British / Gastropub / Pizza / Seafood

Eating my way around the Isle of Skye with a pitstop in Edinburgh

This Scotland-focussed article is a break from The Picky Glutton’s usual London-based coverage.

For such a relatively small island, the Isle of Skye has a surprisingly large number of restaurants – no doubt due, in part, to the many tourists that hike across its ridges and munroes every year to gawp at its dramatically dreamy vistas.

illustrative photo of Loch an Athain (I think) on the Isle of Skye.
My eyes were loch’d onto the scenery.

These bloggy-style travel eating round-ups aren’t meant to be as comprehensive as my London-based reviews. It’s also not for me to say whether these restaurants meet the needs of the islanders themselves. Having said all that, my nights spent eating in Skye’s towns weren’t anywhere as thrilling as the days spent tromping through the island’s hinterland.

Hebridean Inn

The menu at this hotel restaurant reads enticingly well. A tom yum soup made with locally-caught langoustines, for example, is the sort of thing that floats my boat. Sadly, the overcooked and rather generic crustaceans came drifting lifelessly in a soup that was far too reliant on coconut and tomatoes, with not nearly enough lemongrass.

illustrative photo of the langoustine tom yum soup at the Hebridean Inn
The langoustine tom yum soup at the Hebridean Inn.

While reasonably meaty and hench, chunks of octopus were too hard and came entombed in a batter that wasn’t crisp or fluffy enough.

illustrative photo of the salt and pepper octopus at the Hebridean Inn
Salt and pepper octopus at the Hebridean Inn.

Mackerel pate was more cream than fish, but at least it came with a generous helping of hearty, crumbly oatcakes.

illustrative photo of the mackerel pate at the Hebridean Inn

Although pleasingly tender and sinewy, beef shin turned out to be surprisingly tasteless. There was far more joy to be had from the crumbly, offaly haggis and the ballast provided by the neeps and tatties.

illustrative photo of the braised beef shin with haggies, neeps and tatties at the Hebridean Inn
Jettison the shin in favour of more haggis, that’s why I say.

Scallops were lacking in both taste and texture. Poor.

illustrative photo of the scallops at the Hebridean Inn
Scallops at the Hebridean Inn.

Lemon posset was far too sweet, with not nearly enough citrusy zest or tang.

illustrative photo of the lemon posset with berries at the Hebridean Inn
Lemon posset with berries at the Hebridean Inn.

A sticky toffee pudding wasn’t sticky or toffee enough. Hard and chewy, it was complimented in its inedibility by a mouth-puckeringly oversweet honeycomb ice cream that was also excessively chewy. Billed as ‘homemade’, I’d rather have a professionally-made sticky toffee pudding, ta very much.

illustrative photo of the sticky toffee pudding at the Hebridean Inn
Sticky toffee pudding at the Hebridean Inn.

A few hotel restaurants are worth getting out of bed for. I very much doubt that the Hebridean Inn is one of them.

Average cost for one person: £45 approx.

Café Sia

Despite its name, Café Sia is more of a pizzeria than a coffee, croissant and laptop kinda place, serving up pizzas in 9in and 13in sizes. Despite sextupling the dairy quotient, the six cheese pizza was barely the sum of its parts. Only the modest smokiness of the smoked dunlop and a hint of blue astringency from the gorgonzola stood out. The mozzarella, tallegio, cheddar and dolce latte – a curious mix, at best – all wilted into the background.

illustrative photo of the six cheese pizza at Cafe Sia
‘Six cheese’ pizza at Cafe Sia.

A seafood-topped option benefitted from salty anchovies, meaty flakes of hot smoked salmon and briney kelp-like seaweed. They were so overwhelmingly dominant though, that the meek prawns and mussels should’ve stayed home in the sea. Both pizzas had light and thin, but crunchy, breadstick-like crusts and bases. While not a patch on the Neapolitan standard, they did at least avoid the stodge trap.

illustrative photo of a 9in seafood pizza at Cafe Sia
A 9in seafood pizza at Cafe Sia.

