This year has been strange for me.
A rare bacteria invaded my body, leading to long hospital stays in Inverness and Edinburgh and two close calls to meet my creator.
But, as golfers say, ‘I’m always on this side of the grass’ thanks to our wonderful NHS.
Couldn’t fault the hospital food and heartily recommend Raigmore Hospital soup and curries.
But what I missed after weeks on the service was sitting down to eat at a neatly set table.
So I spent the time thinking about favorite restaurants I’ve visited in the past and which ones I’d like to visit when I get the green light.
The Royal Marine hotel in Brora
At the top of the list was the Royal Marine Hotel in the town of Brora, Sutherland.
Over 100 years old, it was originally the private home of Scottish architect Sir Robert Lorimer.
Now owned by Highland Coast Hotels and having undergone a massive refurbishment, it opened in June.
It retains the ambience of a grand country house, but is luxurious and very elegant thanks to a mix of original fittings and fittings, antiques, elegant seating and ambient lighting.
After being warmly welcomed in the reception hall, we were shown to our table at The Curing Yard restaurant, named after Brora’s days when it was occupied by the fishing and herring salting industries.
The elegant restaurant comprises two rooms, each decorated in a slightly different art deco style.
There are a variety of seating options to suit all tastes, from solo diners to family groups, while the green floral material used on the banquette seats is stunning.
There’s plenty to admire: model ships and local artwork on the wall, fresh flowers on every table.
Our maitre d was charming and knowledgeable, and talked about the history of the hotel and the use of local produce.
Perusing the menu, which contained a lot of historical information about Brora, I sipped a delicious homemade strawberry lemonade while my partner opted for a nice glass of sauvignon blanc.
Meanwhile, the two hot rolls delivered to our table were perfect for snacking on while waiting for our starters.
My partner started with one of his favorites, Cullen Skink Soup, served in a funky shaped bowl.
It looked lovely but lacked any fishy or smoked fish flavor, the overall impression being one of tatties and milk.
After the visit I told a friend about it who also had the soup there. His was full of fish so I guess we were unlucky.
I chose the local dried trout at Clynelish for my entree as the distillery is just up the road.
Topped with two pieces of perfectly cooked buttered fresh asparagus, it included three pieces of tender and juicy pink trout.
Below was a generous helping of apple remoulade and crunchy diced radish which gave it a candy pink color.
Individually each ingredient was tasty but I don’t think they particularly complemented each other – the remoulade overpowered the subtle whiskey flavor of the trout, for example.
There is a good choice of main courses and the Highland lamb looked good, but at £30 for two schnitzels (I checked with the waitress how many there were) I thought it seemed like a Bit pricey so opted for the hotel’s own £18 beef burger instead.
He himself chose the platter of smoked and marinated seafood for one, priced at £24, with a portion of thick chips at £4.
If the starters had been a little disappointing, the dishes made up for it.
My burger, served in a sweet brioche bun, would have made Desperate Dan smile.
So big it was impossible to scoop it up, it was filled with a decent sized solid beef burger, a generous slice of haggis, a slice of back bacon and plenty of perfectly melted cheese.
Crisp lettuce, zesty salsa and pickle added layers of crunch and flavor.
It came with a bowl of lightly battered onion rings and a bowl of warm thick fries, nicely browned on the outside and chewy on the inside.
I shudder to think of the number of calories in this superb dish, but it was worth it because it was so tasty and filling.
The seafood platter was also on the rise thanks to a good selection of cold and hot smoked trout, smoked mackerel, sea bass escabèche, sublime arancini kedgeree and two types of mayonnaise, one flavored with truffle , the other with a hint of garlic.
For us, this was our first time trying smoked queens – miniature scallops, which were packed with powerful flavors.
To finish, we shared a cheese platter with cheeses from nearby Tain.
Cheddar Tain Truckle, Strathdon Blue, Fat Cow plus raisins, tomato chutney and mini oatcakes.
These are flavorful cheeses that are best enjoyed at room temperature, but they were served very cold.
Maybe they could consider asking people to order the cheese platter along with their main course to avoid that as they really are great cheeses.
The Royal Marine Hotel is a glamorous addition to the northern dining scene.
While prices are high, locals living within 15 miles of a Highland Coast Hotel can take advantage of a discount card offering 30% off in the restaurant and bars.
Address: Royal Marine Hotel, 7 Golf Rd, Brora KW9 6QS
P: 01408 621252
Price: £97.75 for two courses for two, cheese platter, wine, soft drink and coffee.
- Food: 3/5
- Performance: 5/5
- Surroundings: 5/5
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[Restaurant review: Brora’s Royal Marine Hotel]