MERCIFULLY gone are the days when the culinary highlight of a trip to the Scottish isles was a chip butty on the boat. Today even the CalMac ferries serve up the likes of Barra seafood and Argyll Smokery salmon as a wave of fresh produce, Michelin star restaurants and exciting young chefs ripples across the Clyde and out into the Hebrides. Scotland has long boasted a rich natural larder as its Gulf Stream waters are a fertile breeding ground for everything from firstclass white fish, through to langoustines, razor clams and on to lobster. Traditionally the best of it has been spirited off to the fine dining tables of London, Milan and Paris, but this is no longer the case as domestic demand has increased amidst a renewed interest in provenance.
This rich bounty of seafood in the isles is backed up by superb lamb and venison and that’s without even swirling whisky into the mix. Samuel Johnson famously grumped his ways through the bleak Hebrides in 1773. If he set off today I’m pleased to report he would be able to undertake the kind of culinary odyssey that has put Scotland’s isles firmly on the global gourmet map. It’s easy for you to embark on too. Here’s my six favourites. The Firth of Clyde’s largest island is much eulogised as Scotland in Miniature, an epithet that it lives up to on the plate. Arran is home to a whisky distillery, with a second in the pipeline that is mooted to bring a smokier finish to the island’s malts. Arran also sports a brewery and, in the form of Creelers, produce as local as can be – their own fishing boat plucks seafood from the Arran coast, including Lamlash lobster, while their smokery creates delicious delights that they sell in both their shop and restaurant. The island has a trio of cheese producers, with the superb Bellevue Creamery conjuring up the multiawardwinning Arran Blue. Stir in Arran Dairies ice-cream, a chocolatier, Arran oaties from Wooleys bakery and the Taste of Arran food co-operative, and the island offers a compelling cocktail. This Inner Hebridean charmer has emerged thanks to its famous farmed halibut that today stars on menus from Melrose to Manhattan. The best place to enjoy it on this bijou self-sustaining island (their wind turbines now sell electricity back to the National Grid) is the Boathouse. Tucked in an old stone building overlooking a typically starched white Hebridean beach – you can camp here if you like – this Tardis serves
Whatever Hebridean island on which you choose to indulge your passion for seafood and other treasures of the national larder, a CalMac ferry is almost certain to be your mode of transport