There aren’t many places to get a pizza on Skye, so it’s a shame one of the few options going appears to be a rather so-so operation trading on a captive market.

Average cost per pizza: £15 approx.

Portree Hotel

The Portree Hotel has comfortable accommodation upstairs and a food pub downstairs, both halves graced with polished service during my stay.

Although the scallops were softer to the bite than how I usually prefer them, their buttery charms quickly won me over. They were complimented well by the surprisingly smoky fleshiness of the mussels. The black pudding seemed to have barged in on its way to another dish, but its mouthcoating fatty heartiness was so boldly flavoursome, that I hardly minded. Crisp, sweet julienned apple helped cut through all that richness, with only the creamy apple sauce seemingly out of place. Although these disparate elements didn’t quite come together as a cohesive whole, each was so pleasurable in their own right that this flaw was easily overlooked.

illustrative photo of the scallops with smoked mussels and black pudding at Portree Hotel
Scallops with smoked mussels and black pudding at Portree Hotel.
illustrative photo of the scallops with smoked mussels, black pudding and apple sauce at Portree Hotel
Just as good on multiple occasions.

There was more spud than fish in a chowder of smoked haddock and potato, while the egg failed to add much richness. And yet this chowder still had enough creamy, hearty soul to salve over these cracks and flaws. It was even better when scooped up using the chunky yet pillowy soft bread roll, its crumb and grain slathered with a tangy, yeasty butter.

illustrative photo of the smoked haddock chowder at Portree Hotel
Smoked haddock chowder at Portree Hotel.

Duck breast was a multi-layered treat, from the dimpled skin and firm initial bite to the tender, moist follow-through and just enough extant fat for a restrained yet luxuriant unctuousness. The accompanying leg was bone-dry though, a flaw which not even the sticky jus or the deeply fatty and moreish white pudding could mend. While the sweet potato mash was fluffy and distinctive tasting, it was arguably an inferior side compared to the optional duck fat roast potatoes. Crisp and crunchy on the outside, downy soft on the inside, it was the carby mirror image of the duck breast. A superb main, blighted only by that duck leg.

illustrative photo of the duck with white pudding and sweet potato mash at Portree Hotel
Duck with white pudding and sweet potato mash at Portree Hotel.
illustrative photo of the duck fat roast potatoes at Portree Hotel
Duck fat roast potatoes at Portree Hotel.

While hulkingly large, the slab of sirloin wasn’t anywhere as tender or as moreishly browned as it should’ve been.

illustrative photo of the sirloin steak at Portree Hotel
Sirloin steak at Portree Hotel.

The burger fared only a little better. While the patty had been ground reasonably coarsely, it was a tad too dry and entirely bland. This was no doubt due, in part, to the kitchen’s decision to cook it well-done, depriving the beef of whatever character it may once have had. At least this burger didn’t fall apart, the bun firmly holding the patty and cheerless cheese firmly in place.

illustrative photo of the burger at Portree Hotel
The burger at Portree Hotel.

The sticky toffee pudding was a squidgy soft and moist affair, a rich mixture of brown sugar and butter with a malty, raisin-like character that lingered languidly on the tongue. It melded seamlessly with the sweet caramel notes of the toffee. The salted caramel ice cream on the side was too tame to leave much of an impression. The crunchy praline, on the other hand, was a far more complimentary companion with its sticky sweetness.

illustrative photo of the sticky toffee pudding at Portree Hotel
The superior sticky toffee pudding on this trip, by far.

A slice of apple frangipane tart certainly packed in plenty of the sweet fruit, but the only taste of almond came from shavings of the nut scattered atop the tart. The thin pastry was as unimpressive in texture as it was in taste, another flaw that the vaguely vanilla-flavoured cream couldn’t paper over. A disjointed effort.

illustrative photo of a slice of apple frangipane tart at Portree Hotel
A slice of apple frangipane tart at Portree Hotel.

