inverness eating

Fig & Thistle – An Inverness Beauty

When we first moved back, there was a prosecco and tapas bar on Stephens brae that we never got to try before it shut down. It’s not the first time that somewhere closed down here before I got to it and it makes me want to throw my toys out of the pram. But then Fig & Thistle opened where the prosecco bar once was and happiness was restored. The restaurant has zoomed up to the top of my favourites list so much that this isn’t the first time I’ve written about it, read the other time here. It’s well deserved though, and that post is over two years old. We were in for a birthday dinner but it’s worth noting that they have a lunch menu with mains around the £8 mark.

For starters, both were chosen from the specials menu. Smoked haddock croquettes with accompanying aioli and pickles were lovely. The croquettes themselves were cooked well, a nice crunch but not overdone. The aioli and capers/pickles lifted the whole thing up and my only request would be a little more fish in them. This is the second time I’ve had them so they are winners for me.

The specials board had a seafood risotto that sounded amazing and they very kindly made a similar one as a starter portion for us. I’ve had risotto in here a few times and the chefs make the most gorgeous risottos that I’ve ever eaten, it’s such a strength of theirs so look out for them on the menu. This was the highlight of the meal by far and when we got home we were still trying to figure out how they got the mussels to taste so charred! Beautiful prawns and mussels, little sweet scallops with the creamiest of risottos, it was perfection.

For mains, I chose another dish from the specials board – duck breast with figs, crispy potatoes and jus. The duck was soft, the figs had been dried to intensify their sweetness and the potatoes had a fantastic crunch to them. It was served with a curried purée that gave the dish a splendid warmth. Another winner.

The only dish chosen from the main menu was sirloin steak au poivre. The steak was cooked exactly as ordered and came with a silky, creamy sauce. The homemade chips were crunchy and fluffy inside, and the veg was expertly cooked.

Now, by the time dessert arrived I’d forgotten about taking photos so there are none. Could be something to do with the wine (Chardonnay then Malbec-both highly recommended) but hey-ho, it was my last day as a twenty one year old (ish…and a bit more). The creme brûlée and mango cheesecake were both moreish and solid good cooking. A great way to finish the meal.

I almost breath a sigh of relief when one of my favourites is still as good on a return visit, and Fig & Thistle always step up to the plate. It has a relaxing, informal atmosphere that puts you at ease and dishes that are accomplished and flavoursome.

I’d love to see them change the a la carte menu as it hasn’t changed much since opening, but the specials board always contains some gems.

From a selfish point of view, I’m so glad that Fig & Thistle opened up here. If you couldn’t tell already, it’s a good place in my eyes. Other people that I’ve spoken to have said the same so it’s nice to hear that they have been welcomed to Sneck with open arms. I hope they’ll stay!

Price point: starters around £6-7

Mains around £15-20

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Fig & Thistle – Bringing Bistro Back

  It’s a difficult time to open a restaurant in Inverness city centre. At the weekend up here you have to book tables well in advance but during the week it’s like a ghost town. Restaurants can’t survive on weekend trade alone so I urge you to turn Wednesday into your new Saturday- I bet that you won’t have to book far in advance and will get better service. I prefer to eat out when it’s not so busy and this is exactly what we did on our visit to Fig & Thistle. This Scottish restaurant is situated on Stephens Brae, just above the long-standing Girvans. It’s a small place inside so try to book if you can but chance your arm if not. 

 

Dad opts for steak ninety nine percent of the time in a restaurant and the one in the Fig & Thistle was from the specials board. It was served with chorizo, potato cubes and seasonal veg. The fillet steak was a tad undercooked but tasty indeed, and a few more potatoes would have made this dish. 
  

Mum loves a veggie option so chose the risotto of garden vegetables, toasted walnuts and Gorgonzola with salad leaves. I’m not a Gorgonzola fan so never tried it but mum found it to be creamy and flavoursome. She would order it again so that says it all. 
  

I immediately spotted what I wanted on the menu – rump of lamb. It is a meat that I don’t often cook at home so it’s a treat to have it. The menu did not say this but it arrived with potato dauphinoise, my favourite potato dish. The lamb itself was cooked to perfection for my taste with the reddish pink inside and slightly caramelised outside that blended with the jus perfectly. The Mediterranean veg also complemented the jus, and it was nice to have the extra veg on the side. 
  
