I have eaten at many fancy places, tried lots of ingenious and tasty dishes, but never before have I eaten at a Michelin starred restaurant. And who would have thought that out of all places in the world I would find a Michelin starred restaurant tucked away in a far corner of Europe, on the Scottish Isle of Skye? But there you go – sometimes you have to travel to get to your food, and a journey to hotel and restaurant Kinloch Lodge in the Scottish Highlands is well worth the trip.
I am very appreciative of fine dining. Curious by nature and with the patience of experiencing a meal with all my senses. I know that these things take time, that a good restaurant will not just serve you food but will attempt to take you on a culinary trip or tell you a story through the course of their dishes. I expected nothing less from Kinloch Lodge.
The restaurant is part of a hotel that is beautifully located right on a loch with fantastic water views and the serenity of the Scottish Highlands. Kinloch Lodge is the former hunting lodge of the Macdonald family, built in the 17th century on the shores of Loch Na Dal. An upscale property that is ideal for romantic weekend getaways and honeymoons in the countryside. When the Macdonald family decided to open the doors to the public to start a hotel business in the 1970s they essentially invited strangers into their own private home, and it shows.
Kinloch Lodge comes with a wealth of charm and lots of personal touches. The drawing rooms and the dining room are decorated with family portraits from all eras – hand painted originals in gold frames are hanging next to black and white photographs from the 60s and family photos of the 90s. Family heirloom in glass cabinets, oversized fireplaces, plush sofas, thick rugs. Windows opening to the brilliant green of lush lawns; the whisky here is on tap. A stay must be fabulously relaxing.
But we have come to dine, following an invitation by the owners themselves. At fine dining restaurants like Kinloch Lodge menus are short but ever changing. Which means your culinary journey starts the second you enter the restaurant, a journey that will be full of surprises and unexpected turns. We find the current menu on display in the hall – a traditional succession of entree, mains and dessert with two options to choose from. Since we have come as a party of two we order one dish from each option, this way enabling us to test and enjoy everything the Kinloch Lodge kitchen has to offer on this day.
But before we get down to business we are asked to take a seat in one of the drawing rooms among the other guests who have already settled into the cosiness of the plush furnishings while enjoying drinks and playing card games. Orders are taken for an aperitif – we opt for an Old Fashioned, a whisky based cocktail with sugar, bitters and a twist of citrus rind. We don’t know it at this stage but the cocktail is the perfect introduction to our lunch – essentially Scottish, yet with a refreshing twist of zesty flavours and cool textures.
I love surprises, and to our delight the cocktails are served with little appetisers. Wholesome balls of goodness served on a stick that open our palates and get us excited for more. I just love that lunch is not an in-out affair, but that your mind is slowly introduced to the idea of transitioning into the dining experience. You can literally feel your heart beat slowing down and your muscles relax.
But the surprises are not over yet. When it is time to walk over to the dining room we are promptly served our first sit-down dish. Not the starter, not even the soup but just a little morsel as means of introduction to the overall course of the menu. Just a pretty little soupçon to get the taste buds prepared for the real deal.
As we are soon to find out, the menu at Kinloch Lodge on the day comes with two very different flavour bases that are balancing out just perfectly: a salty component that would derive from meat and fish, and a sweet component sourced from sweet vegetables or fruit. The soup for example, a sweet and salty corn soup is delightfully creamy and sweet in a I-want-more kind of way. Yet at the same time not too sweet and in perfect harmony with savoury flavour base.
The two starters are honouring the Scottish countryside setting that we find ourselves in. The hunting lodge surroundings come back to mind as we are being served a delicious starter of wild pigeon breast, Stornoway black pudding (a local variety of black pudding that is said to be the best sausage in the UK), served with beetroot, creme fraiche and citrus jus. A dark and flavourful, gamey dish with the fresh undertones of the zesty citrus jus – just beautiful.
The alternative starter dish is a light yet rich composition of seared scallops, lobster and crab mousse served in a seafood sauce. Again, a balancing act played out perfectly between the sweetness of the seafood, the scallops in particular, and the saltiness of the sea.
The mains also come as a selection between a fish and a meat dish. The fish dish is a stunner: Fresh Scottish cod caught in Scrabster Bay, the skin crisp to perfection, served with crispy nest of julienne vegetables to add that little bit of excitement when it comes to texture. Sweetness again is key in this dish, with the coriander and vanilla sauce adding just the right amount of sweetness to compliment the juicy cod.
As light and fruity as this dish from the sea is, the meat option is again a reflection of the rural character of Kinloch Lodge and the rawness of the Isle of Skye. Not much needs to be said when it comes to Angus beef steaks – the world already knows and appreciates the wonderful quality of an Angus steak. Here, it is served with a Strathdon blue cheese mousse, confit shallot, celeriac and a rich brandy sauce. Overall a wonderful rustic dish, packed with strong and satisfying flavours.
Desserts at Kinloch Lodge are stunning. Fresh, fruity flavours rule the plate. The creme fraiche panna cotta is fresh as it is, but the coolness of the orange and mint sorbet takes it to another level. The only fault you can find here is the portion size – we could have easily eaten three more of these wonderful panna cottas.
While the popcorn ice cream doesn’t quite do the trick for us, the very lemony tart does convince, easily one of the best dishes on the day for us.
You can imagine that we thoroughly enjoy all the dishes presented to us at Kinloch Lodge. Stuffed with Scottish goodness we retire to one of the drawing rooms for coffee and fudge. We came as guests but now, sitting on the old-fashioned sofas and surrounded by family portraits accumulated over centuries, we start to feel more like part of the family. A homely experience, befitting to the surroundings and the warm Scottish charm which we have come to love during our road trip in the Scottish Highlands.
Surprisingly, dining at Kinloch Lodge is indeed affordable and incredibly good value. At time of writing you can choose between two options: 2 courses plus soupçon for £36.00 or 3 courses and soupçon for £39.00. A great way to check out a Michelin starred restaurant which is consistently featured in Scotland’s best places to stay and dine guides.
My suggestion? If you are travelling to the area do save up beforehand to stay at this fantastically romantic hotel and make sure you let head chef Marcello Tully pamper you at least once during your stay. You won’t be disappointed.
Kinloch Lodge, Sleat, Isle of Skye (Scotland) http://kinloch-lodge.co.uk