Scotland is a diverse country with many different regions and each has its own culture, cuisine and language. The North West Highlands are a perfect example of this! These three towns on the coast have something for everyone: Gairloch offers an adventurous foodie tour including wild meats, unusual plants and fishing; Ullapool is posh with Michelin star restaurants such as the Altnaharrie Inn; Lochinver’s simple fare includes fresh seafood from local boats.
Scotland’s North West Highlands are not to be missed if you’re looking for great food in beautiful surroundings!
Quick and Dirty:
Tarvies café should be at the top of the list for any North Coast 500 visitor. Loved by the lairds and the lorry drivers; the ladies and lads at Tarvies will butter your bacon like no other. On route from Inverness to Ullapool, make sure you take a pitstop for a scolding black coffee and the ultimate breakfast bap. Think huge white bap, oozing with brown sauce harbouring lorne sausage, bacon, eggs and hash browns, brimming full of wonderfulness. A North Coast institution and an absolute must before the wonderful drive to Ullapooll or Gairloch.
The ultimate quick eat is the famous Seafood shack Ullapool. The Haddock Wrap has often been described by many a friend as better than sex but they have plenty of other options. From garlic crab claws to the largest roll mop you could imagine. Chowders for winter days or langoustines from summer ones, all served out of their “camp” on the backstreets of Ullapool.
An equal wonder is Salt up near Achiltabuie. Again, a local gem serving straight from the sea.
The West Coast Deli in Ullapool can whip you up a platter of wonder from a far and near and is a great stop for the picnic basket ahead of the winding roads of Assynt.
Wild and Wonderful Ingredients:
Foraging is about nature, respect and understanding. A wonderful thing when done well. Take only what you need, in the right seasons and respect the delicate ecosystems on which you tread.
If you have a passion for foraging wild ingredients make sure you have a read of the government guidance on foraging before setting out on your trip.
Winkles – an abundant delicacy that can be found on the pebbly beaches all over the region. At low tide, take a walk down to any rocky beach and you’ll be able to gather a handful.
Cook quicky and enjoy picking the steaming delight out of their shells with a toothpick or similar. Fresh, sustainable and simple. Learn how to cook winkles .
Mussles: Wild mussels are seasonal but aplenty along the route.
If you’re heading by Gruinard beach at the low tide, have a hunt around the rocks off the islands and cliffs. Be aware of the tides and don’t get cut off.
Once back at the truck, strip the barnicles with a spoon or knife ( if you break one of our knives in the process, tell us and we’ll give you a huge pat on the back for being adventurous), de beard them and then fry up some onions and garlic in a pan, chuck in some white wine, pop the lid on and simmer away until all of the shells have opened. Lob in some parsley, a knob of butter and tear of a hunk of fresh bread from the West Coast Deli in Ullapool and enjoy. Don’t eat the closed ones and if you’re not sure, then take a look at a proper recipe on how to cook mussels.
These are fished for all around the west coast and on the right day you can catch the potters coming in with these wonderful delicacies.
When driving around Mellon Charles, keep your eyes peeled for local signs for langoustine and lobster fresh from the boat – there is usually a board up for “the Fishermans wife” in the area. Give her a call.
Langoustine are best cooked in salty water, boiled briefly and then served with Lemon and garlic mayo and a hunk or brown bread.
If you don’t have any luck finding them at source, nip in to D M Seafoods in Ullapool or catch their mobile fish van as it does the rounds around the area. The fishmonger, just opposite the ferry terminal is a must for any visitor and has a local selection of fish and shellfish at all times.
The ultimate indulgence, Little Loch Broom oysters are available from the monger in Ullapool and will change your world. Shuck them, lemon them, squeeze them, swallow them.
For those that are heading down to Skye later on The Oyster Shed on The Isle of Skye is a brilliant place for lunch. A half lobster and chips, washed down with a cider and a box of oysters is my idea of heaven. It also happens to be just above the Tallisker distillery, bonus!
You may not be able to forage for this one but another must try is the smoked salmon from Lou at The Ullapool Smoke House. Pick up a side of cold salmon, smoked in heather and whisky and let your taste buds run away with you. Hot smoked trout, cockles, anchovies and various smoked cheeses make this the ultimate foodies playground.
Mackrell fishing is proflic but the western coast seas can be brutal. If you’re into sea fishing, do it properly and get a day or half day booked in with John from Wester Ross Sea Adventures out of Gairloch.
Or for the more adventurous at heart, give Stuart Yates a call to get booked in for a day of coastal fishing for wild pollack on the fly. This is an awesome wild experience with a great guy.
Seven Croft Gin and An Teallech ales, in our minds are the 8th Wonder of the world. Make sure you are parked up for the night or have a designated driver and remember to abide by the drink driving laws before you indulge in these special ales, you’ll want to make the most of them.
Various places in the highlands sell brilliant local beers and gins. My favourite is the Laide Post Office which I would bet money on having a better whisky collection than any other post office in the world. Anyone with hard evidence to the contrary gets 20% off their next booking! The other is An Yeallach Ale Company, possibly the best beer we have ever tasted and a brilliant post hike companion. They now have a physical shop in Ullapool close to the sea food shack and is well worth the visit.
Even the wild and Woolly like a bit of white table cloth from time to time. The Inver Lodge hotel is a brilliant remanent of the romantic world of the Victorian sportsman (and still has wonderful access to fishing). The Shieldaig Hotel near Gairloch is the ultimate decadence and we’re led to believe that Ledgowan Lodge Hotel near Kinlochewe is a brilliant alternative. They also have a bunk house for those that want to get out of the roof tent without breaking the bank!
We’d love to hear your views:
Lochinver and Gariloch are building a reputation as a foodie destinations and this little treatise doesn’t even scratch the surface. Do you have any tried and tested tips? Write to us, blog about it, share it and we might give you some free stuff from our super cool partners Rooted Ocean.