The Mystery Diner visited a gorgeous Victorian hunting lodge near Gairloch and unearthed a top restaurant in sumptuous surroundings
Our mystery diner unearthed a gem at a hunting lodge near Gairloch
The last time I went into the Shieldaig Lodge near Gairloch was around five years ago, on the way back from a seafood lunch at the nearby Badachro Inn. This lovely old turreted Victorian hunting lodge was operating as a hotel of sorts so, being the nosey soul I am, I screeched to a halt and went for a sticky-beak.
I walked in to find, despite a couple of loud hollers, there was no-one around. There was, however, an aura of gentle decay; of faded, jaded elegance. The place had clearly seen better days, which I quickly concluded was a crying shame. With its wood-lined grandeur, Victorian charm and amazing views, there was so much potential. I hoped someone with a big heart and deep pockets would take on the place.
Fast forward to this year, and after a rootand-branch refurbishment by hotelier Nick Dent, Shieldaig Lodge is now one of the most charming and luxurious boutique hotels in Scotland. If the weather is good there is much to do: there are incredible bird of prey displays, walks up to the site of a crashed World War II bomber, local guides to take you walking or kayaking, bike hire, golf, plus stalking and brown trout fishing on the hotel’s 26,000 acres of stunning Highland countryside.
If the weather’s not so clever, the entertainment revolves around gawping at the stunning scenery, playing board games, snooker or indulging your palate. The lovely Charmaine runs some genuinely enlightening whisky and gin flights (the bar has a world-class selection of whiskies, including some gloriously obscure drams costing up to £2,500 per nip), but for most guests it’s all about the eating.
There are all sorts of options on offer, including the wonderful shellfish gastro experience, where you get taken out on a local creeler boat from Dry Island at nearby Badachro and get a tour of the bay and catch shellfish – primarily crab, langoustines and lobster. The day’s catch is then taken back to the lodge where it is turned into a fivecourse taster menu by head chef Jerome Prodanu (this costs £100 a head, £15 for children).
Although we went out on the boat and emptied a dozen creels, I plumped for the conventional sevencourse tasting menu, and was rewarded with a meal and paired wines that lived up to the sumptuous surroundings. Starting with an excellent neeps and honey velouté with Provencale croutons, we moved through a disappointingly bland homemade game terrine, a wonderful pigeon en croute, an understated cod fillet with leek and sundried tomatoes, an outstanding Champagne sorbet that came swimming in the local Badachro gin, followed by a well-constructed pheasant supreme, and then a rum baba with lime cream and vanilla chantilly which would have benefited from even more rum.
The next night was equally impressive: a gloriously frothy scallop velouté; an interesting combo of oysters and sherry; scallops, langoustine, black pudding and sweet potato mash; Champagne sorbet; a memorable fillet of sea bream, plus a red fruit mousse with coconut cake and raspberries.
Both were accomplished meals, served with very well-chosen wines. There were the now obligatory nods to provenance and localism, but look beyond that and this was fine dining of surprisingly good quality from a chef who clearly knows his onions.