like everyone else, considering what has been a horrid year internationally, and remembering happier small highlights of the year. The surprise was the food of Scotland, and its beer. I knew a bit about malt whisky, and took pleasure in many of them. I also took a great liking to Scottish ale and the sandwiches served in pubs at lunchtime, generous sandwiches of brown bread. There were grander meals, too – lots of them, although not all of there were formal.
In no particular order: The Cornerstone at Mallaig, a seafood restaurant in a fishing village towards the west. It’s a wonderful small town, remote until railways and refrigeration enabled fishermen to get their catch to market quickly and without salting, thereby guaranteeing prosperity. Huge numbers of visitors in the summer. The Cornerstone is upstairs, an attractive but simple interior, and excellent seafood. I had grown wary of seafood – too much batter, too many chips. But here they served perfect scallops with a duo of sauces (old-fashioned and none the worse for that) and fish and chips they were they should be: juicy white fish, just cooked enough, light crisp batter. The restaurant closes for the winter, I think.
The Taynuilt Hotel: Taynuilt is not very far from Oban, on the west coast. Oban has its own pleasures, notably the Oban distillery, and the ferries that go to the islands.We stayed in Taynult because Oban was all booked out when we tried to book somewhere on line. The pub is one of the highlights of Taynuilt. It is cosy, cheerful, and smart, all at once, with a fine restaurant and bar, and a good drinks list. Good seafood, of course – especially the scallops – and the chicken with creamed cabbage was very good. Aberdeen lamb will be on the menu when it’s good. http://www.taynuilthotel.co
In Edinburgh, my first recommendation is for Timberyard http://www.timberyard.co/ Yes, the restaurant really was a timberyard at one stage. Before that, it was used for building and storing sets for theatre and opera. The cooking is contemporary – ingredients sourced from local producers, bowls made by Scottish and English potters, a minimum number of courses, extensive drinks list.
More traditional is St Honore http://www.cafesthonore.com/ French, bistro, Scottish ingredients. My entree was of smoked pheasant with lightly pickled beetroot, apples, cobnuts (like hazelnuts) and leaves. You get the idea. Very skilled cooking, lovely to eat. It’s very professionally run, friendly and capable, and I’d go back in a flash. Book ahead because it is usually booked out.
French cooking is common in Scotland, perhaps because of an historical attachment between Scotland and France (the auld alliance, it is called). More casual and easy-going is L’escargot blue http://www.lescargotbleu.co.uk We shared a many-coloured tomato salad with soft white cheese and some excellent balsamic vinegar. I had the sea bream with barley risotto and a sauce amoricaine. Lovely combination.
A thought about Scottish flavours: smokiness is common, part of the flavour sprectrum in the cuisine. For us in Australian, smoke means bushfires, and I’m always instinctively wary of it. But in Scotland, smokiness represents the warmth of a fire, and the scent of peat.
Meanwhile, back in Melbourne in December, I’m doing lots of preserving and cooking. I wish everyone the best of the season, and all my hopes for a happy 2017.