Mum and I shared a classic creme brulee. They had executed the dish well- it was set and creamy below with a caramelised crunchy top. 

  

We all ended up digging in to dads cheeseboard, after the go-ahead from the man himself of course. Creamy Brie and rich cheddar topped off with fruity jelly rounded off the evening nicely. 
  
This petite place reminds me of a little French bistro with solid cooking and an intimate atmosphere. I’ve heard good things about their burger on the lunch menu so I’ll be back to try that. Midweek of course. 
Support our Inverness restaurants all week! 

I’ve Hopped! : North Hop 2015

You can read my before event piece on North Hop 2015 here if you haven’t already.

North Hop – a beer, gin, food and music mini festival – was THE event in my social calendar this August. It was a chance to go to an exciting, adult only event in Inverness that involved some of my favourite things and, to make it even better, I was going with some of my favourite people. The only fly in the ointment was my abstaining of alcohol due to the imminent appearance of my own little egg but I had taken plenty of tasters along and didn’t rest my feet until after the midnight hour. 

Along with 1500 others, we waited in the queue in anticipation then collected our branded North Hop glasses that came complimentary with your entry ticket. We were all rather confused why we had been given them at the start of the event and not at the end until we went through and realised that these were our tankards to use for the night to sample all the beer.
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We started off downstairs where the main music stage, a host of beer producers and some foodie stalls to feed you through the night were located. Beer could be bought in half pints or schooners (2/3 pint) to allow you to sample as many different ones as possible without ending up on the floor.

First stop was Cromarty Brewing Co as they had developed a special North Hop session IPA with raspberries – a glass of this was included in the ticket price. Mr S billed it as ‘surprisingly nice’ because he’s not usually a fan of beer with a berry type fruity flavour. For someone so serious about beer this is praise indeed. For the record, Cromarty’s beer bottles are regularly found in our fridge & Happy Chappy Pale Ale is one of my favoured tipples so look out for it around the Highlands and even further afield.

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Rock Rose gin from Caithness had also created a limited edition North Hop gin especially for the event. It had notes of strawberry and rhubarb and was delicious. They were selling this along with bottles of their classic gin – something I had seen in bars but not in any shops yet so I treated myself to a bottle for when I can indulge again.

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The world’s oldest brewery, Weihenstephan (Bavarian State Brewery), were at the event to extend the beer selection to further afield. The drinkers loved the tipple and especially how cold it was. At least two of our party said that it was their choice stand of the night.

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Barney’s Beer from Edinburgh was also a hit, especially the Volcano IPA.

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Thistly Cross cider company were there for those who prefer their beverages more appley than hoppy. I arrived prepared with a cider fanatic on hand to be my tester. She reported back that she liked them all and was very happy with the selection but wanted them colder next year (although she did say that was nitpicking and was raving about what a fab night she had).

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Aye Love Real Food was my first nourishment stop of the night because I couldn’t walk past the scotch eggs a minute longer. I chose one with black pudding and it came with a dollop of mustard mayo. The egg had retained its slightly soft centre and there was a substantial meat layer to keep me going – wonderful. It could only have been made better by slightly heating it up and I’m sure they’d sell more this way in the future.

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The Lochness Inn at Drumnadrochit were also there, selling Highland Crispy Beef. This was a hit with our party – tasty and as crispy as promised with the added crunch of veg. I tried some early on but when I went back later it had changed from beef to chicken so I got to sample both. After trying their fayre at North Hop, I’ll be making a trip out soon to sample their menu.
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The beer was in full flow and I even had a little sample of my favourite Drygate Outaspace Apple Ale – I can’t wait until I’m allowed a whole bottle of this again! As former Dennistoun residents, we are well acquainted with Drygate’s other offerings – Bearface Lager and Gladeye IPA – and if you haven’t tried them yet then you should. Preferably in their lovely bar/brewery in Glasvegas but anywhere would do really as long as they are cold.

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Wooha’s wheat beer went down well, as did St Andrews Eden Mill Bunker IPA, Six Degrees North, Loch Ness Brewery, Fyne Ales and all of Windswept Brewing Co’s lot.

