The north of Scotland is home to some of the finest produce in the world – from hours-old shellfish and salmon to wild Highland venison and game, eating out in Inverness, Loch Ness and Nairn is a real treat. Now more than ever, talented and passionate chefs are making the most of the abundant natural larder to be found here and offering a real gourmet experience for foodies from around the world. Vegetarian and vegan options are also becoming more readily available.
The finest ingredients
From cheap and cheerful bar meals and takeaways to fine dining hot-spots and everything in-between, there’s plenty of choice all over the area no matter what you’re looking for. And wherever you go, you’re bound to find a host of Scottish and Highland delicacies – all served up with a dollop of warm Highland hospitality.
Particularly during the high summer season, places can get really busy, so it’s often best to book to secure a table – especially for large groups or families. Look out for venison served in every way possible, locally-reared lamb, fine Scottish beef and delectable black pudding. If seafood’s your thing, you’re in for a treat, with local salmon, langoustines, crab and lobster cropping up on many menus.
Many restaurants use locally-sourced ingredients
Many restaurants these days choose organic fruit and vegetables locally grown in the region’s fertile soils – and even from their own gardens and small farms. Cheese-lovers won’t go hungry in the Highlands either – why not follow your meal with a cheeseboard with some of Scotland’s best artisan cheeses, like Black Crowdie or Morangie Brie from Highland Fine Cheeses? All rounded off with a coffee served with a side of scrumptious butter shortbread or crumbly home-made tablet.
And, of course, you can’t forget haggis – the Scottish national dish, served with mashed neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes, to the non-Scots). This spicy pudding is not for the faint-hearted, but vegetarian versions are great, too. If you’re lucky enough to be visiting on 25 January, don’t miss Burns night, held to celebrate Scottish poet Rabbie Burns’ birthday. Everyone enjoys a feast of haggis, neeps and tatties, while some of Burns’ poems and songs are recited and tributes are made to the great Bard – all washed down with plenty of drams of fine local whisky.
Many restaurants these days choose organic fruit and vegetables locally grown in the region’s fertile soils – and even from their own gardens and small farms
Vegetarian and vegan
There are plenty good lunch spots too, the Velocity Café and Bicycle Workshop is a quirky Inverness cafe, serving homely vegetarian and vegan food in a relaxed environment – all alongside the bike workshop, where you can fix your own bike or work alongside one of their mechanics to learn more. Inverness might be small as cities go, but it’s certainly not short on places to eat.
Of course, it offers all the usual family favourites like Pizza Express, Nando’s, Zizzi and Frankie & Benny’s. And sometimes, with a hungry family to feed, that’s just what you need. But while you’re in the area, it’s well worth sampling some of the outstanding local produce on offer. If you’re after a gourmet experience the following restaurants – as well as several others in the locality – all offer a fine dining experience with an emphasis on seasonal, local produce and quality service.
There are great little cafes and restaurants offering tasty vegan and vegetarian eats
Contrast Brasserie, part of the boutique Glenmoriston Townhouse Hotel, also enjoys a fine riverside location, with stunningly-prepared food in a gorgeous contemporary setting. The stylish Café One sits opposite the imposing Inverness Castle. They take great pride in sourcing local ingredients – some produced from their own croft – and turn quality Scottish produce into appealing modern dishes. They offer a small but well-crafted vegan menu.
Just three miles outside Inverness on the Caledonian canal, the Oakwood is a family-run restaurant serving fresh, quality food. Browse the gift shop as you wait for Scottish fare such as venison casserole, crab from the Isle of Uist and hot smoked salmon from Ullapool. There are several delicious vegan options, too – though let them know when booking to make sure sides are also prepared as a vegan. Just remember – it’s best to book, and if you like a tipple with your meal, it’s bring your own, with no corkage charge.
There are plenty good lunch spots too, the Velocity Café and Bicycle Workshop is a quirky Inverness cafe, serving homely vegetarian and vegan food in a relaxed environment
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Traditional and international flavours
Urquhart’s is a real family restaurant that has been providing great home-cooked cuisine since 2011. Just a few short minutes’ walk from the city centre, you’ll find this firm local favourite upstairs – it gets busy, so best to book, especially at busy times. For delicious wood-fired pizzas (and other tasty choices) and a wide selection of craft beers, organic wine and whiskies, Black Isle Bar and Rooms is deservedly popular with locals and tourists alike. Dogs are welcome, too, as are children until 11pm – and there’s even a secret beer garden out the back.
MacGregor’s Bar is a welcome new addition to Inverness. This modern, relaxed bar serves up an appealing concoction of live traditional music, exciting local food and an evolving range of craft beers and spirits. There’s plenty of great gastropub fare around too, with cracking, reasonably-priced food on offer at many places, including Encore.
