Last updated: 10:00 AM ET, Tue March 24 2015

Scotland Sets a Table for Guests

Destination & Tourism | James Ruggia | March 24, 2015

Scotland Sets a Table for Guests

PHOTO: Scotland is beating the drums to celebrate its cuisine. (Courtesy of VisitScotland)

As VisitScotland waits for April 4 and the return of STARZ’ Outlander series, it’s also whetting the appetites of travelers with this year’s overarching theme, The Year of Food and Drink. VisitScotland’s annual rotation of themes corresponds to the destination’s strongest brand pillars: Creative Scotland, Natural Scotland, the Homecoming and this year’s culinary theme. The Year of Food and Drink shines a spotlight on and celebrates Scotland's quality produce. As travelers and other diners have become increasingly drawn to locally produced food, the reputation of destinations like Scotland and Ireland has risen.

Chefs and Michelin stars are no longer the main criteria for a destination’s culinary reputation. The country’s farms and producers of such goods as breads, cheeses and drink (such as whisky) are now perceived by real foodies as essential.  Travelers have come to value the freshness of Scotland’s foods and a new generation of cooks and chefs are taking that fresh produce, seafood and meats and making a new name for culinary Scotland.

Research by VisitScotland has found that visitors are willing to pay up to 15 percent more for food that is of Scottish or regional origin and businesses that provide local food can typically enjoy higher level sales of up to 20 percent per year. Visitors currently spend around £800 million per year on food and drink in Scotland and more than 70 percent of potential visitors to Scotland want to taste traditional dishes, regional specialities and fresh local produce.

Visitors can be sure to find dining that meets these criteria in Scotland by seeking out the “Taste Our Best” badges in the windows of restaurants. The accreditation guarantees quality ingredients of Scottish provenance and the freshest seasonal produce. Taste Our Best establishments source at least 40 percent of their produce in Scotland. The plan, which replaced “eatscotland,” also hopes to raise the profile of Scottish food as an important part of tourism, giving credit to those who are achieving high standards and encouraging others to aspire to them. The badge can be found on restaurants as well as high quality bistros, pubs, coffee houses, visitor attractions, guest houses and B&Bs.

At the Torridon Hotel, located in the Scottish Highlands, head chef David Barnett creates sophisticated dishes from almost exclusively local produce and meats. “There’s something special about personally knowing the producers, gardeners, hunters, farmers, and fishermen that supply the ingredients to my kitchen door,” said Barnett. The restaurant’s kitchen garden provides apples, blackberries, raspberries, potatoes and carrots most of the year as well as a wide selection of herbs. Much of the meat used in Barnett’s kitchen comes from Torridon Farm, located on the estate, which raises Highland cattle and Tamworth pigs.

 Thanks to glass walls, diners at Perthshire’s Chez Roux at the Cromlix (owned by tennis star Andy Murray) can watch French chef Albert Roux and executive head chef Darin Campbell work in the extensive open kitchen. With a focus on local and seasonal ingredients, the menu at Chez Roux produces both traditional Scottish and international flavors.

PHOTO: These Ayrshire potatoes represent some of the fresh local produce that makes eating in Scotland so good. (Courtesy of VisitScotland)

Insiders’ and Fans’ Favorites

VisitScotland recently asked their various stakeholders and their social media network to assemble a list of exceptional eating experiences in Scotland. The following 15 entries were tops on the list. The Anstruther Fish Bar, said Faith Liddell, “is a legend with some of the best fish and chips in the U.K. Waiting in the queue, watching screens with images of local fishermen struggling in rough seas to catch your dinner, makes that deep fried fish taste even more marvelous.”

Facebook fan Silvestre Selvatica likes his fish and chips from Frankie’s in the village of Brae on the shores of Busta Voe in the Shetland Isles. “[Shetland] is a place out of the world, with breathtaking views, dramatic skies and lots of puffins so friendly that if you sit on the grass on the ledge they will eventually come to you...Making you feel like you're melting into nature."

Facebook fan Fi Cawley gives her vote to “Fresh scallops and langoustines on (the Isle of) Mull at Cafe Fish.” Facebook fan Jackie Godward enjoys “Freshly picked mussels on the Isle of Skye. We picked them at Broadford and took them back to the cottage to cook them with wine, chilli and garlic. Best mussels ever!” You can also get them at such Isle of Skye restaurants as the Three Chimneys. Facebook fan Eileen Kinnaird goes for “Fish of the Day at Pierowall Hotel, Westray, Orkney.”

A meal at the Andrew Fairlie Michelin Star Restaurant, the Strathearn or afternoon tea at Gleneagles was Chef Tom Lewis’s choice. Lewis, who cooks for the Monachyle Mhor Hotel in Perthshire, said: “One of the dishes had a couple of pistachios on it. Still to this day, one of the best pistachios I have ever eaten.”

Gleneagle’s top golf pro, Andrew Jowett, suggested a meal at one of the restaurants on Thistle Street in the Capital, including Iris and the Bon Vivant. “Bon Vivant, on Edinburgh’s Thistle Street. [It] is a really atmospheric night out. They do tapas-style dishes with a twist – like haggis bon bons and chorizo in cider – and have a cracking cocktail list.”

Facebook fan John Anderson likes his Scottish breakfast with an Ayrshire sausage at one of the many seafront guesthouses and B&BS in Ayrshire. “Brekkie in the By the Sea guest house in Ayr...truly heroic,” he said. The morning rolls of Aberdeen are known locally as “rowies,” and Facebook fan Carol Taylor loves them. Castle Douglas is a designated Food Town with some 50 food and drink outlets: Facebook fan Julia Cliff loves “Haggis from Ballards butchers in Castle Douglas.” According to Facebook fan Simon Bernard, “The Artisan in Wishaw [has] the best selection of whisky in the world!”

Royal Culinary Tour

Back-Roads Touring is offering a 25 percent discount on the new four-night Royal Taste of Scotland. Hosted by former Royal Chef Carolyn Robb, the tour looks at some of Scotland's finest culinary experiences through the eyes of the former Royal Chef (who ventured up to the Scottish Highlands every summer with the young Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry). The first tour kicks off with a May 24 to 28 departure (with additional tours taking place in June, July, September and October).

Priced at $3,995 per person (discounted from $5295), the package begins with a welcome dinner aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia and also includes foraging in Cairngorms National Park; a cheese and smoked salmon tasting; a Royal Lochnager Whisky tasting; four nights accommodation, Scottish breakfast daily; driver, tour leader and transport throughout; and entrance to Palace of Holyroodhouse and Balmoral Castle.

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