The Seafood bounty from the clear waters of the Western Isles is helping to turn them into a foodie destination, finds Jeremy Watson

The view from the low hill above Uig Sands has always been spectacular. To the south rise the rocky ­mountains of Harris – in front, a vast white beach and verdant tongues of Lewis machair give way to the – sometimes – deep blue sweep of the Atlantic.

What’s different is that Dickon and Elly Green have built a giant glass wall on the hill, encased in an architect-designed wooden frame, behind which sheltered diners can gawp at what is unfolding in front of them.

Mouths are open – and not just for the food.

Outer Hebrides food

Picture: Rachel Bibby (www.58northphotography.com)

The Greens opened their Uig Sands restaurant in March to showcase the tinglingly-fresh seafood from the Western Isles that always seemed to escape to the hungry markets of France and Spain.

It is now part of a concerted attempt to put the Outer Hebrides on the ­culinary map for more than Stornoway black pudding.

Seafood chowder, the plumpest of scallops, Isle of Lewis mussels, crab cakes, and fresh hake, halibut and cod are the stars of the menu.

“We want to make this a real ­destination restaurant,” said Elly, 33, who moved to Uig from London eight years ago from her job as an oil trader.

“There is so much good ­produce here and if we can play a part in showcasing it then so much the better. What’s great is that we are attracting a lot of local trade and it’s that which will keep up going through the winter.”

The notion that visitors and ­residents alike have not been able to enjoy enough of the marine bounty of Hebridean waters is shared by Seas The Catch, a company set up by three young Harris fishermen in Leverburgh, on the southern tip of the island.

Outer Hebrides food

Picture: Rachel Bibby (www.58northphotography.com)

Used to selling their catch to exporters, they now increasingly supply local restaurants and self-catering businesses with fish selection boxes.

The Anchorage restaurant, which sits on the local pier and sells hand-dived scallops, Minch-creeled langoustine and locally-caught lobster, had to turn away 50 diners one evening this month due to the demand for its menu.

Neil MacLean, 34, one of the ­owners, said it was frustrating that most of their catch never appeared on local menus. “We hope that by ­making it ­available here, ­people will have the opportunity to try the ­produce and enjoy it for ­themselves.”

The new Harris & Lewis Smokehouse in Stornoway, opened by the Scottish Salmon Company, is a case in point, packed at lunchtimes with both visitors and local trade.

The new Harris & Lewis Smokehouse in Stornoway. Picture: Rachel Bibby (www.58northphotography.com)

“People know about Harris Tweed and Stornoway black pudding but we also want to be known for world-class cuisine,” said Gerry Corish, the company’s marketing director.

In Tarbert, the new Isle of ­Harris Distillery serves locally-caught shellfish in its ­restaurant.

“Not so long ago you wouldn’t have been able to get a plate of food like this here,” said Clare Dean, of Seafood Scotland, the trade body knitting the new businesses together into a Hebridean food and drink trail.

“There’s a real energy here on the islands now to showcase what they have always had but was not widely available locally.”

The distillery, with its distinctive gin, is part of the change. It is flavoured by sugar kelp harvested from Lewis’s eastern shore by Lewis MacKenzie, who left the civil ­service behind to fill his growing order book.

He follows the retreating tides with his scissors to gather chef-prized varieties nicknamed sea sprigs, sea truffle, sea spaghetti and pepper dulse.

He revels in his part in the Outer Hebridean renaissance, saying: “My customers in the south of England call me the ‘Wild Man of the Islands.’ If it helps with the image of top-class products from pristine seas then I really don’t mind.”

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