Our destination is The Albannach in the North West of Scotland, another small hotel with a strong reputation for food. The hotel, based in Baddidarroch, is lovely and we love our room in the old animal shed, while the whole property overlooks Lochinver (pictured above). In some ways, it's the place that I am most looking forward to eating, at for its very remoteness promises a certain clarity to the cooking and a necessity to focus on local ingredients.
The hotel literature is very clear about their food philosophy, stating that:
As Lochinver is a prime white fish port, as well as home to a fleet of inshore creelers, the fruits of the sea feature strongly, as well as Scotland's finest game. Free range beef and lamb come from Moray's pastures.
Now I'm even more excited. Accordingly, I feel a sense of deflation when I finally see the menu, a set menu of five course being: guinea fowl, beetroot soufflé scallops and monkfish, cheeses, apple tart. Beetroot soufflé sounds like a potentially dangerous dish, and guinea fowl on the menu has effectively bumped Scottish game off. For sure, the scallops and monkfish are locally caught, but four of the five dishes seem 'anywhere, any time' dishes. I try to keep my sceptisim in check till the food arrives.
For the first of five, it's guinea fowl with cabbage, roast shallots and mushroom sauce. It's nicely cooked but still feels a touch bland and an anywhere dish. It feels an also ran starter against what we've seen previously on the trip.
I can't remember when I last sent a barely touched dish back to the kitchen, I can't recall ever doing it in a Michelin starred restaurant. I can't fathom why in a hotel so blessed with an abundance of brilliant ingredients on the doorstep, and talk of creelers and 'finest game' in the literature, would feature a beetroot soufflé on the menu. Having noted that it had not really risen, I wonder if the resulting concentration of beetroot flavour in a denser soufflé has destroyed the intended balance. Actually, I can't think I would ever like this, even if it had risen.
When the plates were cleared, despite the hardly touched ramekin, I was not asked if there was a problem, it was simply swept away leaving me to ponder the prevailing chef obsession with beetroot that has been evident throughout the trip.
With the exception of the main fish course, this could have been a menu from anywhere, and in my view, fell well short of the other restaurants in Scotland (and England) that we visited during the trip. Sadly, The Albannach was the venue that I felt had the most potential for something outstanding, the trip's great discovery, but instead, it has been in fact the most disappointing. Guinea fowl, beetroot soufflé and Italian/Swiss cheese is simply not the best of what Scotland has to offer, and that's a shame.
Visit The Albannach website
Previously I visited Ackergill Tower, John O Groats
Next stop: Kyloe, Edinburgh
Location map for The Albannach