Cheesecake was baked, rather than set, to reasonably moist and fluffy if ultimately unmemorable effect.

illustrative photo of the baked cheesecake at Portree Hotel
Baked cheesecake at Portree Hotel.

The Portree Hotel’s restaurant can knock out some absolutely belting dishes when it wants to. The problem is all the other times when it doesn’t. There’s the makings of a cracking restaurant here; it just needs more work.

Average cost for one person: £40-45 approx.

No 1 Noodle House

The plainly-named No 1 Noodle House is the spin-off of Portree’s Chinese takeaway, a typically anglicised affair named Fat Panda. The apple hasn’t fallen too far from the tree, with No 1 serving a truncated selection of the usual sweet and sour pap alongside an even smaller selection of dishes that are unusual for small town takeaways with tables.

No 1’s beef noodle soup doesn’t neatly fall into any particular version of that Chinese classic that I know of. Thin, round-edged wheat noodles came with spinach and thin slices of boiled beef in a lightly moreish soy sauce-based soup. While not especially sophisticated, it was still more satisfying than any greasily anglicised ‘chow mein’ filler.

illustrative photo of the beef noodle soup at No 1 Noodle House
The beef noodle soup at No 1 Noodle House.

You can get more of the boiled beef as a side dish, served cold along with a tea-stained boiled egg. This only exposes the beef’s inherent drabness, unless livened up by dollops of the limitless chilli garlic sauce available from the communal side table. That same chilli sauce also helps give a bit of oomph to the boiled king prawns. While cooked just so, plump with just the right amount of firmness and give, the humdrum soy sauce they arrived with doesn’t really do them justice. The only side that didn’t need any chilli-based help was the squishy, juicy and lightly tangy heap of sliced cucumbers.

illustrative photo of the tea egg and extra beef side dishes at no 1 noodle house
Tea egg and extra beef side dishes at No 1 Noodle House.
illustrative photo of the boiled king prawns at No 1 Noodle House
No, I’m not sharing a photo of sliced cucumber with you.

The food at No 1 Noodle House won’t blow the socks off anyone who’s ever had Chinese food designed for anyone other than the tinfoil carton crowd. But if you’re in the mood to eat something non-Western during your time on Skye, then No 1 Noodle House is probably your best bet (the stunningly pedestrian Prince of India curry house doesn’t count, with the possible exception of their tandoori chicken).

Average cost for one person: £15-20 approx.


Cafe Piccante

Although my time in Edinburgh was brief, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have a takeaway munchy box. While munchy boxes are more closely associated with Glasgow, Cafe Piccante and its boxes were just a short jaunt away from where I was staying.

As always, the appeal of a munchy box lies in getting huge amounts of food at an alarmingly low price, rather than the quality of the food itself. The thin base of the supermarket-level pizza had more in common with the cardboard box it came in than with pizza dough worth the name. But at least the cheese was reasonably creamy, while the pepperoni actually had a wee bit of spice to its name. The disappointingly anonymous doner meat could’ve done with some extra fat and salt. The chips were floppy, but at least they were cut from whole potato and more numerous than grains of sand on a beach.

illustrative photo of the munchy box from Cafe Piccante Broughton Street Edinburgh
A munchy box from Cafe Piccante, Broughton Street, Edinburgh.

Haggis, the food of lairds and lovers, came encased in a thin batter that was soft, chewy and only slightly too oily. Although only reasonably meaty, the haggis itself was still fatty and hearty. I’m still not sure if haggis really needs to be deep fried, but I’m eager to try it again.

illustrative photo of a deep fried haggis from Cafe Piccante Edinburgh
Deep fried haggis from Cafe Piccante, Edinburgh.

Deep-fried Bounty bars were both small in price and portion size. While the batter was pleasingly crisp and crunchy with only a slight oiliness, the latter was still potent enough to overwhelm the distinctiveness of the chocolate.

illustrative photo of the deep fried Bounty bars from Cafe Piccante Edinburgh
Fun-sized isn’t always fun.

Caffe Piccante’s deep-fried stomach liners were cheap and cheerful. Sometimes, there’s nothing wrong with that.

