food blogger

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.

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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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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? 

Ed’s Diner

A few months ago one of the shops in the Eastgate Shopping Centre was boarded up and they started work on something new. Eventually signs went up that it was going to be a diner – exciting times. Often I’ll be shopping in town then want lunch around 3pm but many restaurants in town are closed between lunch and dinner so the idea of a diner in the shopping centre made sense to me. I’m all for more places opening up in town – now they just need to start a shorter 1 hour or less parking tariff and attract more people in. We’re getting there. 

  

Ed’s Easy Diner is a UK based chain with almost 50 outlets since the first one opened in Soho in 1987. I have come across Ed’s in other cities, mainly in shopping centres, but had never eaten there so a shopping day with Mr S presented the perfect opportunity. 

  

First impressions were good. We were met at the door by a manager who said that she would get a booth set up for us in five minutes. It was a busy lunchtime and I’d expected a longer wait so my belly was happy. 

Ed’s decor formula is the typical old style American diner look and I think it works for them. They continue the theme to the actual tables, where there are mini jukeboxes that play a range of funky tunes for 20p each. The money made from this goes to the charity Action Against Hunger. 
  

I spent a while looking at the menu before choosing a beef burger over a hot dog or chicken option. My thinking was that the beef burger is the mainstay for an American themed diner so it is what Ed’s should do best. They offer the option of a burger by itself or as a plate that also includes fries, onion rings and coleslaw. We both went for the cheeseburger plate option, one with American cheese and one with cheddar. It appealed to me that you can choose the type of cheese in the cheeseburger- little things that make a difference to my enjoyment. 

We didn’t wait long for our food and the jukebox distracted us anyway. There’s always the open kitchen to watch as well. 
  
On arrival the plates looked good. I had upgraded my meal to have sweet potato fries instead of regular fries because the look of the regular fries on other peoples plates that I had passed hadn’t appealed to me. This probably sounds pernickety but they reminded me of the chips they served in my old high school – which I enjoyed at the time but now expect a higher quality from a restaurant. Mr S said they were fine and I tried one and they were ‘fine’ but who wants that when they eat out? My sweet potato variety were much better – crispy on the outside and soft inside. The coleslaw and onion rings were pretty bog standard but I hadn’t expected homemade from a chain. 

The burger itself was of a good size (you can also upgrade to a large patty) with lettuce and tomato. A regular seeded bun pleases the masses – sadly my preferred brioche bun that holds the burger together better was not an option but I suppose this one is more in keeping with the old American style. The patty itself was a bit disappointing. It definitely did not taste homemade and the meat was too ground down. It just reminded me of a frozen burger that you’d buy in Tesco – flavourless. 

The cheeseburger plate costs £11.30, but due to my upgrade to sweet potato fries mine was £12.80. The location of Ed’s in the shopping centre, and therefore high rent for the business, was always going to bump the price up. On the other hand, diners should feel that they are getting what they pay for & I can’t justify that much money when the burger quality was so sub-standard. It might have worked in 1987 but burger places have improved so much since then & you have to move with the times. 
  

The crowning glory of the visit for me was my strawberry shake. It wasn’t cheap but it’s more of a dessert than a shake, thick with ice cream. It was served half in a glass and half in a steel malt & tasted delicious. The drinks menu also had other favourites of mine such as cherry Coke, root beer, Coke floats and Samual Adams beer. 
  
I was trying to weigh up my opinion of the place and it came down to alternatives for me. Nearby restaurants that offer burgers such as the Heathmount, Mcgonagall’s, Fig & Thistle and Cafe 1 charge around the £10 mark but Ed’s win points on location convenience & all day opening. I wouldn’t return for a burger but if I am in town with someone else who really wants to go to Ed’s then I’ll go back and try a hotdog. 

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. 

 
   

 

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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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.

A Song In Little Italy

I’m a big fan of Italian food, whether it be traditional or modern style. A traditional Italian restaurant should have charm, Italian owners and red checkered tablecloths (cliché as it sounds). Little Italy on Stephen’s Brae has all of the above. It has been in Inverness for a few years but I had never got around to trying it so a few months ago – before the hectic move – we visited this tiny venue.

