potato and pepper soup was hot and satisfying as well as flavourful.

Again they had used homemade bread for the sandwich, and quality ingredients inside. It got the thumbs up from both pal and child, quite a feat!

 

After lunch we decided to try out their coffee with a little cake. The fudge cupcake was light and fluffy with lots of rich icing – perfect cupcake ratio.

The brownie also scored highly with its rich, dark chocolate and slightly gooey texture.

They have a proper coffee machine and know how to use it too, phew! Coffees, along with everything else, are served in crockery from the 80’s that will nostalgically transport you back in time.

 
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I’ve been back to Cafe Eighty 2 since this visit and, considering they are placed outside the village out of the way, they seem to be doing a roaring trade. People obviously believe in their healthy and homemade approach to food and this will keep them in good stead for the future.

 

Purchasing The Highlands

One of my favourite things to do when Mr S has a day off is to go for a jaunt in the car and stop for a coffee or lunch somewhere. If this can be in conjunction with a farm shop or shop where I can buy local produce then there will be a big smile on my face. I wanted to write about a few things that we have bought recently on our little day trips that I’d recommend. 
First of all, I have to go to Duncan Fraser & Son Butchers on Queensgate in Inverness. My husband is in love with this place. I think that it’s important that a butcher can be knowledgable and advise their customers. A while back we were looking for some skirt (flank) steak and another butcher didn’t know what it was- we’ve never been back. On the other hand, there is a particularly friendly and helpful butcher in Duncan Fraser’s that Mr S speaks to before coming home with a lump of beef, pork or whatever his current notion is. Luckily he hasn’t come home with any baby pigs as yet! My mum has always bought her steak mince there and the meat we have tried has been excellent. 
   
 

Across the road is the Old Victorian Market, and within that is Duncan Fraser Fishmonger. We try to go here as often as allows- I hate the thought of Tesco being the only place in Inverness to buy fish. They sell cracking prawns, mussels, hake… I could go on but I won’t bore you. They also have a game section so we tried some venison recently. 

Homemade prawn saganaki using Duncan Fraser prawns


Logie Steading is a country estate near Forres, which houses a lovely cafe and shops to tempt you. I’ve written about Logie previously here. My favourites are the gin and coffee, and we had a tasty pate from there too. Logie is a good place to take visitors so they can view local produce all in one place. 

We bought a bottle of Crossbill Gin- this stuff is far harder to buy than it is for me to drink but luckily Logie saves the day again. 

  

Connage Highland Dairy is also somewhere that I’m full of praise for. I am a cheese lover so mum wanted to introduce me to Connage- what did I do before they were in my life?! 

It’s basically a massive refrigerated room of cheese with a side of biscuits and chutney and a cappuccino to drink. Go, go and tell me what you thought. 

The shop is on the outskirts of Ardersier, perfect if you’re on your way back from Nairn, Inverurie, Keith, Inverness airport, Elgin, Logie Steading (above). Let’s face it, I use any excuse so that I can eat more of that creamy black cheddar. 
  

Finally, this was never going to be written without a mention to The Egg Box Shop at Cromarty. I don’t know who John & Donald are but Cheryl & I would like to extend our personal thanks for creating your shop. If you want to extend it to sell other produce, or if you start doing other things please let us know. We almost had you out fixing the car recently but that’s a whole other matter! I never leave Cromarty without stopping for eggs here and they sell the elusive double yokers. 

Where have I missed out? I’ll do regular local favourite posts if you tell me where to find the best places. 

Camerons – Loch Ness Hideaway

 

Do you ever visit somewhere for the first time and it just feels right? You feel at home and comfortable and fond of the place from the get-go. Cameron’s tea room out at Foyers gave me that feeling from the minute we commandeered those sofas in front of the wood burning stove on a rainy day. 
  

If you don’t know Foyers then take the road out to, and past, Dores. It’s about fifteen minutes drive past Dores Inn along Loch Ness with wonderful views to make the journey feel quicker. 

Cameron’s sits on the left hand side of the road just at the end of the village. It is a golden wooden building with its own car park. 
It’s a little cafe that also has a farm shop part, as well as selling some gift items and a few textiles.
It was pouring down and freezing the day we visited but Camerons kept cropping up when hearing about places to go so off we went. We were greeted by a lovely lady who seemed delighted to see the two babies we had in tow, and was telling us about her grandchild. 
After a chat, we ordered our lunch. A baked potato with prawns came with a nice side salad, coleslaw and crisps. A generous portion of juicy prawns on top of soft potato. The only negative was that the potato skin wasn’t crispy. 
  
The other two lunches ordered were both soup and half sandwich, which were also served with the yummy coleslaw, salad and crisps. Both sandwiches were prawn and one was with a rich lentil soup. 
  
The other was with a homely leek and potato soup. Both homemade and tasty soups. 
  
We sat chatting and basking in the heat of the wood burner for a while then decided to sample some of the home baking along with coffees. 

Carrot cake was well-balanced and the muffin was moist and flavourful. Mrs T who had the muffin loved the lemon curd and is hoping it will be there next time.

