Scotland's newest Michelin starred restaurant as of the 2018 guide by Michael Smith situated on the edge of Loch Bay
Loch Bay is the only restaurant in Scotland to have gained a Michelin star in the 2018 guide whilst there were two, other deletions at the same time (Isle of Erika and Kinloch Lodge) and this is the solo venture of Michael Smith, formerly of The Three Chimneys, where he earned that venue a Michelin star in 2014. Having left and opened this new restaurant in 2016, he has now gained himself a first Michelin star for Loch Bay, serving rustic and simple cooking from ingredients sourced literally metres away in Loch Bay and the neighbouring Loch Dunvegan. The small restaurant has only Michael and a supporting commis chef / kitchen porter looking after the (approx) 16 covers I counted and accounts for the homely style of food it needs to be for the size of the kitchen. Headline wise, simplicity is great, but it needs to be explosive if in this style for me and there was a lapse moment or two during my meal and sadly only generally pleasing dishes as opposed to fireworks. No question that the ingredients are as fresh as they come, but for the details below at the expansion button, I have a gentle feeling at the overall memory of the food. Service and value for money are both excellent and the setting wonderful though.
I hope the quickest way to reach Loch Bay from London is the route I took which was a flight from Heathrow to Inverness, pick up a pre-booked hire car (do this in advance to avoid absolutely horrendous on the day booking prices) and then drive roughly three and a half hours Westwards towards the coast. Eventually, you come to the small hamlet of Waternish where Air B & B and Booking.com options are few and scarce and you are far better off booking through the official Visit and B & B website of Waternish as was recommended to me. All accommodation options are within an approximate 15 minute walk of each other and I booked one close to the Loch – I didn’t know where it was in relation to the target venue, but turned out when I got there that it was actually 30 metres away(!), as the Stein Inn is literally that close and where I was holed up for the night.
A very warm welcome was extended by the two, knowledgeable and friendly front of house and floor staff. Champagne with sloe gin was a fairy hard-hitting start to the proceedings, but was also entirely welcome after the journey and in the beautiful setting at night that is was. Nibbles arrived in the form of mackerel and crowdie paté (nicely seasoned) with fried herring and mussels with oat coating served with lemon mayonnaise (the mussels were particularly good) which was a good way to start. The white French crusty (dense) bread and oatmeal scone (also quite heavy) was what I used for the mackerel and crowdie paté and all in, this was enjoyable. I opted for the 5 course tasting menu which, for £65 showed very good value for money. Moreover, it was very good of the kitchen and staff to oblige a couple of preference changes on request.
The soup and a sandwich came as a squid & shell fish broth white crab & almode cheddar in sandwich. The fish broth itself had a satisfying flavour, but I was surprised that the toastie was burnt and served; the latter didn’t make for enjoyable eating at the end, but the main part was a pleasant addition for the broth. I’ve had intolerances to shell fish and molluscs in the past which is why most times I either avoid or do small doses, but whilst here, next to the very Loch the shell fish have come from (in most cases the same day), it would have been a crime not to have had this. I was glad I did as the shell fish broth had a satisfyingly flavour.
The prawns and monkfish with apple and mace butter & potato scone was probably the highlight of the meal. The Mace butter and citrus from the apple complimented each other well. Although monkfish isn’t my favourite white fish as has a tough texture, the prawns were absolutely sweet and succulent and the fat from the potato scone along with soft crunch of the diced apples made this all come together nicely. A good dish I thought.
Pot roast partridge with confit leg choucroute and spiced bacon sour croate had a satisfying pickled feel of the partridge and whilst it was a shame to get some bone in amongst the meat, the spiced bacon remoulade was delicious and worked well. Sadly, I couldn’t enjoy it as a whole as I was continuing to be on bone watch and inspect every forkful after the second mouthful with a small element of bone.
Next up was hake and prawn with fennel, local cress & Bay shrimp sauce which, whilst the hake was well done, it is was not my favourite dish as it simply didn’t create many emotions as a whole. Thankfully, it did have a pleasantly deep fish sauce to accompany the main component as a result. So, I’m a fan of simplicity and ingredients that have been sourced very well, but even with the constraints of the kitchen being the size it is, I was genuinely hoping for a little more from this dish.
The soufflé was spiced and an original take using a Clootie dumpling flavour as the foundation and was a lovely touch for Christmas being around the corner. Clootie is a traditional Scottish variant of Christmas pudding using a wet cloth to aid squeezing out the essence of dried fruits and spices. This soufflé was perfectly cooked, akin to a sponge cake soufflé in texture and served with a custard ice cream tantamount to clotted vanilla cream. The cinnamon and apple flavours throughout were lovely and this was extremely good to have. Petit fours likewise had a festive twist and the spices in the mini mince pies were soft and very pleasant.
I definitely enjoyed my visit to Loch Bay, not least to chat with the fishermen sorting out their creels from the Bay itself the next morning and eating in the charming setting that it was. However, it’s likewise hard for me to place it in the Michelin starred category based on the meal I had, but I understand the constraints of the size of the kitchen and the staff couldn’t have been more accommodating. Whereas some things did not go the way I would have liked on my meal, I would be surprised if this was the norm and one cannot argue with the a la carte price for £39 in the evening. If I am nearby in the future, I will book again as I have a feeling there is more here than meets the first eye.
Food Grade: 64%
Location (Click google logo for directions)