Looking for restaurants in the Scottish Highlands? Want to know where to eat in Sutherland? Food and travel writer Clare Hargreaves shares here insider tips for the best restaurants, along with where to find bowls of mussels, mugs of marshmallow-topped hot chocolate and jars of rhubarb jam.
olive’s must-visits for foodies in Sutherland
West Coast Deli, Ullapool – best deli
Cradled by mountains, and on the shore of Loch Broom, Ullapool is the northwest coast’s main hub. So before heading to remote Sutherland, our advice is to do a big shop at this well-stocked deli/café. Its impressive range of Scottish cheese includes Errington’s Lanark Blue, made from unpasteurised milk from the farm’s own Lacaune ewes, and both the heather honey and Arran wholegrain mustard dressing come from Saladworx in Dornoch, on Sutherland’s east coast. If the weather is fine, enjoy a cup of Matthew Algie coffee on the terrace outside.
Elphin – best weekly market
Blink and you could miss this cluster of houses on the scenic route between Ullapool and Lochinver. On Wednesdays, however, Elphin’s village hall buzzes with a food and crafts market. The cured meats on the Highland Charcuterie stall are all sourced from local estates or farms, and many of them are rare-breed – don’t miss the wild highland venison salami, flavoured with local blackcurrants and bog myrtle, and the bite-sized “walking sticks” (a great hiking snack), made from free-range Elphin-reared pork and pepper dulse seaweed. On the same stall you’ll also find local chanterelles, bog myrtle, seaweed and wild garlic, all of which are foraged from the surrounding mountains, woods and shores. Climb the track opposite to Elphin’s tea rooms, for homemade cake (try a slice of lime polenta) and views of the mighty Suilven mountain.
Summer Isles Hotel, Achiltibuie – best for views
Choose between the airy dining room or no-frills bar (where the locals drink) at the Summer Isles Hotel. Wherever you eat, the views across to the Summer Isles from this old-timer hotel in beachside Achiltibuie are mesmerising – make sure you stay a while after dinner, for the sunset. As you’d expect, seafood dominates the menu, so get your hands messy with a bowl of mussels or battered haddock and chips in the bar. At the more formal restaurant, feast on dishes such as bourride of hake, mussels and scallops in a smoky broth.
Choc-O-Latté, Point of Stoer – best for patisserie
Most visitors beat a path to Sutherland’s rocky Point of Stoer to peer at its lighthouse, 200-foot-high Old Man of Stoer sea stack and the chance to spot whales and dolphins. For foodies, there’s another draw, in the shape of Choc-O-Latté. Belgian owners Philip Dendale and Sophie Van Oyenbrugge moved here in 2016 to set up a B&B (called Philosophy, an amalgamation of their names), and now they’ve added a tiny café to the business that revolves around Belgian chocolate.
Transport yourself to a Brussels salon de thé with a mug of real hot chocolate (the special comes with added cream and mini marshmallows), a chocolate merveilleux (or ‘marvie’ as the locals call it), or a slab of Sophie’s ganache-topped chocolate cake. It’s all served on vintage china that’s been foraged from local junk shops or been donated by locals, and the view includes sheep-studded fields and Suilven mountain.
The Jammery, Point of Stoer – best for jam
The Jammery, housed in a cabin in the hamlet of Culkein, is another good reason to venture onto this wind-blasted promontory. Steve and Amanda Webb, who moved here from Bedfordshire in 2010, bake fresh cakes daily (we loved their cappuccino Victoria sponge) and, occasionally, made-from-scratch bread. The latter can be hard to buy in these parts, so snap up one of their loaves or filled rolls to fuel your coastal hike. The pair are actually best known for their jams made from local ingredients, including plum, raspberry, apple and Culkein-grown rhubarb. There’s also a range of chutneys and jellies, including a rowan jelly that’s perfect with venison, and tablet (the Scottish answer to fudge). On Monday and Wednesday evenings between June and August they also bake pizzas to take away.
