NORTH­ERN STAR

The Mys­tery Diner vis­ited a gor­geous Vic­to­rian hunt­ing lodge near Gair­loch and un­earthed a top restau­rant in sump­tu­ous sur­round­ings

Scottish Field - - CONTENTS -

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.

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