‘Honestly, I’d never boiled an egg,’ says Jim Cowie, as he recalls his decision, aged 52, to open his own restaurant. Thirteen years on, the Captain’s Galley in the Highland port of Scrabster, is one of the UK’s most revered seafood restaurants. Jim, it turned out, is a natural.
Not that he was starting entirely from scratch. Prior to reinventing himself as a chef, Jim worked as a fish trader, a job that took him to some of the world’s best restaurants. Moreover, Scrabster’s day-boat fishermen are lifelong friends of his. Each day, Jim visits the quay, buys his fish and writes a new menu. ‘I’ve no problem getting brilliant fish but, more than that, I know the fishing areas and what is in and out of season.’
From the outset, sustainability was central to the Galley’s ethos. This takes many forms: minimising waste, aximising recycling, foraging for razor clams on local beaches and only using fish from healthy stocks. It’s part principle, part good husbandry: ‘We’re very remote and felt we could play our part. I scarcely know if we’d survive if we weren’t frugal.’
Visitors to this atmospheric stone building – once an ice-house for wild salmon – are treated to sashimi-grade fish cooked ‘medium’ to preserve its character. Jim’s globally-influenced dishes, such as blackened Cajun saithe – ‘a fish that ticks every sustainable box’; mussels in a Thai broth or bouillabaisse – ‘Great for sustainability because it utilises everything’; are clear and precise in their flavours, but elegantly restrained. The fish is the star. At the Galley, or its new casual Scrabster Seafood Bar, Jim occasionally has to decline a guest’s request for a fish that is endangered or not in season, but, he insists: ‘I never come across any resistance. People just want the truth.’ Dinner, £53.50 for five courses; captainsgalley.co.uk
The Captain’s Galley scores top marks from Food Made Good (foodmadegood.org).
How to be green in the kitchen
‘I won’t use halibut. Cod gets all the publicity, but halibut’s in more trouble, stock-wise. Give it a break.
By Tony Naylor
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