Travelling Tastebuds with Robin McKelvie
As a travel writer I have been visiting and writing about Skye since the 1990s. I've savoured watching it evolve into a serious foodie destination. I remember when Shirley and Eddie Spear were just learning the ropes at the now world famous Three Chimneys . Self-taught chef Shirley Spear has long been ahead of the curve. I remember asking her in an interview a few years back how much of her produce was local. She responded by apologising that she sourced some of her white fish from Mallaig just across the water!
These days Shirley takes a back seat from the kitchen, but she has left it in very good hands in the form of chef/director Michael Smith. The focus on fresh local produce is still unstinting, but the cooking has also markedly evolved. So much so that last year the Three Chimneys was awarded the Michelin star it so richly deserves.
Of course these days Skye is not content to have just one Michelin star eatery. Along the road at Kinloch Lodge Claire and Godfrey Macdonald continue to weave their brand of Michelin magic too. Like the Three Chimneys there have been TV appearances and cookbooks, but the focus has never been lost on creating bright, inventive food using local produce. Leading the kitchen these days is mercurial head chef Marcello Tully.
Moving beyond Skye's Michelin gastronomic temples, what always impresses me is the sheer range of food and drink experiences. I'm a big fan of the Stein Inn for example. This trim whitewashed inn sits right on the water gazing out towards the Outer Hebrides. It is a spectacular spot and the food is a step up from standard pub grub with my favourite plump Skye scallops in oatmeal. Next door for seafood lovers Loch bay Seafood Restaurant is essential with a bounty of fresh seafood on the menu from the waters around Skye. In Portree, I love sitting down to fish and chips at the Lower Deck Seafood Restaurant . Portree is also home to a couple of decent chippies. Whatever your budget, there is something for you on Skye these days and half the fun is discovering your own favourite places.
Skye's restaurants would be nothing without the local produce they rely on. There is, of course, the legendary Talisker Distillery (home to a gorgeous spicy, sweet and smoky malt), Gaelic Whisky and the award winning Isle of Skye Brewing Co . You can find the latter's ales and Gaelic Whiskies on Cal Mac ferries and look out too for other Skye produce, including sandwiches from the island's Tuck Box and Isle of Skye Fudge Company sweet treats.
When I'm on Skye I always try to nip over to the charming wee island of Raasay, just a short ferry trip away. The waters the ferry glides over off Sconser are rich with scallops, which are hand dived then appear in Skye's restaurants. On Raasay itself Raasay House offers homemade organic read, local seafood and delicious Raasay venison casseroles.
On Skye's southern flank the Small Isles also tempt. Cal Mac ferries connect Rum, Eigg, Muck and Canna with the outside world. As well as world class walking (the Rum Cuillin is for me almost as dramatic as its famous sibling over on Skye) and bountiful wildlife viewing opportunities, you can try freshly cooked food using local ingredients at a sprinkling of tea rooms and cafes. Rum venison is delicious! I'm also partial to the haggis paninis and yummy flapjacks at Galmisdale Bay on Eigg.
I said I like to leave as well as arrive in Skye by ferry. I do, but I usually don't head back to the mainland. That is very hard to do when the bountiful charms of the Outer Hebrides beckon just cross the Minch. Again the Cal Mac trip is all part of the experience as the 'Long Isle' looms into view. On board you can sample local produce too, from both Skye and the Outer Hebrides. Watch this space as I will be coming back to the Outer Hebrides soon to blog about what is one of my favourite parts of the planet soon...
Robin McKelvie has been travelling on Scottish ferries ever since he was a wee boy and writing about them and the places they serve since he became a travel writer in 1997. Robin has travelled to over 100 countries, but still rates Scotland 'as easily my favourite destination in the world'. These days, as well as penning travel articles for newspapers and magazines across five continents, Robin also writes guidebooks, does a lot of social media and also talks travel for the BBC. He also blogs about Scotland for multiple websites.