The best lunch in the Highlands

This is to be had in a small village café in Sutherland.  I’m reluctant to give its name in case you all descend on it but I’m maybe kidding myself there: I doubt there’s many folk going to be reading this blog.  The loon might, because he set it up for me and he could be keen to see if I’m able to follow his instructions.  I was going to say it was “so far, so good” but I accidentally deleted my first two paragraphs and I’m now trying to recreate them.

I’m recently home from a week in the Highlands.  I was in The Pier in Lairg for the first time though it’s been open for a while.  For once I was one of the younger customers in a popular eating place.  It’s got a lovely setting with big windows looking out on to Loch Shin. I had a good bit of non-flabby salmon with savoy cabbage and crispy potatoes.  I ordered a sparkling water which came partly poured into a glass with ice and a straw – two of my pet hates in one go.

It wasn’t a bairn’s birthday party so what was the straw about?  These nasty plastic tubes are completely unnecessary and go straight into landfill or, even worse, into the ocean.  On the way out, I mentioned it to the lassie at the till and a youngish man, who I believe is one of the owners, helped her out by joining the conversation.  To give him his due, he was aware of the issues and thought that a tax was coming in and maybe a ban.  When he worked in a Glasgow bar, he said they got through about three boxes of straws a night. What wicked waste.  I suggested he kick off the ban and set an example.  I kept quiet about the ice for once.  The toilets are unisex so that would please the loon.

In Dornoch, there’s a new café open – Cocoa Mountain.  They’re the same folk who have a business in Durness making chocolate and they have their products for sale in the café.  They’re expensive but very fine.  You can have a selection of small chocolates with a coffee or hot chocolate and they do the usual croissants, cakes etc.  They could maybe do with stocking a couple of products for children; their stuff’s in low baskets at the perfect height for children to pick out of but it’s adult stuff and adult prices.  It’s a good big space – the old gift shop in the main street – nicely done up in my favourite shades of cream and brown and orange.  More gender neutral toilets here too.  I was in three times and had a flat white each time; the first one was definitely the best so the staff have got varying skills but they’ll be new to the trade and will get all get better,  I hope.  I’m still fond of Gordon House for coffee or lunch; it’s in the back street on the other side of the cathedral.

I’m very pleased to say that there’s a new place open at the Shin Falls though it’s maybe on the small side.  Most of the space inside is café with a small gifts area on one side; it doesn’t have all that tat from before but I’d have liked to have seen more space for local products.  There is Tain Silver jewellery but it’s pretty expensive. The building itself is of wood with lots of glass and has a curved walkway in from the carpark with boards telling about salmon etc.  There’s a great photo of the old green-painted wooden café which is what I remember as a child.  This new building is salmon-shaped which I hadn’t realised at first.

It’s table service in the café which is better than that long wait to approach the till with your food cooling on a tray system that was in the previous building.  I had very good – and filling – haddock and salmon chowder with a brie and cranberry sandwich; I’d to wrap up half the sandwich and put it in my bag for later.  Maybe it’s the materials used inside but I found it kind of noisy.  I wonder what they do when a bus party turns up to be served but maybe they don’t stop any more.  The outside space is very nicely done with the crazy golf and the children’s play area much the same as before.

And that “best lunch”?  It’s in Bonar Bridge’s Caley Café and is their Lentil and Cheese Wedge Salad.  Everything on the plate is just right: the wedge, the potato salad, the avocado, the plain couscous, the always-fresh salad leaves with firm cherry tomatoes, the olives and the blue borage flower.  You get olive oil and balsamic vinegar separately to add if you wish – none of that drench of vinegary dressing you get in some other places.  It’s usually plenty but I’m occasionally tempted by their apple crumble or strawberry ice cream that tastes of real strawberries.  Soups are freshly made and served with their own bread.  No fancy coffees though.

“Better a dinner of herbs …… than a stalled ox …….”


Get off that North Coast 500 and explore the heart of Sutherland


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