Discover the Outer Hebrides | Uist and Barra
The adventure begins with the crossing from Uig on Skye over to Lochmaddy in North Uist. Once you have boarded and settled in it's the ideal opportunity to have a taste of the isles by choosing a dish from the Mariners menu which has recently been awarded the Taste our Best from Visit Scotland. As the ferry service connects the Western Isles it makes perfect sense to source local ingredients and produce from the islands. Over the next few months we'll be meeting some of the people who embrace and harness their location. Their ingredients are the inspiration for the chefs on board who have used these to create a tasting map for the isles.
Barra Landed Haddock from CalMac Mariners Cafeteria
Lochmaddy has a very interesting local museum and arts centre and is an ideal first stop as you come from the ferry. Along the route by the rugged coastline you pass rolling turquoise waters, rocky inlets, tiny lochens. The Hebridean Smokehouse is a twenty minute drive from Lochmaddy and an excellent introduction to one of the established enterprises in North Uist. Judith Entwistle-Baker explained their salmon are farmed but in low density and chemical free conditions, so they have plenty of room to swim and grow in the local waters. The viewing station provides a fascinating insight into the processes of salting, kilning and slicing, all meticulously done by hand. The kilning process smokes the salmon flesh with peat smoke to complement and enhance the flavour of the fish. It takes a year to master the final preparation, a skilled worker can expertly complete a side in five minutes. 'You need to be able to see the blade of your knife through the slice to judge how thin each slice is.' Judith also suggested trying their new beetroot cured gravlax which is infused with a deep pink blush, or the local scallop landed at the harbour at Kallin, and then delicately smoked which accentuates the sweet and silky texture. The smokehouse range also includes Bradan is Gruth, a pate taking its name from peat smoked salmon and creamy crowdie and is delicious on a crunchy oatcake or as an melting filling for a baked sweet potato.
Hebridean Smokehouse, North Uist
A couple of minutes along the road will lead you to The Hebridean Kitchen at Kirkibost and if you strike it lucky Margaret Macleod will have just baked a fresh batch of oatcakes, which are available on board, as well as the tablet, fudge and preserves. The two kitchens also produce a wide range of jams and chutney with traditional recipes sitting alongside more unusual pink grapefruit marmalade and pear and pumpkin chutney. The vividly coloured tangy chilli jam served as a topping to the creamy salmon pate from the Smokehouse makes for a stylish canape, and worked equally well with matured cheeses. Margaret's kitchen overlooks the ever changing seascape, she claims: 'How could I ever get bored - I have the best view in the world!'
As you travel south, a stop at Macleans bakery offers a selection of Scottish butteries, scones and pancakes. The Maclean brothers also own and supply the Stepping Stone restaurant, at Benbecula, which is bustling throughout the year feeding locals and visitors of all generations. The lunchtime trade were enjoying a bowl freshly made soup and a starter while others chose a more substantial main meal in a family friendly environment where the service is exceptionally quick.
Prawn Cocktail at Stepping Stone Restaurant, Benbecula
As you cross over onto South Uist, it's a good idea to pull off the main road to stay at the Orasay Inn which is set in a beautiful and remote spot. Alan and Isobel Graham have expanded their home into a business with rooms and a restaurant. They have a small herd of Highland cattle, who graze on land around the house. The beef makes an appearance on the menu as wholesome burgers, mouthwatering curries and steaks. Isobel confessed she found it difficult to reconcile herself to cooking with it at first, but was eventually convinced when she appreciated how good the meat was! The menu changes weekly and features locally sourced seafood and shellfish, lamb and game.
View from Orasay Inn, South Uist
Some of this is supplied by the Loch Duart Smokery along the coast, and manager Ian Macruiy, was keen to explain that the site was independent and sustainable. What he wouldn't share was the secret of the handbuilt kilns and the special recipe for the hot smoking process which is all done by hand on site. His favourite way to enjoy the moist flaky honey and thyme salmon was straight from the bag, or stirred through pasta with a spoonful of creme fraiche. With customers as far and wide as Capetown to Kazakhstan and Sydney to San Francisco, it would appear his fans agree with this!
You can travel to Barra via Eriskay or Lochboisdale, the striking mountainous landscape rises from the harbour village. As you roll off the ferry the first stop is Buth Bharraigh. The Barra Community shop serves as a hub for locals who are able to generate a small income from selling a variety of goods: eggs, chutneys, jams, baking and craft work from over eighty suppliers. The shop also supplies gluten free bread from the Brevig bakery, a wide selection of wholefoods, and runs educational workshops from the cafe where you can pick up wifi and a cup of tea. They are building a tank so you can select crab and lobster caught locally in creels, or cockles and scallops harvested from the rocky shores.
Local Barra Eggs
As you drive north towards Eriskay, local trawlers working the waters land their bounty at Barratlantic where the langoustine and fish are processed before being loaded onto containers. The lorries load up alongside tourists on the ferry bound for Oban to be transported onto European markets where they are prized by restaurateurs and diners alike. The chefs on board are the first to lay claim to this fresh cod and you may find haddock Mornay as a special, or lightly battered haddock in the Mariners for passengers. Well - we had to make sure it was good enough to export!
Battered Barra Haddock
Wild ponies, Eriskay
Whisky Galore! Beach Eriskay