Bucket lists tend to vary depending on what stage of life the compiler is at. An ambitious list for one person might include witnessing the Northern Lights, spotting the “Big Five” in Africa, or climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.
For another, aspirations might have a different slant: writing a book, learning a language, or retiring to the country.
"The three types of fish were topped off by a pair of mighty impressive langoustines who may have been dispatched but still hadn’t given up the fight"
After ten years of gazing longingly through the windows of Digby Chick restaurant while on holiday in the Western Isles, there was a dawning this year that getting over the threshold was high on a list that I didn’t even know my weary brain cells had been compiling. The Numskulls must have been busy, because I also left the island clutching a Harris Tweed jacket. Tick.
If this suggests a man of simple pleasures, then so be it. Years of seeking out child-friendly venues take their toll, and when briefly freed from the tyranny of Pom Bears and Fruit Shoots, even a bag of chips at the harbour can seem like decadence. And this holiday, at last, was to be The Year of The Chick.
It doesn’t take long for the first-time visitor to Stornoway to become aware that Digby Chick has a reputation as the best restaurant in town. Some would say it is the best restaurant on the island, although Scarista House down in Harris would also lay claim to that accolade, and on the west side, Auberge Carnish overlooking Uig Sands is another fabulous dining experience, but looks set to close this year.
And there we find one of Digby Chick’s great strengths. It is a long-term fixture, and local feedback confirms its standards are consistently high all year round. To charge city prices in a remote community, and stay in business long-term, you have to be good.
The restaurant name is unusual for an area where the Gaelic language is strong, and employed to great effect.
In contrast, Digby Chick sounds urban; half solicitors’ office, half boutique store. But in fact the name alludes to the restaurant’s speciality, seafood – Digby is in Nova Scotia, where Digby chick means dried or smoked herring.
Stornoway was once a centre for the herring industry in Scotland, and fittingly, Digby Chick sits by the harbour where they were landed. The interior is modern and stylish, and diners can enjoy a drink at the bar before taking their table. What better way to start the night than with a glass of Isle of Harris Gin, an inspired new creation infused with sugar kelp which looks destined to be a serious hit, spreading the good word about this special part of the world?
The menu offers three broad options: set menu (good value at £29.95), à la carte and steak menu, with the additional attraction of a specials board.
The dining area is relaxed without being too informal, and has the feel of luxury with comfort rather than the solemnity of fine dining, and that first impression proved to be accurate, pleasingly.
Anticipation was running high when our starters arrived. The spinach and ricotta soufflé with feta and mint salad, accompanied by hazelnut-coated asparagus, was as delicate as it should be, although the sweet coating detracted from what should be the distinct flavour of the asparagus, and in truth wasn’t necessary.
However, there were no complaints about the pan fried scallops in garlic, mushroom and cumin seed butter with caramelised cauliflower purée and cheddar scone. Exquisite, I was informed gleefully.
If I felt I had missed a trick with my starter, there was no cause for regret over my main course from the specials board: the platter of local fish and shellfish in garlic butter with fresh herb bashed potato and crisp leek. The three types of fish were topped off by a pair of mighty impressive langoustines who may have been dispatched and cooked but still hadn’t given up the fight. I am happy to report that eventual victory was sweet and the platter was superb: a genuine special.
On the other side of the table, the peppered loin of venison with haggis, Yorkshire pudding, balsamic and maple bacon and Savoy clapshot, with juniper jus, proved that Digby Chick isn’t just about seafood. The Yorkshire pudding could easily have been omitted but otherwise the dish could hardly be faulted.
Dessert offered the exotic and the traditional, and we shared a chocolate cheesecake with a ball of nut-encrusted ice cream. It was terrific, but by this stage, our minds were already made up. Digby Chick is a bucket list “tick”. And one day, hopefully, it will become a double tick.
5 Bank Street,
Stornoway HS1 2XG
Tel: 01851 700026