scotland

The Seafood Shack in Ullapool

I like to pride myself on exploring the highlands but I hadn’t been to Ullapool since I was a little girl. It wasn’t on my radar until I kept hearing about the Seafood Shack – literally a shack selling fresh seafood to takeaway, or eat at one of their few outside tables. It kept popping up on my instagram, then I saw it recommended by a chef in a magazine article then a friend recommended it. Time for a day trip west.

Knowing that it’s outdoors, we were hoping for a dry day. But as we drove the hour and a quarter journey from Inverness, it became clear that the weatherman was not on our side. We went for a swim to the local pool to build up our appetites then headed over at lunchtime.

It is easy to miss the place – it’s opposite Ullapool Museum if you’re planning a trip. It is sandwiched in between two buildings in the middle of a street, with their own wee seating area for customers. We managed to get seats under an umbrella so were semi shielded from the elements.

Everything on the menu sounded nice so we shared a selection. My only regret was that we never tried the crab claws as well.

Mackerel pate

Smoked mackerel pate was served with a nicely dressed salad. The pate itself was excellent – meaty and not over-creamed with a lovely smoky flavour. I will definitely be ordering this next time.

Tempura haddock wrap

Then a tempura haddock wrap was crispy and warm, with crunchy salad and silky pesto mayonnaise with a hint of lemon. The wrap was another winner for me, without a doubt.

Cullen Skink

The Cullen Skink was boiling hot so we had to leave it to cool a little but it helped on the cold day to warm us up. Unfortunately, I was disappointed by how thin it was. It had a nice flavour but I was looking forward to a thick, creamy, slightly blended soup and this wasn’t that. I wouldn’t have thought anything of it if the menu had said smoked haddock soup but I couldn’t describe it as Cullen Skink as I know it.

Half lobster

Finally, we ordered a half lobster – it’s what I came all that way for really. It was also served with salad (you can never have enough salad though) and dill potatoes. The potatoes were kind of in a potato salad style but I’m not a dill fan so I left them. The lobster itself was so fresh and I loved the butter dressing. I could have eaten a whole one of these.

The Seafood Shack close for winter soon and I’m so glad we made it this year. I enjoyed it even although we sat in the rain so it should be even better when the suns out. I’d like to plan in a couple of trips through next year – Ullapool is a pretty little fishing town to wander round too so it makes a nice day out. I’m told that Wyvis natural play park in Garve is great so next time we’ll break up the journey for the little foodie.

My west coast adventures have begun.

If you have any recommendations of where to go next then let me know.

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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

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.

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? 

Coming to Inverness? Read This First

Almost there!


Boring practicalities they might be but here’s some tips on how to make the most of your time in Inverness & the Highlands. 


Hire a car

If you can drive & can afford it then hire a car for part of your trip. Inverness city is small but the whole rest of the Highlands are begging to be seen. How else will you visit the gorgeous blue flag beach in Nairn, the quaint village of Cromarty or the Cairngorms? There are limited buses and trains for those who don’t drive, but it’s far more exciting visiting where you want when you want and being able to stop at Black Isle Brewery or Bad Girl Bakery on the way home. 

Dores beach


Book Restaurants
 

Tourist season is starting earlier every year, and restaurants are getting busier because of it. The locals like to eat out on Fridays and Saturdays so you are always best to book in advance for these days. Eden Court often has popular shows on so places can be busy all week until 7pm. If there’s only a couple of you then you’ll probably be okay without a booking during the week but big parties should book when they can to avoid disappointment. Many restaurants have small capacities so keep that in mind. On the other hand, don’t be discouraged because you’ll find somewhere to eat without a booking but it might not be your first choice. 

Remember that many restaurants are closed on Sundays and some on Mondays, and that some places close between lunch & dinner service (usually 2.30-5pm). 

Due to licensing laws over here, some restaurants will not serve alcoholic drinks unless you are eating so it’s best to check before going in or try one of our lovely bars. 

Venison from Fig & Thistle bistro


Do your research

If you are staying in Inverness city centre then supermarkets and newsagents close fairly early, even earlier on Sundays. As far as I’m aware, Barneys (on Castle Street), Tesco & Co-op are your latest opening places to get sundries. You’ll need a car (or taxi) to get to the out of town 24 hour supermarkets. 

