Often we foodie travellers miss the neighbourhood bistros, bakeries and brewhouses that locals love as we whizz past on our way to the starrier restaurants of the region. In this series of dispatches from around the UK and beyond we’ll be putting that right, celebrating the small-town food stars and unsung culinary heroes worth making a detour to. Next up is Inverness, which just got easier to reach with British Airways’ new flights there from Heathrow.
Not to be confused with the Rocpool Reserve, a boutique hotel up the hill with a Chez Roux restaurant, the Rocpool is a buzzing brasserie on Inverness’ riverfront. Bright, airy and contemporary, and the best place to eat in town, it’s so popular you need to book weeks in advance to get a table during the summer – and at weekends at any time of the year. The building blocks for the menu come from Scotland’s abundant natural larder – rare-breed pork from the Black Isle, razor clams from Fortrose, venison from the hills of Speyside and scallops from the west coast. In the kitchen, however, they are transformed into more worldly dishes. Shetland mussels get a Thai makeover with red curry, coconut cream, spring onions and coriander. Scottish fillet of beef carpaccio comes with crisp fried artichokes, fresh greens and shaved Manchego cheese with gremolata. The atmosphere might be lively brasserie but the food is a cut above: fine dining-bistro-style.
Velocity Cafe and Bicycle Workshop
New kid on the block, Velocity is a shabby chic café with gooey cakes, doorstop sandwiches and bowls of piping hot, homemade, organic soup (they get their veg from the Natural Vegetable Company, an organic veg box scheme on the edge of the city). It’s a relaxed and cosy space, in Inverness, with big communal tables and benches, mismatched chairs, rough wooden floors – and a bike in the window. Through an open doorway you can see the bike workshop: this is a café, bike workshop and event space – film nights and pop-up dinners – in one. The bike theme extends to the menu: order a bicyclatte (latte), a campagcinno (cappuccino) or how about a Velocitea to go with your biscotti, lemon drizzle or carrot cake?
Black Isle Brewery Bar
Just over the Kessock Bridge from Inverness, up a dirt track beside a ramshackle stone steading you’ll find the rustic Black Isle Brewery. This bijou craft brewery offers tours, tastings and a shop selling their organic beers (made from the malt from their own organic farm) and is the site of an annual beer festival. The company is also about to open a bar in the centre of Inverness, part of a growing trend of small breweries opening their own branded bars in Scotland. From June you will be able to sup a cold, dry, flinty Yellowhammer (inhale the grapefruit and toffee aromas) or dark, malty Porter in the rooftop beer garden. The barrel-aged oatmeal stout is ‘roasty toasty’ the flavour accentuated by its time in a Glenmorangie whisky cask. They even do a light citrusy gluten-free beer called Goldfinch.
Picture-perfect, wonky and whitewashed the Dores Inn, in the village of the same name, is a local institution. At one end of Loch Ness, with picnic tables tumbling down to the beach, it’s eight bucolic miles down a country lane from Inverness – and offers a handy complimentary shuttle bus to take you there and back if you book a table. In the winter you can hole up inside by a cosy woodburner and in summer you can eat gazing down the glassy, grey length of Loch Ness. The menu features Stornoway Benedict (muffin, grilled Stornoway black pudding, poached duck egg and Hollandaise sauce) and steamed Shetland mussels while mains include a mean fish & chips (with sustainable haddock in a light beer batter) or Stuart Grant haggis with neeps, tatties and a mustard cream sauce.
Corner on the Square
Deli-cum-café-cum-fishmonger, the Corner on the Square in the picture-postcard village of Beauly is a few miles along the Beauly Firth from Inverness. With its huge picture windows and corner spot it’s a light, contemporary little place where you can tuck into simple homemade quiche Lorraine, stilton pate and oatcakes or a big bowl of cullen skink (a creamy smoked haddock soup) and chunks of artisan bread. After which you can browse the whiskies and wines, homemade cakes, artisan cheese counter and crammed shelves of the gourmet deli. It’s been dubbed the £20 pound shop by locals (you might think you’re only nipping in for a loaf of bread…). On Fridays you can also order fresh fish, from live langoustines from Skye to mussels from Shetland.
Written by Lucy Gillmore
First published April 2016
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