Eat Drink Hebrides
The new Eat Drink Hebrides trail officially launches in March 2016. This will attempt to bring to the wider world what locals in the islands already know, that this area has the best natural ingredients, food producers and restaurants you can find anywhere.
The culinary focus in this part of the world is very much on the traditional, with recipes being passed on down through generations. A lot of the local produce is still prepared as it would have been centuries ago giving visitors a taste of the past as well as the experience of being able to sample seafood that was swimming in the unpolluted waters outside their holiday cottage only hours previously.
Stornoway Black Pudding is an institution and has been made to a similar recipe for hundreds of years. Recently granted protected trademark status, this classic staple of the island diet has seen its popularity on the mainland soar with contemporary chefs coming up with inventive uses for it in all manner of recipes. Black pudding is best, however pure and unadulterated, freshly prepared and fried in butter as part of a traditional breakfast treat along with home-made potato scones and local free range eggs. And the perfect location for this? How about Atlantic Longhouse on the west coast of Lewis with breathtaking views over the Atlantic Ocean. In the quieter winter months the owner, an accomplished chef, will prepared a superb meal for you at a fraction of the cost of a restaurant – served in the comfort of your holiday cottage.
One of the highlights of any holiday is a picnic on the beach and part of what makes the islands so special is that you can have the most spectacular sandy beaches all to yourself and the absolute best quality fresh or locally made ingredients. If I had to choose the perfect meal, of anywhere in the world and any restaurant or venue, it would be sitting on the dunes overlooking Scarista on a summer day. And the picnic hamper would be full of the tastes of my childhood, oatcakes from Macleans Bakery with fresh crowdie, crab-claws from the surrounding waters, peat smoked salmon from the Hebridean Smokehouse and to wash it down, a more recent revelation – island ale. The ideal end to such an indulgent day would be a short walk back to the luxury of Corncrake Cottage.
Seafood is in abundance on the Hebrides, preparation couldn’t be easier as when produce is this fresh it should be treated with respect. Rather than being smothered in sauces or spice, simple is best, letting the fantastic natural flavours dominate. A great place for a dinner party with friends would be the decking outside Riof Ocean Cottage. This idyllic setting is on the loch shore and is close to Miavaig harbour where you can often buy lobster and scallops direct from the fishing boat. And what better way to watch the sun go down than to accompany it with a wee dram of locally distilled whisky from Abhainn Dearg, or a Harris Gin made with island seaweed.
Not everyone wants to cook every night so fortunately there is now an array of top class restaurants in the Hebrides. Not surprisingly, local produce features highly on their menus but a number have managed to combine traditional influences with international expertise to create something really special. Auberge Carnish blends French culinary tradition with local ingredients in dishes such as haggis crepes, cassolet of mussels or Minch squid, pan-fried Cajun style. Booking is essential and afterwards 7a Ardroil is a convenient location to retire to for post dining reverie.
The islands are not immune to the fast food revolution, with limited time on holiday who wouldn’t want to maximise their beach or mountain time? A number of companies now provide home-made ready meals offering a convenient taste of the Hebrides. Croft 36 in Northton specialise in hearty local fare such as rabbit stew, seafood pie, fish curry or crab ravioli and can deliver to your holiday cottage. They also operate a self-service croft shop which has an honesty box for visitors, where you can pick up fresh veg, free range eggs from machair hens and home baking.
The award winning 40 North on Lewis cures and smokes their own meat and fish. They also bake their own bread and cakes and make ice cream, all from the kitchen on their croft. The shop in Bragar has a huge selection of pizzas, pastas and curries as well as pies, sandwiches and snacks.
Inevitably, the holiday will eventually have to come to an end. The perfect way to take a little taste of the Hebrides home with you would be to seek out some artisan confectionary. These also make great gifts for friends as a way of apologising for constantly harping on about how amazing your island holiday was. The Hebridean Toffee Company on Barra produce Scottish tablet using a secret recipe and have supplied the Scottish parliament, Harvey Nichols and Balmoral Castle. One of the specialties of The Stag Bakery in Stornoway is seaweed shortbread, it may sound bizarre but the sweetness and saltiness balance each other perfectly. To accompany that, how about some peat smoked Hebridean Coffee?