Kylesku Hotel – best for sustainable seafood
With its dreamy location at the mouth of three lochs, seafood is naturally the order of the day at this friendly family-run hotel and restaurant. Owners Tanja Lister and Sonia Virechauveix go to great lengths to ensure that all their produce, including seafood, is responsibly sourced. Lunch might include a bowl of mussels from Loch Glendhu, and kedgeree topped with local hand-dived scallops. Or shell your way through a vibrant platter of creel-caught langoustines, crabs and lobsters landed by Kylesku boys Darren and Callum, who work out on the loch or jetty as you eat. Meat is free-range and sourced from local crofts.
Shorehouse restaurant, Tarbet – best seafood restaurant for bird-spotting
There can’t be many restaurants with a view of the bay your seafood was caught in plus (if it’s the right season) guillemots and puffins. This modest shack-style eatery perches on rocks above the ferry jetty for Handa Island, an outcrop famous for the sea birds that nest on its ragged red sandstone crags. Shorehouse has been in the same family ever since it opened in 1977, serving seafood caught from their own boat. It’s simply prepared and presented, mainly as salads or sandwiches, and you can’t fault it for freshness.
Mackays, Durness – best breakfast
If it isn’t local, homemade and delicious, it isn’t on the breakfast menu at this cabin-style B&B, which sits at the entrance to Durness, on Scotland’s wild north coast. Owner Fiona Mackay cooks eggs (from village hens) as you like them, tattie scones, local sausages and dry-cured bacon for guests every morning. But her organic porridge – topped with fruit, seeds, bee pollen and home-produced honey – is our must-order, as is the compote of garden-grown rhubarb that comes with homemade yogurt and cake. If you can fit it in, there’s homemade sourdough and raspberry jam too, all served with enthusiasm by Spanish-born waiter, Paco Colomina.
Cocoa Mountain, Balnakeil village, near Durness – best for hot chocolate
A disused 1950s MOD station just opposite Cape Wrath is an unlikely place to find some of Scotland’s best chocolate. But a Cocoa Mountain beverage is just the thing after a bracing walk along the wind-blasted coast of Britain’s most northwesterly point. The Cold War station has been converted into a community of artists and food producers called Balnakeil village, and Paul Maden and James Findlay, both former academics in Glasgow, set up Cocoa Mountain here in 2006. As well as hot chocolate (which you can also buy in powdered form to take home), the pair make chocolate truffles using as many local ingredients as they can find, from raspberries and strawberries to fresh cream and crème fraîche. The bestseller, though, is their chilli and lemongrass flavour.
Smoo Lodge, Durness – best for Asian cooking
At this newly refurbished beachside B&B, you’re more likely to find kimchi and sushi than black pudding and tatties. Korean ex-fashion designer Kyunghee Hendy-Cho runs it with her photographer husband Merlin Hendy. She cooks authentic Korean dinners such as seafood pancakes and bibimbap, a combination of tender marinated Highland beef, vegetables, sushi rice and gochujang hot red pepper paste. You end on a Scottish note, with a cranachan of local raspberries and toasted oatmeal steeped in honey and single malt whisky. Make Kyunghee’s homemade kimchi part of your breakfast – it’s great fuel for a wilderness walk, swim, or visit to the nearby Smoo caves.
Côte du Nord, Kirtomy, near Bettyhill – best for gourmet dining
In Kirtomy, a hamlet halfway between Cape Wrath and Thurso, family doctor Chris Duckham (a MasterChef contestant, back in 1992) devotes his Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings to cooking immaculate feasts. Chris’ 10-course tasting menu, served in the front room of his house, features produce such as lobster, langoustine and garden vegetables, alongside foraged ingredients including bog myrtle, wild thyme and sea lettuce. We loved the tian of crab, avocado and apple, with its crowning tomato purée discs, and the Scotch duck egg deep-fried in pork crumbs.
Clare stayed at Smoo Lodge, formerly an 18th-century sporting lodge, on Durness’ seafront. It has four stylishly comfortable en-suite bedrooms; smoolodge.co.uk
Words and images by Clare Hargreaves