scottish highlands

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? 

Camerons – Loch Ness Hideaway

 

Do you ever visit somewhere for the first time and it just feels right? You feel at home and comfortable and fond of the place from the get-go. Cameron’s tea room out at Foyers gave me that feeling from the minute we commandeered those sofas in front of the wood burning stove on a rainy day. 
  

If you don’t know Foyers then take the road out to, and past, Dores. It’s about fifteen minutes drive past Dores Inn along Loch Ness with wonderful views to make the journey feel quicker. 

Cameron’s sits on the left hand side of the road just at the end of the village. It is a golden wooden building with its own car park. 
It’s a little cafe that also has a farm shop part, as well as selling some gift items and a few textiles.
It was pouring down and freezing the day we visited but Camerons kept cropping up when hearing about places to go so off we went. We were greeted by a lovely lady who seemed delighted to see the two babies we had in tow, and was telling us about her grandchild. 
After a chat, we ordered our lunch. A baked potato with prawns came with a nice side salad, coleslaw and crisps. A generous portion of juicy prawns on top of soft potato. The only negative was that the potato skin wasn’t crispy. 
  
The other two lunches ordered were both soup and half sandwich, which were also served with the yummy coleslaw, salad and crisps. Both sandwiches were prawn and one was with a rich lentil soup. 
  
The other was with a homely leek and potato soup. Both homemade and tasty soups. 
  
We sat chatting and basking in the heat of the wood burner for a while then decided to sample some of the home baking along with coffees. 

Carrot cake was well-balanced and the muffin was moist and flavourful. Mrs T who had the muffin loved the lemon curd and is hoping it will be there next time.

 
  

  

My sponge was fab – rich cake bursting with fruity jam and sweet icing. The jam itself made the cake in my opinion because it was packed with flavour. 

 
 
The decor is girly yet not overpowering, and we loved the stag light fittings. 
   
 

The original lady serving us finished her shift when we were in and even came over to say goodbye before she left, we felt so welcome. She was replaced by an equally friendly face and I can see why people grow an attachment with customer service like this. 
   
 

We arrived at 2pm and never left until 5pm when they closed. That speaks volumes in itself. Cosy, homely, friendly, wonderful. Enough said. 

 

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. 

 

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! 

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. 

 
   

 

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.