Lucy Gillmore was deputy travel editor for The Independent before moving to the Highlands. She writes for olive as well as The Guardian.
Mitchell Partridge runs Skye Ghillie, a wilderness adventures company. One of his favourite restaurants is at Kinloch Lodge in Skye.
Chef Michael Smith moved to the Isle of Skye in 2004 and spent the next decade-or-so cooking at The Three Chimneys restaurant, winning a Michelin star there in 2014. Loch Bay, in the north of Skye, is Michael’s first solo venture.
His menu emphasises simplicity, freshness and locality – naturally, the majority of it is seafood. Expect mussel soup and roast hake for lunch; or, on the tasting menu, everything from salt herring nibbles to cullen skink, brown crab risotto, scallops with split pea purry and Loch Bay bouillabaisse. For dessert, a clootie dumpling with whisky cream… much lighter than the traditional type, apparently.
There’s also an à la carte menu (three courses for £27.50 at lunchtime) and views are, as the name suggests, of a beautiful, shimmering bay – take a waterside walk before your meal. lochbay-restaurant.co.uk
Our pro says…
We poked our heads through the door to check our reservation and were met with huge smiles. After a walk along the waterfront, we were ushered back as if we were regulars. Laurence, Michael Smith’s wife, runs front of house and talked us through the wine list – she recommended Shetland gin. Service was fast (perhaps a little too fast – we were the second sitting), informative and friendly. *I wasn’t recognised.
Michael Smith was head chef at the legendary Three Chimneys on the Isle of Skye for a decade, bagging a Michelin star in his last year there. When he left the whispers started: was he going to open his own place? He did, styling it a “contemporary Scottish restaurant with classic French influences” reflecting his and Laurence’s heritages.
There are two menus. The three-course features a choice of meat, vegetarian and fish mains (£37.50) but the five-course seafood tasting menu (£55) was too tempting for us to resist.
The salt herring and mussel nibbles to start were perfect to pick at with a chilled Domaine de la Sénéchalière Folie Blanche from the Loire, Laurence’s tip. The shellfish soup de pistou (a cold sauce of garlic, basil and olive oil) was a real highlight, a fragrant green bowl piled high with mussels and prawns, a fishy take on the hearty Provençal classic. A brown crab risotto, red mullet, fennel and chilli had a pungent earthiness, while the sweetness of the Sconser scallop was balanced by the bitterness of the chicory, hazelnuts and grain mustard.
Visually the Loch Bay bourride (stew sounds so much better in French) had the wow factor – the star was the pink langoustine, with a strong supporting cast of mussels and oysters. Stuffed to the gills, the Scottish pudding, clootie dumpling and whisky cream – with a dram of Highland Park – just about finished us off.
Our punter says…
Laurence was very welcoming and, after taking our jackets, showed us to a window table. The restaurant was already busy when we arrived, but the service was unrushed and professional. Our waiter was just chatty enough without being invasive. We had a few questions, quickly answered by the staff – they obviously knew the menu well. Staff, too, were accommodating in terms of removing oysters from one of the dishes we ordered (one of our party is allergic to them).
We both chose the seafood menu (it has to be taken by the whole table – understandable in such a small restaurant). The fried salt herring and mussel nibbles got our taste buds tingling: they were crispy and light and the rich aïoli that came with them was a perfect contrast.
The shellfish soup de pistou was light and aromatic. Next was brown crab risotto, a favourite of mine. The razor clams, dressed and then served in their shells, were lovely and tender and their sweet flavour contrasted nicely with the fennel and the subtle heat of the chilli.
The fourth course was the Sconser scallop, another favourite, not just because we know the guys who hand-dive them. My scallop was perfect, but my dining partner’s was a wee bit under. Crushed hazelnuts gave a good texture to the dish. Our penultimate course was the Loch Bay bourride. I’d never had red mullet before and found it delicious and perfectly cooked. The local langoustine was also expertly done – it’s so easy to overcook them.
I hesitated over ordering the clootie dumpling (even though the next table’s looked amazing), as I thought it might be too heavy. But Laurence said the way they do it is quite light and it was! It came with a whisky cream – with a good amount of whisky – and wasn’t at all heavy. Not like my granny used to make.
The bottom line
They’ve hit the ground running: in and open after a rushed revamp – not that it shows. This tiny restaurant on a pretty whitewashed waterfront on the remote Waternish Peninsula was bursting at the seams and buzzing. Add a smouldering fire, smart Harris Tweed chairs and a menu that’s a culinary auld alliance and it’s well worth the schlep. Total for two, excluding service: £192
Food 8/10; service 9/10; vibe 8/10; total 25/30
It’s a small space, but thanks to the soft chatter of our fellow diners and gentle background music, you can talk without whispering. The prices charged represent good value given the quality of the ingredients and the cooking. Total for two, excluding service: £130
Food 9/10; service 10/10; vibe 9/10; total 28/30
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