Enjoy a pizza in the Black Isle Bar
If you fancy a change from haggis and excellent Scottish seafood and game, there are plenty of international choices in the city. From Italian to Spanish and Turkish to Thai, tempt your tastebuds with this small sample of what’s on offer. The family-run Little Italy serves authentic Italian fare in an intimate setting. With daily specials boards and a menu offering classic pastas, pizzas and meat favourites, there’s plenty of choice without it being overwhelming. Packed with character and staffed by friendly Italian waiters, you’ll feel transported back to your favourite holiday trattoria.
The gorgeously decorated La Tortilla Asesina, one of Scotland’s oldest tapas bars, is a fantastic taste of Spain in the Highlands. Lined with traditional Spanish tiles and offering a wonderful range of paellas, tapas and wines, it’s the perfect place to enjoy a few hours with friends or family. Not to be left out, Turkish restaurant Aspendos offers outstanding Turkish and Mediterranean classics in a fantastic setting in the heart of Inverness. The extensive menu boasts succulent grilled lamb and chicken, tasty seafood and vegetarian choices, and mouth-watering mezze – all served with a smile by the friendly owner.
From Italian to Spanish and Turkish to Thai, tempt your tastebuds with this small sample of what’s on offer
Fine dining and exotic eats
If Asian flavours are your bag, you have to try Thai Dining, where you can experience a real taste of Thailand in the Scottish Highlands. With a Thai chef and waiting staff, the restaurant offers classics such as pad Thai and green curry. And if you fancy a taste of the Caribbean, you can find that here too, at Kool Runnings, where the attentive owner serves jerk chicken and goat curry alongside Scottish and fusion dishes. With reggae classics playing, Bob Marley posters and Jamaican flags adorning the walls, it’s only when you leave that you remember you are in fact in the Scottish Highlands!
If Indian and Chinese are your bag, there are plenty of decent options around, too, like the long-established Rajah, the popular Sam’s Indian Cuisine and Jimmy Chung’s buffet-style Chinese restaurant in the centre of town. In and around Loch Ness The area around Loch Ness is fairly unpopulated, so there’s not as many restaurants and hotels as there is in Inverness. But don’t worry, there are still plenty of gems around, like these four very different options.
Dine on delicious asian cuisine
Loch Ness Country House Hotel is a stunning Georgian house with a luxurious modern interior, offering fine dining and stunning views. Afternoon tea is a popular treat here, or sample the incredible seafood platters from the evening menu. The Dores Inn on the banks of Loch Ness is a firm local favourite. With a cosy log fire for winter days and a sunny terrace overlooking the loch for the summer months, there’s also a large selection of malt whiskies, local gins, real ales and fine wines. It’s worth booking as it gets busy – and if you’re coming from a bit further afield, they provide a complementary shuttle bus with pick-up and drop-off within 10 miles of Dores.
If you find yourself in Drumnadrochit, Fiddler’s serves quality bistro food with a friendly local atmosphere – and an astonishing range of whiskies. The Lovat Brasserie is one of the top-rated places to eat in Fort Augustus, with an emphasis on good-quality produce, carefully-created menus and non-intrusive yet attentive service. A real treat in this small town.
If Asian flavours are your bag, you have to try Thai Dining, where you can experience a real taste of Thailand in the Scottish Highlands
Eating out in Nairn
If you’re on the East Coast town of Nairn, you’ve plenty of choice for food at all ends of the scale, from fine-dining to cheap and cheerful. There are plenty of pubs, small hotels and Indian and Chinese restaurants in the centre serving excellent food.
You can’t go wrong with fish and chips on the gorgeous sandy beach. Just look out for the seagulls! Cafe by day, wine bar by night, One One Two is a family-run venture in the centre of Nairn with an exciting menu of small and large plates, an extensive wine list and friendly service. Stop in for glass of wine and a meat or cheese board, visit during the day for coffee and a cake or enjoy a fine-dining experience at night – topped off with a cocktail or two.
You can’t beat locally-caught fresh seafood
With a philosophy of “Quality ingredients sourced locally, while at the height of their season, and delivered to your table with a smile”, it’s no surprise that The Classroom is a popular spot with locals and visitors. With a great menu of Scottish classics such as venison and Cullen skink as well as steaks, seafood and some good vegetarian options, the bistro also serves fantastic cocktails and weekend evenings can see a buzzing atmosphere.
Sun Dancer boasts a fantastic location with amazing sea views, with a seafood-focused menu where you can enjoy favourites such as mussels, scallops or duck.
The Boath House offers visitors and locals to Nairn with a fine-dining experience based around seasonal, local and fresh food. The hotel’s kitchen gardens provide much of the organic fruit, herbs and vegetables for the restaurant. The menu changes daily depending on what’s in season, and they pride themselves on offering everything from delicious vegan options to the finest locally-reared meat.
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