Trips Away

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? 

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The Storehouse at Foulis

It’s been a busy time of late at Highland Foodie HQ so I haven’t had a chance to do a full post on our Christmas lunch at the Storehouse of Foulis. But I wanted to get it out before Christmas so that you can try it before it’s too late….
  

We wanted somewhere baby friendly for lunch on the outskirts of Inverness. The Storehouse appealed because they also have a premium food & booze shop on site so it felt like a little day out instead of just lunch. 

It’s about 20 minutes in the car from Inverness following signs to Alness. You’ll see it on the right after the Cromarty Bridge. 

We arrived on the dreicht Wednesday afternoon and the place was heaving. It has a large seating area but we still had to search for a table. Luckily there was a couch free, which turned out to be handy for feeding the babies and pram space. 

It is self service and the queue was long but went down fairly quickly. 
We both opted for the Christmas turkey lunch but were tempted by the homemade soups, beef stew, baked potatoes and salads. 
  

The food was fantastic- much better than I was expecting and not like a self service meal at all. They gave us plenty of white and dark turkey meat, which wasn’t dry, alongside a pig in blanket and lovely stuffing. My favourite bread sauce was followed in the middle, surrounded by carrot, broccoli, green beans and courgette. I particularly liked the courgette and green beans because they still had a nice crunch and you don’t normally see them on a roast dinner plate. I might rethink my veg options this year. My only complaint is that there wasn’t quite enough potato for the amount of meat. Saying that, I just loaded up with veg instead. Finally, I have to mention the cranberry sauce because it was delicious. I’m not one for cranberry sauce after trying to many jellified versions that are lacking in flavour but this one tasted fresh and fruity and the cranberries were juicy with no jelly in sight. 

  
I like a wee Firefly drink too so that earned them bonus points. 

I finished with a rich chocolate mousse and a coffee, albeit two hours after we came in because we were chatting so much. The relaxed nature is a major plus for the informality of self serve – we loved our chilled out afternoon. It can get loud in there because it is such a large room so we felt at ease incase there was a baby meltdown (thankfully there wasn’t!). 

Since we had two babies to contend with, I forgot to take more photos but I’ll do a full post next time I go back. Because I will definitely be back. 

Sutor Creek Cromarty

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I’ve written about Cromarty before here so I’ll not bore you by repeating myself except to say that it is our go-to place for a date day. We love the quaint little place. Last time I wrote about Cromarty it was about a cafe called Coupers Creek & this time the subject is its sister venue, Sutor Creek. 

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I first heard about Sutor Creek online in a write up by The Guardian. It was the only place up north being mentioned so I thought it must be worth a visit. I’ve since seen that they’ve won awards for their Sunday lunch so we’ll try that soon.

Inside it is teeny weeny with about ten tables. We have always gone during the week but I imagine you need to book at the weekend. On this occasion we arrived in the middle of the day so the lunch menu had finished and dinner had not yet started. They run the pizza menu all day & it was the pizza that I wanted to try so I was more than happy. We will come back for lunch because the food sounds great, and I can’t wait to have a steaming plate of mussels in Happy Chappy ale.
Talking of Happy Chappy, they sell the range of Cromarty Brewing Co beers and have a selection of malts for those so inclined.


Now, for the pizza. We shared two between us to try what we could. The ‘Gregors’ pizza (£12.50) had lightly spiced pepperoni mixing with sweet sun dried tomatoes and salty olives. A little red onion provided a sharpness and the basil left a fresh taste. All of this mixed with the creaminess of the buffalo mozzarella was just delicious.

The standout quality for me was the base of the pizza, which had been cooked in the real wood fired oven. These are a rarity, and I could taste the difference. The base was crispy and held all of the toppings well.

Our second pizza choice was the Hawaiian (£10), a favourite of mine. A pizza with ham and pineapple is not authentic at all but I love it all the same and, at Sutor Creek, they added Parma ham to the mix. Why I hadn’t thought about doing this before I just don’t know because the Parma ham made this pizza. It took it from ‘that’s nice’ to ‘silence whilst I eat this whole pizza’!

I’ve since been back and had the Hawaiian again but added olives and I’ve decided that this is the pizza for me.

They have now gone down to their winter opening hours so there will be less visits from us Wednesday lunchers but we’ll make time for them elsewhere. They are open on Wednesday nights & all day/night Thursday-Sunday so we’ll swap things around.

I have to mention the selection of cute pottery jugs that they serve water from because it is touches like this that make me like this place.

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I’m starting to feel like an advert for the people who own the two creek places, who I don’t know by the way. I tell people about them all the time and recommend them on here – a happy customer indeed. I’m just passionate about places that are doing things well. Maximum effort and quality ingredients shine through above other establishments with a quiet confidence that is rare.