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Little Italy restaurant sits next door to Little Italy Tapas & Prosecco Bar, where we almost went for lunch. I was peckish for a pizza so we saved tapas for another day.

As we are big sharers, we ordered a pizza and a pasta between us. The pasta was Linguine Salsicia Italiana but we swapped the linguine for penne. The pasta was slightly more cooked than al dente but it was flavoursome. I’m a total Italian sausage lover (why we put breadcrumbs and things in our sausages is beyond me) so this was always going to be a hit with me. A bit of parmesan or grana padano and the sweet tomatoes are lifted immediately.

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The ‘Brindisi’ pizza that we chose had similar ingredients to the pasta but why change a winning formula? The normal tomato & mozzarella base was accompanied by mascarpone, onion, peppers, chillies, spicy Italian sausage and rocket. I’m getting better with how much spice I can take so even had some of the chilli, Mr S is at last converting me. Even although there was both mozzarella and mascarpone, they hadn’t overdone the cheese. The toppings were tasty and the rocket gave a leafy lightness with a peppery hit.

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Whilst we were waiting for an affogato to share, the Italian restaurant owner broke into song in the dining room! I’ve been told since that this is a regular occurrence and, as surreal as it was, I liked it. It’s the kind of thing that in most places could have gone either way but Little Italy manage it.

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The affogato arrived in a martini glass with three big scoops of vanilla ice-cream and the shot of espresso poured over. It was nice, I was distracted (and clapping) by the singing man, and the meal had been a success. Somewhere I would return to for sure.

Lunchy Munchy At La Tortilla Asesina

Finding your feet in a new city can be hard – even if you’ve lived there before a million moons ago. You get lost and you don’t have favourite places to go, it’s a blank canvas. Exciting but unfamiliar and my control freak side hates the thought of giving somewhere rubbish my money.
Luckily we seem to be off the starting block by finding somewhere that has convenient opening hours, is near to work and that we feel welcomed and at ease in. La Tortilla Asesina on Castle Street is a Spanish tapas restaurant that also has a bar area. A wee post-work glass of vino with some Spanish ham is my idea of bliss so you can see why we’ve been a few times.
Last week after a mortgage appointment (yes, we are hopefully getting our house!) we felt like a celebratory lunch so ended up in La Tortilla Asesina.

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We have actually been here twice before in the last few years and the first time didn’t think much of it. The menu was massive and I think they were doing too many mediocre dishes – definitely quantity over quality. But the last time we visited before we moved up the road, they seem to have streamlined things and concentrate on doing more with less dishes.

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(Love their sense of humour!)

I’ll get my bugbear out of the way first – when you google this place no website comes up and their Facebook didn’t have any menu handy that I could see. Websites are expensive so I understand why small businesses don’t always have them but if they don’t then a pinned post of their menu on Facebook or regular photos of it (and on Twitter) then I often don’t go to places. Going to a new restaurant is all about reeling you in but La Tortilla is putting no bait out.

So it was unsurprisingly quiet on the Wednesday lunchtime that we visited. They do a fantastic lunch deal with two tapas for £5 that we didn’t know about – why they are not screaming about this on social media I don’t know.

Mr S and I shared a selection of dishes and they gave us free bread too. My first choice was chipirones – fried tiny baby squid. I would never have ordered this before but my father in-law loves it and after trying his I’m hooked. Chipirones just seems to have so much more flavour than calamari and less rubber to it – more like little fishy, salty bites. They were lovely and crunchy – a definite high point.

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We had a prawn dish each because Mr S wanted the battered prawns with garlic mayo and I wanted the Gambas pil pil. He was happy with his prawns and I was enjoying mine. A little more chilli and garlic wouldn’t have gone amiss but they were still good.

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Our meat choice was pollo chisporroteante, which is sizzling chicken strips marinated in mojo sauce and fried with onions and peppers. It was yummy! Full of flavour, the chicken wasn’t dry and the oily pan sauce was perfect for mopping up with bread.

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We had patatas bravas to accompany the meat and the ‘chips’ were soft in the middle but golden on the outside. The sauce is usually spicy but this lacked flavour.

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A tomato salad finished our selection of goodies well and provided some much needed veg.

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We left after lunch with full bellies and contented smiles… I think we’ve got our first favourite.

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