Cost for one munchy box: £16.50

Bite-sized: Lola’s and Greek Artisan Pastries

I’m not usually a breakfast person, but I’ll make an exception for the triple breakfast roll from Lola’s Sandwich Bar on North Charlotte Street in New Town. Fatty yet meaty bacon along with grainy, moist and hearty Lorne-like square sausage and a puffy tattie scone, all wedged into a soft roll, made for an energising start to one’s day.

illustrative photo of a triple breakfast roll from Lola's, Charlotte Street, Edinburgh.
A triple breakfast roll from Lola’s, Charlotte Street, Edinburgh.

The thin, flaky pastry of the savoury bougatsa from the prosaically named Greek Artisan Pastries came bulging with spinach and feta, although that copious filling tasted mostly of dill.

illustrative photo of the spinach, feta and dill bougatsa from Greek Artisan Pastries
Spinach, feta and dill bougatsa from Greek Artisan Pastries.

Most British people seem have to rigidly orthodox ideas about what can and can’t constitute breakfast. I care not for such conventions and nor should you, if it means guzzling flaky baklava, drizzled with honey or syrup, first thing in the morning. The little beauties filled with candied fruit were especially winsome.

illustrative photo of the baklava selection from Greek Artisan Pastries
Baklava selection from Greek Artisan Pastries.

The Fishmarket

The Fishmarket in Newhaven has both a takeaway counter and restaurant seating with table service. Admiring Newhaven’s small harbour, while supping on narrow meaty strips of lightly smoked salmon, was an eminently genteel way to start a dinner.

illustrative photo of the smoked salmon at Fishmarket Newhaven
Smoked salmon at Fishmarket Newhaven.

The deep-fried oysters were best appreciated bite-by-bite, rather than scoffing them whole. While the batter was crisp, crunchy and oil-free, it was nonetheless still strident enough to overwhelm the creaminess of the oysters underneath.

illustrative photo of the deep fried oysters at Fishmarket Newhaven
Deep fried oysters at Fishmarket Newhaven.

Battered monkfish arrived cut into goujon-style pieces, rather than as a whole intact fish. The same high-quality batter from the oysters made a repeat appearance, while the monkfish underneath was glossy and reasonably meaty. Chips were of the floppy variety, cut from whole slices of potato.

illustrative photo of the monkfish and chips at Fishmarket Newhaven
Monkfish and chips at Fishmarket Newhaven.

I don’t know if there’s a specific reason why The Fishmarket has a pavlova on its menu, all I know is that I want to have it again. The crisp meringue contrasted beautifully with the impossibly dense yet light clotted cream. Boozy pears dribbled sweet juice into the mix. Only the tame berries let the side down.

illustrative photo of the pavlova at Fishmarket Newhaven
Pavlova at Fishmarket Newhaven.

The Fishmarket’s takeaway burger held together surprisingly well, with only a wee bit of slippage and leakage from its brioche bun. Although finely ground and cooked well-done, the patty was still juicy with a modest amount of beefy tang to it. Even so, the dominant tastes here were the sweetness of the tomato and mayo and the buttery richness of the brioche.

illustrative photo of the burger from Fishmarket Newhaven
Takeaway burger from Fishmarket Newhaven.

Although the deep-fried scallops came cocooned in a soft and floppy batter, this actually complimented the soft butteriness of the molluscs quite neatly.

illustrative photo of the deep fried scallops from Fishmarket Newhaven
Deep-fried scallops from Fishmarket Newhaven.

Although small in size, the grilled lobster still made its presence felt with firm, springy flesh and milky claws. The same floppy chips from the battered monkfish made a repeat appearance.

illustrative photo of the grilled lobster and chips from Fishmarket Newhaven
Grilled lobster and chips from Fishmarket Newhaven.

The Fishmarket may ‘just’ be a fancypants chippie by Newhaven’s harbour, but it’s one I happily walked to from the centre of Edinburgh more than once and would do so again.

Average cost for one person: £53 approx.



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