A Sutor Creek lunch followed by a walk along Rosemarkie Beach is one of my favourite days.

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Couper’s Creek Cromarty 


Cromarty has fast become one of my favourite day off drives since returning to the homeland. I originally fell for its quaint character and houses with tiny doors on the shore and then I was further drawn in by their eateries, gift shops, Cromarty Bakery and arty feel to the place. I just love it.

My ideal drive down this way involves lunch, the bakery and Rosemarkie beach on the way back – maybe even Chanonry Point for some dolphin spotting. 

Coupers Creek Cafe is right in the hub of Cromarty on Church Street, one of those tiny streets. If you are taking anyone with mobility problems then I’d consider dropping them off and then parking the car than the other way around. That applies to most places in Cromarty!

We settled at one of their cute tables and both ordered teas. I’ve had Suki Tea before and really like it – you can’t beat a nice cuppa and a catch up.

The first food to arrive was a peri peri roasted chicken panini with Swiss cheese and sesame mixed greens. I never tasted it but, judging the contented noises across the table, I’d say it was a positive report. A clean plate at the end further emphasised this. £7.50 is not cheap for a panini and salad but the portion was on the large size and they seem to use quality ingredients – I’d much rather pay a little bit extra for this than get something substandard.

My lunch choice was a panini filled with Tain cheddar and seasonal chutney with watercress (£5). The cheese was gorgeous, a proper cheddar loaded with flavour and the chutney was equally tasty with sweet and tangy notes. The accompanying salad (maybe they were out of watercress?) had a lovely sesame oil dressing on it to liven up the leaves.

My lunch date selected a lemon and lime cake from the daily specials cabinet. I was reliably informed that it goes well with a cuppa.

I was eager to try their ice-cream and ended up with the toffee and tablet sundae. They had overdone the skooshy cream on top so it took a while to get through to the good stuff – but when I did it was very good indeed. I’d recommend it if you have a sweet tooth.

After our relaxing lunch we perused the local gifts that they have on sale and bought a couple of wee things before a wander around Cromarty.

I’ll definitely be back to Coupers Creek & have visited their sister venue, Sutors Creek, too. Both of them are worth a visit if you’re in the area or would even warrant a drive down that way.

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. 

 

Aberdeen Girly Weekend

A Mackenzie milestone birthday now means a ladies weekend away and this time we went tae the ‘deen for a braw, banterful weekend.

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We stayed in the Hilton Doubletree at the beach & they had kindly put strawberries dipped in chocolate in our room when we arrived – a delicious start. We were straight down to use the pool, sauna, steam room and jacuzzi.

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As the hotel is right on the beach, the following morning was spent walking along the boulevard burning off a fraction of the breakfast. We even made time to rediscover our inner child at the amusements although the theme park rides are off in winter (fail!). It was there that we spotted the Inversnecky Cafe – the name alone warranted a milkshake sale.

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That night we went to Nargile – a Turkish restaurant on Skene Street. It was by far my favourite Turkish meal that I’ve eaten outside of Turkey. I loved watching the owner take over the kitchen when it was busy (but I bet the chefs don’t!) and the food was tremendous. It had so much flavour in every element. We ordered a selection of starters and they arrived with lots of pitta. Everything from the humus, borekler (stuffed filo pastries), patlican kizartma (aubergine with feta and yoghurt), sarimsaklika rides (kind prawns), cacik (like tsatziki) and kizartma (veg with yoghurt) was delicious. The portions were large so we should have only ordered a couple of starters between the six of us to save space for the filling mains.

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I’ve thought about my main course many times since, always a positive sign. I had hunkar begendi, which was cubes of marinated lamb with creamed aubergine. Without a doubt I’ll be back to Aberdeen for another plate. I also seem to love Turkish coffee – a choice that has proved unusual around people I know.

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Back to the hotel for some bubbly but we still managed a swim the next morning. The jacuzzi was cold so we gave it a miss but overall the hotel was great.

We had booked the Carmelite for afternoon tea but I can’t find my photos from it! It was a mixed bag for me – there were people next to us eating pub grub style food so it didn’t feel like a proper afternoon tea place. If I owned it I’d segregate the areas because with afternoon tea it’s all about the experience. The sandwiches & cakes were okay but the cocktails were nice.

I left the Mackenzies at the train station to stay with my brother in-law and sister in-law for the night. The other Mrs S introduced me to Cocoa Ooze where we had hot chocolate made with real chocolate melted into milk. Sickly but sinning in the best way, I almost finished it.

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To finish my weekend away, we went to the Boozy Cow the next day because I had a hankering for a pink burger. My chilli burger hit the spot once I’d figured out how to get the massive thing into my mouth. Along with cherry coke and crispy onion rings my three days of excess was complete.

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