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Fresh revolution were offering a few dishes on the night and my group tasted the Thai curry and the meatball sub. The sub was fantastic and the Thai curry was super flavoursome but needed more veg. My biggest regret of the night was not getting a mackerel fish cake, which I am sure would have been delicious.

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Upstairs had more of a feminine touch with tables decked out with gin centrepieces and the music stage hosting softer acoustic sets.
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I loved watching 10 Dollar Shake making up their selection of cocktails using the finest gins and they had even concocted some beer cocktails for the weekend. They adapted one for me into a mocktail and it was as lovely as it could be minus the gin!

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Later on I sampled another mocktail from Berry Good that was also tasty and served in a prosecco glass – bonus. Next year I’ll be drinking their mini bottles of actual prosecco with a straw!
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Also upstairs (but out on the balcony) were Aberdonians The Adelphi Kitchen barbeque-ing sausages to go with Angus & Oink sauces. The very spicy sausages were a hit with the boys, as were the sauces, but the white sliced bread and tortilla chips were strange accompaniments that could definitely be improved upon.

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Also with a prime balcony spot was La Tortilla Asesina, a local restaurant serving up freshly made paella. It’s one of my favourite places in Sneck so we had to have a bowl. We had actually already been to La Tortilla before North Hop as we used it as our meeting place. Warming up our tummies with boquerones and Estrella (Galacia 0,0% for moi) can never be a bad start to a night.
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With upstairs going for the decadent feel, downstairs was decked out like a barn with hay bale seats. This was a great way to make it feel outdoorsy without having to rely on Scottish weather for the night to go ahead. It also provided somewhere to listen to the musicians gracing the stage whilst sampling all the event had to offer.
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Not all the beer was for drinking on the night and a few breweries, such as Eden Mill, had take home packs. I wish I’d bought a few of these as presents now. North Hop should do a special Christmas event for me to get all of my presents for the grown ups!
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Brewdog kept us amused with their novel advertising ‘tattoos’ to brand us… something to make you smile the morning after. Along with their chilled Jack Hammer and Hop Fiction, they were a hit with my lot at the festival.

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Poporopo popcorn also stood out for my non-drinking-but-eating-everything-in-sight self and I sampled the lot. The sea salt and peanut butter flavours were my favourites from this luxury popcorn brand and I came home with the sea salt (not that there’s much left now, nom nom).

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Tipplebox were there showing off their mail order cocktail making kits that would be good for birthday presents. The stall was busy when we arrived so they are obviously going down well.
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The Storehouse at Foulis had a large selection of gin, vodka and other bottles for those thinking of taking home momentos or adding to their spirit collection. The skulls were attracting all the attention and I had to stop myself from buying everything.

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Rebel Tattoos had made the trip from Aberdeen and were selling custom artwork as well as chatting about their tattoo skills.
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Ovenbird’s ‘in coffee we trust’ slogan couldn’t have been more true for me as it gave me the energy to last the night. I stepped away from the decaf and the Foreigner (flat white) pinged me back to life like only a good coffee can. My tasters of the Bad Girl Bakery cupcakes said they went very well with the coffee. I’ll be looking out for the gin and tonic cakes next year as they’d sold out by the time I got to them.
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I liked that the event had enough people to create a buzz but that it wasn’t packed so full that you had to wait an age to get served and were squashed up like sardines. It was pretty much sold out and I think that the number of tickets allowed per session was spot on for maximum enjoyment.

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Our beer gaggle’s award for beer of the night was a tie between Cromarty Brewing Co’s AKA IPA, Six Degrees North Wanderlust Wheat and Weihenstephan’s ice cold Hefeweiss. A special mention also has to go to Brewdog’s guest beer, Mikkeller Pale Ale Swindle, for being so gluggable.

All of us loved the night at North Hop and the general consensus was that it exceeded our expectations. It was a refreshing change from the usual weekend events and I’d be a contented lady to see more like this in Inverness.  As long as it was well promoted to spread the word, I feel that there is a buoyant market for it. We left as Happy Chappy’s indeed.

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More photos if you haven’t had enough-

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Thumbs up for the sausage roll but it would have been nicer warm

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Paella from La Tortilla Asesina

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The Adelphi Kitchen’s Spicy BBQ sausage

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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…