highland

Are you having Christmas locally?

This year I have set myself a challenge to not buy any Christmas presents online. With retail units closing every day this is more important to me than ever before. Amazon won’t pay my neighbours wages, a local business will. In fact, Amazon and co will just lead to more shops in the area closing down. Money being spent locally is good for our local economy, money not spent locally pulls it out of the circle. I can’t imagine Inverness with no shops, what a horrible thought. Not to mention the hassle of returning things bought online, or forgetting to return them in my case and ending out of pocket. Many local businesses also support charities in the area such as food banks so it is a win all round. Last but not least, I love the feel good factor of using a small shop- it is good for my soul.

As well as presents, there is food to consider. During lockdown we made a point of meal planning around what was in the fridge instead of letting it rot so we started spending our food money better. We started using farm shops and thinking more about food miles, seasonality and flavour than before. Since getting back into the work and school routine we haven’t been as good with this but it has definitely changed our shopping habits for the positive. I wanted to share some of the independent businesses that you can buy presents and food for the festive period.

I have been picking up gifts when food shopping to avoid going to so many places. For instance, my local farm shop in Inshes, the Cow Shed at Druid Temple Farm, has local fruit and veg as well as their own meat, locally baked bread and cakes, eggs and milk alongside boozy gifts, charcuterie, hampers and more. Open on Saturdays (and some Sundays in December) they have been a fabulous addition to our community.

Druid Temple sell my favourite Bogrow charcuterie…try the fennel salami and N’duja sausage, you will not regret it. Bogrow are based in Tain but they go to many food markets and events or they can post out some products – perfect for Christmas presents.

Another company that we will definitely be using is Connage cheese pantry in Ardersier. Their cheese room is packed full ready for you to choose your cheeseboard offerings and the staff are really helpful.

Every week you will find an update from Black Isle Brewing co on their Instagram about what organic produce they’ll have in the farm shop. Their beetroot is my favourite and obviously we always end up getting some beer when we are up. Spider Monkey is my new favourite.

Local events are another way of finding gifts and food such as the one at Ross County football ground this weekend. Businesses like Culbokie Cake Fairies and Loch Ness Honey will bring the food alongside artists and trades like Jack Spowart Illustration.

You may also have heard about Farm Ness, a pop up past Torvean Golf Club with a small farm/gift shop and outdoor cafe with tractor toys for the kids. Don’t forget your jacket and gloves.

Bad Girl Bakery in Muir of Ord can do your Christmas baking for you if you are working on Christmas Eve like I am. They are doing a selection of items like layer cakes, tray bakes and Christmas cupcakes for Christmas snacking at its finest.

If you are not a fan of christmas cake on the 25th you could get an ice-cream cake instead from Mieles. And I’m sure you’ll see them near you as they tour the local area. On the subject of Mieles – have you tried their waffles? Delicious.

I avoid supermarket fish counters since watching a documentary a few years ago about re-labelling products. And why would I need them anyway when we have a great fishmonger in the Victorian market, Duncan Frasers. We got deliveries during lockdown, a service they still offer. They have a great selection on the counter and we always keep a bag of their frozen prawns in our freezer for quick pastas and risottos. They also sell game if you get bored of turkey. Closed on Mondays.

Or if you are out Smithton way you can use Fish n Collect to get your fresh fish from the Redshank Catering Co. Along with these there are several fish Van’s like Bells Seafood, Mark’s Fresh Fish and RK Shellfish that do routes around Inverness and surrounding.

Woodwinters will be providing much of our Christmas tipples as they have done in the past. This little shop in Church Street has a large wine and spirit selection, handy for gifts and day drinking alike. If you are torn between gins or clueless about which whisky to get as a gift ask the staff, they haven’t failed me yet.

Black Isle Berries helped us this summer when lockdown was easing. Picking berries was a lovely family activity and the shop is so well stocked. Heaps of veg, fruit, jams, meat etc as well as well made coffee. They had flour when it was hard to get so kept us in sourdough. Now they have the goods to get through winter too and are open until 6pm on the 24th.

In between all of the meat fest, I’ll be ordering some spinach and feta pies from Trome! They are lovely with a salad and the baklava from there is 10/10. He is based in Milton of Leys for collection or delivery. In the absence of a work night out this year we will be treating ourselves to a Trome lunch delivered (to eat separately but it’s something!).

I can remember as a young child going into Duncan Fraser butchers on Queensgate and seeing the cheery trademark statue. Now my daughter says hello to him when we go in, before chatting to all of the staff! This is a true traditional Inverness shop and I love it.

I find that products like chicken go further in a meal from the butcher as they aren’t full of water so even although the initial outlay is more I use less.

If you live in the south-east of Sneck you will find A&I butchers working hard to supply meat, veg and pies.

As I mentioned earlier there is also Druid Temple for meat and I recently tried beef from Cairnurenan Croft, a farm in Muir of Ord, and I was enthused to see the passion that goes into giving the animals a happy life. They sell meat boxes that will keep you stocked up over the festive period.

If you live in or around Nairn then One One Two on the Brae has reopened and they have reinvented the place. They now have a retail side with more than before and some tasty looking offerings to takeaway.

I get excited going into the Drawing Room gift shop in Crown as there are so many nice things to choose from. They have a dedicated child area that is good for newborn gifts and beyond, as well as gorgeous scars, jewellery, mugs, purses etc. A little late but they have beautiful Christmas decorations.

My colleague recently told me about Above The Flame Candle Co. They are a local company selling beautiful products and I might just buy myself one for Christmas.

I can’t miss out Peat jewellery. I found this designer in the Highland Farm Cafe and the jewellery is so wearable – classy and stylish. The fact that it is made locally is a massive bonus.

Most of the farm shops mentioned sell gifts such as alcohol, socks, toys, sweet treats, decorations so perfect for stocking fillers.

I find that the best way to find out when events are on or what new products places have is by following them on social media. Maybe even share a post if it is a product you really like. They might get one extra sale from your share. And boy will they be grateful for it.

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…