Child Friendly Inverness
 

I often get asked what is child friendly in Sneck but it all depends on your children’s ages and the weather. There are several play parks within walking distance of the centre, most notably Whin Park with its boating pond and Bellfield Park with tennis courts to rent. 

There is also a crazy golf course, ice-rink, group puzzle rooms at Lockdown, go-carting, swimming pool with flumes & sports centre. The newbie in town is Infinity indoor Trampoline Park that I’ve heard great things about. For younger ones, there’s soft play at Frankie & Lola’s ten minutes drive from the High Street. 

Winter Wonderland at Whin Park

Check Local Events 

Our local theatre is called Eden Court, and has shows on most nights and some days. Book the popular ones in advance if you can. They also have a cinema if you want to catch a film. 

In & around Inverness you can find other annual events on like the Black Isle Show, North Hop, Groove festival, Belladrum festival, Inverness Highland Games, Etape cycle race and the Highland Military Tattoo. If you are staying in self-catering accommodation then take advantage of the farmers market that’s on monthly on the High street. 

Glenmhor Hotels mini beer festival last summer


Pubs/Bars with Outdoor Seating

If the sun is out then you want to make the most of it, so head to one of our bars that have outside seating. This list isn’t them all- more what I can remember off the top of my head! 

Black Isle Bar on Church Street (roof terrace)

The Heathmount in Crown (5 minute walk from the high street)

The Corriegarth in Crown (next to the Heathmount)

Johnny Foxes on Bank Street 

The Castle Tavern on Castle Street

La Tortilla (tapas restaurant) on Castle Street 

The Glenmhor on Ness Bank 

Some of my Favourites in the Centre

A wander into town to La Tortilla for a tapas lunch, ice-cream from Miele’s, a walk along the (Ness bank) islands, sampling beer & gin in Black Isle Bar, a special dinner in Fig & Thistle, cocktails in the White House, eating fish in River House, ticking another gin off the list in the Heathmount, having a pizza from the Black Isle Bar on a Sunday afternoon, Thai food from Thai Dining, visiting the shops in the Victorian market… there are so many. 

Pizzas from Black Isle Bar

Ten minutes drive from the High Street is Culloden House. They do the best (trust me on this!) afternoon tea, have lovely gardens to walk round & the place is steeped in history. Bear in mind the afternoon tea must be booked in advance so the patisserie chef can do their thing. 

Some of my Favourites out of the Centre

Travel north over the Kessock Bridge and follow the coastline to Fortrose & Rosemarkie where you’ll find a prime dolphin spotting location at Chanonry Point. Then carry on following the road round to Cromarty and eat at Sutor Creek (or Couper Creek if it’s closed). 

Or go east of inverness to Nairn and go for a walk along the beach then for lunch at Logie Steading. Don’t forget to buy a bottle of Scottish gin at Logie shop! On the way back go to Connage cheese dairy shop and get everything you need for a cheeseboard dessert. 

If you go south-east then it’ll take you towards the Cairngorms and lovely Aviemore. I’ve been fortunate to spend a lot of time here recently and can’t pick just one place. Loch Insh and Glenmore Forest Park are both beautiful, and I love driving through little villages like Nethy Bridge, Boat of Garten & Carrbridge. The kids will love Landmark activity centre at Carrbridge, and Carrbridge Kitchen is only five minutes walk for coffee and cake. Back in Aviemore, La Taverna does a fab Italian buffet & the Mountain Cafe is another firm favourite of ours. Andersons restaurant in Boat of Garten was a hit for our ladies dinner recently. 

Most tourists head towards Drumnadrochit and to the Jacobite cruise on Loch Ness. Instead of driving straight back to the city afterwards, take the scenic route back following signs to Beauly. A lovely little place to wander, it is conveniently close to Muir of Ord which is the home of Bad Girl Bakery. Or keen walkers could head Alness way to walk up to see Fyrish monument. 

I could go on and on… it makes me realise how lucky I am to have all of this around me. 

Don’t forget to follow the blog by email (there should be a link on this page) to read about more places that I’ve been.

N.B The above are all my opinion and none of the companies listed know that I’m writing this. Feel free to comment if you think I’m missing out on any important details. 

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… 

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. 

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. 

 

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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Aye Love Real Food

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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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