One of the best things about travelling around Scotland for holidays is getting to enjoy the best local food and drink. It’s something I think we excel in, whether it’s gin, whisky, beef or seafood.
Finding a cracking restaurant or bar in a local community that serves the best of what’s available is an ideal way to spend time out of the office and away from home. And we’re spoiled for choice across the country.
You only have to look at the number of award-winning (and in some cases Michelin Starred or recommended) restaurants in Scotland’s Highlands and Islands, as well as cities, to see that using seasonal, local produce, cooked simply, is the key to success.
It’s with this in mind that I find myself searching for somewhere for dinner on Orkney, midweek in April. It’s the Easter holidays, but the island is still relatively quiet and there’s many places that catch my eye.
As we’re here with the dog, being pooch-friendly is key, so decide on the Murray Arms Hotel and Seafood restaurant in St Margaret’s Hope, about 25 minutes drive from Kirkwall. The family-fun business offers seafood landed from their own boats - surely there’s nothing more enticing on a sunny spring evening?
The drive to the restaurant, with the sun slowly sinking in the sky, is beautiful and takes in the famous Churchill Barriers and the twisted wrecks of the blockships of Scapa Flow as well as the historic Italian Chapel and J Gow rum.
It’s a mini tour in itself. We arrive in the quiet but picturesque town to find the bar and restaurant relatively busy with visitors, families and their four legged friends.
A pint of Orkney Brewery’s Corncrake ale is swiftly served as we try to decide on what seafood to order (there are also veggie options for those who don’t eat fish). It felt rude not to order the special seafood platter of the day (£54.95) as a main, so for starters we went for the fried Grimbister farm cheese (£8.95) and bruschetta served on artisan bread (£6.95).
Grimbister farm cheese is an Orcadian cheese produced on the Orkney mainland using milk from local dairy cows. It has the consistency of a goat’s cheese, and a tart flavour that stands up to the batter and is complemented by the sweet red onion chutney.
While the bruschetta - a vibrant mix of red peppers, tomato, garlic and onion sat on top of two pieces of what looked like homemade bread - was fresh and surprisingly light.
The main event, served on a large platter, consisted of half a lobster tail, a salmon fillet, scallops, crab pate, haddock goujons and pan fried monkfish accompanied by chips and an array of dips.
Pretty much everything here was cooked in the simplest of ways. The sweet, plump scallops had been pan fried in butter and served in a shell, while the lobster was seasoned with parsley.
The monkfish - also served in a scallops shell - was served with a tasty garlic and parsley butter, and the goujon, looking like a mini fish and chips, were encased in a light batter.
The crab pate was light and sweet, ready to be spread onto bread which was flecked with sundried tomatoes (that were a bit overpowering for the delicate meat). Dips Marie rose sauce, BBQ sauce and tartare sauce, along with a side salad and butter, completed the feast.
After eating what felt like half of Orkney’s catch that day, we declined dessert although the specials of rum and raisin ice cream or violet gin sorbet sounded appealing, and were deemed delicious by our friendly server.
The Murray Arms feels like a hidden gem, a local that you’d be happy to visit again and again. It’s just a shame we’re 300 miles away.
Back Road, St Margaret's Hope, Orkney KW17 2SP