 
  

  

My sponge was fab – rich cake bursting with fruity jam and sweet icing. The jam itself made the cake in my opinion because it was packed with flavour. 

 
 
The decor is girly yet not overpowering, and we loved the stag light fittings. 
   
 

The original lady serving us finished her shift when we were in and even came over to say goodbye before she left, we felt so welcome. She was replaced by an equally friendly face and I can see why people grow an attachment with customer service like this. 
   
 

We arrived at 2pm and never left until 5pm when they closed. That speaks volumes in itself. Cosy, homely, friendly, wonderful. Enough said. 

 

The Waterfront Pub & Home Cooking 

  

The Waterfront bar is not somewhere that I would have thought of to go for food. That is until it was recommended by several different people, and rated highly online. So we went in to see if the ‘never judge a book by its cover’ theory applied… 

We phoned ahead and booked a table for two because it was a Sunday & places in Inverness fill up fast. When we arrived at 2.30pm it was quiet so we needn’t have booked but in peak season or at peak lunch/dinner time this could change. 

Anyway, on going into the bar it had a typical ‘old mans pub’ appearance and vibe. It is a pubby pub with the TV showing sport and regulars supping their pints at the bar. It was quiet at the time we went between standard lunch and dinner sittings so the atmosphere probably picks up a bit then. 
We were shown to a window table looking into the River Ness & given Sunday lunch menus. They serve one course for £8.50, two courses for £10 or three courses for £12. Their main menu online was a little more expensive so we were pleasantly surprised by how inexpensive this was. 
Mr S started with the battered garlic mushrooms – very typical pub fayre. Except that these ones tasted homemade & were garlicky with a good crunch to the batter. As pub grub mushrooms go, these were pretty good. 
  
I opted for the mushroom soup and it was excellent. Just thick enough with a hum of chicken stock in the background, good for a chilly day. 
  
We both went for the slow cooked roast beef for main course. It was a hefty portion of beef and roast potatoes topped with a Yorkshire pudding and watercress. With lots of gravy unapologetically all over the plate. Then they returned with a side dish of mangetout, parsnip, carrot and boiled tatties. The meat melted in your mouth and the gravy was lovely. It pleased me to be served watercress and mangetout- they both went really well with the other flavours and showed outside the box thinking. The roast potatoes could have been crispier but that’s my only criticism. 

The whole dish was delicious and fitted the bill exactly for why we had come out for lunch. 
 

 
Those hefty slabs of beef had defeated me but Mr S had been eyeing up the toffee apple pie. He wolfed it down so I’m guessing that it was nice. 

At this point I noticed that they have highchairs and we were told that kids are more than welcome. We will be back with Miss S sometime soon. 
  

There is nothing fancy about The Waterfront but why would you want it to be? It is the perfect place to come when you are having a dressed down relaxing day but want good grub. They offer what I’d like to see in all pubs- honest homemade fayre not out of a packet. In terms of value for money we were extremely impressed. The low prices must be for listening to football in the background because it certainly wasn’t for the food. Although I’ve been assured that it is music you’ll hear at night. 

FYI- on the River Ness there is The Waterfront & The Waterside so don’t get confused. I haven’t been to The Waterside so can’t pass comment. 

A Little Bird In Inverness Told Me

The Ironworks music venue opened in Inverness city centre in 2006, and 2015 has seen them turn from a night time venue to Little Bird Coffee House by day & gigs by night. 

It makes perfect sense to utilise the space during the day, and people in Inverness love a coffee. This is slightly different from many of the coffee shops in town – it has a young, trendy vibe. 


I was interested to see how the coffee house had been incorporated in the venue but once I was inside I forgot all about it, proving the transition has been seamless. 

The decor is modern and minimal – think metal seats and chunky wood surfaces. Comfy enough for lunch but not seats to linger on all afternoon. 

My initial impression when I approached the counter is that quality is important to them. Bread and baking are local, and quality brands on display. 

 

The chosen sandwich was avocado, mozzarella, peppers, hummous and rocket on white bread. It was scrumptious, a really good combination. It came with some crisps, which I put in the sandwich. Can’t beat crisps in a sandwich, takes me back to my student days except my sandwiches weren’t so classy back then. 
  

The pastrami and gherkin sandwich was equally as nice. I have to come back for this again. 
  

I have been following Capability Brown’s on Facebook for a while (this is how I found out about Little Bird) and I know they do some of the baking for the cafe. I don’t know if my blueberry scone was made by them but it was soft in the middle with a nicely coloured outside & was tasty. I’d love to see them using local jam in the future too. 
 

 

The only negative things that I found was that it was a bit chilly in there and most of the toilets didn’t have any toilet roll in them. We visited on a Monday lunchtime so I’m not sure if the venue staff fill them up before gigs and it had been an oversight. 

I was impressed with Little Bird and the food that they had on offer. It’s a small menu but all of the flavour combinations were interesting and well thought out. My chai latte was great and they have just started selling decaf coffee too – a big incentive for me to go back.