Food Thoughts From Abroad

Seafood Shack Ullapool Menu

Apologies – it’s a bit of a lengthy one, this, but perhaps you can enjoy it course-by-course, so to speak!

Travelling in the Knumptywagen with our bijou, on-board kitchenette we more often than not endeavour to feed ourselves ‘in-van’ – and have enjoyed some restaurant-quality meals prepared from locally-sourced produce on our little inbuilt 3-burner gas stove.

Travelling the West Coast of Scotland in the Knumptywagen, however, literally presents a different kettle of fish, in that temptation seemed to lie around every scenic corner. So we tried – on occasions – to patronise the occasional eatery ‘en passant’ and as the fancy took us.

Now, many people more able than I blog extensively about food and although I appreciate good eating as much as anyone else, I’m not sure these humble fingers are able to type about it as eloquently nor descriptively as the true foodies. So instead – for the record (and just in case you follow in our tyre-tracks one day) – here are the highlights of our dining experiences on this trip.

Blairgowrie: Sadly I can’t promote the name of this particular restaurant as – unless our host (a schooldays friend) decides to open a pop-up restaurant – we dined like Royalty in her family home. Here, in anticipation of our visit, she’d taken the day off work and prepared a magnificent roasted side of herb-crusted salmon; a Key Lime pie which just sung its own praises and a selection of cheeses to finish us off. Sadly, it was the accompanying surfeit of fine wines which seemed to do the most damage and we were therefore grateful that this excellent establishment also extended its hospitality to bed and breakfast – thus avoiding a neighbour-awakening stagger up to the only bit of level road in Blairgowrie, where we’d surreptitiously parked the Knumptywagen.

Tongue Hotel, Tongue: A delightful introduction to Scottish sea-food which included langoustine, sea-bream and breast of duck. (Yes, I’m aware that the latter isn’t currently classified as sea-food but it did induce a spot of order-envy across our table.) And yes, I’m also aware that I’ve struggled to generate anything vaguely amusing from a play on the mouth-based epithet of our location. You’ll note that nothing has improved in that department since the last attempt – so any witty responses on a postcard please.

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The Ceilidh House, Ullapool: What’s not to like about a restaurant and bar which includes a bookshop? Especially when the bookshop remains open during restaurant hours and you can simply add your literary purchases to your bill? So in-between sups of a thirst-quenching pre-dinner pint, we browsed the shelves and simply handed our book selections to our waitress. Additionally, the campsite in Ullapool was closed (yet again) and the town, understandably, had taken a stand against the random ‘wild’ motorhome camping which subsequently ensues. Therefore, alongside our bookshop purchases, drinks and food we were able to negotiate our overnight in the restaurant car-park, which thankfully entailed no upset to man nor beast. We therefore enjoyed curiously fresh-tasting pickled rollmop herring with horseradish stuffing and an impressive plateful of whole langoustines followed by a bucket of moule et frites as well as a hugely flavoursome venison stew, ripe with herbs and a perfect accompaniment to a glass of fine red, the provenance of which I neither know nor care.

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The Seafood Shack, Ullapool: Oh my! These are the sort of places we came to Scotland to find. This small daytime eatery didn’t exist on our last visit to Ullapool and – since it occupied a slot on the same road as the Ceilidh House – we walked past it on the afternoon of our arrival just in time to catch sight of its blackboarded menu before it closed for the day. And that’s where the delightful commitment-free nature of Knumptydom scores highest for us – with no onward bookings to honour and time-commitments to absolutely nothing and no-one, we vowed to hang around in Ullapool until The Seafood Shack threw open it’s wooden gates at 12 noon the following day. What a treat! Our late brunch therefore comprised two servings of Smoked Haddock Hash – a delightful mix of the eponymous fish, nestling in crispy kale undergrowth laced with crispy potatoes, a dill-infused crème-fraiche dressing and topped off with a poached egg. All of this self-served al fresco at giant recycled cable-reel wooden tables – which came under heavy demand as more and more customers arrived. And for those readers who recall the Kevin Costner film, ‘Field of Dreams’ – The Seafood Shack fulfilled that film’s classic ethos: If you build it, they will come.

Shieldaig Bar & Coastal Kitchen: A bustling locals’ bar with a seafood restaurant on the mezzanine level above, who again squeezed us in without a booking and treated us to an atmospheric and very fresh seafood supper. Hand-dived local scallops were served atop slices of black-pudding; the freshest, meatiest, whitest halibut ever served in Christendom followed, accompanied by a spring-onioned mash, mange-tout and samphire, all of which wasn’t quite enough to discourage a shared sticky-toffee pudding to follow – redolent with dates and set-off beautifully by a quenelle of vanilla ice-cream on the side. It was here too, with drinks in the bar afterwards that we met the diver who provided the scallops.

Sunnyside Croft Campsite, Arisaig: Mentioned here not for its clinical and pristine cleanliness; its slight environmental obsessiveness and it’s locked-down shower-block where you annoyingly needed to depress a button every 12 seconds to keep a flow of water cascading over you, nor the eye-watering fee of £38.00 for an overnight stay (that’s with electric plug-in – but we did need a water-and waste service, so decided to swallow it anyway) – oh no, none of those things! Instead it provided the location for a memorable in-van seafood extravaganza, with sea-fresh moule and scallops (acquired earlier in our journeyings from a delightfully well-stocked and family-run seafood shack just over the bridge on Skye) accompanied by broccoli and pasta-shells, within which individual mussels nestled, each happily glued into place by the unctuousness of a cream-with-white-wine sauce.

Loch Leven Seafood Café, North Ballachulish: A respite opportunity since the recommended Kishorn Seafood Restaurant was – guess what? Yes, closed as we sailed past it earlier in the day. We were instead received at Loch Leven (“We’re open 7 days a week”) – with rather a breathless panic due to our status as un-booked walk-ins, but a table was found for us. Despite feeling rather pressured by a rushed and rushing waitress (rather incongruously speaking broad Estuarial English) we managed to get ourselves outside of home-baked bread with an olive oil dip; sizable portions of moule and clams; roast baby potatoes and a side of greens in a cream sauce all washed down with a couple of decent-sized glasses of Muscadet de Sevre. And the following morning, passing by again after a roadside overnight at The Narrows on Loch Leven itself (ironically directly opposite a delightful-looking campsite which would have been a 20-mile round trip to reach) we availed of a bag of crab-claws from the Café’s associated seafood shop.

Then there was our disappointingly mundane lunchtime stop at the Bridge of Orchy Hotel, reported upon elsewhere, to be finally followed by a return visit to a welcoming and accommodating venue at Luss on Loch Lomond, where they were very happy for us to overnight in their car-park in exchange for a few Scottish pounds spent in their restaurant  . . .

The Loch Lomond Arms Hotel: A cosy nook in this bustling Hotel Bar Restaurant provided time for reflection on our journey so far, fuelled by the provision of a shared starter of Black Pudding & Haggis Scotch Egg followed in good order by rack of lamb with mash and peas; a bavette steak with frites served with an uplifting and flavoursome chimichurri sauce alongside mushrooms and an exquisitely grilled tomato on the side. A shared dessert of rhubarb crumble presented in deconstructed mode; with strips and croutons of rhubarb, crumbled Scottish shortbread and thick Crowdie cream flecked with ginger.

Malt-whisky nightcaps were enjoyed in the van, with the blinds drawn and our LED lighting sapping as little power as possible from the Knumptyvan’s heavily punished leisure battery, and before we knew it, the new day had dawned whence we set off south again, on the penultimate day of our Scottish journeyings.

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